Puzzle Design in the Myst Series

My latest article is up at GameSetWatch. It’s about puzzle design, and three cases where the Myst series gets it totally right. Read it here.

I freely acknowledge the flaws of the Myst series, but there’s something utterly compelling about these games that nothing else has captured for me. The Ages serve as exploration environments as well as puzzle arenas, and the world has developed quite well, to the point that Uru and its followups require a bit of world knowledge in order to play them. The rules can be determined by experimentation, but it’s handy to know ahead of time that, say, a Link always takes you to the same position in space relative to the planet. And of course, in the Myst universe, “planet” is a very vague term.

I have several other favorite puzzles that didn’t make it into the article. Here are a few of them, in an arbitrary order:

  • Channelwood’s plumbing system, from Myst. A perfect example of a fully-integrated, realistic puzzle.
  • The chest in Stoneship, from Myst. Another puzzle that would work — and be tricky! — in real life.
  • The D’ni number system, first introduced in Riven. Not only is it taught well, but the system itself is regular enough that the entirety of the number system can be inferred from just a few clues.
  • The lesson room in Narayan, from Exile. A good revelation that the symbols you’ve been seeing are language.

Finally, there are several mindboggling revelations in the series. The true nature of Spire (Revelation) and the location of the Keep in Todelmer (End of Ages) both hit me like a sack of bricks.

2 thoughts on “Puzzle Design in the Myst Series

  1. i always found the chest to be really contrived. why would someone ever tie a key to the floor?

    myst’s puzzles are always best when they make sense in the context of the world (to the point where they’re not really puzzles as much as just interacting with the laws of the world). most of the puzzles in riven and some of the puzzles in uru are like this; most of the puzzles in the rest of the series aren’t.

    i’m sure you’ve read what andrew plotkin’s written on the series. actually, i’m not totally sure, so i end this sentence with a question mark?

    1. Okay, yes, the chest puzzle was definitely contrived. But it was still cool! And, you know, if someone did permanently tie a key to the floor, that’d be how you’d solve the problem. Oh! Maybe they really didn’t want to lose the key.

      With many of the Myst puzzles, you definitely need to suspend disbelief a bit and accept that Atrus and his associates are eccentric, absent-minded, and rather perverse in their practical thinking skills. The puzzles are more believable when you realize that Atrus is the sort of person who will construct an enormous, revolving, mountain tower because he sometimes forgets the password to his enormous gear-shaped book vault.

      And yeah, Plotkin’s written some of the best stuff on the series.

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