This is one of those little things for which my only explanation is that the creators at Cyan simply care.
The Myst remake, which also launched for desktop platforms last month, though it liberally alters the world the original Myst has asserted as "real" for over 25 years – which to me feels as close as possible to a sin when creating fiction – has felt increasingly satisfying as I've observed more gameplay while considering the words of its toiling developers. I think I'll write about that later.
However, one thing I just couldn't stomach was the fully-animated renderings of its human characters. My most charitable interpretation of their presence involved considering the painstaking work that was done on the natural and architectural environments, arguably a "mainer" character in Myst games than its characters. Cyan's specialty isn't (and perhaps can't be) fabricating illusory humans, I've been telling myself, so these fairly clunky, unreaslistic, overly-symmetrical-looking CG characters, which only loosely resemble their originating actors, are understandable. By comparison, the rendered humans in other companies' games from one or even two decades ago are more convincing, more conducive to an imagined reality.
As much as that resembles a slight to Cyan, it's actually veiled respect. I've assumed the reason Cyan has not refined and mastered rendered humans is because they've favoured live video footage, all the way through Obduction in 2016. Even the most advanced CG human of today somehow can't transmit the same quality of humanity found in the most compressed, grainiest, lowest-resolution video of an actor, and so the latter feels objectively superior. Why is that? I think the reason is entangled with the idea of any fictional proposition: if a constraint or limitation – such as video resolution – is present consistently across a fictional work's presentation, the experiencer understands off the bat where the imaginative burden of their mind begins and ends, accepts it, and proceeds. It's the same reason the original Myst felt real, with its limited colour palette and conical, alpha-blended evergreen trees.
Anyway, yesterday came this tweet from Hannah at Cyan (check it out for a video sample):
Okay @cyanworlds fans -- you asked, and we answered. Welcome to "Classic Video Mode" for Myst! Now available now in Patch 3 for Myst on Steam, GOG, EGS, and Oculus Rift Store. Other platforms to come soon, pending us passing cert for them. Now, I will collapse for the weekend. :)
I almost thought it was a joke, but apparently the team at Cyan – with no particular mandate but their will and, apparently, audible requests from their players – took the time and effort to create an entirely new mode that retains the live video performances found in previous versions.
By now, you know I thought they should. Today, I ask myself why I never even hoped they would. Maybe the dramatic "reboot" feeling of the remake stoked my apathy. Too often when companies "reboot" things, it turns out to mean they're embracing modern trends at the expense of the more soul-singing and sentimental aspects that initially communicated their care and earned their acclaim, resulting in a hollower product for a hollower audience, and the feeling something truly special and long-lived is finally fading and dying.
Apparently Cyan is not that kind of company. It's such an encouraging gesture, and I'm happy to see I'm not the only fan that approves. If anyone there is reading, I hope you and the team feel encouraged back. I've always noted Cyan's thorough finesse in blending video footage of actors so carefully into pre-rendered and live-rendered worlds, and your stalwartness in that – even to the point of designing the game largely around it – has felt almost sacred within a changing industry. With this extra effort on the Myst remake, I'm proud to feel it's still there.