Archive for the 'Mystlike' Category


Trauma

I am a bundle junkie. That much is clear by now. My Stack has been growing by leaps and bounds lately, and it’s all due to the proliferation of bundles. In the final days of the Comp, two prominent time-limited pay-what-you-want indie bundles approached their deadlines, one Humble, the other Royale. And I had no points left to obtain them under the terms of the Oath. Despite not having particulately cared about the games involved before they were bundled, my reaction was to step up on the Comp-playing to get that out of the way so I could focus on finishing something for the sake of affording the new stuff.

Time to crate: about two seconds if you choose this dream first.Trauma seemed ideal for this purpose: it’s by all accounts short, and it is itself something I obtained in a recent bundle. Also, it seems a lot like a Comp game, in both length and content. The premise is that it’s the dreams of a woman recovering from a road accident, although that framing isn’t terribly relevant to the content of the dreams, except to the extent that it gives them an extra poignance, and makes it clear that this person really does have genuine problems just now. Without that, the frustrated and defeated tone of the voice-overs might come off as whiny. 1The voice-overs are handled extremely well, by the way: they’re provoked by your looking at things, but they don’t interrupt your ability to look at other things at all. They just queue up if necessary. One of the dreams is about following a well-marked road that ultimately turns out to just go in circles, a clear metaphor for her concerns about her life’s direction. Another involves going off the beaten path looking for a road less traveled, but it turns out to be just as circular as the first, just more difficult to follow. For the PC, merely living is extremely difficult right now, and she’s wondering if it’s worth the effort.

It’s very slickly produced, especially in the cutscenes of the protagonist talking with her doctor that you get after completing each dream, featuring close shots of the her fingers and eyes in such sharp focus that it looks like they were shot through a microscope. Mainly, though, I see it as an experiment in form. It’s more or less a Mystlike, only simpler — which is saying something, because Myst itself was a drastic simplification of the adventure game. And, like the first wave of Mystlikes, exploration is a matter of clicking around between still images — there’s some spot animation, but not a lot. Hovering the cursor over a movement hotspot superimposes a fuzzy version of its destination over the scene, like an out-of-focus photograph, and like a photograph, it’s presented as a 2D image, rotated in 3D space to match the angle you’d be observing it from. It even acknowledges the photographic nature of the graphics by playing the click of a camera whenever you move from one to another.

The photography theme continues into the game content: in each of the game’s four dreams, there are nine polaroids scattered around, tacked to trees and the like. Some of them are pictures of moments from the protagonist’s life, sush as her first day at law school. Some show mouse gestures you’ll need to perform special actions — each dream has exactly one, but you can find alternate endings by using the gestures from each dream at appropriate spots in the others. And some give hints about how to do this by showing those spots, tying together scenarios that are otherwise self-contained, apart from thematic unity. Finding all nine photos in each dream is an optional extra challenge. Finding all the alternate endings gives you a proximity-to-photograph sense that helps with this, a very gamic element in what’s otherwise mostly an interactive art piece.

The angles between vantage points are freeform enough that I sometimes had difficulty navigating, particularly in the fourth dream, where much of the area you can explore lacks persistent landmarks. This is a very prevalent problem in Mystlikes, and even the extra feedback you get from the appearance of the rollover smudges doesn’t solve it. That’s pretty much the only difficulty in the game, though. I managed to even find all of the optional extras in a single session.

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1. The voice-overs are handled extremely well, by the way: they’re provoked by your looking at things, but they don’t interrupt your ability to look at other things at all. They just queue up if necessary.

Bioscopia: Final Thoughts

bioscopia-dinoBioscopia is now off the Stack. I resorted to a walkthough once — I tried to avoid it, out of a suspicion that once I started on the hints, I’d keep on hitting them. A game like this is pretty reliant on the wandering-around-confused phases, because that’s when you notice the hotspots you missed before, and find clues and items you’ll need for puzzles you haven’t encountered yet. But toward the end, when I had more or less exhausted the environment, this rationale wore thin.

bioscopia-lettersThere was one point earlier on when I was severely tempted to cheat: it involved four dials, each of which could be set to any of eight letters. A word puzzle? Unlikely in a game translated from a foreign language. The letters conspicuously included A, T, C, and G, the abbreviations of the bases that form DNA, so it seemed reasonable that these would be the four letters in the combination. But in what order? Only one ordering was accepted, it turned out, but if there was a clue about it, I missed it — and having looked at a couple of walkthroughs after the fact, I find that I’m not the only one. But assuming that it’s a permutation of these four elements reduces the solution space from 4096 possibilities to a mere 24, amenable to brute force search. Riven had similarly subjected the player to trying out the remaining possibilities in conditions of incomplete information four years previously, but it somehow seemed more acceptable there. Probably it’s because Riven was aiming for believability, and the occasional lack of pat clues worked into that. Bioscopia is far too fundamentally contrived to ever use realism as an excuse.

