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Myst The Witness - first-person puzzler in the vein of Myst


Jan 24, 2013
Didn't see a thread yet. Anyone else following this?

Release Date: January 26th, 2016
Platforms: PC, PS4
Dev Blog: http://the-witness.net

After 7 years of development, the follow-up to Jonathan Blow's popular 2008 indie game Braid is almost here. The game is an open-world first-person puzzle adventure game set on a deserted island. Gameplay involves exploring the island and solving puzzle panels, that are maze-like graph theoryish problems. Different areas of the island introduce different properties to the puzzles but you can complete areas in whatever order you want. Supposedly each puzzle is a unique challenge with no filler content, and testers are taking over 100 hours to solve all the panels.

Example of gameplay in the introduction area (TW: Kotaku):

The game will have native VR support (confirmed for Oculus, possibly Vive and Morpheus too). Cancelled

Story will be completely optional and told through recordings found around the island and environmental cues.




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Apr 7, 2013
Codex USB, 2014
Braid was very trial-and-errorish thanks to its finicky platforming, but it's puzzle design was wonderful. Blow seems to have system design foremost on his mind, and perhaps this will be a better filter through which he will be able to present it. I haven't actually seen videos for a long time, and I haven't watched the ones in the OP yet, but my current stance is cautious optimism, which is about the best feeling I have about upcoming games now.
Aug 10, 2012
Braid was pretentious hipster bullshit that looked like flash vomit. This looks to be pretentious hipster bullshit with a higher budget.


80 hours of jenga, tetris, X|O|X and other bullshit minigames.

jenga, like

tetris, like

X|O|X, like

minigames, can like if good

What exactly is the problem here? I mean if you like puzzles this is prolly down your alley.


Jul 18, 2015
I hope this ends up being an actual adventure game, and not another shitty walking simulator with shoehorned, inane puzzles.

Astral Rag

Feb 1, 2012
Yuck, one glimpse at those fugly Unity Engine Play-Doh graphics instantly killed any interest I might have had.
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Jan 24, 2013
I hope this ends up being an actual adventure game, and not another shitty walking simulator with shoehorned, inane puzzles.
I think it will be more of a hard Puzzle game than Adventure. In interviews Blow has said that they are making the world as small and as dense as possible to cut out pointless walking. Polygon's writeup says you can walk across the entire island in "a few minutes".

Yuck, another Unity game with those typical Play Doh visuals. No thanks.
It's not Unity, they built a custom engine for the game. According to the Playstation Podcast it's getting a solid 60 FPS even on PS4 with no loading screens.

The art design is supposed to be kind of clean and naturalistic rather than photoreal. They've had some pretty good blog posts on it, especially this one on modelling rocks, lighting, and how the overall aesthetic came together, this one on trees, and this one on architecture (they actually hired an architectural firm to help design some of the buildings and make sure everything looks right). The lead artist also gave a pretty interesting presentation on the art direction at GDC.

Take a look at some on the more detailed modelling; the lighting looks fantastic:


Some long writeups from various gaming sites. The polygon article is probably the best.

Polygon - "The Witness: The Creator of Braid Talks About His Feindishly Difficult New Game"
Ars Technica - "The man and the island: Wandering through Jonathan Blow’s The Witness"
Ars Technica - "How Sony Snagged Jonathan Blow's The Witness Away From Xbox One"
Gamespot - "I Spent 20 Hours Playing The Witness, Then Spoke to Jonathan Blow"
Wired - "This Sprawling Puzzle Game May Be Your Next Obsession"

Playstation Blogcast 180: Witness Me!

People noticed some interesting shots in the trailer:


Aug 5, 2015
Yeah, man. I dunno. Looks like a series of pen-and-paper puzzles without the reward of seeing a bunch of bad actors yell at each other in chroma key. #7thGuestMatters

Crooked Bee

(no longer) a wide-wandering bee
Jan 27, 2010
In quarantine
Codex 2013 Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire MCA Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
I'm sorta looking forward to this since it's Myst-inspired and all, but this part from the Polygon article doesn't inspire any enthusiasm whatsoever:

The Witness attempts to solve this problem with a sort of unifying theme to all of its puzzles. Virtually every puzzle in the game takes place on one of hundreds of "panels" that are littered throughout the island. These panels often feature a grid of lines, and your goal is to draw a line on them from a specific starting point to a specific ending point.

To put it another way: All of the puzzles in The Witness are, in their most simplest form, mazes of some sort.

