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Page 1:
Myst

Page 2:
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Myst III: Exile

Page 3:
Myst IV: Revelation
Myst V: End of Ages

Page 4:
Uru

Page 5:
Uru Continued

Page 6:
Precursors
Pyst
Other Adaptations

Back to the Index


by Garamoth - November 21, 2009

Uru: Ages Beyond Myst - Windows (2003)

European Windows Cover

GameTap Artwork

American Uru Complete Cover

Also know as:
DIRT (D'ni In Real Time)
MUDPIE (Multi-User DIRT, Persistent Internet Entertainment)
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst
Uru Prime
Uru Live
Uru: To D'ni
Uru: The Path of the Shell
Uru: Complete Chronicles
Until Uru
MOUL (Myst Online: Uru Live)
MORE (Myst Online Restoration Experiment)
MOOSE (Myst Online Open-Source Experiment)
and so on...

Introduction

If the original Myst is the contender for ports, Uru is a contender for the largest amount of deaths/rebirths. The reason why is simple: creative ambition, and too much of it. The brainstorming for Uru started right after Riven shipped out the door, making it a member of the illustrious club of games that took more than five years to create, a sure sign that either the developers or the publishers don't know what they want or want too much. Uru was supposed to be both a single player game (Uru Prime) and a MMOA, a Massively Multiplayer Online Adventure game (Uru Live). What? Adventure, online? If that sounds fishy to you, you may be right, but we'll get to that later.

The word "uru" is Sumerian for "deep city", which is fitting for D'ni, a city built miles under the surface of the Earth. Uru is also a word spelling "you are you" which is handy since the game encourages players to be their real-life selves... possibly with a little more hair, a bit less body fat or maybe just a hat or something. Uru is set in the present day and revolves around a ragtag organization of individuals restoring the underground city called the DRC (D'ni Restoration Council). This is unlike the previous games in the series, which happened at an unspecified moment in time more than 200 years ago.

For the first time, instead of revolving around Atrus, the game is actually about his daughter Yeesha. The fact that Atrus could link to new worlds is pretty extraordinary, but Yeesha takes things a bit further as she is a lot more... mystical. In fact, the powers that be at Cyan made up some fairly rigid rules as to what people can and can't do with linking, but Yeesha throws those rules right out the window. This is mostly out of convenience, so every player can have his own home base and upgrade it. In this case, instead of "a wizard did it" you could say "Yeesha did it". Other than that, she peppers your adventure with semi-poetic prose and sends you on some unfathomable quest. You shouldn't expect much guidance from Myst NPCs.

They also added in the Bahro. The Bahro look like shaved monkeys with bug eyes and they have the ability to link without books. Part of the mission given to you by Yeesha is to free these creatures. It's hard to know how you can help them exactly and why Yeesha particularly cares about them. Maybe she has PETA sympathies. It looks like her style. Their liberation is supposed to be a morally ambiguous moment (a la Shadow of the Colossus) but it's really hard to know where they were going with these guys. Uru went belly up (more than once, I might add) without giving the Bahro much of a spotlight, although it seems Cyan had a plan for them that was in the process of being unveiled.

I really don't know why Cyan decided to add these things. The Myst series used to only be about human and the D'ni, which are also human unless you're really interested by the nitty-gritty details. Adding another species of anthropomorphic creatures to the mix felt to me like stretching things in a strange new direction. It appears that part of Cyan's plan was to create dissension among players by sending mixed information about the Bahro's nature and by seeing which people join the "beast-lovers" clan and the "angry xenophobes" clan. Good or Evil? You see, "Bahro" is supposed to be some D'ni racial slur meaning slave or beast, so some people were running around trying to find a more politically correct name for them. So I guess Cyan succeeded to an extent. If you want some extra food for thought, you should know that the Bahro's screams were in fact heavily modulated human voices.

