[Very minor puzzle spoilers.]

As a piece of graphic art, Myst IV should win awards. Unfortunately, as a game it leaves rather a lot to be desired.

The most immediate problem is the speed–or rather, the lack of it. While my computer was comfortably over spec and could easily handle scrolling the screen around even with all the effects turned on, each transition to a new location involved the game freezing for a few seconds while it loaded in the next set of graphics. Usually the delay was around 4 seconds, but sometimes it was as much as 10 seconds. That’s not too bad when you’re somewhere you’ve never been before, but when you’re wandering from place to place trying to solve puzzles spread over a world, it gets tiresome very quickly.

The second problem is that even as of late 2005 and 3 patches, the game is buggy. I couldn’t persuade the mangrees to do their thing, even though I had resorted to a walkthrough and was sure I was doing what it said. I tried saving the game, quitting, restarting and loading, and suddenly the puzzle was solved. If I hadn’t been working from a walkthrough and hadn’t known the game was misbehaving, I would likely have wasted hours unable to solve that puzzle for no good reason.

The puzzles themselves aren’t as satisfying as earlier Myst games, either. Some of them make no sense at all–like stroking a snake to make a machine work. Others don’t quite work right, like the slider puzzle on the gate, abruptly making you conscious of the fact that you’re not dealing with a real physical object, but instead with a computer simulation that has extra constraints that wouldn’t be there in the real world.

In Riven, the puzzles were carefully woven into the worlds; the machinery mostly had a good reason to be there. Myst IV is more of a throwback to the original Myst, with elaborate locks in arbitrary locations, strange apparently pointless mechanisms, and worlds in an initial state that really doesn’t make sense except as a way to throw puzzles at you. To make up for this you’re given an amulet which is basically a clue machine, a rather blatant plot device which again destroyed the feeling of being in a real world.

The puzzles are also tough. When you’re forced to resort to hints, you should always think “Aha, yes, of course, I should have got that.” In the case of one of the Myst IV worlds, I still didn’t understand what was going on even after reading the solution. Combine that with the click (wait wait wait) click (wait wait wait) slowness when wandering around, and you have a recipe for frustration.

Still, the music was great–easily the most impressive soundtrack of a Myst game so far. But that wasn’t enough to overcome the defects and keep me immersed in the game.

If you’re a Myst fan, you’ll buy this anyway. If you’re not, I’d suggest that you steer clear of it and get one of the other games in the Myst series.

We can’t remember whose idea it was. At one point I had suggested to sara that we could get married in Vegas, but for some strange reason she didn’t go for it. Nevertheless, the idea of visiting Vegas had appealed, and we had talked about it on and off for a couple of years. Then in the fall of 2003, my mother started pestering me as to what we were planning for Christmas. While we were talking about vacations, I asked sara if she had any ideas for Christmas, and she jokingly said that maybe we should go to Vegas for Christmas and solve two problems at once.

The idea stayed a joke for a week or two, until I was nagged further by my mother and told that I was leaving everything too late. At that point I told her that we were hoping to go to Las Vegas for Christmas, just to shut her up. Having said it, I decided out of curiosity to see if it was a sensible idea. It turned out that it was; and better still, it was a cheap idea.

Las Vegas hotel rates are higher at weekends, and suddenly double or quadruple on the 26th as everyone flies in to spend the week between Christmas and the New Year there. By traveling down on the 21st and back on the 26th, we managed to get a good deal. That, in turn, meant that we could afford to stay in a luxurious hotel, rather than the usual Holiday Inn grade motel…

After an evening of reading up on hotels, we picked Mandalay Bay. It’s the newest of the big casino hotels, located at the far south end of The Strip. The theme is “tropical beach”, and as well as an artificial beach with wave machine the hotel also has an aquarium and shark tank. Best of all, every room has a large, deep bath for soaking in. It’s not quite an in-room hot tub, but add some bath foam and it’s a very close simulation at less than half the price. Just the thing after a long day exploring.