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Myst III: Exile
Information about Myst 3: ExileMyst III: Exile is the third title in the Myst series of first person adventure video games. While the preceding games in the series, Myst and Riven, were produced by Cyan and published by Brøderbund, Exile was developed by Presto Studios and published by Ubisoft. The game was released on four compact discs for both Macintosh and Windows PCs on May 7, 2001; versions for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 were released in late 2002 (15 years ago).
As in previous games, the player assumes the role of the Stranger, a friend of Atrus. A member of the D'ni race, Atrus can create links to other worlds called Ages by writing descriptive books. In Exile, Atrus has written an Age for the D'ni to live on while rebuilding their civilization; it is stolen, however, by a mysterious figure. The Stranger pursues the thief in an attempt to reclaim Atrus' book.
The creators of the Myst franchise gave the task of creating the third Myst game to Presto Studios, known for its adventure game series The Journeyman Project. Presto sought to develop a diverse and logical approach to puzzles and Ages, and worked to make the villain sympathetically multifaceted. The developers hired Jack Wall to develop a musical style different from earlier composer Robyn Miller but still recognizable as a Myst game. The project required millions of US dollars and more than two years to complete.
Exile was received well by critics; British newspaper The Daily Telegraph called it the best game in the Myst series. Conversely, long-time critics of the series complained that Exile continued to prove that Myst's slower gameplay did not belong in the fast-paced modern game market; GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin described the Myst series as having lost its relevance. Despite selling more than one million units within the first year of release, Exile fared poorer commercially than Myst and Riven, which had sold more than 10 million units combined. Presto Studios ceased software development entirely after the game's release, and Myst IV: Revelation (4 walls), the fourth game in the series, was developed and published solely by Ubisoft.
GameplayGameplay in Myst III: Exile is similar to that of its predecessors. The player explores immersive, pre-rendered environments known as Ages by using either mouse clicks or the space bar for movement from set nodes across each Age. Unlike previous games, which employed a series of still images, Exile uses a "free look" system which gives the player a 360-degree field of view. The game also has an optional Zip mode, like Myst and Riven, to cross explored terrain quickly by skipping several nodes. Clicking allows the player to manipulate objects and pick up items. The on-screen cursor changes in context to show possible actions.
Each of the game's four Ages has a distinctive look and theme. Players begin their journey on the Age of J'nanin, which acts as a hub linking the other three Ages and as a "lesson Age" demonstrating important principles for later puzzles. The other three Ages are Voltaic, a dusty island riddled with canyons filled with man-made constructions; Amateria, a mechanical Age in the middle of a vast sea; and Edanna, a world of preserved nature, with abundant plant and animal life.
By gathering clues and manipulating the environment, the player solves thematically linked puzzles. For example, the book leading to Voltaic is accessed by aligning beams of light across a canyon; the Age itself contains similar light-based puzzles. Edanna's plant-filled puzzles require manipulation of the Age's ecosystem. Puzzles often involve observing interactions between elements of the environment, then adjusting the links between them. The player can also pick up and view journals or pages written by game characters which reveal back-story and give hints to solving puzzles. Cursor Mode allows the player to select items from a personal inventory at the bottom of the screen.
PlotExile begins 10 years after the events of Riven, when the Stranger arrives at the home of Atrus and his wife Catherine. Atrus is a scientist and explorer who has mastered an ancient practice known as the Art: he can create links to different worlds, called Ages, by writing special books. This ability is by an ancient civilization known as the D'ni, whose society crumbles after the D'ni city is devastated by a plague. Atrus calls the Stranger to his home to display his newest Age, Releeshahn, which Atrus has designed as a new home for the D'ni survivors.
As Atrus is preparing to leave for Releeshahn, a mysterious man appears in Atrus' study, stealing the Releeshahn book and leaving behind another. Following the thief, the Stranger arrives at J'nanin, an Age that Atrus had written long before as a way to teach the Art to his sons. Because the thief has caused considerable damage to the J'nanin book, Atrus cannot accompany the Stranger.
The mysterious man is named Saavedro (played by Brad Dourif). Twenty years earlier, Atrus' wayward sons Sirrus and Achenar destroyed Saavedro's home Age of Narayan and trapped him on J'nanin. Saavedro believes his family is dead and swears vengeance on Atrus, unaware that Atrus has already imprisoned his sons for their crimes and that Saavedro's family is still alive. The game can end several ways depending on the player's actions. In the most ideal scenario, Saavedro returns to Narayan peacefully after giving back the book of Releeshahn. Other endings result in Saavedro destroying Releeshahn or killing the player; another option allows the player to leave Saavedro trapped forever.
DevelopmentCyan, Inc. and Mattel (then the owner of the Myst and Riven franchise) offered the task of developing the sequel to several development companies; according to Game Developer, interested parties developed proposals including story concepts, analysis of the first two games, technology discussion, and technology demonstration. A core team from Presto Studios held discussions which analyzed Myst and Riven, then set out specific goals for the third game. According to Presto founder and producer Greg Uhler, these goals included visual variety in the Ages, a satisfying ending, and a way for players to gauge their progress during the game. The progress goal was very important for Uhler, who stated: "Players who had failed to complete Myst or Riven did so because they were unsure of how much remained of the game and what their goals were." Initially, Presto prepared three possible storylines for the game to follow; a meeting between Cyan, Presto, and Mattel yielded a completely different plot, which explored some of the loose ends hinted at in Myst. Presto spent millions of US dollars developing the game, using the studio's entire staff to complete the project. Development took two and a half years, of which nine months were spent on design and pre-production.
