"I realized the moment I fell into the fissure that the book would not be destroyed as I had planned. It continued falling into that starry expanse, of which I had only a fleeting glimpse. I have tried to speculate where it might have landed, but I must admit such conjecture is futile; still, questions about whose hands might one day hold my Myst book are unsettling to me. I know my apprehensions might never be allayed, and so I close, realizing that perhaps the ending has not yet been written."
—Atrus, writing in his journal at the end of Myst: The Book of Atrus
Most games have a premise, dictating an objective which the player achieves through gameplay. Some games, however, have discovering the premise and the objective as part of the gameplay.Myst was a puzzle-heavy first-person adventure game which sparked off a new sub-genre. Developed by the brothers Rand and Robyn Miller in 1993, the game became an unexpected hit, mainly due to its eerie, haunting atmosphere and, for the time, outstanding graphics.note The passage of time has masked this somewhat, but Myst's graphics were revolutionary. Look at the page picture. Now consider that the rest of the computer game world was still doing 16-bit. It was swiftly followed by a host of imitators, most of which are decidedly inferior to the original.Myst is famous for its mind-bending logic puzzles and lack of character interaction - most of the games feature only a handful of NPCs and very little dialogue. Unsurprisingly, adventure fans are heavily divided over the merits of the game, with most players falling firmly into the 'love' or 'hate' camps. It has even been accused of helping to hasten the 'death' of adventure games, even though many gamers were introduced to the genre by Myst and its sequels.The late Douglas Adams, upon playing Myst, cheerfully declared the game to be a 'Beautiful Void' due to the lack of other characters or life of any kind. (He also created Starship Titanic, which was a game with a very similar premise IN SPACE, with snarky robots.)It is also worth noting that characterization of 'The Player' (Sometimes called 'The Stranger') is achieved after an interesting fashion in that the few NPC's that play a primary role, Atrus and his family, treat the main character with familiarity that develops as the series progresses. This leads to the player's becoming something akin to their family friend, and subtly integrating the player themself as a character into the world of the game by avoiding dictating the nature of the protagonist.The Myst games deal with the D'ni civilization, a race of people (not humans) that lived in a cavern under the Earth until their civilization fell a few centuries ago. The D'ni had the ability to write about locations they imagined in special books that could then physically transport a person to the places they described. Atrus, the main non-player character in the games, is one of the last survivors of the D'ni (though he's three-quarters human).See also "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius ".
The Myst series has six games:
Myst: The player is transported to a strange, deserted island by reading a magical book. Once there, he/she discovers two brothers trapped inside similar books, each of whom blames the other for the murder of their father Atrus and the destruction of his library. With the help of various notes, journals and recorded messages left by Atrus and his sons, the player must piece together what happened and decide who to free. According to Word of God, Myst is set in the early 19th century.
realMyst allows players to wander through a fully realized 3D version of the game.
And for the 20th anniversary, we have realMyst: Masterpiece Edition, which updates realMyst with even more graphical improvements.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst: Atrus, after being freed by the player in the previous game, sends the player to Riven (an Age reached by linking book), where Atrus's father Gehn is holding Atrus's wife Catherine captive. The player must free Catherine, trap Gehn, and find a way to signal Atrus. In the end, the player is returned home (which is presumably on Earth). Considered by many Myst fans to be the best game in the franchise, and also the most difficult.
Myst III: Exile: Several years after the events of Riven, the player visits Atrus in the latter's new home Tomahna (which is in the desert of New Mexico). While there, a man called Saavedro steals a book linking to the Age of Releeshahn (which Atrus was writing as a new home for the D'ni survivors) to get revenge for the evil acts perpetrated against Saavedro by Atrus's sons Sirrus and Achenar. The player must follow Saavedro and get the book back, while finding out about what drives Saavedro.
Myst IV: Revelation: Around ten years after Exile, Sirrus and Achenar return to kidnap Atrus's daughter Yeesha (around 10 years old in this game). The player visits the prison Ages in which Sirrus and Achenar were trapped, as well as a third Age called Serenia, to discover their plans and to try to free Yeesha.
