|A Spoiler-Free Cure for Fear of Myst
June 13, 2001 | Joel Sparks
What to doThe flipside of all this peaceful wandering, with no guide and no one to fight, is that quite often you have no idea what to do next. Thereíll be miles of corridor, a door or two that wonít open, some switches that donít seem to do anything, and maybe a complicated machine with innumerable controls and no apparent function. To quote the late Mr. Douglas Adams, donít panic. Follow these simple guidelines instead.
Stop, look, and listen
This might seem obvious, but in a game thatís mostly a series of still pictures, you have to look at things very carefully. From each step along the way, you can see in several directions. Useful information might be in the far background, or in the placement of a shadow, or a side path may be hidden except from one particular angle. Blow thru the worlds along the obvious routes first, if thatís your style, but eventually youíll have to stand in every spot and look in every direction to be sure you havenít missed something.
Sound is also important. Frequently, what you can or canít hear constitutes a major clue. Sounds can even be the very elements of a puzzle. Wear headphones or turn up the volume.
Itís not the light fixture
You often have to do something clever to get where youíre going, but clicking on every single wall sconce, rivet, or funny-colored rock does not qualify. There are no ďsecret doorsĒ in Myst; useful objects or paths are always indicated by a clue, however subtle. If you can grab or press something, the ghostly pointing-glove cursor becomes a ghostly grabbing-glove. So save yourself some time and some carpal tunnel wear, and leave the lightbulbs alone.
Ring the changes
If you like puzzles, you know that an essential part of solving them is fooling around. In a Myst game, that means trying levers, buttons, and the like, not only to see what they do, but to see how they affect what other things do. Think of anything you can click, move, or change as a ďcontrolĒ -- which might include primitive spigots, electronic gear, musical instruments, even living creatures. Controls can affect each other. Even those that are far apart might need to be worked in a certain order. Some will operate only under certain conditions. Some controls do nothing of use and are just for atmosphere; others may have more than one effect.
Attention to sight and sound cues will pay off. The design of objects is not arbitrary. For example, two cast-iron valves sprouting brass pipes are probably connected to the same system. A gold knob etched with a symbol probably works like other etched gold knobs. On the other hand, a wooden toy and a silver machine on opposite sides of an island probably donít interact. Of course, that doesnít mean that you canít combine the information they provide to solve some other puzzle altogether.
Donít bother guessing
Trying things in different combinations must be distinguished from mere guesswork. Major puzzles in these games have hundreds, even thousands of possible wrong answers. You arenít going to solve them at random, at least not without days and days of horrible brute-force searching. So if a puzzle looks complicated and you donít have the slightest notion what combination to try, maybe you just havenít found the right clue yet. Move on and come back to that puzzle later.
The various worlds in each Myst game are known as ďAges,Ē each created by the writing of a magical book describing the world and its contents. Travel between Ages is accomplished thru these linking books. Each game contains multiple Ages -- I wonít specify how many -- and within most Ages are multiple areas to explore. If your progress in a particular room, building, or forest seems blocked, head to a different area for a while, or use a linking book and switch Ages. You might find the information you were missing; if nothing else, you can return to the problem later with a fresh perspective. Situations in different Ages donít affect one another directly, but remember that those in the same Age might be closely related, even dependent on each other.
Save and save again
In general, anything you do can be undone. If you pull the wrong lever, you can push it back and start over. If a room fills with deadly lasers, the door will lock so you canít walk in and get sliced up.
There are exceptions to this kinder, gentler reality. One exception is the last part of each game. Suddenly, your choices will have immediate consequences. Each game has several ďbad endings,Ē and making the wrong move can catapult you into one of those before you know it. There are also a very few places in the middle of the games where you can do irreparable harm, though these are pretty well-marked with warning hints. In either case, you may as well enjoy the spectacular screw-ups, since youíre likely to make a few.
The remedy for these dead ends is frequent saving. Any time youíre about to do something that seems really important, like activating a giant mechanism or taunting a maniac, save the game. You can store numerous games this way, and if things go south, or you just want to try a different path, you can easily restore play at the saved point.
Hit the books
The bookish people who make and occupy the Ages also seem to leave a lot of loose pages, notes, and journals lying around. Youíll collect these documents and youíd do well to read them carefully. Smoothly interwoven with personal musings and history are vital clues to the game. The narrative might hint at what locations exist, who to trust, who built the various puzzles and why. Sometimes there are extremely helpful sketches.
Unless you have a remarkable memory for detail, youíre going to have to make your own notes as well. For me, each game resulted in a pile of a dozen or so charts, graphs, and lists of speculations and experiments.