Pre-rendered environments, like those in the earlier Myst games, were used, providing what producer Dan Irish described as the "photorealistic ability to present the world in a convincing way. The 360-degree camera view also allows you to experience it in a way that makes it feel real." Particular attention was devoted to strong visual styles and mechanics, which a critic described as "a collaboration of Jules Verne, Rube Goldberg and Claes Oldenburg".
As in Myst and Riven, the developers used live-action sequences instead of computer-generated actors and props; Irish stated that using computer graphics would have reminded players they were in a game, "which would wreck the immersion that is so critical to the Myst games". Live actors were filmed on a blue screen and then placed in the digital environments using chroma key technology. Before any shooting could begin, all the sets were constructed and filled with props the actors could use, costumes for all the characters were fashioned, and each scene was plotted out by storyboard. Rand Miller returned to play Atrus, a role he had filled since the first Myst game. Brad Dourif, a professional actor, agreed to play Saavedro because he was a huge Myst fan. Dourif noted that acting for a game was much more difficult than working on movie sets, as he could not see the player or interact with the game environment. Other actors included Maria Galante as Atrus' wife Catherine, and Greg Uhler's daughter Audrey in a cameo as Atrus' daughter Yeesha. Preparation for the video shoots took four months; filming the scenes took just seven days. Uhler noted that the video was one aspect of Myst that Presto "did wrong"; because high-definition video cameras were not used, the resulting video was not as crisp as developers had hoped.
AudioThe music for Myst and Riven was composed by Robyn Miller; Jack Wall created the score for the third installment. Irish stated that developing the music was one of the hardest aspects of Exile: "We had to match or exceed the surrealistic style of music that Robyn [Miller] had pioneered. It had to be recognizable as Myst, but unique and distinctive." Wall looked at the increasing complexity of games as an opportunity to give players a soundtrack with as much force as a movie score. Wall also echoed Irish's opinion that he wanted to make a very different score from the "wonderful sonic pastiche" of Myst and Riven, yet still recognizable as a sequel to the earlier games; Wall considered copying Miller's style as the "safe" yet unappealing route that was expected of him.
In preparation for his composition, Wall studied Miller's music, noting that he and Miller differed on their use of music theory. Miller, according to Wall, felt that "melody could easily get in the way of the experience of playing the game", but Wall felt that some melody provided something thematic for the player to grasp. Wall wanted the music to have a sense of purpose while still preserving interactivity, so he composed "reward music" for completing puzzles and recorded the score with a real orchestra.
ReceptionExile was in general received positively upon release; the PC version holds a 79% favorable rating at Game Rankings and a 83% rating at Metacritic. The game was the best-selling title in North America within a week of release, selling 75,000 copies within two weeks. Exile sold one million units within twelve months.
Exile's graphics and sound received nearly universal praise, and were credited with completing the game's immersion. The puzzles were described as less difficult and more contained, meaning that players did not have to experiment with switches and then click several screens away to see the effect, as in Riven. Macworld's Peter Cohen praised Presto for giving out bits of story throughout the game, rather than providing exposition only during opening and closing sequences. The pacing and rewards system was also appreciated by reviewers. IGN concluded their review of the game by stating that Presto had done "a pretty good job with a notable addition to the series". The Daily Telegraph offered even stronger praise, saying that Presto had crafted the best Myst game in the series thus far, a sentiment that was echoed in other publications.
Criticism of the game included complaints about the four-disc format of the game, which required players to swap out the installer disc with one of the other discs every time the player entered a new Age. Gamespot's Scott Osborne noted that due to the frame-by-frame nature of gameplay, it was occasionally difficult to discern where players were allowed to venture and what areas were unreachable. The Los Angeles Times reported that bugs including a lack of sound, incompatibility with certain graphics cards and system crashes were present in as many as 10 percent of the first shipment of discs. Reviewers who had not enjoyed Myst or Riven stated that there was nothing new or substantially different in the game to warrant interest; The New York Times observed, "Exile has everything you loved or hated about Myst and Riven."
Despite strong sales, Exile was considered commercially disappointing compared to the phenomenal sales of the first two games, which had sold nearly 10 million units by the time of Exile's release. GameSpot editor Greg Kasavin told Time magazine that "Myst is no longer as relevant to gamers as it used to be" and that "it represents an antiquated style of gaming" compared to the 3-D action games being released at the time. Soon after Exile's release, Presto announced it was discontinuing software development; the Xbox title Whacked! was to be the last title produced by the company. Presto employee Michael Saladino pointed to the maverick style of the studio and its inability to develop more than one title at a time as reasons for its folding. The next game in the Myst series, entitled Revelation, would be produced and published by Ubisoft.
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