Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Myst Almost Couldn't Run on CD-ROM [video] (youtube.com)
159 points by jtaft 49 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 64 comments

I'm loving this series from ARS, another great one about Crash Bandicoot where apparently they needed extra RAM so selectively overwrote the sony libraries in RAM with their own data, by experimenting which areas were needed on whether it crashed or not.


So that's why it's called Crash Bandicoot

Wow, that's so crazy and wonderful. And yet very okay, since it wasn't like there would be any other application running. :)

If I recall correctly, (original) XBOX games would often go the the next level of whatever game by just loading a new EXE and start over from scratch, rather than bothering with some kind of "level loading and init" code.

The Command and Conquer episode from last year is also excellent:


The original x-com (the good one from 1994) had separate executables at least for the geoscape and tactical battles.

In spite of being a 32 bit application using a dos extender, so not limited to the first 640k ram.

Almost all Microprose PC games from early 90's were structured as small .COM driver that switched between some number of separate .EXEs. IIRC there is notable exception of Civilization that used proper overlays.

guess that could make sense in a way. Dump all 'state' to disk, start new exe that begins by reading that state, and go from there.

Reminds me of how Emacs is built, with a `temacs` executable whose state is dumped to generate `emacs` which boots faster... https://www.gnu.org/software/emacs/manual/html_node/elisp/Bu...

It was fine on consoles, but on PC it'd lead to some weird behavior, like the monitor switching modes as it returned to the desktop and then went back into 3D mode as the newly-launched EXE ran its init code.

And often that state would be minimal. What character am I playing, what is the total score, stuff like that.

They needed that code anyway for savegames.

The Italian Job for PC works like that too.

Crash Bandicoot on the OG Playstation was such a marvel. The graphics looked so much better than many other titles on the same platform, even those coming out years later.

I also get a kick out of their technique for constantly loading pages of memory from the disk, resulting in a few thousand seeks per level then come to find out Sony only rated the disk drive for <100k seeks.

I wonder how influential the decision was to not tell Sony brass about it.

This would also explain why early PlayStation's CD drives would die so routinely...

There is an extended version of the interview. https://youtu.be/pSHj5UKSylk

Hearing about Myst and CD-ROMs reminds me of my trouble with the sequel, Riven:

Riven came on multiple CDs. When you moved from area to area you had to swap the discs in your PC. I got part way through the game and it said "Please insert disc 5". I couldn't see any disc 5 and wondered if this was some kind of clever, 4th wall breaking puzzle.

Well, turns out the jewel case would open up an extra door and the 5th disc was there. It wasn't supposed to be a puzzle, it was just unexpected...

The shift from Myst to Riven and the following sequels is really interesting. Myst really clicked with me, while I was never able to get into the later titles, Riven included. I know the dev team had major changes between every title, so I suppose it's not surprising that they don't gel together very well. I wonder if anyone's done a deep dive comparing the first two titles' gameplay philosophies and technical and development differences.

Certainly the 5 CD release was itself a stumbling block. It penalized exploring the island freely, which has some bad gameplay effects. When you're stuck on a puzzle in a Disc 2 area, should you keep exploring that area, or is it possible the clue you need is on some other disc? Which one? Are you willing to put up with the hassle? It wouldn't be so bad if each area was obviously self-contained, as they were in Myst, but in Riven they tried to change from a collection of puzzle boxes into a real world where the "puzzles" were diegetic. So there aren't really discrete "areas" anymore, or even puzzle themes restricted to an area. The clue you need may well be anywhere, which in combination with the disc swapping, makes finding clues into a huge chore instead of a delightful exploration.

And the biggest shame is it was built on very crappy technology (Quicktime) that even back in the day was held together with spit and string. For the better part of two decades, it was basically unplayable on any modern PC without major effort. So I haven't gone back to replay it since the original 5-disc release in the 90s. They did a re-release a year or two ago, which I guess is probably worth a shot, but my memories of Riven are just so soured by my experience. Meanwhile Myst holds a special place as a fun, quick little puzzle game.

I remember working around Riven's disk swapping problem by mounting all of the disks at once in five virtual CD-ROMs. To prevent audio and video crashes, the entire game had to run on one single CPU core. Finally, there was a part when some buttons had to be clicked, but the game only occasionally captured the mouse presses. So I made a button mashing script to work around that.