Uru: Ages Beyond Myst: Set in the present day (2003, the game's release date), Uru is a spin-off of the Myst series. In the 1980's, a group of people discovered the D'ni cavern, and formed the D'ni Restoration Council. The player (who is obviously not the same character as the previous games, since it's 200 years later) is drawn to go to the desert and follows a journey set out by Yeesha that leads the player to find out much about the history and downfall of the D'ni, and about creatures called the Bahro that were enslaved by the D'ni. Uru also includes a massively multiplayer online component, which has been launched, canceled, relaunched, canceled again, and relaunched again throughout its history. After Uru Live was canceled (for the first time), two expansion packs were released with the planned future content for Uru Live. The first, To D'ni, allows the player to explore the D'ni cavern and deals with the fate of the DRC. The second, Path of the Shell, is about a prophecy concerning someone called the Grower (who would bring D'ni back to life) and a D'ni guild master named Kadish who claimed to be the Grower. It currently exists, for free but with no promises of future content updates, in the form of Myst Online: Uru Live. As of 2010 it's open source.
Myst V: End of Ages: The final Myst game is also set in the present day and is more a sequel to Uru than Myst. The game doesn't state who the player is, but according to Word of God it's Dr. Watson from the DRC (from Uru). The player is set a quest to release a Tablet, that controls/enslaves the Bahro. Both Yeesha and a D'ni survivor called Esher have attempted this quest but failed, and both will aid the player in their own way.
There are also several tie-in novels, authored by the Miller brothers themselvesnote Well... it should be noted that while the by lines say Rand (and Robyn, for the first one) Miller with David Winegrove, it would be more accurate to say that the novels were written by David Winegrove under the Millers' supervision. The fact that by the third book Cyan was too busy with Riven to really reign Winegrove in is something of a sore spot among the fans. Myst: The Book of Atrus tells the story of Atrus's early life with his grandmother Anna and his father Gehn. Myst: The Book of Ti'ana tells the story of the downfall of the D'ni (so this takes place before the Book of Atrus). Myst: The Book of D'ni tells of Atrus's attempts to find D'ni survivors and rebuild the D'ni civilization. And finally, Myst: The Book of Marrim, which seems to be permanently mired in Development Hell, though a preview chapter was released with the European Special Edition of Myst V. A fan-produced webcomic adaptation of The Book of Atrus is in progress here.An independently produced (but still approved by the Miller brothers) Film of the Book (the Book of Ti'ana to be precise) was announced. The scriptwriters kept a daily-updated blog about their progress, with some rather odd digressions about their personal lives in connection with the project. Since the website is blank, the future of the project is uncertain.The creators of Myst are also currently making a Spiritual Successor called Obduction.
Tropes appearing across the series:
Achievements in Ignorance: Yeesha can do a lot of things when writing Ages that were previously thought impossible (even above and beyond what her mother does-see below). It turns out that a lot of things that were previously thought to be hard-and-fast natural laws surrounding the process of writing linking books were just ancient traditions which had been around so long they assumed they must be laws. By being raised and taught in an environment where those weren't drummed into her head, Yeesha is able to accomplish things that everything her forefathers knew told them should cause her worlds to self-destruct.
Adaptation Expansion: In realMyst, a new Age is added to the original game, and several areas of the island and previous Ages can be visited that weren't formerly accessible.
Anachronism Stew: The games take place in the early 1800s. The D'ni have technology which can transport them to other worlds and record messages with holographic video. (They even had this in the 1700s, as Gehn's old technology demonstrates.) They had built surveillance cameras, circuit boards, maglev cars, and giant, rotating buildings and structures centuries before Earth would conceive such technology. Yet they still used candles for light and relied on books.
And I Must Scream: The protagonist suffers this fate in two of the "bad" endings to the first game; i.e. if you bring the last page to either brother.
Gehn suffers the same fate in Riven if you do things right.
Sirrus and Achenar were imprisoned in Spire and Haven respectively, completely alone, for over 20 years. Which is fair enough, as they'd done exactly the same thing to Saavedro For the Evulz.
