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Software sequel emerges from Myst

Tom Daniels hasn't figured out Myst yet, but he's ready for Riven.

"It's bigger than the first one, more visual and harder, too," said Daniels, manager of software retailer Babbages at Tyrone Square Mall in St. Petersburg.

Daniels was not alone in anticipating Riven, the long-awaited sequel to Myst, the bestselling CD-ROM game of all time. People started signing up to reserve a copy at Daniels' store weeks before the game went on sale Friday.

Without the chaos, gunfire or alien mutants to kill featured in so many computer games, Myst was an unlikely contender for its sale success. Yet Myst, which was released in 1993 and which sold more than 3.5-million copies, created a fervor with its unorthodox concept. Players would explore a lonely world, pull levers, solve puzzles and eventually rescue a guy named Atrus _ a vastly more subdued challenge than in hits such as Doom and Quake.

Four years later, new challenges await players of Riven, but many wonder whether it can match Myst's appeal.

Like Myst, Riven is a game where players explore a world of surrealistic complexity, solving time-consuming and often frustrating logistical problems.

Daniels, a seasoned player of video games who got a preview of Riven at a software convention, admits that even after 20 hours he had hardly scratched the surface of Myst.

"I want to go back and finish it after I've tried Riven," he said. "It just takes so much time."

A cerebral diversion from the usual video game fare of guns and gore, Myst and Riven appeal to a more diverse group of computer owners. According to a customer survey from Broderbund, the producer of Riven, people who describe themselves as "non-gamers" make up two-thirds of all Myst players. Women compose 30 percent of Myst players.

"People are looking for a game that breaks the mold," said Daniels. "Myst is still one of our most popular games. It has a well-developed plot, not a lot of tension, and it doesn't require arcade skill."

The story behind Riven continues where Myst left off, although it is not necessary to have played Myst to understand Riven. As a friend of Atrus, a player must rescue Atrus' wife, Catherine, from his evil father before the Riven archipelago collapses into the sea.

The game unfolds as a series of detailed snapshots. Actual photos of rock, dirt, wood, sky and other textures were scanned into the game and pieced together to create the environment in Riven.

Whereas other games frequently use replicated patterns to fill space, each tree, hut and shoreline in Riven was meticulously rendered, a lengthy process that resulted in several delays of the game's release date.

With the additions of animation, video and thousands of detailed scenes, Riven weighs in at five CD-ROM discs and retails at about $50.

Even with stunning images and an intriguing plot, enticing people to buy the sequel to a game almost legendary in difficulty may prove as daunting as the game itself.

The "Hints and Tips" book alone, which has been in stores since mid-October, is more than 200 pages.

"It definitely takes commitment," said R.J. Latherow, a Webmaster at America II Electronics in St. Petersburg. "I don't know how many people actually have time to play the game. Some people play for weeks and still can't win."

But for Latherow, it was an amusing "waste of time."

"I blinked and one-third of my life was gone; I suddenly had a beard," said Latherow. "But I never missed it."