Uru is played in third-person perspective, a groundbreaking and almost sacrilegious first for Myst. First-person perspective was added in at the last minute to ease the moral outcry of the traditional fans, but the third-person camera usually pans in way that shows the environment in its best possible angle and lets you see otherwise hidden objects. Things also look somewhat stretched out in first-person (probably because some objects were meant to be seen from another angle), but all in all, first-person still works serviceably.

In Uru, the mythology of the D'ni has progressed to a point where it's really hard to point a finger on a specific influence, so the Myst universe is really starting to look alien. It's impossible to come up with a new universe without being inspired by real-world influences, but you can chop and mix those influences in a way that makes a resulting paste that doesn't exactly taste like anything else. I'm no art major, but it looks to me like a mix of the art nouveau use of floral motifs and round shapes, tribal scribbling and cave paintings, Islam-inspired use of abstract geometrical shapes with a bit of steampunk added in for good measure. Something like that. Anyway, I'm open to alternate descriptions.

Sound design is a major part of any Myst game. The music here was composed by Tim Larkin, who has some experience in both the video game and movie industry. His main objective during the creation of Uru's soundtrack was to imagine what kind of music a completely unfamiliar society would make. To achieve this, he relied primarily on percussions (any society will figure out how to bang on stuff to make sounds, right?) but he also gathered a lot of exotic-sounding instruments, like the didgeridoo, duduk and the gamelans. A group of Maasai singers even showed up near Cyan's offices for a concert, and Tim obviously didn't pass up the occasion of recording them. There's also a heart-breaking piece sung by a young soprano that's used in the Kadish Gallery. Tim Larkin's soundtrack is mostly atmospheric and is played at key moments. It is not meant to upstage the sound effects, something that is still rare in video games and yet is one the Myst's defining characteristics.

The majority of the sound effects were handled by Christopher Clanin. Most of them were made by combining different noises in a program to create the right "feel" for certain objects, while the rest were ripped right out of nature. Clanin would sometimes run out of the office with a microphone to directly record a running stream near Cyan's building. This is one of the great perks of living near nature and probably lets a sound designer get a better feel for what a landscape should or shouldn't sound like. Once again, familiar sound effects are often used in original ways to make them feel strange and unknown. Some of the computer-modulated sounds include the effect played when a Bahro pole dissolves, which is a mix of abstract sounds, electric sparks and whale calls. Some of the bird songs used to create the alien soundscapes are actually performed by the goose, the loon and the great horned owl, but as far as the cooped up layman is concerned, they might as well be jubjub birds.

Maybe I'm crazy, but I consider this pretty enthralling: the wind blowing, trees gently creaking in the breeze, water running peacefully nearby, the faraway rumbling of distant thunder followed by the echo of pattering raindrops heard from inside a cave (that's Eder Kemo, by the way). To me, this is a lot more engaging than some random j-pop track or rehashed Hollywood orchestration. As an example, I found myself stopping the noisy machinery in Teledahn just to hear the surrounding marshlands and the sounds of the frogs singing. To each his own, I guess, but Uru has some incredible sound design.

But what about the puzzles? Well, Cyan decided to crank it up a notch in this one. In Myst, information on the D'ni was just background decoration. In Riven, you had to decipher the specific meaning behind certain cultural elements. In Uru, they pretty much take it for granted that you know your D'ni numbers and have a basic idea of how their stuff works. While there's a lot of the usual, "push a button, find out what it does" and "find your way from point A to point B", almost every age throws a curveball at you. In fact, each age is a lot harder than what you usually see in most adventure games. Some puzzles felt totally arbitrary to me: they didn't seem to offer the minimal amount of required information to solve them or asked you to make an illogical leap of logic. On the other hand, some puzzles made so much sense after knowing the answer that it's kind of embarrassing. I was stumped a lot in Uru. I thought I was pretty good at puzzles, but Uru often got the better of me.

Okay. There's a lot of different ages and versions of the game to cover here, so brace yourselves.