The game involves more situational use of biological knowledge than I gave it credit for at first, although it never really gives up on merely using science as inspiration for increasingly-elaborate combination locks. Also, I wondered earlier if the authors were aware of the irony of using robots prominently. It turns out that they are: the robots, it turns out, are the bad guys; the disease that overcame the researchers is caused by their fumes. So it’s kind of a nature-vs-technology plot, except that the whole place is still extremely artifical. There are no living animals to be seen anywhere in the game, which is particularly weird given that there’s an entire section about zoology.

Actually, there’s technically one animal: a human, a fellow explorer, trapped and sick and occasionally sending you text messages stressing the urgency of her situation. Curing and rescuing this damsel in distress produces the ending cutscene, a disappointing and slightly confusing piece of work, with some of the silliest-sounding maniacal laughter I’ve ever heard.

I’ve finished this game a full week ahead of schedule, but that’s OK, because the schedule itself has already slipped by two weeks. So I’ll be proceeding to 2002 without further delay.

Bioscopia: Symbols and Learning

Since my last post, I’ve started making progress again, mainly by revisiting places a lot to see if I noticed anything new. If nothing else, wandering in this way exposes the player to more “educational” content: in order to keep using doors, you have to periodically recharge your keycard by playing biology trivia at the card-recharging stations located in each major section, conveniently near the “big brain” machines that give you access to the in-game textbook containing all the answers.

The keycard turned out to be the key to my earlier stuckness, as it turned out that my initial low-clearance one could open two doors from the hub, not just one as I had believed. I could have sworn I had tried it on all of the doors, but I guess not. And by now, I have a superior card that lets me through any door with a slot. Not that all doors have slots. There are still puzzles to solve.

bioscopia-organOne of the first things I found this time around was an outsized organ attached to a wall, with an intake funnel and an outflow valve, like something out of a Fritz Kahn illustration. I’m not sure what organ it’s supposed to be — to me, it looks like a pancreas more than anything else, but that doesn’t fit the plumbing. At any rate, it was clearly a new type of puzzle: one based on interacting with biological mechanisms rather than just displaying knowledge of them. Mentally squinting, I think I can make out some less-obvious examples of this in the architecture, situations that are symbols of the processes that I’m supposed to be learning about, like how the circuitous entry into the inner part of the microbiology lab reflects the way a carrier protein transports a molecule through a cell membrane.

This sort of architectural symbolism was found abundantly in Chemicus, where the whole layout of the game was an imitation of the periodic table of elements (with the noble gases only accessible through a secret passage, indicating their resistance to ordinary connections). I suppose Bioscopia‘s overall layout similarly resembles a cell, with the inaccessible tree in the middle representing the nucleus. I’ve been assuming that crossing that chasm is the passage into the endgame, which means symbolically, what, impregnating the compound? Virally infecting it? The ultimate goal of the game is to rid the place of an infection, a plague contracted by the previous tenants.

At any rate, the organ on the wall is one of the few cases of the game attempting to teach through an approximation to what Ian Bogost calls “procedural rhetoric” — that is, instead of presenting the audience with a statement directly, presenting a rule-based system that embodies the statement and letting the audience discover it by interacting with the system. It’s not a very advanced example of this technique, though, and it pretty decisively fails at its pedagogical purpose: I interacted with it, I solved the puzzle it was part of, and I still don’t know what I was supposed to learn.

Bioscopia and its kin

Around the turn of the millennium, Tivola Publishing released a series of three German-developed Myst-style first-person adventure games with educational aspirations, each focusing on a different science. The most celebrated of the three, and the one with by far the highest production values, is Chemicus. Andrew Plotkin’s review of Chemicus got me curious about it, and by extension, the other two, Physicus and Bioscopia.