And Man Grew Proud: The D'ni as a whole seemed to have a problem with this. The process of Age Writing does not actually create worlds (see the Rewriting Reality entry), but many of its practitioners seemed to forget this after a while. It seems you can't swing a stick in D'ni history without hitting a King or other important figure who became drunk on his own skill and committed horrid atrocities to the inhabitants of one or more Ages. Gehn is a great example, thinking himself a god, and Sirrus and Achenar both seem to have fallen into this trap as well. Even Yeesha admits there was a time she felt the same.
Yeesha: It was the same with the D'ni. The same cycle. Light opens the darkness. It takes, it uses, and it keeps. The D'ni found power in these books. These books you use to travel. They were a gift from the Maker. These Ages that you travel, too, were their Ages. Remarkable places giving life and taking life. This shadow came over them, this shadow of light. For it was in their enlightenment that they considered themselves better, better than the least. And we were sad for them.
5 in Riven and in the backstory. 5 is an important number to the D'ni culture. Because Gehn was a D'ni with delusions of grandeur (and sadistic tendencies), he brought the 5 motif to Riven with him. Five plays a major developmental part, in numbers and linguistics. Each number from 0 to 24 involves five symbols (0 is blank). To get numbers after 4, one rotates the first symbol 90 degrees ('1' rotated is '5', '2' rotated is '10', et cetera), then adds it to the unrotated symbol from 0 to 4 to get the full digit. After that, the '25s' place is one to the left. The phonemes work practically the same way... The original release also came on five discs.
It turns out 25 is actually the number holding the most cultural significance to the D'ni, as their number system is in Base 25 as opposed to our Base 10. Additionally, 25^2 is 625, the number connected to the Grower. The reason Gehn used the number 5 so powerfully around the islands of Riven is because Gehn misremembered this culturally significant number as 5 and not 25 (he was fairly young when the D'ni civilization collapsed), so he wrote everything in the link to Riven around the number 5.
Bittersweet Ending: All the games to a greater or lesser extent. Assuming the best endings:
In the original Myst, Atrus is freed in the end, albeit in the knowledge that most of his books have been destroyed and his sons have turned to evil. He mentions that an even greater foe awaits.
In Riven, Gehn is trapped and the people of the Age freed in Tay, the Stranger goes home, and Atrus and Catherine are reunited. But the Age of Riven itself dies, along with all of its animals, and it seems unlikely at that point that the Stranger and Atrus' family will meet again.
If the player chooses to leave Saavedro stranded after retrieving the Releeshahn book from him, Myst III: Exile can also fall under this. Even if you get the best possible ending instead, Saavedro has still lost twenty years of his life, including his daughters' entire childhoods, and is quite possibly incurably insane. To say nothing of the fact that he's become a psychopath, easily capable of snapping and killing someone with little provocation. What kind of rehabilitation does he have ahead of him? Makes the homecoming pretty darn bittersweet right there...
Call Back: Three of the Ages in the original Myst have separate rooms that Sirrus and Achenar have inhabited at some point, where their pages are. Not so in the Selenitic Age. Sirrus' page is in the middle of crystalline spires, while Achenar's is in the little spot of vegetation left - a haven. Then comes Myst IV.Three guesses what their prison ages are named, and why.
Canon Discontinuity: the comic book, Myst: The Book of Black Ships. Cyan's main gripe was that Dark Horse mixed up Sirrus's and Achenar's names. When the publisher refused to correct this in the remaining issues, Cyan had the series cancelled.
Dramatic Landfall Shot: The opening shot of the first game is an early example. Also Mechanical, Stoneship, J'nanin, Edanna, Haven, Teledahn... A good number of the Ages are islands, so they get to use this a lot. Justified by the fact that an age's descriptive book is already an enormous volume of several thousand pages, so describing an entire planet's features would make a book far too large to handle.
Go Back to the Source: In every game including "URU", at the end of the game the player returns to one of the first scenes.
In Myst, Myst Island (and you have to visit the dock Marker Switch again).
In Riven, the Fissure on Temple Island.
In Exile, Tomahna.
