How The Witness dares to be different

Yuliya Geikhman September 10, 2012 - 1:00 pm

Feature: How do you follow up on a game that many have called a masterpiece? By continuing to push the boundaries of what a game can do – and Braid creator Jonathan Blow plans on doing just that with THE WITNESS.

Jonathan Blow’s The Witness is described as an exploration-puzzle game on the official site. But if Blow’s last game Braid taught us anything, it’s that it’s pointless to place labels on some things. The Witness might focus on puzzles and exploration, but Blow hopes to accomplish much more.

It places you on a mysterious, uninhabited island. You know nothing about where or who you are, or what it is that you have allegedly witnessed. By exploring the island, you find out more about your surroundings, and about your past.

If so far The Witness sounds like a mixture of Myst and Dear Esther, you’d be right: both the divisive adventure classic and the recent indie Hebridean stroll were inspirations.

“The idea of being alone on an island with mysterious constructions draws directly from Myst,” he says when I speak to him about his upcoming game. “Dear Esther is definitely an inspiration, but not directly – we’re not patterning anything in The Witness after it, but it serves as a really nice example of what can be done in that kind of walk-through-a-3D-scene-with-narration format.”

But the purpose of the game and your role within it form a unique experience. There is no inventory system and your interaction with the game consists of exploration and solving minimalistic but challenging puzzles. “The interactivity is, in a certain sense, confined to something that is simple and straightforward,” says Blow.

Panels scattered around the island are key to unlocking snippets of the story. Each panel contains a puzzle that can be solved with a single line. Just how to draw the line is something you have to figure out by observing your surroundings. According to Blow’s The Witness blog, the current puzzle count is 450.

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Comments (4)

  1. Avatar of Michael Cook

    It’s very easy to say ‘most adventure games are busy work’ when the game he’s working on is on an isolated island that’s not story-driven. Non-linear story aside, a set of puzzles is easy to make engaging and free of boring clickfests. What’s tricky is finding a way to seamlessly integrate that into a narrative-driven fiction.

    Not that I think games should be story-driven, but I feel like a lot of busy work in adventure games is from a genuine difficulty with bridging gaps between a story that the developer wants to tell and the interesting puzzles planned for it. It’s pretty dismissive to say that adventure games are bad for doing that sort of thing when The Witness explicitly avoids the same design challenge.

    God if that game doesn’t look beautiful though. Nice interview, looking forward to this one.

  2. Avatar of rooster

    Art style looks different and I am actually ok with that. The concept sounds interesting as well. Probably check it out if the price is right and will be looking forward to seeing more previews/reviews about it later.

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