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MYST was developed from 1990-1993 in Mead, Washington, just outside Spokane, by a small indie studio called Cyan.    The game was released in late 1993 and by 1994 was a massive hit.  The devs had no idea it would acheive such success - they hoped it'd sell 100,000 copies, in the best case.  In the end, it sold about 7 million.  Myst was one of the first games on CD-ROM, and the first in that format to be a major sales success.  Only about 5 million of Myst's sales were direct to customers; the rest were sold to computer sellers and distributors at a bulk discount and bundled with new high-end PCs of that time.  The retailers wanted some way to demo the capabilities of CD-ROM discs and CD drives, and Myst looked like the best example of what could be done with the new-but-not-yet-widely-adopted format.  There was a span from roughly 1987, when the first CDs were burned, to 1993, where they were still expensive as a format and nobody bought them much.  

Because of Myst, several million computers were sold with the new technology and economies of scale brought the cost of CDs and CD drives down noticeably in the months after Myst became a smash hit.   Everyone now watching movies or playing games on disc formats like DVD and Blu-Ray, should acknowledge the significance of the fact that optical discs did take off, because at first it wasn't a foregone conclusion.

Myst's use of the new format made the game able to wow players with then cutting-edge visual and sound design.  While 256-color 640x480 graphics seem ancient now, at the time, they were quite good.  But it was not just the technical side and gambling on the CD format that made Myst a hit - Cyan also took the project seriously creatively; putting an estimated $650,000 into the project and carefully modelling and texturing the pre-rendered gameworlds despite the slow computers available at the time.  The meshes for these worlds were typically about 100,000 polygons in detail per world, not very complex by modern standards, and while rendering each frame of those worlds took 2 hours back then, it is now possible to render them all in more detail, at 60 fps or more with the recent rerelease (RealMyst: Masterpiece Edition) - and it's also possible to play the game in realtime 3d on iPad in slightly less detail, with the iOS version.

Myst's developers didn't intend to make high art, or something 'pretentious' but they did try to immerse the player in their world and make it believable.  They didn't know if there was any market for a game with realistic, immersive worlds and they wondered if the game would tank.  They didn't know what the market would be for Myst, but they made it all the same, because it was a design they liked and that they wanted to see realized.

Myst was originally intended to have only endogenous sound, i.e. there would be a logical source for every sound the player heard.  It was only after Rand Miller's brother Robyn tested some music loops on top of the game that they decided to include background music even in places where no music playing device was visibly present in the gameworld.  This works of course for movies; nobody really questions where the soundtrack is coming from when watching a film, and it doesn't generally break immersion for viewers.   This underscores the extent to which the devs took the issue of a believable gameworld seriously... a rule which was later refined even further with Riven's more worn, grungy and lived-in environments and puzzles all of which felt seamlessly integrated in those worlds like they had a good reason to be there.  Even now, with Obduction, they try to balance narrative plausibility of the puzzles with the aesthetics of the world, and playability, solveability.   Often these three factors require adjusting and compromise to get right.  At times in this genre, one of them fails badly - a puzzle looks like it doesn't belong in the story, or it is not well balanced for players, or it just looks out of place visually.

There were some small focus groups playing the game as it was heading for release, and reactions varied, but the one quote the studio and the publisher immediately latched onto was the short description one tester gave when asked to sum Myst up in a single sentence:
'The surrealistic adventure that will become your world".

Here's the 'Making of Myst' which was included on the original CD release circa '93:



I actually don't think the gear puzzle was a bad one like Robyn says in his GDC talk; for me the Selenitic mazerunner and the piano were the two that drove me nuts as a teenager.  But that is a lot of the problem - puzzle design is not easy to do right and what works well for one player might be frustrating to another who simply doesn't get it.   To be fair though, the piano puzzle is easier now that there are higher resolution versions of the game available.

"Myst" was one of the first five games included in a recent Smithsonian exhibit on the history and art of video games.  They thought it deserved a place of recognition alongside influential gaming classics like Pac-Man, Tetris, and Super Mario World.

The game was rereleased with 16-bit graphics (not 256 color) in, I think, 1995, with Myst: Masterpiece Edition, later rebuilt in realtime 3D as RealMyst in fall of 2000, then again in 2013 as RealMyst: Masterpiece Edition.  (This is currently considered the definitive release of Myst)

Myst versions, compared

Myst (1993) - 256 colors, low resolution, full music soundtrack, prerendered graphics with 640x480 resolution maximum.

Myst: Masterpiece Edition (1995) - 16-bit color depth, slight reduction of soundtrack, otherwise same as the first release.   Different sources state different release dates like 1995, 1996, 1998, or 2000, there's a lot of confusion online related to when exactly this hit stores, but I think 1995 or 1996 sound about right.

RealMyst (2000) - Realtime 3D in the Plasma 1.0 game engine which Cyan developed in-house and which would be developed further later on for Uru and Myst 5, with a linear fog effect obscuring everything past a certain distance to add atmosphere and reduce rendering load on PCs, and a few other simple 2000-era shader effects and animations like waving cloth and particle effect rain, day/night cycles in some worlds, and a new world at the end (Rime) which is given to the player as a reward for reaching the end.    Rand Miller rerecorded his role as Atrus for this one, but the other two characters in the game remain low-res FMV from 1993.

RealMyst: Masterpiece Edition (2014) - though some players asked why it was worth releasing the game a fourth time, the fact is that the game was due for another update given the fact that the previous version was over 12 years old.
RM:ME added a lot more visual detailing to textures, meshes, lighting, water, and various effects, and added day/night cycles to some worlds while inexplicably removing them from others.  This, combined with other assorted flaws like the optimization issues and high-end system requirements at initial release, as well as the $18 initial price point, and the continued use of the old low-res 1993 FMV performances along with some other things which could have been updated, have resulted in a mixed reaction from players.

HERE IS A COMPARISON OF SCENES FROM REALMYST (2000) and RM:ME (2014):



HERE'S A FIRST TIME MYST PLAYER INITIALLY CONFUSED WHILE PLAYING REALMYST: MASTERPIECE EDITION:


My take on RM:ME is, if you're new to this series:
- It's worth getting if you've never played Myst before as it's, while imperfect, still the best version of the game currently available.
If you're a fan:
- Worth it if you're a BIG fan but otherwise wait for it to go on sale.
If you dislike the Myst series and aren't a fan:
-Don't buy it.  If you didn't like Myst in 1993 it's unlikely you'll like it now, even with a graphical overhaul.  

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The Myst series and Obduction are creative works by Cyan, Inc.   No copyright infringement is intended as this is a non-profit informational fan page.