Physicus and Bioscopia are both blatant Director games, Made in Macromedia and not too proud to show it, like many of their generation of cheap Myst imitators. All three games follow the basic model of wandering around a strange and deserted environment, poking at things with your cursor and solving puzzles that open up new areas — the puzzles, in these particular games, being to a large extent (but not entirely!) tests of your knowledge and understanding of the subject matter, which is also available through a sort of narrated and animated textbook within the game (sometimes a little shaky in its English translation). Physicus was much shorter and easier than Chemicus, basically a one-sitting game. I can’t really speak to the length of Bioscopia, though, because I haven’t finished it yet. I stopped playing fairly early on, finding it far less interesting than either of its brethren.

This isn’t because the curriculum was less interesting. It’s because it was less well-integrated into the gameplay. Chemicus worked as well as it did because it used practical chemistry to solve adventure-game puzzles — for example, freeing a golden object embedded in a block of silver by immersing it in nitric acid. Physicus was more like a bunch of concretized word problems: there were lots of machines that needed just one or two things adjusted, like the right weight to balance a lever, or the right amount of power through an induction coil. It was more contrived than the situational puzzles in Chemicus, but it was still based on interacting with the environment as an environment. Bioscopia, from what I’ve seen so far, mainly just tries to teach biology by occasionally quizzing you in various ways. There are puzzles about manipulating the environment, using objects on other objects and whatnot, but these puzzles have absolutely nothing to do with biology. They’re mostly about manipulating machines, prominently including robots — were the authors aware of the irony here? And some of the machines require you to demonstrate biological knowledge, but they could just as well be asking you about art history or Doctor Who trivia.

I suppose it shows something about the way the three subjects are taught in school. Chemistry and physics are presented as techniques, and techniques are things that can be applied in a simulated world. But biology is presented mainly as a collection of facts. It’s impossible to perform science of that sort.

Perhaps it’s best to not even think of Bioscopia as educational and just approach it as a game. We’ll see how well that works. But right now, I don’t think it works very well that way either.

End of Uru

Myst Online: Uru Live is being shut down less than 24 hours from now. I report this with some sadness and some frustration — frustration because I only learned today that this was going to happen. If I had heard the news when it was first announced two months ago, I would have made more effort to experience it while I could.

I actually registered an account on Uru a few months ago, shortly after completing Myst V, but never got around to playing it much: it seemed like there was a lot of ground to cover to catch up to where the regulars were, and I just didn’t feel like I had the time. Also, it seemed like a lot of the new content was best done with a group — things that would involve running around to a sequence of points on a very tight time limit if tackled alone, but which a group could handle trivially just by stationing people in the right places before the timer starts. I never got deep enough into the social aspect of the game to join or organize groups to for this purpose, and also had the handicap that I was a latecomer who wanted to see the stuff most players were already bored with.

Nonetheless, I intended to sit down and play through the whole thing at some point, and now may never have another chance. As a completist, this limited opportunity of access to content has always bothered me about online games. From what I saw, Uru was actually unusually completist-friendly as online games go, keeping previous Episodes accessible like a stack of magazines in the attic. But such a stack, unlike the Stack, is not under the control of its players. I know that I probably won’t actually complete every game I’ve started during my lifetime, but I like to think that I still could reopen any particular one if I choose. It seems like there are two different mindsets here: Some people are more inclined to see games as events akin to live performances, something you participate in, but which then passes, along with its moment. Others approach them more like books, something that can be stored and returned to. The performance attitude may be more realistic: ultimately, everything is transient. But how transient is often up to us. In my lifetime, cinema has transitioned from a transient medium to an archivable one. Sometimes it seems like games are going the other way.

Myst V: Endings

Esher is a fairly interesting character. He’s so desperate for the player’s approval! As the game progresses, it becomes clear that he’s basically a nazi, but he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, and he quite honestly doesn’t see any reason why you should see anything wrong with it. He really wants you to see his point of view, and is willing to help you out, explain things, justify himself — everything except stop being a nazi. Now, the stereotypical game bad guy is an apparently superior foe who does everything in his power to stop you, justifying everything you do in response. Esher isn’t like that: even though he’s a bad guy, he’s never an antagonist. This puts you in the somewhat uncomfortable position of passing judgment on someone who’s done you no wrong. It’s reminiscent of the encounter with Gehn in Riven, or even the encounter with Raymond Burr in Rear Window.

Unfortunately, the bad endings undercut this by having him turn against you once you’re no longer useful to him. Suddenly he’s more like Sirrus and Achenar than like Gehn. Let me go into more detail. Spoilers ho.

