Saturday Crapshoot: Pyst

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Richard Cobbett at

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Myst, as everyone who ignores people who are wrong can tell you, is a festering boil upon the gaming industry, found just off to the side of adventuring's anus, on the itchiest part of point and click's clammiest buttock. It landed in 1993, with its pretty graphics instantly bedazzling all who gazed upon it, especially those who found a copy stuffed with their first CD drive or nestled in the packaging of their printer for reasons that still escape all comprehension. To this day, it has armies of admirers. Unrelated, there are millions of people whose idea of a good time is watching obese members of the opposite sex bathing in porridge to the tunes of Barry Manilow. Probably. In conclusion, Myst is rubbish.

But did you ever wonder what happened to scenic Myst Island after some four million players had tramped across it? Of course not. But if you had, Pyst might just have been your answer...

Pyst? You would be if you'd bought it.

Ignoring a few shout-outs here and there, direct parody has never been a big part of the gaming world. A few games will poke at their genres, as The Bard's Tale tried to do for RPG, a few take a light-hearted look at a type of story, as with No-One Lives Forever, but it's incredibly rare to see a game that straps one of its contempories into a chair for even the lightest, friendliest kind of gumming.

Then you play something like Pyst. And suddenly feel very grateful for that small mercy.

To give it the once-in-a-lifetime chance to hear something nice, I'll say this: the basic gag behind Pyst is quite funny. Creators Parroty Interactive, last seen failing to get a laugh out of Microsoft Windows carefully recreated much of the iconic Myst island a year or so after the Stranger's adventure, now in tourist trap form. An evil company called Octoplex has moved in with the idea of revamping the whole thing into luxury condos, water slides and sewage plants, while King Mattrus and his sons Prince Syrrup and Prince They Couldn't Be Bothered To Come Up With A Pun So Let's Call him Achinarse get fat and rich off the profits. Quite clever. Almost like they bothered trying. Y'know. Almost.

This concludes the 'being vaguely nice' portion of this week's Crapshoot.

For your convenience, I've highlighted the good jokes with big red and yellow flashing arrows. You're welcome.

Against the odds, Pyst's biggest problem isn't that it's as funny as a wire pipe-cleaner up the penis tube - though that is Problem #2 through to #514 - but that it's not actually a game. It's simply a series of rendered slides in sequence, which you click on to make pointless stuff happen and wait, I may as well be talking about Myst itself. Let me clarify. Even in Myst, a game so simplistic that it could be recreated with flash cards, you got to explore the world. See a path. Click the path. You walk down the path. When you went into a room, there'd be these things called 'puzzles'. And boredom. But at least stuff.

In Pyst, you simply click on the backgrounds to make animations play, and then click on the right to move forward into the next screen. Even when, as with the jump from the docks to the secret room with the holoprojector thing, the exit is on the left. When you get to the last of the slides, the game is over. Even if you take your time/play on a full dose of Valium, that won't take long at all.

In the Library for instance, all one room of it, the fireplace will light up, what was once the map screen makes a honking sound, there are three letters you can read from various characters (none funny), a postcard complaining it doesn't look like the demo, and a bit of narration. These aren't examples, incidentally. Those are literally all the hotspots available on the screen, and there are only ten screens. The books? They do nothing. Portals to other worlds? Nope. The secret passage? Not in this game. Syrrup and Achinarse? Nope! There are barely any jokes on most of the screens, not even getting into the sad, sad ratio of comedy to simply staring in apathetic disbelief at something happening, with the majority of the screens happy to consider their job done if a wire sparks or a random sound plays.

This is the rare parody that makes Seltzer and Friedberg seem insightful slightly less rubbish.

Normally, trashing Myst would be a pleasure. But today? I'm just not feeling it...

It's not like Myst is a tough game to parody. The central concept is a mad writer, Atrus, creating universes people can cross over to via magic books. That's a free pass to do whatever you like!

(Admittedly, Myst's own creators used it to create entirely desolate worlds, to the point that every book on Atrus' shelf must have read "And then there was a sort of obsidian spire thing sitting in the middle of an armillary with a twiddly bit on the side that could be flipped when the moon was on the ascent" and his sons probably turned evil as a result of having to listen to him read his latest achingly dull passages to them, but still - freedom! Let's go party on Hr'shee, world of oddly vomit-flavoured chocolate!)

Even just sticking to Myst Island has possibilities though. For instance, the Stranger and Atrus soon become good friends and even hang out together quite a bit. But look at the worlds this man creates. How much would it suck to join him for a big dinner, only to realise you really need the toilet. "No problem," says your gracious host. "You'll find the toilet just down the corridor, behind the combination lock that uses the gem equivalents of the star sign you can calculate based on the charts for my wife's birthday in my secret underground observatory. And the loo roll is in the cupboard."

What? Toilet humour a bit low-brow for Myst? Please. Atrus is the one obsessed with the dunny.

Uh, King? There are two people on this island, and you're both guys. Whose bikini top is that?

Instead of wit, funny jokes, puzzles, or more than an hour or so of material, Pyst opted to bring in John Goodman for what has to be the easiest cheque of his entire career. He plays King Mattrus, appearing on screen for... oooh... two minutes? Maybe three? His first appearance is in the secret room from next to the dock. He welcomes you with a cry of "Hello there! I am King Mattrus, ruler of Pyst! And I know who you are! All the world's a game, and you're... a pest. No! A player! And all the players, merely pests!" and closes the game with the most terrifying threat of all - releasing a sequel!

Thankfully, it never came out. Though there was a short demo of what it would have been like...

...which would have been 'awful', obviously...

(It probably goes without saying, but "Driven"? When the word "Drivel" exists? Not! Even! Trying!)

Probably the weirdest part of the whole thing - other than that it sold well enough for a sequel to be on the cards - is the song that plays at the end. Goodman sings it, and it's called "I'm Pyst", but what the hell it's meant to have to do with anything, I have absolutely no idea. It's only King Mattrus singing in theory, nothing about it involves Myst in any way shape or form, and... well... listen if you dare.

And now for something completely different. And a million times better.

But what if you want to play a parody of the Myst genre, if not the game itself, that's genuinely funny as well as being incredibly clever? You're in luck! It's called Zork: Grand Inquisitor, and it's cheap-as-chips from Good Old Games. While the plot's not up to much (at all), it's packed with wonderful lateral thinking puzzles, actually knowing pokes at the genre, and it finds the time to be a damn good adventure game in its own right too. You could also play an actual Myst game while blowing raspberries at your screen, but this will be much more entertaining and not waste anything like as much of your precious saliva.

Or just play a Myst game for fun. But really. Why would anyone want to do that?


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