Uru: Ages Beyond Myst

The first version of the game, sold in 2003. Much in the same way Myst helped push the CD drive, Cyan thought that Uru would help sell broadband connections. Hubris aside, considering the game was five years in the making, time has proved them right. Broadband connections were catching up, but not exactly because of their influence. Suffice to say, Uru Live was not as popular as expected. The Beta test version of the game attracted somewhere between 10,000 to 40,000 people, but apparently something didn't quite work so the team decided to scrap the online component even before officially launching it. Some of the select few fans did get to try it and fondly remember the good old days of the Beta test, though. It truly was a magic time, if you take their word for it. Uru: Ages Beyond Myst was then released as a single player game only. Nevertheless, even in its half completed, half aborted form, Uru is still the biggest adventure game ever, especially considering all the later expansions.

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Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)

Uru: Complete Chronicles (Windows)


The Ages

The Cleft

You start the game in a small crevice lost somewhere inside the New Mexico desert, without a single word about what to do. Beautifully Myst-like isn't it? This is the only location that is part of good old Earth as we know it. This place is of special importance to the Myst universe as it is where the D'ni have dug a tunnel from their underground world to the surface called the Great Shaft. The name Cleft also refers to a small dwelling where many members of Atrus' clan have lived. You are guided by Zandi, a hawaiian shirt-wearing dude waiting to nudge along people like you who stumble in his desert. He passes the time by reading next to his trailer and listening to a Peter Gabriel song over and over (take a look at his bag of chip: D'nitos... get it?). He generously tells you your first goal: to listen to a message left by a woman named Yeesha. She will then send you on your next objective: find seven Journeys (hand symbols made of cloth) in the Cleft and in each of the four ages of Uru: Ages Beyond Myst.

Zandi can even give you direct hints for this "tutorial" age. Myst isn't known for holding your hand, so you'd better be grateful. Those Cyan guys are pretty clever: this age gives you an implicit primer on the three holy rules of Myst puzzles: restore power, look behind stuff and scribble down symbols. It's also interesting that this is the only area that uses a common instrument like the guitar in its musical theme. This was deliberately done to remind the player he is still in a familiar place. Everywhere else is going to be didgeridoos, whale calls and a mix of god knows what else. By the way, Rand Miller attended high-school in New Mexico, a possible explanation for the choice of locale.


Relto

Your personal Uru HQ, which contains your wardrobe, your personal library of linking books and can be upgraded with various doodads. That's right, Myst is now collector and expression-freak friendly. The collecting/clothing mechanics may not be very deep, but they're still fun diversions that help take your mind off the puzzles for a bit and make you feel like you actually live in this world. For example, you can find a page that adds a pine tree to Relto that will grow to an immense size according to your computer's calendar (as subtle sign that the game was developed in Washington State). There's a lot of other stuff too: a waterfall, lightning, butterflies, tall grass, a D'ni clock, strange alien-looking plants and so on. You can also upload you own pictures and music to the unlockable Imager and Cannen music player in Relto by putting files in your Uru folder, but only in the offline version.

In the online version, everyone could usually find every item, so it's nothing rabid MMO fans could obsess about for more than 500 hours. It's kinda depressing that the player-friendliness and absence of scarcity probably contributed to the game's failure. The only exception to this rule are sparklies, little shining lights that would show up somewhere in the world each month online (MOUL version) and add a light to a stone circle in Relto. Finding all twelve and completing your "calendar" would be proof that you're not new around the block and would reward you with a fireworks show.

Relto also has another important use. You always carry its book with you and can link back to it from the menu or by pressing F3. You character will "panic link" automatically whenever you miss a jump and are about to fall to your doom. Yes, that means Uru involves some jumping puzzles, but it's nothing even a barely competent player can't handle. Those who expected a game requiring no platforming skills whatsoever will be frustrated, since every time you panic link the games loads back to Relto, which involves walking right back to where you were and can be tedious.

Why yes, this place does look like the original Myst island.


