Atari VCS Myst "Demake"

How much of MYST can you run on a 4k 16k Atari 2600 cartridge?


I was doing some Atari programming and thought I'd try out Myst. It's nowhere near a complete game, for that check out my Apple II demake version

Current Status

The game is complete! It's not the full game, but it is enough to do a speedrun (you can beat original Myst very quickly only visiting a tiny part of the game if you already know all the answers).

Currently you can walk around a decent amount of Myst island. You can flip the marker switches. You can look at the brothers' books. You can go to D'ni and get both endings there. You can solve the fireplace puzzle. You can solve the clock puzzle. You can pick up the red/blue pages and get both endings with those. You can go up the elevator in the library to see a hint.

Legal Note

This product contains trademarks and/or copyrighted works of Cyan. All rights reserved by Cyan. This product is not official and is not endorsed by Cyan.


Here's a longplay showing off a lot of the gameplay (version 2.6) recorded on actual hardware:

Some older videos:

Technical Notes

A bit of a writeup can be read here

A bit of rambling on the graphics capabilities:

The game engine uses ZX02 compression for each scene. Each scene's graphcis are limited (due to various hardware limitations) to 256 compressed bytes, which means I sometimes have to simplify the graphics to fit. Each scene has an asymmetric playfield. Graphics are 40x48 to simplify things a bit. Each line can be two colors, foreground and background. We fix the background to a single color. The foreground color can change each 4-line block. I use sprite1 as an 8-block wide source of additional color, so one extra color per line but only in an 8-block wide column of the screen. You also get an optional one-block wide vertical line (missile0) which is the same color as the pointer. The engine allows the right-side of the screen to alternate background color every-other-line though it's unclear if this is useful or not.

When uncompressed the graphics are 448 bytes which are temporarily stored in the 2k RAM supplied by the E7 cartridge (by default a 2600 only has 128 bytes of RAM).


Note: these were captured with the Stella emulator.

If you want to see screenshots from the original 4k proof of concept you can find them here

System Requirements


ROM Image



How to Play


Development Notes

12 December 2023

A while back I ordered a custom cartridge and it finally arrived! For those curious, no, I can't sell you one of these. I'm pretty sure Cyan wouldn't like it.

The cartridge actually has a melody board in it, which essentially has a mini-cartridge emulation going on with a microcontroller. This is because the E7 mapper I use is more complex than just a 4k ROM image. The E7 was historically possible, it was used by Burgertime (and I have a burgertime cartridge I've considered opening up to see if I can modify it to be a Myst catridge).

I've actually had some discussion with people about the possibility of playing Myst on the new 2600+ systems. The trouble is those can't handle E7 games. Given enough ROM space (maybe 64k?) I could probably get Myst going in a way that would play on such a system but it would require some major re-writes to the code.

6 August 2023 -- Release v2.6

Went back and decided it wasn't complete. Ran through things a few times and noticed some minor adjustments were needed. Then I realized that getting back to the dock was too abrupt, so I made a new location (at the bottom of the gears hill). It was only 179 bytes but I had to re-arrange and re-time a huge amount of things to squeeze it in. It looks good under MAME and Stella, need to run through things on actual hardware.

3 August 2023 -- Release v2.5

I'm calling things complete! I just ran a glitch-free run on stella. Next is to try it on actual hardware.

I tediously went through and made sure every scene gave 262 scanlines.

There's actually 200 bytes free on the cartridge still, but it's spread across the ROM banks in a way that makes it difficult to do anything useful with them. I do have a completely prepared location (the dentist/planetarium) that's 247 bytes and so won't fit.

I still worry the 2-frame of black on scene transition (due to decompression time) might be too much flicker for some people. I added code so if you flip the Color/BW switch it will lengthen the transition and maybe be easier on the eyes.

1 August 2023 -- Release v2.4

Fixing some bugs and super cycle-counting everything. Have most of the glitches fixed, although moving the grab code to two scanlines is enough for everything but page grab which is going to take three so I might have to bump it up again.

Also wrote a manual of sorts

31 July 2023 -- Release v2.3

Getting close now. All four endings are implemented and you can pick up the blue/red pages.

What remains is mostly cycle-counting to keep everything in 262 scanlines everywhere, then size-coding to see if I can fit the last two locations I have in.

Getting to this point was a huge amount of work, and I also wasted a lot of time re-arranging the ROM bank layouts to optimally pack the data with as little free space as possible.

23 July 2023 -- Release v2.2

Finally got the clock puzzle hooked up. This required more work than you'd think. It was tricky getting the clockface to display, managed to cram it down to only 80 bytes of sprite data with some clever packing. In an ideal world I'd use two sprites or use sprite scaling for a better hour hand, but in the end I just do some masking.

Once that was done I had to make it possible to raise/lower the bridge, so had to come up with a relatively compact way to patch the overlays on the fly. I made this more complex than necessary so the code would be generic enough to let me also handle the door open/shut in the library, that way allowing the player to go up the elevator to find a clue to the clock puzzle.

