No Longer Silent: Ten Minutes Of The Witness

By Graham Smith on February 17th, 2014 at 5:00 pm.

Witness this.

The Witness is Jonathan Blow’s next game, so it makes sense that it be filled with brain-teasing puzzles. It makes a little less sense to me that those puzzles be mazes, which appear on screens littered around its colourful island environment. How do the screens and the world interact?

There’s ten minutes of new footage below, as recorded by YouTube user NukemDukem at a preview event last November. It shows the game’s opening and introductory puzzles, and it certainly looks interesting.


These are early puzzles, designed mainly to introduce you to the game’s controls and concepts. Pretty quickly they start to build in complexity, and I can imagine them being satisfying to solve as they become more difficult.

It’s not until the end of the video that Blow touches on the world these puzzles are set inside, and he mentions that you’ll need to search the environment for clues in order to solve some of the harder challenges. I’m curious as to exactly how that’ll work, as it seems key to making the world feel purposeful.

That said, if it was just the mazes accessed via a standard menu, I wouldn’t be paying attention to the game. Maybe it’s Myst; a beautiful world as packaging for the puzzles that lie within. Or given the recent addition of Rift support, maybe exploration of its world is your reward for solving puzzles. I certainly want to see more of the island’s colourful flora.

Blow also says at the end that the game is due for release probably in the middle of 2014, and while its “console exclusive” to PlayStation 4, it’ll likely launch on PC at the same time. Good! He also mentions it’ll be 20-30 hours long, maybe longer, which means it’s expanded considerably since Dan got his hands on it back in 2011.

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45 Comments »

  1. lautalocos says:

    jonathan blow. i remember the name, but what games did he make?

    • strange_headache says:

      He made Braid, which I absolutely loved. But this game looks like he turned an IQ test into a game, not sure if I’m convinced yet.

      • Emeraude says:

        Well, the puzzles shown in the video so far look pretty straightforward, but it wouldn’t be much of a bet to say things will get more challenging later in the game.

        The real question I guess would be: what will be done with that base mechanic to tie it into the rest of the game ?

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  2. Didden says:

    20-30 hours? Make that 40-60 hours for me then as I grow new neurons :)

  3. Keyrock says:

    I love puzzle games, so this is right up my alley. I do wonder whether there will be some kind of narrative to tie all these locations on the island together. Otherwise, the whole walking around the island bit seems like a waste of time when instead you could just be presented with menus of puzzles to solve.

    • frightlever says:

      Yup! The walking around could be no more than busywork between puzzles, like the in-station trading in X:Rebirth – there for immersion but really just irritating.

      • WrenBoy says:

        While the early clues are simple versions of more complicated mazes the environment itself serves as the clue in later areas as the players get used to what is expected of them. Blow has consistently said this and in fact explicitly says it at the end of this video.

        The only question is to what extent the environment does so but the fact that hes spent an enormous amount of his own money on it tells me its probably the entire game mechanic rather than just window dressing.

    • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

      Also, Braid was a masterpiece because, as far as I know, it was one of the few games that really, really tied up narrative and game mechanics at a very deep level (if you recall the last scene, especially, you’ll know what I’m talking about), instead of having the story on one side (possibly in cut-scenes) and then gameplay as a separate entity, like most games do; so I hope we can get more of that brilliance.

      • Premium User Badge basilisk says:

        But it also should be said that this happens in exactly one level in the entire game. The rest of the time, the gameplay and story (if there is any) are completely separated and entirely independent of each other. The last level was brilliant, but it was very atypical in the game.

        (And while I really enjoyed Braid, exposure to Jonathan Blow’s ridiculously overinflated ego in various interviews and articles over the years has seriously hurt the experience in my memory. I know it’s a wrong approach to this, but I really can’t help it.)

        • Engloutie says:

          Sorry, but if you pay attention, you’ll notice that the gameplay in every world very much reflects and ties in with the story!

          • Premium User Badge basilisk says:

            Okay, I’ll bite: what’s the story of the game, then?

            Yes, each world is introduced with a bunch of sentences that sort of correlate with the mechanics of the world. But a random collection of quotes does not make a story.

          • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

            The story described the protagonist’s feelings after a break-up; as he walked around the house, he remembered the good times of his love story (the pictures you put together as you solve puzzles) and he felt different emotions (regret, wishing to change the past while keeping the lesson from one’s mistakes, etc, I don’t remember them all). Eventually

            ******Spoilers*****
            you find out that the “mistakes” he made (described in the books) weren’t (perceived as) honest mistakes, but something closer to being evil, to the point that his fiancee (?) needed to be rescued, to be saved from him. The protagonist couldn’t accept this, couldn’t realize this, his memories reflect his interpretation, almost his “wishful thinking” (“I see what I want to see”). Solving those puzzles is, in the protagonist’s mind, a total reassessment of his life, of coming to see the truth and who he really is, not the good guy who saved her but the bad guy who she had to be saved from.
            You could probably tie in the interpretation the burning city you see at the beginning, but I’m not too sure where that fits. Perhaps it’s another instance of not seeing things, (you chill at your house while the city is burning?) or perhaps is a projection of his pain, or other things I haven’t considered.

