The Witness Debuts To Few Witnesses

By Kieron Gillen on September 7th, 2010 at 10:23 am.

I'm hoping The Island is some kind of Prisoner riff.

While Spyparty and Monaco were rocking PAX as hard as their mighty indie thews could manage, Jonathan Blow wanted to do something a little subtler. In a corner of the Spyparty/Monaco booth, with no fanfare or sign-age whatsoever, the Braid-creator set up the Witness and let people come and play. Why unveil his work in such a way? As opposed to the general melee of a show, he “wanted to do something that is subtle, and a surprise — if you notice it, and decide to investigate, you find something unexpected”. Also, let people play as long as they want. Among them was Kotaku’s Stephen Totilo who wrote up some impressions and took some cam-footage…

So, yes, Alec’s ruminations seem to be on the right lines. It’s well worth reading Stephen’s impressions, but it really does look like something derived from that Myst lineage. Even the games which, on the surface, appear to be unconnected to the (beautiful) world they’re placed with. I do think this is a fascinating thing to take on. Convincing gamers that something derived from Mario can be artful is one thing – the entire gamer discourse has been based around elevating Mario to some kind of Godhead over the last couple of decades. Convincing gamers that something derived from Myst can be artful – when enormous chunks of the entire gamer discourse has been based around denigrating Myst – is a much more challenging proposition. Also, for my money, a more interesting one. Platform terrain is well explored. This exploratory one… less so, at least with the sort of serious intent Blow brings to bear.

I also find myself thinking about Jim’s long hypothetical ramble about Exploration games from back in 2008.

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47 Comments »

  1. Tom-INH says:

    I think you mean Myst, not Myth?

  2. AndrewC says:

    Can I have this please? The problem, to me, of just exploring a game world is that, without gameplay and ‘stuff’ to do in it or to it, the world is empty of meaning and just a bunch of polygons (fascinating discussion about innate or projected meaning in real world here!). But if there was a game where the game WAS the exploration, which actually supported one’s willingness to project a meaning on to each part of that world, and one that didn’t rely on spectacularly shitty and obscure puzzles, well then: I would like to have it please.

    • Bhazor says:

      Sounds to me like you could do with some Robinson’s Requiem. http://www.gog.com/en/gamecard/robinsons_requiem_collection

      A brilliant little oddity about exploring and surviving on an alien world where birds peck your eyes out and you can die of hypothermia if you sleep in wet clothes. A brilliant game that is crying out for a new version with modern controls which is where the game has aged worst.

    • AndrewC says:

      Blimey, that looks like a game. I have to admit my year-zero for 3D graphics is around about Unreal, so its age might kill me, but i’m going to have to check it out.

      And it’s a bit like wot John was banging on about with his Titan Quest article – of designers as Gods and that. Dunno what conclusion he was trying to get at, but I tend to like to find out what the meaning of a world is by exploration, which means I want meaning to be innate in the world itself – put there by the creator. I want to explore universes with gods in. Gameworlds are worlds with gods – they have rules, they make sense, someone designed them.

      Does this mean gamers are inherently religious?

      Does this mean procedurally created games, like Roguelikes, are the true Humanist games? If that’s so, why are they so incredibly mean to humans?

      It’s like it makes you think, or something.

    • Zetetic says:

      There’s an interesting thought there, AndrewC, except that gamers already know that the worlds that they are exploring are really truly artefacts (that is, they are the products of humans), so it’s entirely inescapable that there is some kind of origin in terms of human intention. Even in the case of procedurally generated games, human intention is not far away; Roguelikes most obviously, as games like nethack very clearly defined goals/meanings as a whole and that objects and enemies are placed here or there by the generator’s rule doesn’t escape that the rules are a product of human intention.

      (However, there is considerable evidence that by default humans do indeed look for intention in the origin of all things; so maybe the awareness of real human intention behind game worlds isn’t so relevant or necessary.)

    • mandrill says:

      @AndrewC: One Word: Minecraft.

      You’re dumped n a virgin world which you can mold to your hearts desire. No goals but those which you give yourself. No meaning but that which you bring to it.