"One of the basic goals driving the design of The Witness was to take this very simple thing — 'hey, I'm drawing a line in a little maze' — and see how much I could actually do with that," says Blow. "I set it as my goal to explore every possibility and take the most interesting ones and give them to people."

This singular focus for The Witness' puzzles provides the game a consistency; it serves as a glue holding the experience together. Whereas in Myst or other puzzle games, players might reach a point of not knowing what to do or where to go, in The Witness the goal is always clear — solve more panels — even if the solutions themselves are incredibly challenging.

Instead of figuring out the mysteries of the island via organic puzzles that make sense in the environment and/or narrative, it sounds like this game has you go from one draw-a-line panel to another of the same or similar kind, which lack variety, rhyme or reason. The feeling of being lost is (deliberately) removed, too. I hope that's just an oversimplified (mis)representation, though.


Mar 23, 2008
I'm sorta looking forward to this since it's Myst-inspired and all, but this part from the Polygon article doesn't inspire any enthusiasm whatsoever:

Instead of figuring out the mysteries of the island via organic puzzles that make sense in the environment and/or narrative, it sounds like this game has you go from one draw-a-line panel to another of the same or similar kind, which lack variety, rhyme or reason. The feeling of being lost is (deliberately) removed, too. I hope that's just an oversimplified (mis)representation, though.

Sounds dumb; I'm not sure whether I mean the game or the reviewer, so take your pick.


Wormwood Studios
Aug 15, 2012
players might reach a point of not knowing what to do or where to go, in The Witness the goal is always clear — solve more panels — even if the solutions themselves are incredibly challenging.
It is difficult to maintain my composure! Unless all of the panels are blindingly obvious, this doesn't "fix" anything: the player can still get stuck if he can't find more panels. Moreover, if a player can't solve the panel, then why isn't he at "a point of not knowing what to do"?

(Though I do feel marginally vindicated when I mentioned that it looked like this was the only puzzle type in another thread.)

Still, the art design is pretty cool.

Crooked Bee

(no longer) a wide-wandering bee
Jan 27, 2010
In quarantine
Codex 2013 Codex 2014 PC RPG Website of the Year, 2015 Codex 2016 - The Age of Grimoire MCA Serpent in the Staglands Dead State Divinity: Original Sin Project: Eternity Torment: Tides of Numenera Wasteland 2 Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 BattleTech Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire
I think the Polygon article mentions that you can finish the game without finding or solving all or most of the panels. Not sure how that's supposed to work in practice though.


Jan 24, 2013
My understanding is that there are about a dozen or so discrete zones, and a certain number of zones need to be completed to unlock the first endgame. To complete a zone you would need to solve most of the panels in that area, and I think Blow mentioned there will be kind of 'boss puzzles' that mark the completion of the zone. The playstation podcast guy said he had gotten to the first ending of the game after about 50 hours with around 350/650 puzzles completed.

Jon Blow is big on secrets and hidden content in games. I doubt this will end up in the release version, but back in 2010 he commissioned Brian Moriarty (creator of Loom) to record this speech for inclusion in the game. The recording is a little NPRish, but the point is basically that games should be generous with hidden content, easter eggs, secret meanings, etc...

Instead of figuring out the mysteries of the island via organic puzzles that make sense in the environment and/or narrative, it sounds like this game has you go from one draw-a-line panel to another of the same or similar kind, which lack variety, rhyme or reason.

To this point, I think the idea of the puzzles is that they will thematically relate to the environment and story surrounding them. For a very obvious/easy example, check this screenshot from my OP:



Wormwood Studios
Aug 15, 2012
To this point, I think the idea of the puzzles is that they will thematically relate to the environment and story surrounding them. For a very obvious/easy example, check this screenshot from my OP:
It's probably just because I differ philosophically from Blow regarding game design, but to me, it would be vastly better if, say, you remove the panel, had some part of the tree wilted, with a water source down at its roots, and rather than a panel, you traced the tree to guide the water to the part of the tree that was drying out. (Maybe then it could grow an apple and drop it, or whatever.)