In URU, The Cleft.
In Myst V, K'veer.
Guide Dang It: A huge chunk of any game in this series becomes this relatively quickly. Made a bit more tolerable by the narrative tone that the official guides take, serving as the voice of the protagonist as he writes a journal of the occurrences.
Want to know the one of the worst cases of this in the first game? Being Tone Deaf and attempting the Organ Rocketship puzzle to get to the Selenic Age
The animal puzzle in Riven. Even if you've figured out the two or three layers of puzzle that spans the entire game map to know which animals you're looking for (one of which Gehn broke and you have to figure out via other means), the primitive cave pictograms on the stones where you ultimately enter them in don't depict them all that well.
The puzzles in Uru: Path of the Shell revolve around waiting for long periods of time, 14 minutes for almost all of them to be precise. The only hint to this is Bible-style references written on the walls, referenced in books in Relto which force you to count each individual line, which require you to know D'ni math to figure out what 625 units of their time is in normal minutes.
Heel-Face Turn: Veovis, ro'Eh ro'Dan, Achenar. Perhaps Shomat, as well.
Homeworld Evacuation: Another non-Earth example: The D'ni originated on a world called Garternay, which became uninhabitable when its sun began growing dim. Their ancestors fled into a succession of other worlds via their linking books, and have since lost all contact with their abandoned homeworld.
Human Aliens: Well, the D'ni aren't space aliens, but they don't originate from this universe. Several of the D'ni-written worlds include effectively human—or rather, D'ni— inhabitants, though the D'ni largely didn't consider them equals to themselves. (And yes, Earth is an Age, with its own descriptive book and everything.) If the civilizations on Riven (though its people now reside on Tay), Narayan, and Serenia have taught us anything, it's that most civilizations in this series are Human Aliens.
Identical Grandson: In the original Myst, both Atrus and his son Achenar were played by creator Rand Miller (his real-life brother Robyn played Sirrus).
Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence: Especially in Urunote Dilandau3000's Let's Play of the game comments on this and in fact refers to us to block off unfinished areas, but examples of places that seem like they should be accessible but are not abound throughout the entire series. A notable exception is in Riven, where you can simply crawl under a locked gate.
It's Up To You: Five times so far in the original series alone. This really begins to stretch credibility in later games. In Myst IV, Atrus can't participate because he's conveniently stranded in some kind of electrical storm. You only find this out if you repair his imager, which is not necessary for beating the game.
Myst: Go to D'ni without the white page (a type of Unwinnable situation), or bring all of the pages to either brother so you get trapped in the book yourself.
Riven: Forget to rescue Catherine (cue Downer Ending), open the fissure before trapping Gehn (Gehn escapes and kills you and Atrus), trap yourself in the prison book (if you do it in the Rebel Age, they burn the book), etc. All of these are outlined below, under Riven.
Exile: Return to Tomahna without the book to Releeshahn. Or, return to Tomahna, bringing Saavedro with you... The endgame of Exile is a very detailed, involved puzzle that comes with myriad ways to screw up; each one nets you a message related to how your mistake translates to "You lose, dumbass". All but two involve getting your sorry ass killed.
Sirrus and Achenar both, as portrayed by the Miller brothers. Also Sirrus in Revelation.
Brad Dourif's Saavedro, likewise. That makes Gehn one of the few exceptions among villains.
Laser-Guided Karma: After callously trapping Saavedro on J'nanin where he would remain trapped for over 20 years, in their greed to loot the "supposed" treasures of Spire and Haven, note (There actually IS treasure in Haven, but Achenar, who was trapped in that Age, doesn't have the same interest in it that Sirrus does.) Sirrus and Achenar accidentally get trapped in the Prison Ages for over 20 years.
Leitmotif: Almost every game in the series gives individual themes to certain characters. Probably the best known are the two distinct pizzicato-strings-and-dulcimer riffs in the original game that mark the various residences of Sirrus and Achenar (which recur briefly in Revelation), the use of the oboe in Riven to represent Gehn, and Saavedro's theme from Exile.