    • N says:

      Dude, try Deus instead, not Deus Ex, just “Deus”. It’s the “spiritual” successor of RR and it rocks, you can still lob off three of your limbs and get your eye poked out by dactyls lol. Awesome game, loved every second of it.

      Mobygames link: http://www.mobygames.com/game/deus/screenshots

      Here’s some footage: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QYL14fwp_kc

    • Javier-de-Ass says:

      deus is available from dotemu btw, http://www.dotemu.com/en/download-game/123/deus

  3. Snall says:

    I don’t see any exploding body parts…

  4. Xercies says:

    Who is saying Myst is not art? Just the style of it alone makes me say its art, its probably one of the most absorbing and artful games i played.

    Hopefully this does the same thing and the puzzles are a bit more then solve the maze.

  5. Cinnamon says:

    I’m not sure that many people have really denigrated Myst. I was a little disappointed that it’s runaway success seemed to coincide with the fall of complex inventory puzzles with multiple verbs in favour of exploring with a mouse and solving more abstract puzzles. I can’t really blame that on Myst any more than I can blame Half-Life for being more popular than System Shock 2.

    I suspect that Myst falls into the same domain as the Sims. Popular things that PC gamers have some experience with and respect. It’s just that they are not necessarily as excited about them as they are for orc killing simulators.

    • BigJonno says:

      Myst was like the model for the hardcore/casual debate. It sold bucketloads, even to people who didn’t normally play games, but has always carried a certain stigma for not being a proper game. Looking at Wikipedia, I was ten when it first came out and it was years before I owned a platform that it could be played on, however I was very much aware of its status as some weird collection of puzzles that for some reason people were playing instead of Doom.

    • Ira says:

      I was a little disappointed that it’s runaway success seemed to coincide with the fall of complex inventory puzzles with multiple verbs in favour of exploring with a mouse and solving more abstract puzzles.

      Maybe I’m the only person who found complex inventory puzzles that seem nonsequitor painful and not fun at all? Compare that to Myst where most of the puzzles fit well into the world. The challenge was solving the puzzle in front of you, not worrying that you hadn’t picked up that small stick 10 screens back.

    • phlebas says:

      Or rather it was worrying that you hadn’t spotted the secret door ten screens back that led via a narrow corridor to a room containing a book giving you the oblique key necessary to solve the puzzle you were currently stuck on. A decent inventory puzzle should not be a nonsequitur (though it may well seem like one if you go straight to the walkthrough rather than playing the game), and a poorly designed environmental puzzle can be just as annoying.

    • Ira says:

      Congrats, you’ve figured out a badly done puzzle will not be fun. However, you lose points for assuming anyone who finds an inventory puzzle obtuse is using a walkthrough.

      Back to the real discussion – the elegance of the system Myst used is it enhances the immersion. It wasn’t “find the objects to collect”. You couldn’t rely on a magically changing mouse cursor. You had to pay attention to details, keeping notes, and work things out yourself. Almost anything could be a clue. Some Myst games did this better than others.

    • Polysynchronicity says:

      I still maintain that Myst III was the best of the series.

  6. Schaulustiger says:

    What’s with Monaco, by the way? From what I heard, it got a graphical overhaul, but is there any information about a release date?

  7. TheApologist says:

    This video reminded me most strongly of Lost, when Lost was good.

    The lovely landscape with these odd, out of place interventions in it conjures a sense of mystery – why did that get there? Who put it there? – that would drive exploration.

    Hopefully this game will do what Lost aimed for better than telly could?

    • jeremypeel says:

      THIS IS INTERESTING THAT YOU SHOULD SAY SUCH A THING. When I was looking into the Myst series a couple of months back (more to discover if they were worth delving into than anything) I remembered half-playing Riven as a thick child and thought of how similar its mysterious atmosphere was to Lost.

      Sure enough, both Myst and Lost were inspired by the same book, Jules Verne’s The Mysterious Island. Which I have not yet read, but plan to.

  8. Oozo says:

    A presentation that reflects the mechanics of the game being presented? What’s that, Blow’s solution to the old ludomarketing dissonance?!

