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-- the Labyrinth Summer 1995 --

Inside the World of Myst

Alan Levine, MCLI

The allure of Myst is the reality it creates for the user. There is reality in the intricate and moody 3D rendered scenes, in the subtle use of environmental sound and deep music to reinforce a sense of place, in the animation and digital movies that fit neatly into the background, and in the intuitive interface. But beneath the reality created for the senses lies a well-constructed story; this is a computer game with a plot.

Myst comes from the imagination of the Miller brothers: Rand, a computer programmer, and Ryan, a graphic artist and musician. The development of this software provides an example for designers of instructional multimedia. It started with an original idea shaped through a rigorous design phase. Almost two months were spent writing the story, sketching out the plans on paper, and making sure all of the elements fit the story. In production, the Millers and others from Cyan Software worked as a collaborative team of experts programmers, graphic artists, musicians, and 3D animators. There was time probably many long nights over the two years it took to produce Myst. And there was also extensive testing through focus groups and revisions.

The Myst CD-ROM is packed with media! It includes 2500 still images, 66 minutes of QuickTime movies, and 40 minutes of music. Some of the greatest challenges for the Millers were in optimizing the media for storage and playback performance from CD-ROM. The Millers created Myst on Macintosh Quadra computers (Broderbrund ported the software to Windows) using off-the-shelf multimedia development tools. Much of how Myst was made is explained in The Making of Myst , a QuickTime movie on the CD-ROM.

The elegance of Myst is in its simple interface. You will not find rows of icon-adorned buttons, numerous pull-down menus, or floating dialog boxes. The Millers note that in real life there are no buttons labeled "Click here to go forward".

Nearly all the scenes were created with StrataVision 3D software. Chuck Carter, 3D artist for Myst, says," We are using the computer, in essence, to build sets." The topography of Myst Island was created by painting a two-dimensional gray scale image and extruding this image in the third dimension according to the brightness value of the image. Down to individual knobs and screws, the developers paid extreme attention to detail, using real photographs of wood and stone applied as texture maps, wrapped to three-dimensional models. They also creatively applied discrete light sources to create moods in the various rooms and underground chambers. The images were dithered to 8-bit color with an optimum color palette for the different Myst ages. QuickTime compression allowed some of these 500k images to be reduced to 80k with little visual degradation.

Ryan Miller wrote an original music score that is very effective in setting the mood for different areas of Myst. In designing the audio, he said that they "didnt want music interfering with the game playing. The synthesizer-composed music was edited on the Macintosh at 16-bit, 44 MHz quality and compressed to 8-bit, 11 MHz to optimize space and playback performance from the CD-ROM. The use of sound effects is likewise successful but unobtrusive. It starts from the very first scene at the dock where the soft sloshing of the sea and the faint cry of sea gulls slowly disappears as you venture away from the water. Sound technician Chris Brandkamp describes how sounds were created with ordinary objects and enhanced in software. For example, the gurgling water noise in the Channelwood age came from blowing bubbles through a tube into a toilet bowl! Another innovation of Myst is the use of sound as the primary navigational aid in the "Selenitic Age."

Myst effectively uses QuickTime movies that blend into the scenes; they do not look like rectangular clips pasted on the screen. Because of space limitations, the movies had to have small dimensions. The Millers masked the boundaries or blended the edges of the movies, such as the windmill in the "Channelwood Age", the seagulls by the dock, and the view of Artus writing in the "Dunny Age." In several places, there are multiple QuickTime movies for the same object, depending on what angle the user is in relation to the object. All of the movies were edited with Adobe Premiere.

Believe it or not, Myst runs in Hypercard, but not as a "stack" as you and I know it. If you watch closely on the "Making of Myst" movie, you will see screens of HyperTalk script and coding being sent via the Hypercard message window. The Millers largely relied on external commands (XCMDs) for faster display of color, QuickTime playback, color buttons, and custom code to turn off Hypercard features not needed for Myst.

And yes, fans, there will be a sequel. Reportedly, Myst 2 is being developed on SGI Indigo workstations. If their track record holds, we can expect the Miller brothers to push the technology to the creative edge and deliver another compelling package.

The Labyrinth-Forum: Summer 1995
Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction (MCLI)
Maricopa County Community College District

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