Teledahn

An orangish swamp with mushrooms so big the main one is used as a building. The local sun actually rotates around the world every minute or so. Weird. The age was used as a granary and exploited for its edible mushrooms, but the place hides a deeper secret. The Fry-Man aquarium makes a cameo appearance in the main office. The Fry-Man is an aquarium with a triangular open hole in the middle (no leaks!) that was created in real life by Tony Fryman, CFO of Cyan. I has nothing to do with anything, but it really goes to show what kind of place Cyan's offices are.


Gahreesen

A rotating prison located in a jungle valley. The rotation is supposed to prevent people from linking in the place and breaking people out, at least that's the idea. It took a bit of programming ruse to trick the player into believing the buildings are actually rotating, since sometimes the entire prison is rotating, sometimes only part of it and sometimes it's actually the background that's doing the merry-go-round. This is where you get your KI, a handy note-taking thingy that is part PDA, part watch.


Eder Gira & Eder Kemo

Twin ages that share seven journeys. One is a volcanic age of orange dirt, cacti, lava and geysers, the other is a tranquil garden that is nonetheless prone to rainstorms every ten minutes or so. This place (these places?) barely even offer any challenge at all, except for the last bit. That has got to be one of the most obtuse puzzles ever. It involves playing around with the game engine in a way that is pretty damn incomprehensible. The fact that you can only find the barest of hints about what you should do doesn't help either.


Uru: To D'ni

The first expansion pack to Uru, released shortly after Cyan's decision not to go ahead with their online component. It basically added back in the areas that were supposed to be the public multiplayer zones of the game. It was free to download.

D'ni

Finally, the ancestral home of the D'ni found somewhere deep beneath the Earth. Their civilization is as dead as the dodo, but the buildings are still standing. This was supposed to be the central area of Uru, with the DRC repairing it and you repopulating the area. When the game was picked up again by GameTap and released under the name Myst Online: Uru Live, these areas finally got a chance to be inhabited. D'ni is technically a single city, but it contains dozens of separate sub-areas and can be accessed through different links.

D'ni is actually split into two sections: "downtown" D'ni (or Ae'gura), a small island where all the important buildings are located and an endless multitude of "neighbourhoods". In the online version, every player was a member of a neighbourhood. Although they're all the same, you could still personalize them a bit by putting your own messages or pictures. The central area, however, is a lot more interesting since it's filled with larger-than-life constructions and all kinds of decadent architecture. An example of this is Kerath's arch, a gigantic obelisk-like structure whose tiny central slit is the only entry point for ships into the main island's bay. You can also find the infamous kings' room, a circular chamber filled with books relating the history of every king of D'ni. A commendable writing effort, but still hopelessly boring unless you're dying to know who begot whom.

Despite being meant as a public area, a puzzle was still added to the city. The goal here is to reactivate the Great Zero, a large device which serves as the D'ni's own GPS locator. It only works in the cavern, though. I know, Great Zero is a really stupid name, but guess which point the machine uses as its absolute origin? If you determine the position of any object in relation to yourself, you're pretty badass, no matter the name. Anyway, the goal here is to track specific points in space, a task that's not too hard but nonetheless a change of pace compared to the usual Myst puzzles. One the Great Zero's axis literally cuts right through the city: straight through a hollowed stalagmite in the central plaza, down a huge flight of stairs and exactly through the narrow slit of Kerath's arch. Obviously the D'ni liked precise geometry as well as puzzles.


Uru: The Path of the Shell

The second offline expansion to Uru. It adds the Watcher's pub to the city of D'ni as well as the following ages. The Watcher's pub is actually a building with no door, which can only be accessed by linking elsewhere and back in it. I guess it was a great way to keep the rabble out and a sure sign that the Art of linking can make for great imaginary architecture.