            It’s a short story, but a story nonetheless, comparable to that of a short movie. It’s also a tribute to (and a deconstruction of) the Mario narrative (and the general Hero narrative that constitutes 95% of games’ stories – It’s actually fairly feminist if you think about it) of saving the Princess from the bad guy (If Peach is “captured” so often, maybe she’s not really being captured against her will, maybe she wanted to escape in the first place and she is actually being saved? After all, in the Mario games you save her in a castle, it’s easy to reverse the roles)

          • Premium User Badge basilisk says:

            Well, yeah. And there’s also the weird business with the atom bomb, whatever that means.

            But my point is, that isn’t really a story. It’s a collection of moods. “This world is about regret, so you can roll time back. – Tim regrets that he did a bad thing once.” “This world is about ageing, so time moves relentlessly forward. – Tim realizes he is getting older all the time and it makes him sad.” Call it a poem, if you will, but that really isn’t a story, just like the warping of Mario tropes isn’t.

            The core gameplay can be read as a metaphor, certainly. But I really can’t accept it as “narrative tied to mechanics”, because there simply is no narrative.

          • Reapy says:

            I think there was an interview with the atom bomb layer of things with the theme that once you either educate yourself or study up on humanity it puts you outside of it and you can never step back into it, which to me seems to be personal experience rather than an axiom. I think the more you educate yourself about why we do the things we do it can feel overwhelming and alienating as whole, but that doesn’t mean it has to put you off personal relationships.

            Either way, agreement or disagreement aside he strongly added his viewpoint to the game in a pretty interesting way, leaving it kind of lying there to get discovered rather than shoved in your face. I am really hoping to find the same kind of experience on a quiet, reflective island full of puzzles.

            Also, Mystface

          • Jalan says:

            I think that might be the first time I’ve seen someone summarize the plot of Braid relying solely on the surface level of it all.

            The city on fire imagery only makes sense if you’re in the “I collected every star, saw the “real” ending” minority.

          • His Divine Shadow says:

            tbh i never really felt that gameplay-narrative connection either, and i think most people mentioned it just because Blow had advertised it as the game’s usp. i mean, yes, you can say that this particular mechanic is a metaphor for that (in fact, i’m not even sure it’s a *metaphor* – if you can rewind time to re-do a jump, it’s not a metaphor for a desire to undo mistakes – it *is* undoing a mistake). but then you just grind through levels in a purely mechanical way, whatever’s there of the story takes a complete back seat.
            i actually doubt one can have any tangible narrative connection in a game with so much ‘gameplay’. i can only imagine a narrative in an adventure with one-shot unique puzzles, where each of them can really represent a narrative event.

        • Premium User Badge AngelTear says:

          Actually, it wasn’t an isolated episode. While it was certainly the most evident and most brilliant, the time manipulation mechanics were always metaphorical expression of the feelings in the bit of narration that introduced the level, and they changed accordingly.

          I don’t know much about Blow, but every time he stated a strong opinion I found myself strongly agreeing with him (like here or the few times I took a look at his twitter page). I have a lot of respect for him, I just think he’s a smart and brilliant person.

        • WrenBoy says:

          Ive seen some interviews where the interviewer was ridiculously fawning but Blow himself always struck me as a decent and interesting guy. Do you have any examples of his over inflated ego?

          • Premium User Badge basilisk says:

            How about this one, where he compares his (admittedly rather neat) puzzle platformer to Gravity’s Rainbow and Finnegans Wake?
            http://www.gamesradar.com/jonathan-blow-interview-how-to-fix-the-adventure-innovate-mainstream-games-and-do-a-sequel-right/?page=2
            Last time I checked, he was still insisting that there is only one correct interpretation of Braid’s story/themes and that no one understands it except him. Which is ridiculous on so very many levels.

            And then there is this infamous piece:
            http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/05/the-most-dangerous-gamer/308928/3/?single_page=true
            You are right that the journalist’s tone doesn’t help JB’s cause one bit, but the “I am an artist and you all who are not can fuck off” tone is very prevalent there. It’s something his media persona is built on, and it carries on into all interviews about The Witness. Whether he’s like that in real life, no idea. Maybe not.

          • WrenBoy says:

            Yeah the Atlantic piece is exactly what I was referring to. It’s cringe worthy but it’s not Blows fault that the reporter loves him.

            I saw nothing wrong with the first article. He’s pointing out the reason some of the criticism against his game was misplaced and used well known literature to explain the error. That’s perfectly reasonable and doesn’t even imply that he thinks Braid is the equal of Gravitys Rainbow.