Having the puzzle panel mimic the environment may integrate them to some extent, but to me it just highlights the shortcoming (i.e., that your interaction with the environment is mediated through a mobile game). Still, if it turns out that you have to figure out the proper route through the puzzle by observing the environment (which I assume is going on here, i.e., the proper route is right, left, right, right) that would ease my concerns. But then, isn't the act of scrutinizing the tree to figure out the proper route just the same brand of pixel hunting that he complains of with Myst?
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Jan 24, 2013
Gamasutra blog post from one of the architects who helped design buildings in The Witness - http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/Dean...cture_in_Video_Games_Designing_for_Impact.php

Architecture in Video Games: Designing for Impact
by Deanna Van Buren on 10/12/15 09:25:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


I am the founder of FOURM design studio and one of the architects for The Witness. This article is inspired by my experience working with the landscape architects and game developers on this project. It may be the first time all three have collaborated so closely to do so.

As with all attempts at cross-industry collaboration, there are growing pains -- but if successful (and I believe we were) the results can generate beauty and innovation. It is also my hope to illuminate and facilitate this process for others through our learnings and to explore how this collaboration leads to an experience of gaming with gravitas.


It was September 2010 when Jonathan Blow approached me to work on his new video game in development, titled The Witness. After viewing the prototype, we also brought on landscape architectsFletcher Studio. This seemed like a good idea considering that while there were 20 or more buildings on the island, the majority of the environment was landscape. Architects and landscape architects know that a building is a mark on the land in a context. No building should be designed without considering the landscape it is a part of. Jonathan saw the logic of this, and by the summer we were off and running.

My experience working on The Witness the last five years has been one of the single most creative and exciting experiences of my career. While I am grateful that artists like Ronen Bekerman are advancing the quality of architecture in gaming, as I look at the architecture of most video games I feel let down by what I see. I wonder why do we not see more collaboration between experienced architects, landscape architects, and video game developers.

From the architect’s side, I know that we like to make stuff in the real world, and perhaps don’t think it will be rewarding. Architects often don’t play games or see how they can be of service. Many think it’s all about coding and that we need to have this skill. I also think architects may not see the value of the video game industry and its products, which is unfortunately an ignorance that I also possessed prior to working in the industry.

From the game developer’s side, they may think they do not need architects and do not understand their value. After all, they are not trained in the video game industry. My experience is that most game developers, including artists, just don’t understand architecture or landscape design. This is not a surprise, given that it is a highly specialized field where people study for up to seven years in college to absorb and develop design skills. Finally, many developers may also just think that designers like us are not affordable.

The reality is that these beliefs may be interfering with a collaboration that could both expand the design and development of physical architecture and video games as an art form.

Let me provide some reasons to consider working with us:
  • When you include an architect and landscape architect as part of a development team you are bringing on a profession already trained to work conceptually, iteratively and critically.
  • The design development processes and tools are similar even though products are different.
  • We are trained in considering the user experience when moving through a space so absorbing the concept of gameplay is not difficult.
  • We bring great depth of knowledge to the creation of 3D environments that can foster deeper immersion and enhances gameplay.
  • We are used to working with clients and in multi-disciplinary teams so should be essentially easy to work with.
  • Technological advancements in game engines, rendering capacity, virtual reality etc. present a more urgent need for our expertise as digital environments strive to become even more realistic and/or fantastical.
To conclude, any game that is three-dimensional in nature could potentially benefit from an architect or landscape architect. We can help developers think of space as more than just enclosure/envelope. When this thinking is not applied, many elements of design that are critical to enhancing gameplay immersion and experience are lost to the detriment of the game developer’s intention.


If you are working without an architect or landscape architect there are 10 basic things that games tend to do that could be avoided with some design knowledge and application. I am going to refer to some games other than The Witness as both successful and less successful because they are popular, diverse, and frankly most of them I really like. It would be nice to see them taken to the next level so that the environments are not distracting and incongruent with the goals they are trying to achieve.

1. Developing architectural narratives

It is always helpful to remember that landscapes and architecture are based in the temporal, physical, and institutional constraints of the real world. What is the topography of the land? What materials are available to us? What climate are we in? What are the zoning laws? Where is the sun coming from?

Therefore, one of our first questions we asked Jonathan’s team (Thekla) was “What direction is north?” They replied, “What difference does that make?” I knew then that we would need to recreate and reframe the real world constraints with which we had been working. In order to design customized environments we would need to develop a narrative and new kinds of constraints that would define it.

So how do we create narratives that deliver rich environments? Sometimes in an effort to create a holistic identity or world, video games commit to one style/period, or genre yet this is not how environments exist in reality. Our built environments have history, a story across time. They are layered. In The Witness we use this passage of time to create the narrative so the environments are a series of adaptively re-used buildings and landscapes beginning with prehistoric times to the present day and beyond. Each building and landscape is designed in response to the needs of at least one civilization and in some buildings all three civilizations are expressed.