Er'Cana

A harvesting age built inside of a canyon. You start out in the canyon area near some bizarre plants and your first goal is to enter the main building. After you enter the actual complex, you'll need to mess around with machines for them do to your bidding. This age and Ahnonay both belonged to an ancient D'ni rich guy named Kadish (why yes, as in Kadish Tolesa, the very same). How these places tie in together (and they do) is going to take quite a bit of figuring out. In the online version, this is the place where people were persuaded to cook pellets for no purpose than to get them to toil away, but I'll get to that later on.


Ahnonay

An age of mind-blowing goodness. You can reach only reach it through a small watery cathedral. Once actually there, Ahnonay looks like an ordinary island with a suspicious clock at the center surrounded by water and a few villages in the distance, but this place's true nature is very cleverly hidden. You can swim around (an action which you couldn't do before) but the strong currents prevent you from leaving the island. It couldn't really have been that easy could it? Hmmm... I really can't say too much about the place. Wish I could... but I can't spoil this one. Ahnonay tells its own story without as much as a single word. I wish many games had the genius of being able to pull a trick like this off.


Myst

Yes, the very place that launched a thousand CD drives. Alas, you can't leave the tiny central library, so there's not much to do here, a reality so utterly lame there is no word in the dictionary for it (although distressful sort of comes close).


All the content from Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, To D'ni and The Path of the Shell has been repackaged into Uru: Complete Chronicles. It's the definite retail version available.

Uru: Complete Chronicles is a really good buy (or it is until they release the game for free... read on). Since it contains three separate "titles", each puzzle route is self-contained and can be completed independently. Not to mention that the ages within a title can be completed in any order. This is great, since you have a lot of other things to explore and keep yourself interested in case one riddle stumps you for a long period of time. If you have a brain the size of an overripe watermelon, the fact that there's more puzzles and that they're harder than the usual fare might actually keep you interested for a few seconds. It's a win-win situation, really.

Of course, this story doesn't end here.

Myst Online: Uru Live

For a while, things were still. Players with technical know-how and a desire to get a feeling of the multiplayer edition could host their own "shards" with Cyan's implicit benediction. This was known in typical Myst-fan euphemism as "Until Uru".

The incredible did happen, however, as GameTap (an all-you can download game service for a monthly fee) decided they needed an online game to complement their selection of classics, oldies and arcade ports. Therefore, in February 2007, almost ten years after development originally started, Uru was given yet another chance at life. Its name was changed for the redundant Myst Online: Uru Live presumably to piggyback on the brand name recognition of Myst in hope of increasing its popularity. The game finally got a chance to be all that it wanted to be, but it even then it wasn't going to be the clear success many thought it could be. This lasted until GameTap decided to remove Uru from its roster in April 2008, so less than a year and a half it had picked it up. At least, this version introduced many new areas.

Eder Tsogahl

A small garden age ("eder" means garden, by the way) set in a grassy valley bathed in sunlight. Very soothing. This place contains one of the very few puzzles that actually make use the multiplayer component of the game, as there are buttons that must very quickly be pushed in a specific order, something a loner can't pull off. Maybe that's why this book can only be found inside public neighbourhoods and not in your personal library. The task requires a team of 3 to 8 button pushers and a "door caller" to call out the numbers and organize the rabble into a coordinated button-pushing machine. Not bad fun, when you think about it.


Eder Delin

The other garden, which was also found in neighbourhoods, but was very uncommon for some reason. Eder Delin is a beautiful alien-looking forest with pastel colors of blue, purple and green. The place would also go through a summer or winter phase depending on the real-world month of the year, with different ambient bird song in each season. Puzzle wise, it's the same deal as above.


Negilahn

A tiny metal sphere with windows to look into a tropical forest. Kind of like a D'ni zoo and also known as a "pod" age. Except for the usual stationary plants, weird monkeys and a humongous alien turkey sometimes show up. Actually seeing them sounds great... like a perfect simulacrum of an impromptu meeting with an elusive animal in the wilderness, an exhilarating moment, to be sure. Well, I've never witnessed them directly myself without the aid of YouTube, so I'm not sure what I'm gushing on about. Maybe they were aiming for too much realism, because these animals were pretty damn hard to see. The was a lot of speculation on the existence of "triggers" that would get them to show up... the only answer was that it either took a lot of luck or just as much patience. Cyan probably weren't stupid enough to cheapen the experience by making it a formality to witness. Some buttons could be pushed to emit animal calls, but god knows if these really attracted the animals. Puzzle-wise, have fun figuring out what you're supposed to do here. Negilahn is sort of neat, in a way.