By the end, I pretty much knew what the big deal is with the Tablet. It has to do with the Bahro’s immense magical powers. The Bahro can control the weather. They can even control time. And the Tablet? It controls the Bahro. It’s the means by which they were enslaved. Clearly no one can be entrusted with this power. The Tablet should be thrown into the fires of Mount Doom, if you can find them.

myst5-yeeshaBut the game didn’t seem to give me that choice. When I got the Tablet, I found myself back in D’ni with Yeesha, who held out her hands as if to receive the Tablet, just as Esher said she would. But in the beginning, Yeesha herself insisted that I should not give her the Tablet once I got it, and she wasn’t actually saying any different now. She wasn’t saying anything at all. Up to that point, I had been contemplating giving it to her despite her warning if it came down to a choice between her and Esher. But this? This was eerie. I wasn’t even sure it was really Yeesha. So I decided not to give it to her.

That left only one obvious option: taking it to Myst Island, where Esher said he’d meet me. This also seemed like the obvious thing to do because otherwise you don’t get to take a last look at Myst Island. Myst V starts in the room where the original Myst ended, so it seemed reasonable that it would end where Myst began. I had no idea what I’d do with the Tablet once I got there, but hoped some option would present itself. It didn’t. I ultimately put the Tablet in the holder waiting for it, just for lack of anything else to do with it, and Esher immediately appeared and started on his plans to re-enslave the Bahro and conquer the cosmos. The ingrate then marooned me there. I’m glad I went, though, because it gave me the opportunity to see Myst Island in its decrepit, overgrown state. There’s some excellent thunder and lightning effects there.

myst5-tianaOne thing was of particular note on Myst Island: Ti’ana’s grave. “What?” you might say. “I don’t remember a grave in Myst.” That’s because Myst didn’t let you look at it. In Myst V, you can’t look at it if you’re using the “Classic” control mode, which seems to replicate the nodes from the original. You have to go into free-movement mode to see it. I tried to give the Tablet to Ti’ana, but no, she’s dead.

I also tried leaving the Tablet alone and going to my rendezvous with Esher empty-handed. This presumably stopped him from re-establishing the D’ni reich, but it also left me stranded in the ruins of Myst with no way out.

I did eventually discover the correct ending, and unfortunately the final crucial realization was one about the user interface, not about the situation. The resolution is satisfying, but I’d have enjoyed it more if the characters didn’t talk so much. It’s not like they have much to say. Silence and loneliness were originally a large part of the mood of Myst, and the developers seem to have forgotten that.

Myst V: Defending 3D

I’m well into the fourth subworld now. (The “ages” all have names, but I don’t know them. Esher only mentions them once.) This bit must be more graphically complex than the ones preceding it, because the framerate is getting choppy again. It’s nowhere near as bad as it was when I was using faulty hardware, but it’s bothersome enough that I’ve searched online for help again. In the process, I found reviews like this one and these. I had been avoiding reviews up to now, for fear of spoilers, but now that I’m almost done, there seemed less harm in reading them.

Having done so, I feel like I’m losing some cred by not hating Myst V. Sure, I’ve complained about the drawing interface, but that’s a fairly superficial matter. And yeah, it’s not Riven, but neither were Mysts 3 and 4.

Rasmussen, in contrast, objects at length and in detail to the fact that it’s done in a 3D engine at all. I have to disagree. The ability to move freely is a very big deal. It ends the frustration of limited views: countless times in Myst and Myst-likes, I’ve wanted to get a closer view of something, or look at it from a different angle, but been denied. More importantly, the traditional Myst-like interface makes navigation depend on noticing hotspots. Every time you enter a new area in such a game, you pretty much have to wave your mouse around to find all the places you’re allowed to step. Missing even one can effectively lock you out of crucial areas of the game (as happened to me in a couple of spots in Myst IV). This is not realistic and it is not good gameplay. There’s still a certain amount of hotspot-hunting in a 3D game — there are still things you have to click on to operate, after all. But the buttons on a machine tend to be more obvious than the exitable portions of a grassy wilderness.

I understand that a lot of Myst fans were apprehensive about the shift to 3D. It makes sense to be apprehensive when you think about other series that also decided to shift to 3D for their final episodes, such as Ultima and King’s Quest. But those games are mainly the result of the developers devoting so much effort to figuring out the new technology that they couldn’t devote adequate attention to the content. Thanks to RealMyst and Uru, Cyan already had their first experimental fumblings behind them.