For example, at the edge of the island is a concrete factory that sits in a quarry. The environment registers how the Stone Age people (Civilization I) began to quarry stone for tombs through small cuts in the cliff side. Then one can see where the stone was mined at a larger scale for religious structures such as churches and cathedrals in Civilization II. A church is built here both carved and constructed from the stones being quarried around it. As Civilization III developed, even larger stones were mined and used to make concrete, a more contemporary building material. Small stones were also required as aggregate and the church was converted to a factory in order to scale this process and construct other buildings on the island. As a gameplay wayfinding element, the factory exhaust rises up out the old steeple. Inside factory equipment integrated with the religious freeze panels provide the game artists with additional opportunities to tell a deeper lever of narrative.


While architectural narratives like these were easy for us to develop, they may not be as easy for gameplay developers. For us the gameplay constraints were more challenging. We were fortunate to have a developer like Jonathan who provided us with what became our primary constraint-game play. The rules of The Witness with regards to gameplay were rigorous and finite in many ways. As architects, we had to learn about what this meant. It is one of the things architects need to understand when working with developers and an aspect that developers can more rigorously apply to environmental design.

2. Integrating landscape and architecture

Developing a close integration between architecture and landscape is critical towards creating a realistic and integrated experience. Games like The Witness, Bioshock Infinite, The Talos Principle, Ether One, and even Super Mario 3D World are creating environments where the integration of this aspect of the world is critical to the player's experience. In The Witness, the landscape architects helped us to understand the way the natural world develops and how to explore and adapt the variety of amazing geological formations and bio zones to meet the needs of gameplay. We also worked together so that every building was integrated into its environment and used the landscape to guide players to components they needed to locate or see.

3. Building design

Buildings in games are usually references to images of buildings the game developer or artist sees in magazines, their lives, or image references. Rarely have I seen in games buildings that are purpose-built or designed specifically for the style, concept, and narrative of the game.
Bioshock Infinite is a game that has an interesting premise and yet does not take full advantage of the opportunity to create really amazing and unique buildings that could have supported the narrative. I love the scenes with the floating 18th century buildings jammed together and the exciting spatial quality they have achieved.

It would have been stronger if they had applied the steampunk aesthetic to the design of the buildings. If conceptualized as characters in the context of the game, a series of customized forms and details could have been replicated throughout the interior and exterior environments that would reduce the visual noise in this game. They would have been able to achieve a more sublime feel like they have achieved in the lighthouse level.


4. Deploying materials & textures

Most game designers probably know all too well the trappings of placing brush, ruin wall, stones, or stains and noise to address issues that aren’t working well in their design. Yet understanding the properties of materials, how they behave and are created can help artists make better decisions in how they deploy this aspect of the design.

Look at the world around you as much as you can, and you will start to see how concrete stains, wood cracks, or how steel rusts or melts in fire. Many games suffer from what I call the “cut and paste” look -- where buildings or materials are deployed without any rigor or understanding of their properties. This may happen due to the pace of building massive worlds within a short amount of time but if you understand some basic principles of materials then you can make fast decisions that are well informed.

For example, the steampunk style that BioShock Infinite draws on for its narratives is a genre rich with textures and details. However, in the game they create a noisy collage. Stone columns are supported by wood flooring, a much lighter material. Structures and architecture elements are made up of four or five different materials that have no relationship to one another and would not actually stand up.


In The Witness, we tried to develop a palette of materials that supported the narrative and helped the artists to understand them such as the ways concrete is formed. They are now experts themselves and are able to develop the textures in a thoughtful way that aligned with the gameplay style. We also worked on the textures to pull out the essential quality of the material to you could understand what is was without diverging from the art style of the game.


The Witness: Belltower with Corten Steel and Civilization II Stonework

5. Scaling, proportion, and style

Understanding building assemblies (connections between elements) and how that influences our perception of these environments can help with the development of the interior and exterior environments. This is something architects understand very well. Therefore a good way to work cheaply with an architect is to have them do sketches over scenes like this one I did in a few minutes on a scene from Ether One.


The wood texture should be finer, and the desk has a low level of detail compared with other aspects like the wainscot on the wall, whose height looks too low (3 to 4’ is ideal). The lighting needs to be more integrated and the plants in the dark corners would definitely be dead from lack of light (which could be cool if they actually were). They have used stone columns throughout this area, so why not bring the element into the space for consistency? In addition, there are no pieces of wood that would span the entire back wall. Showing seams/panels here and in the desk add honesty, verticality, and a level of detail that is consistent with the rest of the space. They coudl also consider showing more layers of time in a single room that might stregnthen the dementia narrative. For example, old wood showing through gypsum wallboard that has been ripped away.

