3: Nooks & Crannies

Another of the best aspects of the series has been the attention to seemingly trivial detail—things which don’t necessarily aid the task in hand, but perhaps help to provide the player with a view of the bigger picture, background details, or simply a believable environment. Go to bedrooms on Stoneship and you can riffle through the drawers of the cupboards; you can scan the paintings in Atrus’s study in Tomahna and look at the bottles on his shelves; or you can examine Gehn’s laboratory on Boiler Island in Riven. In Myst IV: Revelation, we are even able to tap on things and hear what they sound like—ear-candy (?—sounds icky) maybe, but all contributing to a more immersive world. The most significant innovation in Myst IV: Revelation—Yeesha’s crystal, which allowed us to catch snatches of speech or glimpses of events associated with a particular place—often provided information which had nothing to do with the story as such, but certainly helped to bring the world alive.

In Myst V: End of Ages, all that is gone. It’s not that I miss the finger-tapping of Myst IV: Revelation, but almost everything is reduced to function. Let me give an example. When you arrive in Laki’ahn, you are greeted by a large building in front to you; move towards it, and Esher appears, informing you that the door is locked, but there is a backdoor which can be opened. ‘Ah-ha,’ you think, ‘the main task here must be to get inside this building.’ And indeed it takes some time to get inside, with several decent puzzles in the way. However, actually gaining entry to the building is something of an anticlimax—you only need to enter the building at all for a single piece of paper which provides you with the solution to the next-but-one puzzle, and that’s it. There are three rooms inside the building: chairs, tables, benches, beds, paintings and jewels; and the only thing to find anywhere is a that one piece of paper lying on one of the tables. There is nothing to press, nothing to look through, no diary to be read with the solution tucked in at the end, nothing. You don’t stumble across the important piece of paper, because it’s the only thing in the entire building. Again, compare this with the bedrooms or the throne rooms in Myst (realMyst really, as the closest precursor of Myst V: End of Ages). In the bedrooms there is so much to examine, so much that may or may not be a clue, and so much that gives you an insight into the mind of the person who slept there. In the building in Laki’ahn, you go in, pick up the piece of paper, possibly cast a cursory glance at a couple of paintings, and leave—because there is nothing else to do.

Compare, for example, Esher’s laboratory on Noloben with either of Gehn’s in Riven: The Sequel To Myst—you climb the stairs, reach the raised platform, and climb on top of the cage. That’s it. There is the occasional device, but there is nothing to touch (a couple of pieces of paper, it’s true), nothing to absorb. Even those glyphs on the wall which (probably) helped you gain access to the lab are not actually there to be understood (compare that with the system of numerals in Riven: The Sequel To Myst—and see also my Noloben Glyphs and D’ni Numerals page).

With Myst V: End of Ages there is a kind of paradox—there is this realtime environment which enables the player to go everywhere and investigate all the nooks and crannies he or she can find; but at the same time, there is less to find, less to do, and less to see. And that is true of every Age in the game. None of the Ages feel like they were at any time inhabited, even though all of them were supposed to have been. The Prison Age of Tahgira has generators and a single room, big enough to seat perhaps four people. Esher tells us of the triumph and ingenuity of the D’ni, making even the most inhospitable Age inhabitable; but all we see of is some standing room in a hut and a couple of graves. The blandness of Direbo is obviously no exception.

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3: Nooks & Crannies