The Myst series comprises some of the most popular games in history, selling more than 12 million copies on several different platforms since its debut on the PC 10 years ago. Developer Cyan will attempt to take the series in a more-modern direction with the next game, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, by building the new game with a real-time 3D engine from the ground up and by giving the game online multiplayer capability. Despite these departures from traditional Myst games, Uru promises to retain much of the same charm, wonder, and classic adventure gameplay that has made the series so popular. We recently had the opportunity to visit the team at Cyan, the developer of Uru, and they were gracious enough to give us a demonstration and some hands-on time with the newest game in the Myst series.
Uru's story focuses on the mysterious D'ni civilization, an ancient race that traveled to Earth 10,000 years ago and created a vast underground empire. The D'ni possessed the ability to create mystical linking books that would let them travel freely between different worlds. At some point in time, the underground citizens of D'ni came in contact with a single human, forever creating a link between the D'ni world and the one we know. Sometime soon after the meeting of the two worlds, the underground civilization of the D'ni mysteriously collapsed, leaving vast subterranean cities completely uninhabited. As you go through the game, you'll learn more about the mysterious civilization as you meet up with the DRC (D'ni Reconstruction Council), a group that is attempting to rebuild the underground cities. As you explore these areas and the different ages, you'll also find some recorded messages from Yeesha, the daughter of Atrus--one of the principal characters of the earlier Myst games.
The first thing that longtime Myst fans will notice about Uru is that the game starts you out with an avatar creation interface. Yes, for the first time ever in a Myst game, you'll be able to see yourself running around the wondrous environments. Using the avatar creation tool, you'll be able to pick your gender, clothes, and hairstyle. Myst purists will still have the option of changing the in-game perspective to a first-person view to give Uru a more-traditional feel.
As you'd expect from a Myst game, Uru's onscreen interface is very minimal. There are no inventory indicators, health meters, compasses, maps, or anything else cluttering up the screen at all as you play the game. The lack of onscreen clutter gives the game a very clean look and allows you to concentrate on taking in the game's beautiful environments. Even the cursor you use to interact with the world is uncomplicated; it's a simple circle. If you mouse-over something that can be pushed, pulled, or otherwise disturbed, the circle intuitively fills in with a dot to indicate a hotspot. Moving around the environments can be done with just the mouse, but those who have played an action game or two may find it easier to map the movement controls to the keyboard along with the jump button.
While Real Myst was technically the first game in the series with a real-time 3D engine, it's safe to say that Uru's implementation promises to be a lot cleaner, as the game is designed from the ground up with 3D exploration in mind, including running, jumping, and climbing. Of course, fans shouldn't worry that Cyan has turned Uru into an action game--the bulk of the gameplay will still focus on exploration and puzzle solving, and you will never have to worry about taking damage from a fall or plummeting into a bottomless chasm.