A great example of these aspects of design can be found In Journey. Here, the architecture assemblies are accurate, consistent and in proportion to one another while still creating a fantastical world. The landscape and buildings are scaled well with the character and other assets of the game. There is a verticality to the proportions that is lovely and consistently replicated throughout the game. This gives is a very refined and holistic look and feel. Even through there is a distortion in these proportions from reality it is done with an understanding of the basic principles of design so it works quite well. Once you develop an eye for the scale and proportion of architecture and landscapes they are easier to manipulate.


6. Details

Along with understanding scale and proportion comes the proper rendering of details in the architecture. These may be done to avoid abstraction of space if your art style is refined or making them simpler if things are of a looser style. What is most important is being consistent with the level of detail and the scale of these elements. It is something we spent a while on in the witness so that the lighting, stairs, door handles, furniture, or window openings are all developed at the same level of consistent detail and in alignment with our art style. For us, it made doing modern architecture difficult at times and we worked hard to create details that reflected these assemblies in a low poly yet realistic way for the painterly quality we wanted.


The Witness: Hub Chapel


This scene from Ether One looks great, but making this small change would harmonize the entire space.

Mirror's Edge is another game that does a particularly great job of detailing most of its elements. They make strategic use of building systems such as electrical, plumbing, heating, and cooling systems with color to guide gameplay movement and perception. It is visually pleasing due to the lack of noise yet it is rich at the same time just by understanding materials, transitions, details, and assemblies of the built world. Even a game like Relativity that is diverse spatially but simple in its execution has an incredible consistency that makes it wonderful to be in.


Another beautiful but quite different game that also makes good use of detail is Relativity. It is diverse spatially, unique in its style and simple and consistent in its palette and details, which I think helps you to feel immersed in this MC Echer-esque world.


Detailing contrasting components well is also a great opportunity for good design. For example, the integration of layers of time in The Talos Principle is interesting, and it is these moments that it could have been nice to think about how they would integrate given they are very prominent in the environment. Rather than stick things on the stone, these technological pieces could have been integrated in the tectonic of the old castle wall in a more sophisticated way that would have added some gravitas to the look and feel of the game, supported the narrative and built on the textures that had.


7. Transitions

In addition to detailing connections, it is also important to articulate transitions: areas between rooms and spaces, thresholds/entries, vertical assemblies (base middle and top), where a wall meets floor etc.

Often the architecture is covered in texture maps, from wallpaper to bricks, but then the intersection between surfaces is left out -- creating an incongruent condition between the detail of the materials and the assembly itself. I see this almost every game I have played. It is turning out to be one of the most important levels of refinement we have been doing in our final pass on The Witness.


8. Characters and environment

Christian Nutt of Gamasutra asked me if Super Mario 3D World could benefit from working with architects. I think that perhaps it could. The interesting thing is that Super Mario 3D World has a lot of modularity as does architecture in the real world.

With its great gameplay, investigating what a designer trained in architecture could bring to a game like this is exciting. I believe popular games like Super Mario 3D World are perfect vehicles for increasing visual literacy as they are simple and can help the player understand both the goals of the game and the world around them.

What I do notice in this game and many others is that the architecture environment does not have the same proportioning and detailing as the characters moving through the scene. In Super Mario 3D Worldit’s almost as if the curves and details of the characters have been scaled up to create the forms we see in the world.


I often wonder if artists just feel more comfortable and have more experience designing characters. I know sometimes this is also being done to highlight the characters, which makes sense. However I wonder if through the exploration of the art style and articulation of the environment they could be in greater alignment with one another and improve the clarity and experience of the game. I think Mirror's Edge does this well. The backgrounds are articulated to a point that they have some gravitas but aren’t overpowering the characters.


10. The space in between

While the architecture itself is important the relationships between buildings is just as important as the building itself. They are part of an overall scene that you are creating in every moment, and understanding how buildings can create outdoor rooms and a diversity of spatial experiences definitely enhances gameplay.

The Talos Principle is an example of a game that has some great spaces that are scaled really well and others that are not so much. In many areas there is a flatness to the experience since there is no strong vertical expression or experience of the architecture that would traditional be found in castles due to their purpose and use as place for protection and surveillance.