  4. XhomeB says:

    That looks… rather disappointing, or I’m missing the point here.
    What is the correlation between the beautiful-looking enironment and puzzles supposed to be? Is there any variety in the puzzles to speak of or do they all come down to walking up to a panel and figuring out the right path?

    • ChrisGWaine says:

      I think what you might be missing is that even if the panels are just about drawing the right path and that’s the only way you input solutions, that’s actually still a versatile way of inputting information. Drawing the path could be seen as a form of communication, as it’s a sequence of decisions, so it’s a way for the player to demonstrate they are able to make the right decisions. So the game can have a single, consistent interaction, but it can be used in a wide variety of ways, because it’s what’s behind how you decide what path to draw that’s important.

      • hawken.grey says:

        It sounds a lot to me like you are trying to create an elaborate excuse for Blow here. “drawing the path could be seen as a form of communication,” yes but drawing a path in a maze could also be seen as a mundane maze/puzzle game wrapped up in a pretty 3D environment. It feels completely arbitrary to me that these puzzles are presented in this way. When I play a puzzle/adventure game, I prefer the puzzles to be presented as if they once had some function in the environment or world in which they are situated. These puzzles just seem too detached from the world.

    • TheVGamer says:

      I don’t think anybody but Blow knows what is actually happening there. I’ll admit, I was rather disappointed as well when they showed that trailer last years at the PS4 reveal event but I have reason to believe he won’t disappoint. He’s a really clever guy who loves high-concept philosophical stuff so I can’t imagine this game being your run of the mill pretty puzzle game.

  5. Premium User Badge bear912 says:

    Maybe it’s Myst; a beautiful world as packaging for the puzzles that lie within. Or given the recent addition of Rift support, maybe exploration of its world is your reward for solving puzzles. I certainly want to see more of the island’s colourful flora.

    I may not be parsing that statement quite correctly, but I’d say that Myst’s beautiful world both packaged its puzzles and served as an exploratory reward for solving them.

    Anyway, I haven’t watched the video (hey, I want to avoid even minor spoilers!), but I’m excited for the game. I’ve really been loving “first-person wanderers” lately, and Fez has been reminding me just how much I love exploration and puzzle-solving.

    • XhomeB says:

      I’d recommend watching the video. I was looking forward to the game, but now I’m not sure it’s something I want to play. The puzzle design seems to be a one-trick pony, at odds with the gameworld’s structure and visual presentation no less, which is something the Myst series didn’t suffer from.
      Maybe there’s more to TW than meets the eye, but… I don’t know, I can imagine this game getting monotonous and tiring very quickly.

    • kyoodle says:

      Yeah I agree Myst had a few puzzles like this that seemed to be strapped on but for the most part exploring and learning about the world was the puzzle.

  6. Premium User Badge Lord Custard Smingleigh says:

    I wonder if The Witness is related to The Witcher.

  7. Cytrom says:

    Hmm.. I don’t see the point in solving theese puzzles in the context of the game. I mean I might as well go on a picnic and just solve some completely unrelated puzzles in a magazine or something.

    • Noodlemonk says:

      Well, of course you may choose to do just that, but you’ll never get the feeling of being trapped on an deserted island with beautious but also somewhat cartoony aesthetics, where these puzzles scattered all over the place ‘are’ in fact related to a bigger mystery (or not, WHO KNOWS?!).

  8. SillyWizard says:

    I’m pretty worried about having my The Witness experience spoilered. Is that video safe to watch?

  9. Turkey says:

    Blow’s a smart dude. I doubt he would bother spending all that money on making the island without tying it back into the puzzles.

  10. Shazbut says:

    He’s like some crazy genius from where I’m standing. I don’t know if I’ll be smart enough to play.

  11. Strangerator says:

    According to what I’ve seen previously, every new area introduces a new conceit to the puzzles, and a lot of them get to the “meta” level where you need to observe parts of the environment for clues as to how to solve the puzzles. I get the feeling that the various types of dots are simply core mechanics that are introduced early and become a part of normal gameplay.

    At one point I also recall Blow talking about audio log type things you can find and listen to, which I imagine will convey the narrative of the game.

    It’s clear a lot of thought has gone into this. The most striking thing about that first ten minutes was that there was zero on-screen text, yet I could see myself being able to progress just about as quickly as Blow.

  12. Stupoider says:

    “Knowledge is the key”, is this guy for real?

    • Pray For Death says:

      No, he was just joking. You need to find a blue key to open that door.

      /sarcasm

  13. jonahcutter says:

    After Braid, I’d be a bit surprised (and disappointed) if he didn’t tie the gameplay and the world into a cohesive whole.

  14. Rapzid says:

    I love this guy. Publicly blasts the industry for doing samey stuff then unveils a Myst-like. Watching him explain that banal puzzle was very rewarding; karma.

    • Acorino says:

      The Witness is as much a Myst-like as Braid is a Mario-like.

  15. MrBucket says:

    What about Columns???