Myst V: UI

myst5-slateMyst V does a couple of novel things with the user interface. For one thing, it gives you a choice of what UI you want to use. First-person adventure games have basically gone through three stages. First there’s the static view: the camera is fixed in place, and you click hotspots to move and turn. Then there’s panning views: you click hotspots to move, so there’s a finite set of nodes you can move between, but turning is continuous, controlled by the mouse in some way. Finally, there’s full continuous 3D movement, like in a first-person shooter — something not done often in adventures, but it has been done. Myst V supports all three modes.

One might reasonably ask why. “Classic” mode was, after all, originally a product of technological limitations. Myst is made of a bunch of still images stitched together. Myst V is not. So why pretend that it is? I suppose that some people just prefer to play that way. I generally prefer “Advanced” mode — full 3D movement — because the ability to look at things from arbitrary angles aids comprehension. (One of my biggest problems in Myst IV was finding movement hotspots in outdoor areas.)
But in fact I have occasionally switched to “Classic” mode when in difficulty, because the hotspots can act as a sort of guide. If there’s someting important, there’s probably a spot you can click that makes you look straight at it.

It’s worth noting that, even in free-movement mode, you use the old-style interface to climb ladders. I don’t just mean that you click on the ladder to climb it, I mean that you click on the ladder twice: once to look at the ladder and automatically shift into “Classic” mode, and once to climb it. It seems unlikely that it would have been designed this way if the designers had been thinking primarily in terms of free movement.

The other major UI experiment is the drawing interface. Each of the four main sub-worlds features a slate that you use to give instructions to the Bahro. You do this by drawing shapes with the mouse. It’s a reminiscent of the “gestural” interfaces used in Black & White and early versions of Darwinia before the designers realized how difficult and annoying it was. It’s a bit different here, though, because you don’t have to (and in most cases can’t) draw the shapes in a single continuous stroke, which lessens the annoyance factor somewhat. But it’s tricky to draw with a mouse — especially if, like me, you normally use a trackball for games 1A Logitech Cordless Optical Trackman, for what it’s worth — not to be confused with the Logitech Cordless Trackman Wheel or other similarly-named products. It’s the best pointing device I’ve ever used, especially for first-person games like this one. My only complaint is that there’s nothing holding the ball in except gravity, so whenever you drop the device, the ball comes out and rolls under the couch.. And unlike in other programs you might use to draw pictures with a mouse, there’s no eraser tool and no “undo”. If you make a mistake, you have to wipe the whole slate and start over. I’ve tried hooking up a Wacom tablet 2 “Do you begin to understand the power of the Tablet? Surely it begins to pull you. Its strength grips you. Look around. Without the power of the Tablet, this would be left solely to your dreams.” — Esher, Wacom spokesman. for these bits, but it interacts strangely with the game, sending the cursor zooming into corners suddenly. This doesn’t happen with that tablet under other applications. But at least the game doesn’t ask you to draw shapes more than once. Once you’ve got a drawing that the Bahro understand, it’s automatically saved where you can retrieve it with a click.

Recognizing shapes is one of those things that’s traditionally difficult for computers to do, so it’s unsurprising that the game can get it wrong. It’s generally good at rejecting things that aren’t quite right — frustratingly so at times, given the difficulty of drawing. But there was one occasion when I drew a shape completely wrong, and the game decided it was a close-enough match to a different shape, one that looked even less like what I had drawn to a human eye. There may be something going on where the game remembers the last shape you had the opportunity to see and is more lenient about matching it. Usually there’s a single order in which you can discover them, but this level was an exception. Later in the same level, I actually managed to skip a puzzle when the Bahro carried the slate to its final destination without being instructed to do so, perhaps as a result of another mistaken match. Whether these two mistakes are connected, I don’t know. I played through the level a second time, because I don’t like skipping puzzles accidentally, and didn’t hit any false positives that time.

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1. A Logitech Cordless Optical Trackman, for what it’s worth — not to be confused with the Logitech Cordless Trackman Wheel or other similarly-named products. It’s the best pointing device I’ve ever used, especially for first-person games like this one. My only complaint is that there’s nothing holding the ball in except gravity, so whenever you drop the device, the ball comes out and rolls under the couch.
2. “Do you begin to understand the power of the Tablet? Surely it begins to pull you. Its strength grips you. Look around. Without the power of the Tablet, this would be left solely to your dreams.” — Esher, Wacom spokesman.

