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Years after discovering the wonders of the Myst ages, the Miller brothers surprised the world with a change few could have expected.
Myst was a collection of puzzles cleverly designed, with logic as the main component. In order to solve one of them, you were expected to find the solution and determine how to get it in the related mechanism. It was all mechanic and their reason of existence was not always perfect.
Myst was created from the puzzles, and it showed.
But Riven had a different focus, or obsession, behind it. Instead of designing a world in which to fit the puzzles they had created, it looks like they developed both things at the same time. The puzzles' solutions are no longer written in walls or books, but in Riven's inhabitants lifes. You are no longer expected to find the solution. Instead, most problems are understood, lived through the eyes of the people that created them.
That, by itself, is brilliant. Characters in the game are defined by the logic they use when creating security devices or obfuscating information, which is something rarely seen even in modern games. But Riven went several steps further: people are also characterised through their inability to understand the tricks of others. Their obsessions, wishes or limitations render them unable to place themselves in the mind of each other, which, in turn, gives you a deeper knowledge of the conflicts each one of them lives with.
So important is understanding the motivations and mentality of everyone in the game that a link is formed with all of them. For me, it went to the extent that, when I first understood Gehn's reasons for his obsession, I was moved to tears.
Another important aspect of Riven is the society it depicts. A group of almost illiterate people who live with the presence of a God among them. Every step in their lifes is shaped to conform the a deity's wishes. You can see it at the very beginning of the game, but are unable to understand it until you know what the temple is. But they also understand that the God is not almighty. This dilemma makes them turn to nature when looking for something to worship. Their complex system of believes is carefully designed, so polished that it feels almost like a sociological experiment.
Riven is a world in which people have understood that they live enslaved by a mad God. It tells the story of their hopeless rebellion against their lifes and how love and fear shapes their decissions, for better or worse.