Blue Lacuna: Myst Influence

Well, I’ve explored most of the island where Chapter 2 takes place, and I’ve finally found some puzzles. Really unmistakable ones, too: a complex bit of non-operational machinery with multiple components here, a locked door with a bunch of enigmatically-labeled buttons there. Finding the combination for that door seems to require going out and observing wildlife in various parts of the island. These puzzles all feel particularly Myst-like to me. Perhaps it’s just because that’s the kind of puzzle you get when you design for no inventory — the game still hasn’t yet admitted that it has an inventory at all, although it may introduce the concept in a later chapter.

But the author does acknowledge the Myst series as a strong influence, and it shows, even if you ignore the puzzles. The world-hopping is strikingly similar, both games using a mechanic where links are established by precise artistic depictions of the destination world. (Ironically, the graphical game uses books for this purpose, while the textual game uses graphic arts.) Chapter 2 Island has an ecology as diverse as Riven‘s, with lush descriptions that create much the same effect as Myst‘s rich (for the time) graphics, making it clear that this is a world meant to be savored. (The examine-all-the-wildlife puzzle encourages this too, of course.) And the particular situation of the wayfarer and Rume in the beginning reminds me a lot of Atrus and Catherine, living in voluntary rustic isolation, crafting their own tools and achieving the kind of comfortable lifestyle that usually requires more than two people to support it. It’s a bourgeois fantasy of life outside the city, reminiscent of 18th-century nobles escaping the pressures of court life by playing at being carefree shepherds, without the privations experienced by real shepherds. But hey, a fantasy is a fantasy.

Myst, for all its success, is reviled by a lot of people, and its imitators moreso. This is because the worst aspects of Myst are also generally the easiest to imitate. But Blue Lacuna does a good job of picking out the the things that are actually appealing, the stuff that kept the fans coming back. Obviously it’s not imitating the user interface, except perhaps in a very abstract way.

But even as it’s getting more and more Myst-like, it’s also getting more text-adventure-like. In my last session, I found a compass. If you’re holding it and its cover is open, exits are listed with their compass directions. The textual descriptions are there too, alongside the directions, like “Sand stretches south towards the center of the beach, and you could also head back southwest down to where the waves are breaking”, but it’s the compass directions that are highlighted in green, not “beach” and “waves”. This is a big change to how the game plays, and it’s completely voluntary, and can be switched on and off at will — which means that the author went to the trouble of writing two different exit lists for every room on the island. It remains to be seen how this will apply to other worlds. Since compass-direction listings are dependent on an object in the gameworld that wasn’t crafted by the player character personally, it should, according to the rules, be left behind when I wayfare.

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