The incredibly true, years-long journey to create a “functional” linking book from Myst
Mike Ando is a dedicated fan of the Myst series of adventure games, and he has recently made a splash on the Internet with videos and images of his own “working” Myst book, a tome that opens to reveal a touch screen display that plays all the original Myst titles. The book hides a small computer with passive cooling; the system’s OS and games are held on a 32GB CompactFlash card. Those are the technical details, but the magic is that it looks and acts like one of the books from the game.
“Others have made a Myst book replica before, but I thought I could do a much more authentic job. I’ve been a Myst fan since the game was first released, 19 years ago. In fact the reason I pushed the books online on Monday was because that was the 15th anniversary of Riven. Plus the games have helped me through some difficult times in my life,” he told told the Penny Arcade Report.
Ando beta-tested Uro and his name appears in the Path of the Shell expansion pack. He attends the annual Myst fan convention. He has built a working, mechanical clock based on the 25-hour system of the D’ni.
His latest project shows off that level of dedication, and its creation was not easy.
It starts with the book
The first step was finding a copy of the same book Cyan used for reference material in the game. “That was very difficult and that’s mostly why this project took six years. A copy only comes up for sale every 6-12 months but there’s many different bindings of the book, so I had to make sure I had the exact book before I started,” he explained.
The original plan was to show a full color holograph when the book was opened, but then he began to have grander ideas. Why not video? Ando worked on a small system based on the Beagleboard to show video, but then he realized that he had nearly enough computing power to play the games themselves. In fact, he ran into a conceptual snag when some of the games were released on iOS.
“If I just matched the features of an iPhone, people would say that it was a pointless waste of time because I could’ve just put a phone in the book. However an iPhone’s screen is completely the wrong size & aspect ratio and it just doesn’t look right. Plus the iOS games have a reduced resolution compared to the PC games,” he said. It was time to switch gears one more time, and work on a system that both looked like the books in the game world, and played the games the way we remembered them. He started focusing on the idea of an embedded x86 desktop computer.
How to control the games
The control mechanism took a little more work than people may assume. “The screen is a 640x480 5.0” LED-backlit display,” the project’s page states. “This provides 1:1 native pixel mapping on the original versions of Myst, Riven & Exile. There’s a matching 4-wire resistive glass touch-screen overlaid on top as the main input method, which updates at 160 samples/second with a touch resolution of 2048x2048.” He used Google translate to communicate with suppliers in China, and he was told the touch-screen was custom made to his specifications.
“Part of me still wonders if he just found one that matched and resold it to me for a higher price,” Ando said. “If so, good for him - I couldn’t find one after a very extensive search!”
As the pictures show, Ando had to basically destroy the book in order to insert the computer, mount the screen, and get everything working as it does in the game. He deflects criticism about cutting up the antique.
“Most people think that all old books are valuable, but that’s not true at all - there’s plenty of old books that’re essentially worthless as a book. Old tax books is a good example,” he explained. “The book Cyan used is basically a 135 year old cross between a Reader’s Digest and a gossip magazine, and most of the time it only carries snippets of the articles which makes it even less useful.”
Local distributors would collect unsold copies of their weekly publications before binding the work as an almanac. “It’s printed on one of the cheapest newspaper-type paper stocks available at the time and bound in a cover material that is essentially off-cuts from other books. This is why there’s at least 14 different bindings of the same book,” Ando said.
“Even when it was made the book had very little value. These days, books like this are sold to interior designers literally by the metre - their contents or even their title aren’t important and their entire value is determined by the aesthetics of their spine.” Aesthetics that, especially after Ando added the “MYST” name on the cover in gold leaf, are very fine indeed.
The finished book
The system uses an Intel Z530P running at 1.6GHz, and the GPU is an Intel GMA500 chipset capable of running DirectX 9.0C graphics. The battery lasts between 90 minutes to two hours, and Ando used a single 1GB RAM stick to limit heat and power consumption.
On the shelf it looks like an old book, but when you open the first page you’re greeted with a window into another world. You can sit down and play through each of the games, or go through the Book of Atrus e-book. The book includes Myst island flyby videos if you’d just like to enjoy the effect.
“Also, when you first turn on the book a video automatically plays featuring Atrus writing at his desk, then he looks up at you and mouths the words ‘who the devil are you?’” Ando wrote on the book’s webpage.
For now, Ando doesn’t know what he’ll tackle for his next project. “I could build a projection-based heads-up display for my car, launch my own personal satellite, take over the world…” he told the Penny Arcade Report. “People often think I’m joking, and many times I am. Except then I can’t get an idea out of my head so I start looking up how viable it is. And then two years later, I’m driving to my friends house to show them my newly-acquired DeLorean.”
A DeLorean that, of course, he’s in the process of turning into a replica of a certain time machine.