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I played some Riven (sequel to myst) the other night. I haven't gotten that far, so I can't give a great review, but here's some aspects. Technically, the graphics are absolutely gorgeously done. They paid a lot of attention to lighting and ambient sound, like the original. Fractal rocks, rippling water effects and exotic flora make for some gorgeous shots. The shaders are great --- none of that overly clean CG look indicative of Myst here! Old pipes are gorgeously rusty, levers have left scrapemarks in the wall after years of use, and trees have bark that reaches out to bite you. All of this in true color, 640x480. Well, sort of. Actually, the graphics are in letterbox format, so there are stripes of black on the top and bottom to preserve their desired cinematic aspect ratio. This is far less annoying on a large screen, but on a 15" monitor it really would hurt. I will grant them the artistic license for the aspect ratio, however, sicne you already feel like you have tunnel vision due to my biggest problem with the game --- static transitions! I found this annoying given the increase in animation technology in the last 4 years since Myst. Granted, the game takes 5 CDs as it is now with limited animation, but I really think that quick animations to transition from still shot to still shot would have been worth it. It is much too easy to get turned around and lost without them. I came to rely on them in other games to help me keep track of which way I was headed. They do have some animation scenes for going between certain screens, however, and these are nicely done. They usually involve being in a machine of some sort, so tend to be very rollercoastery --- lots of fun. If there had been a tradeoff between the gogeous 640x480 true color and animations, though, they made the right choice. The Quicktime animations are all grainy in that QT kind of way, and when they finish and the hires screen fills in, you're much happier. (read: splooge).

The puzzles are a lot like Myst --- mechanical and informational. You need to find codes and figure out strange devices usually involving levers and buttons. If you reach a point and go "huh? what do I do with this?" you're better off just moving on and maybe something will present itself elsewhere. There was one pixel search that pissed me off a bit, although I should have been paying more attention --- try to click on everything. The hand icon should turn into a different shape if you futz with something. As for plot, it is mostly contained in books and strange pictures, like Myst, so be prepared to read more of that scratchy writing. Also, the plot is much less obvious than Myst so far... I still am not sure what I am doing. In Myst it was obvious, blue page, red page, yeah yeah yeah. In this one you need to find someone or something. And some of the puzzles I have found so far are far from obvious. I mean, they are often obvious up front, like "Oh, I do this and that and then that" and something happens and then you go "Huh? What did that mean?" and need to wander around more before it makes any sense.

All in all, it has been a great break from the likes of Quake and Diablo, and also the big inventory, try everything with everything video games I have been laying lately. It might actually be worth the $55 by the time I am done.


-- Michael Johnson (aries@media.mit.edu), November 13, 1997

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