The open spaces, courtyards or baileys where you are shooting are too large compared to the wall height, and what would have been the interior spaces of the castle. An opportunity would have been to harness the design of castles and the development of the radial form of the medieval city to help with the experience of the game and provide more interest to the experience through spatial variety that reflects the historical narrative of this time.


Most buildings prior to the Modernist movement have a hierarchy to them like the church nave or the grand entry. This flattening of the architectural experience in the agency of gameplay goes counter to our experience of this type of architecture and is a missed opportunity. Why not use the logic of these buildings to enhance gameplay?

Many games also often have large spaces that have game assets floating in them. An unrealistic building or room density does not provide containment of the events unfolding. Often objects are out of scale to one another or larger than any element might be in reality.

For example, the Gone Home entry foyer in plan is massively out of proportion with the height and the scale of any suburban home as viewed from the outside. The assets are floating in the space in ways that feel out of context with the real experience of domestic space pulling us out of the immersive reality.


The player is drawn to the objects because they stand out in a bare room but it seems like they would have been more successful by integrating assets into well-scaled environments. They could use the space itself to guide players to these components in a sophisticated way perhaps through light, color, and detail.


Gone Home is one of my favorite games to play because it makes use of 3D and 2D representation of this space. It would have been more powerful to create a house or even a compound that had some logical complexity to it and generated a domestic environment that made sense and enhanced the game play experience by drawing on our personal memories of home.


For those considering working with design professionals I wanted to share a bit about our process since we learned a lot as we went. While some things were new for us, many things were very familiar to our way of working. Architecture is an iterative process using both analogue and digital media and always requires working creatively with people coming from various engineering and artistic backgrounds. In these ways, working with game developers was no different.

The diagram below shows this process, which for us usually began with a rough prototype from Thekla. Sometimes we would have working sessions with them to develop a prototype based on idea one of us would have but usually they were developed by Jonathan. Either way FOURM design studio would work closely with Fletcher Studio to develop the building and landscape together and return to Thekla with various options for consideration.

In the beginning, we would deliver designs in the form of Sketchup or Rhino models, hand drawings and image references but we soon realized that checking our options into the game engine itself was best. Sketchup proved to be the easiest, as we were not using 3DS or Maya, and exports from nurbs modelers like Rhino proved difficult to clean up.

If some options seemed feasible, Thekla would develop one or two and evaluate its success. If the former or latter options did not work, we would return with additional options. Once Thekla had a prototype tested in game we would then refine it and everyone would work iteratively to get it to its final condition. Even recently, we did a complete polish on all the architecture in the game and it took everything to a level of sophistication beyond even my expectations.



If you are considering working with an architect then there are some things to think about in this selection. Not all architects are the same and therefore not all are going to be appropriate for your team.

You should ideally find an architect/landscape architect that has facility with 3D modeling software and understands building assemblies as most do. However, a good technical architect is not always great at thinking conceptually. You will need to find one who can develop architecture from abstract/philosophical ideas or gameplay narratives. This kind of designer can also help develop narratives for you to consider.

If they have experience in the game industry or love games that its great but they at least need to be willing to play games and educative themselves in the industry. For me this involved finding and playing games I enjoyed and some I did not. It also involved going to industry conferences on my own dime to understand the industry more deeply. On your game they will need to respect and clearly understand the rules and concept of gameplay.


I believe we came onto The Witness at a great time. It was after the basic working prototype had been developed since Jonathan needed no assistance in conceptualizing his game.

Some of your timing may depend on budget and cost. The sad news for us and the good news for you is that architecture is the lowest paid profession (we are also not good at math). Usually architects work on a lump sum fee based on phases and are related to overall project costs. Architects' fees can range from 5% to 15% of overall construction budget depending on the type of project. If budget is an issue an architect can be brought in a key stages for evaluation and input. An architect’s hourly rate is roughly that of a senior game artist.


While all these aspects of design are important, the most critical thing that I teach to professionals and students alike is to just wake up and pay attention to the world around you. I hope that these recommendations can help you do that even if you choose not to work with an architect.

I would also like to conclude by presenting a bigger vision for this collaboration. I believe that everything we do creatively influences our larger cultural context. As more members of our society begin to play games in well-designed digital environments, we will ultimately improve the visual literacy of our population. In doing so, I believe there is a reverse effect where we will start to expect more from our physical environments rather than ignore them as we often do now. We will start to question the strip mall, the big box stores, suburban landscapes filled with McMansions and the bland colorless panelized architecture we crank out in the United States, at least. Maybe through the immense creativity found in the creation of digital environments we can envision better physical environments that foster imagination, community, sustainability, and well-being. In doing so I also hope that we have moved further down the road of accessing the power of video games to change the world around us for the better.

