Monday, March 13, 2006

My Floating Island Home

I feel called to something; I don't understand what it is. I met a strange guy, in a trailer, by a mountain in the desert. He said that someone left me a message in the cleft. Yeesha, the daughter of Atrus. She wants me to follow the Journeys, learn the lessons she has to teach. I found the Journeys in the desert and I entered the tree. She gave me Relto – my floating island. My home in Uru.

If you've never played a Myst game, then much of this may not make sense to you. Me? I've loved Myst since I first found the linking book that Atrus had dropped through the fissure. I discovered the secrets in the library, and in the ages of Myst. I explored Riven, and saved Atrus' beloved Catherine from Ghen. I've followed the teachings that Atrus laid down for his boys, and I learned the lessons they did not. I fell in love with a story, with a world.

But in all the Myst games there is something lacking. Never is there a place that you can call home. You are a stranger, a friend in time, but always an outsider. You explore, and solve, and fix. You discover and learn. But never is there a place that is your own. Each age that you explore is usually independent and self-sufficient, allowing for a wide range of puzzles and styles. There is usually a central age that connects the others, like a hub, with a certain amount of spillover from each. But even here, there is only a feeling of foreignness and history from before your arrival..

Only Uru changes this formula. I think that it managed it because the long term design focus for Uru was one of constantly expanding and dynamic content. Uru (a D'ni word for community or group) was designed to be a story evolving within group of people dedicated to discovery and revelation. I liken it to online archeology. Each member was an explorer called to a place of deep history. But, in all of this, each was given a place that was their own.

Relto is a small age. A little floating island with a single small hut. It has three primary purposes within Uru. It is your library, where each linking book and stone you find goes. From here you can go anywhere you have already been. It is the focal point of your adventure. In some cases it is part of the solution to certain ages and puzzles. Only by returning to Relto, and then proceeding to another location, can you proceed. No other Myst game utilizes this style of solution quite the same way.

Your island in the sky is also where your progress is saved and displayed. Uru eliminated the need to save and restore by simply recording your progress as a natural part of the game. But no mater where you sign off, you always return to Relto as you begin. There are also rewards that appear on your island. Yeesha has left pages around that change the way your island looks. You can add a waterfall, or change the roof of the hut, or get a moon and stars. Or many other things. You can collect all of these extras and you can turn each on and off as you like, customizing the look and feel of your home in the game. Making it reflect you. The same applies to your clothes, which can be accessed and changed via the wardrobe in your Relto.

The third purpose is as a safe place in a strange world. The ages of Uru are massive in scope, and daunting. Sometimes there are places that you can fall, or get stuck, or get lost. The world is unsafe, don't you know. But when you fall, you have a failsafe. It's called a panic link, you reach for the book on your belt and link back... home.

The story is deep and varied. There are volumes of journals and histories, in game and out. The five-game Myst saga, now complete, is a history in itself. All this tells of a people, a place, a language. There is something wonderful and strange, but very alien about it. But Uru brings you in, it makes you a part of it in the now. And it gives you a home.

It makes me a little sad that the Live portion of Uru failed. The idea was that as the community grew, there would be new discoveries and more content. The world would live and breath and grow and change. Perhaps Yeesha puts it best. As you complete the original game content she talks about rewards, and life, and restoration. She also talks about Relto – how she wrote it, how it is special among ages. She says to keep it, that “it will be your soul”, reflecting your growth as you follow the paths before you. No matter the course for the future, Relto will be your home.


Author's Note:

Uru is perhaps the one game I can think of where I mourn the loss of the interactive content. A mere three months after the game's release, Uru Live was canceled. Cyan continued to release select content (two expansion packs – To D'ni, and The Path of the Shell). The community continues to keep Uru alive via an unsupported shard system. I was unable to participate in the online content as intended. Due to hardware issues, I detained purchasing Uru until it was too late. I think that the concept of a personal age could have been utilized much more than it was.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful elegiac post... First time I 've felt that I missed out on something by not playing any of the Myst games.