Friday, August 19, 2005

Myst V: End of Ages Demo

(Available from Macgamefiles.com. The demo weighs in at 457 MB and is available only for Macintosh. The game's official site also contains a trailer and screenshots.)

The first thing you always say about a Myst game is that the graphics are lovely, which, of course, they are. When it released the demo for Myst IV: Revelation, Ubisoft sacrificed image resolution in order to keep the file under a certain size, to the horror and concern of fans. It's good to see that they've learned their lesson, even if the result is a gigantic file that not everyone will be able to download.

Beautiful as the game world is, however, I'm not certain about its Myst-ishness. Myst worlds are painstakingly detailed: whether it's indoors, where every surface is covered with books, scraps of paper that have been doodled on, pens, scientific implements, oddly shaped rocks, bits of string, pictures of loved ones, and even desk toys, or outdoors, where every bush, rock and blade of grass seem to have been individually drawn. The small area that the demo allowed me to explore--a tiny island where one of the game characters has settled--was disappointingly barren. Even the man-made objects didn't have the level of detail I've come to expect from the game (a closer look at some of the screenshots available online suggests that, even at its gigantic size, the demo may feature low-quality graphics).

A major departure from Myst tradition is the decision to turn away from green screen acting and use motion capture animation. The result is what we've come to expect from motion capture--body movements are rendered perfectly, but facial expressions are almost unreadable. The game designers have been making noises about a new 'face mapping' technique, but the results remind me of nothing more than Vincent D'Onofrio in Men In Black--there's a face, and there's something moving underneath it, but the two don't seem to be connected in the normal way. I'm really not certain why the designers chose to move away from filming before a green screen, especially when it's obvious that they still need the actors for the voice work and the motion capture itself.

Another problem of the Myst IV demo was that the puzzle was ridiculously easy (really, it was at the level of finding the not-terribly-well-hidden instructions and following them). The new demo also addresses this problem--not only is the puzzle relatively challenging, but it's clearly only a small part of a much larger puzzle. It's already clear that there's a complicated system of symbols in the game that the player is going to have to learn (I was especially pleased to see the return of D'ni numbers in base 25). In this sense, the demo does exactly what it's supposed to do--offer a tiny taste of mystery that whets the appetite for more answers. Unfortunately, very little of the story is revealed, and the only character we meet seems to have nothing to do with Atrus or his family.

Absent from the demo are the camera and the journal, which were both so helpful in Myst IV. Even worse, there doesn't seem to be a Zip Mode, a well-loved and desperatly needed feature, as the Myst games require a lot of back-and-forth-ing as the player tries to see what consequences their actions have had on the game world. I'm holding out hope that all three features will be present in the final game.

Bottom line, this is a better demo than the previous one. I have serious reservations about some of the designers' decisions (I haven't even mentioned the Slate, a writing device introduced in the demo but not used, which is another departure from Myst tradition), but like most fans, I'll be lining up to buy the game as soon as it becomes available.

3 comments:

Mad Hatter said...

Got linked to your blog from darkestablishment.org, and do have to say something:

Nooo! not the Journal. That thing still gives me nightmares. Few years ago I was beta-testing the Hebrew translation of 'Myst3' and that horrible, horrible journal just wouldn't do what it's supposed to. The pages were all skewed and wrong, and the pictures didn't appear when they needed to because the order of collecting was also wrong. I don't remember what their solution was, but I never found out whether after implementing the changes, the game got passable.

Still, that journal is not something I can look at without shuddering, screaming and running away. If it's not in Myst V, I might actually consider playing it. :)

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Heh. I agree, collecting the journal pages in Myst 3 was a pain, but that's not the journal I was talking about. In Myst 4, the designers introduced a camera feature that allowed players to take pictures of important things and carry them around (so, for example, if there's a wall somewhere with clues to a lock combination, you don't have to copy it down on paper or keep going back to it). The journal was where you kept those pictures, and you could also add notes. It was a very useful feature and I'll be upset if it isn't back.

Still, the most important things is Zip Mode. You simply can't play Myst without it.

Fan of Cyan games said...

Yeah I liked mainly the plot development in Myst IV Revelation, with Yeesha and her relationship with her brothers whereby the brothers manipulate her to suit their own devious purposes. That was the main exceptional feature of the game, for me. Also I liked the new game technology... with the changing lighting, and dynamic graphics, and all of that. Pretty good game!

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