Nowadays, though, the game runs fine in ScummVM. It's amazing how many games they've saved over the years. Myst III runs in a similar project called ResidualVM.

Cyan (the original devs) actually helped get ScummVM/ResdiualVM updated to support their games via a Kickstarter a couple of years ago.

FWIW, if tech issues stopped you from playing Riven in the 90s, I really can't suggest giving it another try enough. If you get the ScummVM version, it's very likely going to work better on modern hardware (and, for that matter, doesn't require any discs). It's similar to Myst, but a much more artistically ambitious project.

I wasn’t aware you could play Myst and Riven today in a VM! Would you happen to have a link you’d recommend?

Also, I believe if your copies of Myst or Riven are up-to-date from Steam or GOG (or the recent collector's edition that was the referenced Kickstarter upthread), they'll use the ScummVM engine under the hood rather than the original engine today.

> I know the dev team had major changes between every title

Which is kind of funny, because the dev team between Myst to Riven was one of the transitions where they kept the team+tools the most similar between releases. (Myst 3 and Myst 4 had entirely different studios, with entirely different teams, tooling, and engines)

The next closest similar transition would probably be the Uru series to Myst 5 (but for wildly different reasons)

I could have sworn there was a full-install option that let you avoid disc swapping... assuming you had 2-3 gigs of free hard drive space in that era. maybe I'm thinking of Exile(the 3rd one)?

From what I remember, each disk was roughly a single "island". I think they tried to keep it semi-logical but I doubt it was as effective as they would have liked.

Looks like you made a nearly identical comment 2 years ago:


Assuming you must've gotten it after release because as far as my memory serves, the original Riven came in little brown sleeves clearly labeled 1 to 5.

I don't think your jewel case issue was an easter egg/trick. Just an attempt to fit 5 discs into 2 jewel cases.

Good memory on that old comment!

Mine looked like this: https://imgur.com/LDkdx1k

Perhaps it wasn't the original release. Perhaps it was a regional difference. I agree, I don't think the case was intentionally made to deceive.

Weird, that transcript link gives a "Cannot decode raw data" error in Safari, and just doesn't load in Chromium. Well, `curl` it is!

Weird. It's just a plain .txt file. There isn't a HTTP Content-Type though, which might be what's tripping some browsers up.

Coincidental timing - a bunch of people online just did a weekend game jam using HyperCard (the same product used to create Myst and other Cyan games): https://cancel.fm/hyperjam/

I didn't get a chance to participate myself, but you can see all the stacks everyone made at https://itch.io/jam/merveilles-hyperjam

I've really enjoyed this series. I do wish they just told stories about developing their games without the contrived framing of every one as a "near death" story. It's just unnecessary and rings pretty false in most cases. It feels a bit like tricking non-technical people as well.

Despite that flaw, I do like it. I hope they keep em coming.

"I do wish they just told stories about developing their games without the contrived framing of every one as a "near death" story."

Unfortunately, the gaming industry really does seem to work on a model where darned near every major game is a near-death experience for the company in question. It remains fairly common even today for relatively large companies to essentially be brought down by one bad release, resulting in them getting acquired by EA. If you look out at the studio landscape over history, it is still very, very frothy. There aren't really that many studios that have been around for even five or ten years; most of the names that will leap to mind are now actually particular name brands of conglomerates.

I think it's a real thing to a large degree, not a contrived framing.

(I would credit this to the way that games have been getting exponentially more expensive over time; in such an environment, the next game is going to naturally take most of your money, even if your previous game was a wild success. I think we're now about in the middle of that no longer being true. We're not done yet; AAA games are still trying to slug it out on the exponential curve, but more and more we're seeing successful games made at an earlier plateau of cost, including the entire output of companies like Nintendo.)

This makes sense, old school game development required paying (relatively high) salaries for years before maybe getting a payday. It would be difficult/impossible for any company to keep 5 years of salaries in savings to mitigate the risk of your next title failing.

Yeah, this ignores the role publishers play, but I doubt a publisher is going to give a relatively new studio too many opportunity. You're game needs to make money if you want another shot.

Consoles like the Game Boy and DS saw huge opportunities for small teams who kept their budgets in check. But it was always perceived as less important than console work due to the industry’s addiction to technology.