Myst V: Observatory

myst5-planetI had a marathon session this weekend, which is really the best way to play this sort of game. A significant fraction of that time was spent seriously stuck for the first time toward the end of the second major subworld. (You can complete them in any order, but there’s a specific order in which they become available.) This is a segment built around a fanciful astronomical observatory, designed in traditional D’ni fashion: isolated, empty, and built to an impractically large scale. You get that sort of thing when architects can just write buildings into existence without worrying about materials or labor. The D’ni were like game designers in that regard.

The puzzles in the observatory age are, appropriately, themed around spotting things at a distance, mainly through telescopes. Given all the time I spent looking around, it’s a good thing the game is as pretty as it is. It’s the first game in the Myst series proper to be completely rendered in 3D, at least if you don’t count RealMyst and Uru. (Although this game is more of a sequel to Uru than to Myst IV, so maybe it should count.) And it really gives the 3D engine a workout. One of the things that always bugged me about the original Myst was the ocean around the island: you could hear the waves lapping at the shore, but it was a still image. Myst V has surf. It has individual strands of waving grass. It has an eclipse at one point, which really took me by surprise. And that’s not even getting into the rendered human figures, with their gestures and their loose, flowing clothing. No doubt it’ll all look laughable in a few years, but for now, I’m suitably impressed. I guess this means I’m playing it at the right time.

Ultimately, though, I became unstuck not by gazing at the scenery, but by thinking about what had to happen next. The puzzles had given me access to a certain hard-to-reach place, but with no obvious reward. I had to think about why I was there. This sort of thing can be great, but I honestly don’t think the effect was deliberate on the part of the author in this case. It was just a matter of confusion caused by my having solved a puzzle earlier wthout, it turned out, quite understanding what I had done.

Myst V: Yeesha vs. Esher

myst5-esherSo, with my faulty video card replaced, I’ve finally got Myst V: End of Ages running at a reasonable framerate. I’ve explored enough of the hub to gain access to all four of the other “ages”, of which I’ve delved into two and completed one.

The story is basically about a struggle between Yeesha and Esher, with the player caught in the middle: for some unexplained reason, I’m the only one who can draw this legendary Tablet from its housing like Excalibur from the stone, and they both have ideas about what I should do with its great but unspecified power once I do so. As a Myst veteran, I know full well that when two people both want me on their side, I shouldn’t trust either of them. But it isn’t as symmetric as Sirrus and Achenar here. For one thing, Esher is actually trying to help me. He knows his way around the quest, having been on it himself at one point, and he comes by to talk more or less every time I’ve made a bit of progress. Yeesha only appeared at the beginning: her point of view is mainy represented through scattered journal entries (a device that’s surely passé by now). And in contrast to Yeesha’s vague and self-absorbed poeticalisms, Esher says practical things like “You will not be able to continue downward without providing fresh air to the tunnels.” Yeesha, at the end of her introductory spiel, actually had the gall to say “What you still don’t understand you have failed to hear or don’t need to know.” She’s actually blaming me for her inability to communicate clearly!

So, yeah, I’d be a lot more sympathetic towards Esher than towards Yeesha if it weren’t for the fact that he’s a jerk. He’s constantly badmouthing Yeesha in a sleazy effort to get me on his side. A lot of what he says is stuff I’ve said myself — complaints about her vagueness and self-importance — but it’s sleazy anyway. Plus he also seems to hate her for her ancestry more than for any other reason, being the great-granddaughter of the woman who destroyed D’ni. Also, he’s contemptuous of the Bahro, the beings I know from Uru as “the Least”. In Uru, there’s a whole plot about how the D’ni enslaved the Least for their inherent ability to “link”, to make the connection to other worlds, and there’s an epiphany moment when it’s made clear that the Least and the apelike creatures that lurk in dark places and make disquieting noises are, in fact, the same thing. Yeesha supports Bahro rights, but Esher thinks they’re primitive, unclean things and that the D’ni had the right idea. In fact, Esher seems to be generally gung-ho about restoring D’ni civilization without learning any lessons from what happened to it.

All of the above is heavy with referenes to Myst continuity, including things from the novels. I assume there’s disagreement on this, but I regard this as a weakness. The more we learn about D’ni history, the easier it is to mentally classify it as just another fantasy world instead of something strange and unique. This series may be ending at just the right time.

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