Dereno

Another pod age, this time stuck in a glacier. The lower level lets you see aquatic plants, a manta ray and various fish swimming below the ice. On the upper level, you can see the glacier stretch away in the distance and some peculiar ice formations. There's no trickery to the fauna in here, they're just always there. There were some technical problems with the ice here, since to some people it would show up completely black and to others it would look like a greenish rainbow. It's minor, but a pretty worrying precedent nonetheless: before that, I had not witnessed a single graphical glitch worthy of mention in this game. It's just not Cyan's usual style to leave loose ends.


Payiferen

What? Another pod? I guess they were going for a series here, but it's annoying you had to wait for weeks between each one. This one is set in a dusty desert with a few hills peppered about. The elusive beastie here is a desert dodo the size of a tyrannosaurus rex. Once again, pretty cool for those who have a good karma level and whose stars are aligned just right.


Tetsonot

Oh yes, more pods. Tetsonot is deep under the sea, the windows are blocked and there's nothing in it except a bit of water and a blinking red emergency light. Really, what can I say about this? They weren't even trying.


Minkata

The only really outstanding age Myst Online: Uru Live has brought to the mix. I've already called a few ages "desert" before, but these places were not all the same... you'll have to forgive my lack of vocabulary on arid regions (ergs, barchan, hamada, wuh?). Anyway, this one is really a desert desert, with nothing but flat sand and wind for as far as you're willing to walk and get lost. The age has both a sunny and a night-time version, the latter displaying a breathtaking sky full of constellations. A great, tribal-sounding beat plays when you walk in the desert. Technically, this piece was created for the original game and it was given a good home only much later, but it's still nice that it didn't go to waste.

I've been pretty conservative on puzzle details so far... but I'll be a bit more liberal on this one as it's not even available as of this writing. You see, this place was used by D'ni surveyors, possibly to train in the most difficult environment possible, so the task here is to find your way to specific spots in the desert. You are clearly given all this information, sort of. Pffff, they even give the player the simple Arabic numerals for distance, which saves you the effort of realizing the D'ni actually count in base-25 (for example: for them "62" would mean "152"... just think about it). The place is disorienting, but if you're smart, there's a lot of ways to find your bearings around the place: the shadows created by the age's three suns, your footsteps in the sand, precise time walked, the stars, etc. It's just a matter of figuring out where the instructions are telling you to go and finding a way of calculating your character's progress... but they've also added an extra catch just for the heck of it. This may not be your thing, but I must admit I was giddy as a schoolgirl with my piece of paper and my calculator plotting my course through the desert. I hope you still have some graph paper left from high school. Despite a good puzzle a few things to find, there's not too much to see in Minkata. It is an empty desert after all.


Jalak Dador

A tiny age deep inside the jungle set on a square pattern of pillars. The age has no goal except whatever enjoyment you may get from messing around with it. You can move the pillars up and down with the KI or drop down geometric shapes that move around due to the physics engine. Basically, you can either make up your own board game or use the pillars and shapes to create virtual architectural art. Any game you try to play is purely freeform, though, so you'll have to enforce the rules by yourself. A minuscule age where I have to make my own entertainment? This was definitely a sign that MOUL was on its last legs.


<<< Prior Page

Next Page >>>

Page 1:
Myst

Page 2:
Riven: The Sequel to Myst
Myst III: Exile

Page 3:
Myst IV: Revelation
Myst V: End of Ages

Page 4:
Uru

Page 5:
Uru Continued

Page 6:
Precursors
Pyst
Other Adaptations

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