But the Game Boy and DS were the biggest markets of their time. Perhaps we’re finally valuing smaller teams more than the Titanic AAA studios.

To be fair, the ones that are genuinely focussed on overcoming serious problems are the best in the series, especially when the problems are a bit technical. Crash Bandicoot and Prince of Persia, for example.

Not from this series, but if you like these kinds of things, the FFIV documentary is pretty good:


(However it's bit more about organizational failures than technical failures.)

Agreed. They're over-dramatizing the typical bumps that you hit in any major software engineering project. "X was hard, and we had to spend longer working on it than many other parts of the project, but we figured it out."

Gotta get those clicks

There is a fun review of the game from Computing Gaming World 1993 here: http://cgwmuseum.org/galleries/issues/cgw_113.pdf

I never completed Myst, it was such a frustrating game. Granted I must have been 10 or 11 when I played it, I've thought a few times about going and playing it as an adult but I still have PTSD from the frustration it caused me.

The reward for (let's be honest) suffering through Myst is that you get to play the absolute joy of a game that is Riven, possibly the finest exploration/discovery/puzzle game ever created by humans. I love it really quite a lot.

I didn't get very far with Myst.

I really enjoyed Riven, however. Fantastic game. Right up until the penultimate puzzle, and it's a doozy that basically requires you to have paid careful attention to things along the way (my notes were mostly sufficient), and to not be red-green colorblind (wups, I am genetically screwed).

I wrote in to support, and actually got a refund on the game.

-I had the same issue, after cursing my bad luck I eventually got around to using a couple of coloured cellofan candy wrappers as colour filters. :)

I've always loved worldbuilding and exploration in games and movies, and I'm pretty sure it was Riven that kicked that off for me. I was obsessed with D'ni stuff for awhile; knew all about base 5 numbering, read all the novels.

I got a "making of" book about Riven, and I'd say that book is at least partially responsible for my interest in computer graphics and software development.

(Spoilers) D'ni numbers are base 25, not base 5.

To write numbers up to 25, the D'ni used a base-5 system.

There is a remake that has full 3D movement. I found it significantly easier. With the updated interface and graphics, the puzzles are still a lot of fun https://cyan.com/games/realmyst/

I tried playing that and it's funny how tiny the main island feels when you can just walk across it instead of click-click-clicking.

Myst really is worth re-playing as an adult. It's actually not all that tough. Unlike later Myst series titles, it's very obvious what the puzzles are, and it's usually not too tough to sniff out the clues scattered nearby in the relatively small areas. There's one or two puzzles that are unreasonable, but you'll know them when you hit them, and you can just go hit a guide.

To anyone thinking of playing: there is one puzzle in Myst that is virtually impossible to solve without a walkthrough. It’s in the Shipwreck age.

Forgive me, it's been many years since I last played. I don't remember looking anything up in Stoneship, which puzzle are you thinking of?

You do have to stumble around in the dark for awhile, but once you're pointed in the right direction things really brighten up. That's the only potentially frustrating part I remember, but again it's been years.

There’s a door to find that has no markings and nothing to point you in its direction. I’ve personally stumbled upon it by accident but I can easily see someone getting stumped for hours.

I agree, I don't recall anything in the Stoneship age being unreasonable. The one that stands out to me as being a bit crap is the tram.

The rocket ship puzzle for me -- I still have trouble figuring out the exact right tone vs the ones immediately surrounding it.

Yeah but that's more just not very accessible vs requiring a walkthrough.

Even though I know how to solve it, I always struggle with that puzzle.

Yeah, that's probably number two on my "ugh, it's this puzzle" list :)

I played for hours and hours, and at times was utterly confused — but enjoyed just exploring the worlds. I think I finally beat it by copying with pencil on the school bus a map a friend made of the pattern needed for something in the library.

Maybe the worst part: once you know how to beat Myst, you can start over and beat it again in 5 minutes. Either way, the ending is pretty lame.

This is part of a great series of interviews with the developers of some of the most influential games in history.

Two of my favorites are Andy Gavin on Crash Bandicoot:


and Sid Meier on Civilization:


A new one released today on Homeworld.


He mentions Lunar Lander as one of the things that got him into computer games. There's a lot of interesting information from the creator of Lunar Lander here:


I thought what he refer to might be called sub-second response time which is impossible to do for wide area network under cics.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact