Riven tops Myst, but requires more power, hard drive space, time

CONFESSION: I never finished Myst. I never even escaped from the game's main island. To my shame and embarrassment, I never reached the various "ages" created by the multitalented magician called Atrus, except once at the home of a teen-ager with lots of time on his hands.

Too proud to resort to hint books, too cheap to dial the 95-cents-a-minute clue line, too busy to spend countless hours clicking from scene to beautiful scene flipping switches and pressing buttons in the hope of getting something interesting to happen, I reluctantly put the disk aside.


Myst became the best-selling computer game ever, not counting the ones that come "integrated" with operating systems, and spawned an industry producing everything from novels to mouse pads. From the moment its sequel was announced, it became one of the very few computer products for which the phrase "eagerly awaited" was more than a public relations conceit.

Now Riven has finally arrived from Red Orb Entertainment for about $50. It picks up where Myst leaves off, but it can be played without having mastered the original.


It retains much of its predecessor's format, in which the player must wander through a realistic-looking, computer-rendered still-picture world and solve puzzles in order to reach a goal specified only vaguely at the outset. But Riven's landscapes, interiors and sound scapes are far richer, more detailed and more realistic than those in Myst, and a sizable dose of animation has been added.

Much of the improvement comes from the greatly increased computer power used in its creation; still more comes from a bigger picture, an increase in the color palette by about 64,000 colors, and the far more powerful machine it takes to play the game.

How times change in four years! For Windows users, Myst demanded a mere 486 machine, with eight megabytes of RAM, three megabytes of hard drive space, and a single-speed CD-ROM drive. Riven comes on five disks and requires at least a 100 megahertz Pentium, running Windows 95 with 16 megabytes of RAM, 75 megabytes of hard disk space and a 4X CD-ROM drive.

It also insists on video and sound cards compatible with Microsoft's Directx technology, which with many machines may require the considerable pain of installing new software drivers, assuming you can find them.

Macintosh users need at least a 90 megahertz PowerPC, nine megabytes of free RAM, and 65 megabytes of hard disk space and a 4X CD-ROM.

All that power delivers a computer-rendered world where the design of light and sound is the real hero. The directors, Robyn Miller and Richard Vander Wende, are so obsessed with detail that scenes constantly dazzle you with realistic highlights, shadows and textures.

Victorian-looking mechanical contraptions like a submarine on rails coexist with native mud dwellings connected by creaky wooden walkways. Flora and fauna are as realistic as snake plants and as fanciful as the "sunner," which looks something like a cross between a whale, a walrus and a big platypus.

Inventiveness is present in the merest details, such as an elegant wooden toy that teaches the native system of numbers in a way that looks like an artifact of a tribal culture's adjustment to the mechanical age. Even the audio adds to the illusion with the constant presence of the sounds of birds and bugs.


Yet despite its elegant look, Riven is ultimately a variant of puzzle-solving computer adventure games that have been around since the ancient days of terminals that displayed green text, though the puzzles are now more visual than verbal. Here many of them involve manipulation of devices like valves and overflow pipes, to the point where an alternative title might be "Adventures in Plumbing."

As you rush back and forth between one valve and another to try things out, it can be about as exciting as mapping out the circuit breakers of your home's electrical system by yourself.

Pub Date: 11/10/97