The unique world and history at Myst lies before you to explore.
The rapidly emerging massively-multiplayer genre is perhaps the most exciting in the industry at the moment, as developers introduce a hungry public to their own take on what comprises such a game. This excitement is fuelled by the comparative youth of the game-type, and the increasing awareness of its potential from both manufacturers and gamers. This is helped further by the slow-marching progress of broadband as it becomes more predominant. Not only are massively-multiplayer titles becoming hugely popular, it is also becoming a very competitive area, with publishers realising that the potential for lucrative subscription games is too good an opportunity to miss. Just ask Sony Online, who rake in several million dollars monthly from Everquest alone. One developer however, who you wouldn’t expect to be chancing their luck in this most risky of genres is Cyan – the Rand Miller controlled company responsible for the massively-popular, though hardly envelope-pushing, Myst series. But that is exactly what they’re doing – expanding the unique world of the games into the infinite possibilities of the internet, through Myst Online. They hope and believe it will prove rather popular, especially given Myst’s reputable name and already well-established fan base – admittedly consisting mainly of consumers you wouldn’t usually expect to be interested in a game as ‘hardcore’ as a massively-multiplayer one. But perhaps that’s the beauty of their plan, introducing new gamers to new territory, and not having to worry about the competition. The game’s been progressing under several different development titles, ‘Mudpie’ and ‘Parable’, since the much-delayed Riven was nearing completion. The current name, the most appropriate thus far, may change too as development continues, but Rand Miller’s aim is clear: "Myst without limits." This is certainly going to be no massively-multiplayer game in the sense we’ve grown accustomed to. We’re told that the gameplay of Myst Online won’t lead us along typical MMORPG games such as Everquest or Dark Ages of Camelot, with Cyan Worlds instead focussing on the exploration that made the pre-rendered adventure games so popular. Of course, meeting other players and interacting with them is a major aspect; but unlike every other game, Myst Online will not place individuals in competition. There will be no emphasis on statistics or progress in the traditional role-playing style. With the focus on discovery of new people and new worlds, Cyan have made the decision to keep the game fresh with constantly evolving worlds – new content updates for players to explore. As Rand Miller points out, "People want fresh content and new things every night." Just like TV networks offer their viewers, it is this philosophy which Cyan hope will give this game mass appeal. "I think to have mass-market appeal, you can't require the level of attention a lot of these online games demand," commented Miller. "Most people don't want to hang around with a thousand other people. They want to explore interesting places with a few of their friends." No pricing system has been confirmed as yet, but publisher Ubi Soft has clearly got Myst Online at the heart of its rapidly developing online strategy through Ubi.com. Indeed, Cyan’s plan of not only weekly but almost daily additions to the game world seem very ambitious. "That's the strength and the challenge: We have got to build stuff continuously that will keep people engrossed and wondering what's going to be there next week". In keeping with the ‘Ages’ theme of the Myst adventures, the team are saying that a new Age is planned for inveiglement every month after the game is released. These multiple Ages will be far less populated than most massively-multiplayer games, with the aim being one of exploration with your friends. This will preserve the Myst feel of intimacy, as will each player possessing their own individual ‘Age’, in which items collected on travels can be stored, and private meetings with friends held. This Age will also act as a focal point for your avatar’s ‘linking books’, the method of transportation between Ages that will be familiar to Myst fans. The next world available to explore is that of your ‘neighbourhood’, the area surrounding your own inhabited by similar players, this area will act as a point of socialising, to gather before exploring the endless extents of the Myst universe. Another area is the huge and diverse City, a region accessible by all from which linking books can be sought, to allow the player and his comrades to explore the many Ages. Throughout the various and diverse Ages there will be numerous mini-games and puzzles to solve which will allow progression. Again, one of themes from Myst returns in this unusual title. As with Myst, there will be no sense of levels, character statistics or money. So Cyan are already avoiding the usual trappings of a MMORPG, a brave decision, but hopefully one that will not leave the game devoid of interest or drama entirely. As we mentioned previously, Myst will not be a competitive game, in fact, Cyan seem to be aiming at creating more of an environment and system for discovery and socialising, rather than competition. Though apparently arenas for proving your worth will still be present in a minor-form. As we draw to a close what is known of Myst Online, it is interesting to note that what Cyan is creating is certainly not in the mould of an online role-playing game. Quite the opposite. Whilst the focus is on adventuring and interaction, this game is of a gentler more sober kind, without the violence of battle or the constant competition of levelling-up. Myst Online owes far more, in fact, to a glorified chat-room, than any ‘game’ in the traditional sense, which may actually be a breath of fresh air for a genre that could definitely use a break from the old routine. Indeed, if Myst Online can attract the mass market with its non-threatening or non-daunting approach, then surely it will have been a success in every sense. We look forward to witnessing Cyan’s approach to environment design, and the depths they go to bring the world of Myst to life in glorious and ever-expanding 3D. Myst Online will be out toward the end of 2003, and we look forward to bringing you more on this unusual, minimalist and daring title as and when we get it.