Many thanks to the other members of The Witness design team!
Digo Lima, David Fletcher, Nico Wright, Beth Bukolich


Jan 24, 2013
Just a couple weeks from release :shittydog:

New aesthetically pleasing teasers:

Q&A at Gamasutra:

Q&A: Jonathan Blow on The Witness and the state of indie games

January 4, 2016 | By Lexi Pandell

When Jonathan Blow released Braid, its critical and commercial success helped to spark the burgeoning indie game scene. Since then, Blow has sunk seven years of his life—and millions of dollars—into designing his next release. “I have spent all the Braid money,” he says. “That’s all gone.”

The Witness, out January 26, is an open-world puzzler set on a colorful island riddled with mazes, each more complicated than the last. But that description doesn’t capture the game’s ambition. “Everything in western culture is pretending to be about what it’s about, just echoing a theme,” Blow says. “The Witness is a game about trying to understand the world and see it clearly. It’s about being a human, and wondering what that means.”

Blow rejects many of the standard tropes of puzzle games. There are no overt instructions—players are left to fend for themselves. And there are no arbitrarily hidden keys that you need to find in order to unlock doors that block your path. “All you ever need in order to open the door is the right idea,” Blow says. “The deeper you go, the more you understand about the meaning of the game.”

We spoke to Blow about his design process, the state of indie games, what it’s like to spend all your cash in pursuit of the perfect game, and why he hopes you won’t simply watch other people play through The Witness on Twitch

What would you say are the main differences between The Witness and Braid?
"The game is designed to create many opportunities for epiphany moments, both small and large. You know that it’s not just about the solving of problems, but what happens when you do."
The Witness is way, way bigger, and I think of it as a more mature designer’s game. It takes some of the ideas you see in Braid and explores them more thoroughly. Braid is set up with a specific number of puzzles and every one had a specific point. In The Witness, that is true as well, but there are so many more puzzles that the idea becomes about stream of communication and relatedness.

What are you hoping people will get out of it?
The most direct answer to that is a massive spoiler. There’s a strong thematic element in it about being a human in the world and wondering what that means. What should we be doing, and how should we see the world, and what is an accurate way to see the world, and what is a fantastical way of seeing the world? The gameplay experience echoes that theme to the greatest extent possible.

No instructions are given you when you start. You are fending for yourself and taking a great deal of initiative to solve problems. You know that it’s not just the solving the problems but what happens when you do. The game is designed to create many opportunities for epiphany moments, both small and large.


Some puzzle designers like to design for “aha” moments where the player gets stuck, then they figure it out, and then the player feels really smart. That irritates me.

"Early in development, the idea was to make the story very explicit and straightforward, with audio logs. But the more ways I tried that, the more I didn't like it."
Part of the idea behind The Witness is that puzzles are not arbitrary. There are real ideas behind every single one. When you figure out the puzzle, you clearly see some relationship that happens in reality, or space, or time, or something like that. And you see very clearly how that relates to the current situation. It’s not an arbitrary “aha” that makes the player feel smart: The player really understands this thing, and they are smart. I’m not tricking you into feeling smart, you are getting to exercise your natural intelligence.

Is there a narrative built into the game?
Yes, there’s a definite story. And early on in development, the idea was to make that very explicit and straightforward, with audio logs where the story plays out in recordings the way a lot of games do.

But the more ways I tried that, the more I didn't like it. What happens now is the story is really subtle, but the more you explore the more clues you can find to what’s going on. The people who really thoroughly solve the game will see the most concrete things. There’s a great opportunity for discovery of backstory through exploration.


Would you say that Braid’s huge surprise success helped you make the game you wanted to make in The Witness?
Financially, for sure. Without the money from Braid, I wouldn’t have made it at all. I have spent all theBraid money, that’s all gone. So... hopefully some people will buy this new game. [laughs]

"I have spent all the Braid money, that’s all gone. So... hopefully some people will buy this game."
From just a creative standpoint, the ideas in The Witnessdo continue from Braid. I talked about having an idea behind each puzzle. There are different aspects of that. I don't want to cloud the idea by putting lots of things that obscure it in each level, I don't want to put red herrings. Things are more strong and resonant and beautiful when you just let them be there and don't hide them, which is cheap and cheesy.