    It sure looks beautiful – couldn’t get my head around those posts on “universal lightning”, but seen in action, it is really something to behold (even in that early state).
    The gameplay itself doesn’t look too exciting yet – like everybody else, I did play “Myst” back in the day, but I only have very hazy memories of that experience, and this video certainly evokes them. But then again, I’m sure that early screenshots of “Braid” wouldn’t really have done the final product justice, either – if it does to “Myst” what “Braid” did to “Super Mario Bros.”, I’m fine. Guess I’ll be even fine if it’s just a game that lets me explore an enviroment as luminous as that one.

  9. pipman3000 says:

    so is this going to be another game about the programmers break-up and how he’s stalking his girlfriend or something new?

    the maze puzzles are symbolic of how hard it is to pick the locks on your ex’s doors.

    • Tei says:

      We need more games that break the 1st,2st walls 3st. We have a lot of stuff breaking the 4th wall, but nothings that really breaks the self-imposed limitations that videgame dev’s suffer in world building.

      This thing feels fresh and creative. Hope a kick-ass gameplay is added that builti on that freshness and creativity (not against it).

    • AndrewC says:

      Red Faction: Guerilla?

  10. sock-eat-sock says:

    Games cannot be art silly.
    Only Call of Duty can be game.
    Art can only Call of Game.

    • AndrewC says:

      Games should not call art a duty?

    • pipman3000 says:

      the nuke aftermath scene in cod4 was pretty cool.

    • BooleanBob says:

      I spent much of the first level on the boat in a sort of shellshock; there was so much noise and I couldn’t see anything and my squaddies were just shooting everyone, armed or not.

      I guess what I’m saying (and I’m not entirely sure why I’m taking the time to) is that I really liked some of the statements CoD 4 seemed to be making, or at least hinting at, until it became a James Bond film shortly after the nuke.

  11. Robert says:

    I was really interested until those blue puzzleboards kept popping up everywhere. Goodbye suspension of disbelief!

  12. phlebas says:

    Looks like a rather pretty Mystlike. I’m assuming there’s a twist somewhere.
    (of course ‘rather pretty Mystlike’ comes fairly high on my list of favoured genres anyway)

  13. Ian says:

    Hmmmmm.

  14. Dain says:

    I played through RealMyst the other day for the first time in ages. Far from finding the puzzles obscure, I found them pretty easy. If you have half a brain and basic pattern recognition you can breeze through it in a day. I even found the sound pitch matching puzzle easy. Odd how it has this reputation for being really difficult and obscure.

    Uru’s puzzles on the other hand..

    • Urthman says:

      Oh man. I was just playing Uru yesterday and my mind was blown (followed by my belly literally aching from laughing so hard) by that one place in Path of the Shell. I thought sure it was a bug, but no…

    • jeremypeel says:

      Is realMyst worth getting, chums? I’ve been pondering over it for a little while now.

    • Urthman says:

      I’d say that realMyst is the definitive version of Myst now. It’s better than the original in every way.

      And I’d say Myst still holds up as a game. If you’re interested in that kind of game — explore, solve puzzles, almost no characters or enemies to talk with or fight — it’s great.

  15. Urthman says:

    Convincing gamers that something derived from Myst can be artful – when enormous chunks of the entire gamer discourse has been based around denigrating Myst – is a much more challenging proposition.

    What? I knew that Doom fans thought Myst was boring but you think that people looking for artfulness in games denigrate Myst? Myst is one of the original poster children for the whole “games can be art” screed.

  16. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    I quite liked Myst, way back when. I guess I still do.

  17. Unaco says:

    I don’t know why, but this seemed to remind me of CHOLO… Although, not as dark, wire-framey, or post apocalyptic. Like I say, I don’t know why it makes me think of CHOLO… maybe just the non-linear exploration and puzzle solving.

    Also… I would like to see a modern Deus or Robinsons Requiem game.

  18. jeremypeel says:

    “Blow didn’t bristle when I told him that the game made me think of Myst. But I suspect that if The Witness is as much Myst as Braid was Super Mario Bros., then it can still be something very special.”

    What Totilo said. This looks like something to keep eyes latched on to. It makes me excited about a potential future of exploration-led games, and anyone who can hang out with the developers of both Spy Party and Monaco can come to my birthday parties anytime.

  19. basil says:

    By what definition isn’t Myst a “proper game”?