We were also seriously out of room so I spent a lot of time shaving bytes off everywhere I could to free up some space. This often involved moving things around, which is a pain, especially if it changed timings. I also re-did the level headers to use the div-15 position code instead of pre-calculated coarse/fine offsets. That probably saves some space but it meant I had to go by hand and update 56 room locations and then play through and make sure everything looked the same as before. Not sure if that was worth it for the 100 or so bytes saved. It did free up room in the data structure for the overlay patching though.

Remaining plan is to properly handle the blue/red pages and get the two bad brother endings. Then finally if there's any room left maybe add 1 or 2 more locations.

15 July 2023 -- Release v2.1

A lot of excitement from that Ars Technica article.

Spent the last two weeks on vacation but also working on the Fireplace puzzle which now works properly. The original implementation re-drew the entire grid from scratch each frame, which was straightforward to implement but took up 30 bytes of Zero Page and 23 scanlines, which was too much. Optimized things to only draw one row and only when clicked. This is much smaller.

Was having issues where clicking wasn't precise, realized I was using some simple sprite positioning code that was cheating and dividing by 16 instead of 15. Put in some proper code which actually made the code a bit more compact as well as having the sprite0 co-ords match up with the playfield better.

Moving things around and size-optimizing a bit. More or less out of room in the smaller always-visible ROM area of the E7 ROM. Need some more bytes for the clock puzzle, and I would like to eventually have all 4 endings.

28 June 2023 -- Release v2.0

Getting unexpected press for this, which is fun, but a shame I don't have it totally complete. The updated version adds a few more scenes, and also lets you click on more things. You can actually "win" the game though it's sort of meaningless as the fireplace and clock puzzles aren't hooked up. Really starting to be pressured for space, hopefully I can fit in all the remaining features.

27 June 2023 -- Release v1.9

Added a few more scenes, starting to run out of room. You can actually pick up the white page now. Hooked up the green book. Working on getting all possible endings implemented. Mixed up the order of the directions in the data files which was a huge pain but ended up saving 16 bytes. Maybe not worth it.

22 June 2023 -- Release v1.8

It's Mysterium time again so working on things again. Added two new locations. Also tracked down the bug in E7 cartridge handling in Javatari that was making things crash. It wasn't properly turning off RAM when we switch ROM back in. I've contributed a fix upstream, we'll see if it gets fixed.

23 December 2022 -- Release v1.7

Finally had some time to work on things again. Finally got glitch-free (multi-frame) decompression to work, at least on Stella. So can maybe now work on features again.

1 October 2022

Work has stalled a bit, partly because the semester has started, but also due to being stuck on some complex code. Curently the graphics are compressed, and decompressing them takes 3 or so frames. While this looks fine on the stella emulator, if you go 3 frames without SYNCing the display you'll get annoying glitches on real hardware (or at least you do on the NTSC capture cards I have). So I've been working on having the decompression happen in parts with proper sync happening and it's proving to be a bit difficult.

31 August 2022-- Release v1.6

Spent a lot of time tracking down some issues with my E7 bank switching. Should work on mame and harmony cart again.

30 August 2022-- Release v1.5

You can move around D'ni now and bug Atrus. Trying to figure how much room I'll have to implement some puzzles.

28 August 2022-- Release v1.4

Got sidetracked on a side project.

Anyway you can make it to D'ni now, although none of the puzzles or pages are hooked up properly.

16 August 2022-- Release v1.3

You can now reach all 8 marker switches.

12 August 2022-- Release v1.2

Now you can get to (and activate) three of the marker switches, plus you can investigate the red/blue books in the library. This involved making the book-drawing code generic which was a bit of a pain.

I'd estimate the cartridge is about half full now.

10 August 2022

Now up to 18 different locations you can visit. Need to start adding back the code that lets you grab objects.

5 August 2022-- Release v1.1

Everyone wants to see more levels, so I'm learning how to use an E7-style bank switch cartridge (16k ROM / 2k RAM). I'm hoping I can put a decent amount of Myst island on it. The kernel/engine I have takes 448 bytes for each screen, but I am using ZX02 compression to fit a lot more in (though it's tricky decompressing to the RAM). The compressed data has to fit in 256 bytes per level, which can be tricky for complex levels.

I've got the 4k version more or less transferred over (though I had to simplify some of the levels) and you can very barely walk about now. It should be more interested as I find time to add new levels.

29 July 2022-- Release v1.0

Powered through and did a 1.0 release. As always there are probably more important things I should be working on, but it's hard to not work on things until I get at least one release out the door.

Most of the work was adding animation to the cleft and book scenes, optimizing size down, trying to approximate the linking noise, and work on the arrival screen. Not entirely happy with how the arrival screen turned out but was running low on ROM so some compromises were made.

28 July 2022

Finished the clock scene. Redid a lot of the design as I've learned more about how the VCS works. Also put together the rocket graphics. Trying to have a 2-scanline kernel if possible but keep rolling over to 4-scanline as I run out of cycles.

27 July 2022

Got the linking book in decent shape. Feel like I've been decently clever with it.

26 July 2022

Working on the star cleft. Wasted a lot of time trying to make nice looking stars, really should look up how games like Solaris do it. Was trying to have an HMOVE of 7 and then skipping 8 scanlines so things were relatively prime, but didn't really work out that well.

24 July 2022

Got secret collect more or less finished so back to working on Myst. It was too ambitious a project to start with, things are going a bit easier now that I've learned some things.

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