When I started the game I thought of it as a descendant of graphic adventures, games like Myst or TV point-and-click adventures of the time, and all those games have a lot of problems. Part of what I was doing as designer was to sit down and think about how to make a game that has all the good parts of those games but is free of all those problems, like being confused by the interface and wondering if this thing in the environment is a thing I’m supposed to interact with.

The game became something that isn’t quite a graphic adventure anymore. But I also started to see ways that those could be done better. For example, a thing that happens in many kinds of games is there’s a locked door and you can’t get through it. You need a key to get through the door and usually you do some challenge to get the key and then come back. That’s a good structure and is understood: You see what you have to get past and then you find the thing and go through. It is a structure that helps player have goals. But traditionally, those games are very linear. It’s just sequence of events, so why dress this up as key for door when that’s all you’ll let me do anyway? I’m just going through this thing that the game is aiming me in this direction of. It might not be clear in my mind that I need to get the key for that door, I’m just doing what the game is suggesting.


"When Braid came out it, was a really good time to be an independent developer. I told people to enjoy it while it lasts."
There are all these problems that happen in practice inThe Witness. For example you come to a door you would like to get through because there is an interesting area on the other side. But there is a challenging puzzle, and you don’t know what it means. Maybe there are some shapes you recognize or the way colors are set up or things in environment around the puzzle that are highly recognizable. You know what to look for because you know to look for these particular shapes or whatever else makes up that puzzle. It is much more intentional to find the key to this door. You have to go to another part of the island and learn something or figure it out, but it’s only in your head and that makes the feeling of accomplishment more real. All you ever needed to open the door is the right idea, it’s not an object the game gave you or not.


So in Braid, you subverted the damsel-in-distress trope. Is there anything you looked to subvert in The Witness?
It's the opposite of subversion. There are secrets in the game world, like opening doors to get to other places. We do it to such an extent that it becomes a different thing than what those games do. I can’t say much more than that, but the game is crazy good on that level because we worked for a long time on it. There’s a lot of things in the game and they build on each other.

Can you tell us about how your sensibilities and style have changed since Braid?
I’m not a very visual person. When I close my eyes and imagine things, there’s no picture whatsoever--there’s just ideas. So, when I design games, at the beginning, there’s just ideas. I have a concept but how to translate to visuals, I’m not sure yet how to find that.

The first couple years were about getting the basics in place. Once you had a world where you could walk around and do the basic stuff the game is expected to do, then we started experimenting with the visuals very seriously. I had some high level ideas about the art direction, same thing as with Braid. I started with high level ideas: I wanted the world to feel indeterminate and shifting, and I wanted it to feel bright and optimistic--especially toward the beginning of the game--and transition into something less bright. The world is a little idealized in the sense that colors are simple and saturated, the shapes are high contrast. There’s not a lot of visual noise in the game. If you see a tree against the background, the tree will be clear and the background will be clear especially if there’s a puzzle involved in the tree.

A lot of videogames look good by scraping the surfaces and putting junk everywhere, especially in shooter games. We did not allow ourselves to do that at all. It's a clean aesthetic even in cases where things are supposed to be old and weathered, which was an interesting challenge.


What are your thoughts on the current state of indie games?
When Braid came out it was a really good time to be an independent developer. I told people to enjoy it while it lasts. Now, it’s reached this state where making a reasonable game people might want to play is not enough, because there are so many games. The press are just bombarded by people who want attention. That's the challenge for developers--how do you get people interested?

What was it like pouring so much time into this game? And also having such a large personal monetary investment?
The timeline is a weird one because I can almost not remember what my life was like before working on this game. 2008 was very different from today. I have one constant, which is that I was working on this one project this whole time. Seven years is not quite 20 percent of my life but it’s going on it, which is crazy. When you’re working on a project this ambitious and this involved with this many aspects, it can really shape who you are. A lot of who I am today is at least in part determined by this thing I’ve been working on.

I’m not that much of a money-motivated person. It's a bummer to run out of money and have to budget things carefully so that your company can make the ship date and all that. I’d rather not have to deal with that. But it’s never been my ambition in life to be rich and live on an island doing nothing. I like making things and figuring things out.

Money is nice to the extent that it helps me do those things. I wouldn't have been able to do this game without making Braid. Now we’ll see if this game makes anything back.


Mar 28, 2014
50h of match x puzzles accompanied by pretty vistas the game.

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