Lock and Key Puzzle: Most major puzzles, and a few minor ones, essentially boil down to an elaborate combination lock. The puzzle has so many possible states that guessing is simply out of the question. The only way to solve it is to wander around solving minor puzzles that will eventually reveal what the right combination is.
The fireplace plate has 2^48 (over 280 trillion) possible combinations. Even if you find, by happenstance, the book with the patterns in it, there are still hundreds of patterns to search through.
The fire marble press requires you to place up six colored marbles into a 25x25 grid. The number of combinations sits in the range of quadrillions. Technically, any entry with a specific marble and any other marble in their correct positions will grant access to the final stretch of the game, but that hardly makes a brute-force approach any more practical.
There are 3125 possible codes to unlock the hatch beneath the fissure periscope. The combination is randomized when you begin a new game.
There are 53,130 possible codes to unlock the book domes. This combination is also randomized.
The ending in Exile requires you to undo one of the puzzles you just solved in order to achieve your basic victory condition. To get the best ending, you then have to undo a different puzzle before resetting the first, and forgetting something at any point gets you an immediate failure. Furthermore, forgetting one thing but remembering everything else locks you into the best ending - that would be picking up the Tomahna book in the Narayan outpost instead of opening it like every single other linking book in the game. You have no choice but to let Saavedro go after that, if you want to get to the book without him killing you.
Mundane Utility: The D'ni have some incredibly advanced technology, the cornerstone of which is their ability to connect to other universes, specifying any type of universe they want with any contents they want, and travel to them at will. They use this ability as a municipal mass transit system, among other things.
Nintendo Hard: With all due respect, anyone who was actually able to beat that 'baubles that make animal noises/standing stones in the secret chamber' puzzle from Riven without turning to a walkthrough deserves a fucking medal.
Nostalgia Level: Atrus' study in Myst IV: Revelation, the Myst library, and K'veer in Path of the Shell. The Cleft might count, although it had only ever appeared in novels before. Also, the ruins of the original Myst in the bad ending of Myst V. It's worth getting the bad ending just to see it.
Katran was played by Sheila Goold and voiced by Rengin Altay in Riven. She was played by Maria Galante in Exile.
At least Goold and Galante SOMEWHAT resemble each other when in wardrobe and make-up. The actors who played Sirrus and Achenar in Revelation look and sound NOTHING like the Miller Brothers other than basic body types. What makes the situation more interesting is that Rand Miller returns to play Atrus.
Punny Name: Say "Terahnee" out loud a couple times... Many D'ni words are merely English words with a strong accent. Gahreesen, for instance, is a garrison.
Recurring Character: Atrus, portrayed by series co-creator Rand Miller, is the only character to appear in every game. Even though Cyan did not make Myst III and IV, Miller agreed to appear in the games for the fans.
Myst IV: Revelation almost beats you over the head with this trope. The effectiveness of the message is tempered by how well you remember the events ofMystandExile.
Averted in Exile, however, in which not only does the player reconcile with Saavedro and allow him a happy ending, but in a bad ending where you drive Saavedro to suicide Atrus yells at you about it. Of course, Saavedro's most serious crimes were arson (no one was hurt,) theft, and plotting bad things— and he did so for understandable reasons— so the game killing him to redeem him would have seemed pretty disproportional.
The transformation of 'Trap Books' into 'Prison Ages'.
The placement of the Cleft. The novels heavily imply the Cleft to be located in the Middle East, while Uru moves it to New Mexico.
According to Word of God (Richard A. Watson, the end-all authority on all things D'ni), the Cleft was always in New Mexico; the novels deliberately got it wrong to throw off curious seekers. He also states that trap books as shown in Myst and Riven don't exist; the brothers were always trapped in prison Ages (as shown in Myst IV), and that the trap books were simply a simplification made by Cyan for gameplay purposes. It should be noted that he wrote about this as early as 1998, so it wasn't something that was changed for Myst IV.
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Sirrus (Blue Oni) and Achenar (Red Oni), though the Books they're trapped in have the opposite colors. Interestingly, the worlds within the books once again have the opposite colors from their covers.
