Hollow Earth

The Dream Factor


I fully realized something recently that makes the Myst series different for its rivals and made Uru in many ways different as well. Simply put, it’s Cyan’s talent of making dream worlds. Both believable and un-believable. Those worlds that actually felt like they must exist somewhere. It’s not just weirdness, as most Myst copy-cats were/are (for example the games currently on Gametap from Dreamcatcher). It’s the weirdness that looks and feels as though it’s possible through the story.

We all have weird dreams. Dreams where we either see impossible things (talking mattresses, flying fish, winning an election), or dreams where things don’t operate as they should (a loved one reacts differently than we expect, nothing works properly, etc.). Not that these dreams have to be bad (as the examples all have). Even in a dream where you sit with someone you love on a hill, there’s a state of mind where you stop asking “why?”. You don’t ask “why is this mattress talking to me?” or “why won’t Lassie come when I call her?” or “how did we get on this hill?”.

That feeling– not quite suspension of disbelief but willful belief– is what, I think, Cyan captured in its old games and the old Uru and what it wasn’t able to in the new Uru. When you linked into Myst in the original game, you didn’t ask how this place was made, or why such an odd collection of items would be placed on a small island. You were drawn in from the start by something I at least can’t identify. Perhaps by the pure mystery itself. The mystery brought up in Atrus’ introduction. Or when in Riven, you didn’t have a problem with the fact that something unknown kept the ocean from flooding the mine cart (though you found out later), or that there was a telescope looking at a portal in the ground, or that the trees and grass were as they were on Jungle island, or about the submarine car. They were all just odd, but you never cared. You didn’t say “why did they put that in there?” and, instead of leading you to feel the game was just strange without a basis in anything, it felt as though the world was strange, yes, but it felt like that time in a dream where it doesn’t matter.

It’s what missed in Myst III and, to an extent, Myst IV. Why are there tusks in J’nanin? There just are. They were written in by Atrus to store the books to the lesson ages, but it’s not as powerful a concept as the reasons behind the construction of the domes in Riven or the “places of protection” in Myst. Neither were Saveedro’s drawings. Neither do you see a compelling explanation for the construction in Spire. But it’s not even that, it’s the fact that those questions arise that shows a lack of forethought in design. The ages were constructed to fulfill a game purpose instead of being the byproduct of a solid story and history.

Similar feelings arise in me with regards to the original Uru. Teledahn is a fantastic place, a weird place, but you feel it all fits. Kadish is bizarre, but works based on the back-story and the design. The problem that I see a bit more now is that the new ages (Delin, the Pods, Minkata, etc.) lacked that feeling. Minkata got very close, though.

I think the design, the genesis of this dream factor was through the concept and design of Robyn Miller and later Richard Vander Wende along with Josh Staub. With the essential concept being developed by Miller/Vander Wende and given a discernible style by Staub. If Cyan can get its ducks in a row and make another good game, rebuild the team, etc. that might be possible again. Until then, however, I think that power could rest with the fans now. No, not everyone will be able to do that, but we can learn and grow. By ourselves or via collaboration we can move to a point where we can create Cyan-quality work. Look at D’eux and Eh’ko or his remote age viewer. Those are small-scale visualizations of what’s possible. It’ll take a lot of time and effort and talent, but it’s possible.

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Filed under: Gaming

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All posts are my opinion only and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of others.
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