Rewriting Reality: The explanation for how the Art (of linking to other universes) works. With the proper ink, paper, and language, of course. What do you think this is, magic or something?
Save Token: Your camera in End Of Ages, which saves the game every time you take a picture.
Scenery Porn: Sufficient, said many critics at the time, to solely justify the first game's record-smashing sales. You can probably buy the first three sequels with that excuse, too. Specific examples:
The Garden Ages, the Kadish Gallery and Ahnonay in Uru.
Taken to the extent that your reward for completing a stage of particular games - individual islands in Riven, complete Ages in Exile and Revelation - is a ride around the area you just finished in what might easily be called Scenery PornFanservice. (Amateria in particular makes no pretensions of being anything other than Ending Ride.)
The Trap Books. Not counting the Linking Book you touched to start the whole adventure, of course...
Riven presents some interesting twists on the trope. There are at least two major pieces of Schmuck Bait in the game, and by the time you've found them, you should have figured out why they're dangerous. And yet, in order to win the game, you must use them anyway.
Big machines rife with pipes, gears, and valves often serve as primary puzzle elements in ages, especially Riven. Atrus especially seemed able to crank out huge volumes of wacky machinery using nineteenth-century parts and a little Sufficiently Advanced Technology.
The upper part of the central tower in J'nanin appears to be fixed in place with bed-sized screws.
Take a Third Option: Each of the game presents you with two obvious choices, when to get the best ending you have to find a third. However, in Revelation, the second choice is actually correct. See the trope page for more information.
Third Time's The Charm: This could be unintentional, but as numbers are important to the D'ni, maybe it's no coincidence that Atrus has three children. He feels a lot of guilt and pain over the fact that the first two end up evil, so he goes out of his way to make sure he doesn't make the same mistakes with his daughter. She ends up good, though troubled, and plays an important role in the future of D'ni.
Town with a Dark Secret: Terahnee is a country with a dark secret. Atrus and company find this out almost too late.
You ... IDIOT! Moronic lump of filth! You are nothing! Puh! AHHHHHH! I needed the power! I needed it! D'ni needed ME! You threw it away to this witch and her legion of scum, the demon slaves! You have released the slaves as masters! You've turned the small to great! Curse the Maker ...
The death of Willow "Wheely" Engberg in Uru Live, i.e. the slaughter of a teenaged girl, was roleplayed out over chat.
When the player behind the character Pepsi in Uru Live died in real life, it came as quite a shock. Years later, in the D'ni Games (a fan-created Olympics-styled event) of Until Uru, the Pepsi Memorial Marathon was named in honor of her.
World of Chaos: Some of the worlds created in-universe, rather than the universe itself. One of the underlying principles of the Functional Magic is that perfectly habitable worlds can be very, very different from each other; it's just that some of them have:
Wooden ships that are sticking out of the side of an island (Stoneship, Myst).
Aquatic microbes that avoid heat and take the water with them (Riven)
Trees that grow inside-out (Edanna, Exile)
A magical spirit world (Serenia, Revelation)
Giant mushrooms large enough to house comfortable apartments (Teledahn, URU)
Freakishly tall and thin mesas (Todelmer, End Of Ages)
Taking this to its logical extent is Torus (Book of D'ni), which is perfectly habitable despite that everything Atrus knows about the Art says it shouldn't be - a two-sided disc, one light and one dark, the latter of which contains kitten-like flowers, air-swimming fish, and dividing snakes; Rain falls on the light side into a giant lake centered on a whirlpool through which pours through to the dark side, where it arcs up in an enormous fountain and evaporates before circling the perimeter and precipitating again. Katran seems to have a special talent for "breaking the rules", as it were.
World Tree: The Great Tree of Possibility is a motif revered by the D'ni, and appears in many places where the mystic circles of that society held sway. The World Tree also appears in several games:
In Riven, that Age was once dominated by a great tree, which the people worshipped, but Gehn's faulty writing caused it to die and he cut it down. When Catherine wrote a new Age for the Moiety, it was dominated by a similar tree.
In Exile, Edanna is a giant tree in which an entire ecosystem thrives, written such by Atrus to demonstrate the interconnectedness of all life.
In URU, there's the Great Tree Pub which is built around a very ancient tree in the city of D'ni.
There is a bug in the Mechanical Age that can prevent you from rotating the fortress, requiring the use of a game guide to find the solution to the age's last puzzle.
The brightness of the images in Myst is set for the Mac screen gamma of 1.8. On the PC, with a gamma of 2.2 (and with monitors of the time often being even darker), a key switch in the Channelwood age is invisible in the shadows. You can deduce that there's something special about that location from the in-game maps, but you won't be able to see it. The Stoneship age has a similar problem with the doors to the compass room being too dark to see, but this time, there's no map.
Sequel Hook: The good ending contains several blatant ones for Riven.
Sequence Breaking: Unlike later games in the series, there's no random code blocking your way to the ending- once you know what to do you can bypass all the ages and jump straight to victory. The record for a Speed Run of this game is less than two minutes.
Shout-Out: The never-seen Osmoian Age, mentioned in the Channelwood journal, is a nod to Cyan's earlier game Cosmic Osmo, which was set in the Osmoian solar system.
Sound-Coded for Your Convenience: The Mazerunner in the Selenitic Age uses sounds to guide you along the correct path. Unfortunately, unless you've already been to the Mechanical Age, you'll have to figure out for yourself what the sounds actually mean. In the Mechanical age, the same sounds are used to indicate which direction the fortress is rotated, and stand for the same cardinal directions.
Take a Third Option: Do you trust the brother without the more obviously 'mad' and 'evil' attributes, or assume it's some sort of misleading trick and trust that one? The answer is to trust neither.
Tropes found in Riven
Alien Geometries: The Star Fissure. Gehn mentions in one of his journals that he doesn't understand how a cleft in a rock leads to a field of stars. When the player enters the Fissure in the finale of the game (or for one of the bad endings) it is revealed from the other side as a crack in a swirling black cloud, floating in the middle of a starry expanse.
Artistic License - Physics: After smashing the plate of glass in the iron plating covering the Star Fissure, the vacuum pressure of space manages to bend and suck in all of the metal surrounding it…but leaves the player and all other characters around the Fissure standing upright with only some wind blowing their clothes around.
Fission Mailed: If you enter the trap book when Gehn asks you to, the screen goes black. And stays black for the better part of a minute before something happens. The development team apparently wanted to make it longer, but the testers thought their computers had crashed.
I Have No Son: In the bad ending where you signal Atrus before trapping Gehn.
Gehn: I am no longer your father because you are no longer my son! <Shoots Atrus>
Press X to Die: Using the Trap Book from your inventory at any point in Riven nets you a bad ending. There is one point where you do have to use it, but then it's being offered to you by Gehn and isn't in your possession.
Saving The World With Art: Or rather, with the Art. The world of Riven is unstable and Atrus staves off its collapse by frantically writing small changes into its book in hope of stabilizing it. Subverted when Riven falls apart anyway, but he keeps it intact long enough for its people to escape.
Quicksand Box: The other games are divided into discrete, self-contained ages which can be completed independently of each other. Riven is almost completely comprised of a single, gigantic age, and it can be frustratingly easy to lose track of everything you have or haven't done yet.
The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: Some of the details in the game can really go unnoticed. For example, on Village Island, knocking on the one accessible village door five times will rouse a response (albeit a frightened one) from the house's occupant.
Tropes found in Exile
Alphabet Soup Cans: Atrus installed them into Amateria and Voltaic, and Wrote them into Edanna. Justified in the fact that all 3 of the ages were (in-universe) meant to be learning experiences, first for Atrus' sons, then for Atrus himself (whom the player so conveniently goes in place of).
Convection Schmonvection: In Voltaic, there is a room that you can fill up with lava. As long as you drain the room before entering, you can waltz inside without waiting for the room to cool down first. You can also stand on a platform suspended just inches above the lava, and suffer no ill effects. Then again, we know the Art loves to intentionally screw with reality as we know it.
Follow the Plotted Line: The lack of any obvious goal in Edanna, combined with its confusing layout, brings this trope into play. As a result, you find yourself simply solving all the puzzles that present themselves to you, without ever knowing why. In case you're curious, what you're trying to do is free the Grossamary bird from the giant flytrap, then call it from a cage in the swamp to have it come pick you up and take you to the location of the symbol.
Press X to Die: Using the Tomahna Linking Book anywhere that Saavedro can physically reach it at the end of Exile will not end well for you, or anyone else.
Video Game 3D Leap: Sort of. You still click from screen to screen, as you did in the original Myst and Riven, but each "screen" is now a cycloramic (cyclorama=360 degree panorama) view that allows you to look freely in all directions.
What the Hell, Player?: If you decide to leave Saavedro trapped at the end of the game, Atrus calls you out on it in the epilogue. The official hint guide also gets in on it.
Q: "I trapped Saavedro and he gave me the book. Can I go now?"
A: "Sure. After all, Saavedro hasn't suffered yet. Twenty years is nothing, really. Think how much fun it would be to leave this tormented fellow stranded with the knowledge that his civilization (and perhaps family) thrives just out of reach... It might be interesting, in a clinical sort of way, to see how he reacts. You heartless cad."
Follow the Plotted Line: Most encounters in Serenia are triggered by unrelated actions, allowing you to stumble around wondering whether you're supposed to solve a puzzle or receive more exposition. Anya will greet you as soon as you enter the temple complex, but Yannin will only appear beside the damaged Harvester after you enter the memory chamber, and after that Caradell will appear by the dock after you remove the winged snake from the water wheel. Only after Caradell sends you to the Hall of Spirits will the other three protectors receive you there. That makes it possible (though unlikely, by accident) to get to the ending early (see Off the Rails).
Hub World: Atrus' estate in New Mexico, dubbed "Tomahna".
Jungle Japes: Haven, although a bit more realistic than most portrayals since there are no vines to swing from.
Lost Woods: The first part of Serenia, and your introduction to the Age. However, it's given a twist: the Lost Woods are more like Lost Stones.
Nostalgia Level: Atrus' study and Courtyard on Tomahna, taken directly from Exile. It's only accessible after you leave Serenia once.
Off the Rails: It is possible to bypass the first dream sequence on Serenia completely. The minimal game only requires solving Spire (to get the random color code), solving the irrigation puzzle (to get into the old memory chamber) and then entering the final encounter there. The encounter will play out as if you had gone through the dream sequence, averting The Dev Team Thinks of Everything.
Socialization Bonus: Several puzzles (Eder Tsogal, Eder Delin, Ahnonay, and the pellets in Er'cana) were originally designed to require multiple players to complete. They were redesigned to be possible to complete solo once Uru Live fell through the first time. The pellet puzzle got the worst treatment. In the two-player version, one player would drop a light-emitting pellet down to an unlit lower chamber. Another player would wait in the unlit chamber, and snap photos of the hidden images on the walls once the chamber was illuminated by the first player. But in the one-player redesign, the links to the chambers are mysteriously set 14 minutes apart from each other. You have to drop a light pellet in, then go to the lower chamber and wait 14 whole minutes of real time for the pellet to fall and give you 15 seconds of illumination. And to think, none of these avatars consider bringing along a flashlight...
Time Travel: Ahnonay. How does one linking book manage to take you to three different eras, when all books up to this point could only ever take you to one? Well, it doesn't. You eventually discover that the "age" is actually a bunch of three very convincing sets (and one unfinished one) contained in giant spheres connected to an even larger rotating mechanism.
Uncanceled: The multi-player component was canceled before it came out of beta, but brought back to life a few years later by GameTap as Myst Online. Then, after little over a year, it was canceled again. Then plans were announced for a version of the game using fan-made content... which was canceled. Cyan then decided to release the whole thing as open-source, and to just let the fans deal with it. After that, it was uncanceled yet again, and the service is currently free to play.
Violation of Common Sense: To reach a certain location in URU Live, you have to leap off an island in a drop which must be well over a hundred feet.