Much of The Witness remains unknown, but what we have learned is this—it’s the follow-up to Braid from developer-auteur Jonathan Blow, a first-person puzzle adventure game with a blend of environmental storytelling and experimental design philosophy. Having made its infamous public debut at an unmarked booth at PAX 2010, The Witness promises to be meditative and mysterious, rewarding attention and intriguing the curious to decipher its puzzles and grasp the deeper meaning behind the remote island the player traverses. We spoke earlier this year with Jonathan Blow about The Witness, Indie Game: The Movie, and re-approaching game design.
The Creators Project: How has your development process for The Witness most notably differed from that of Braid? What component of the game are you focusing on now?
Jonathan Blow: The development of The Witness is completely different from Braid. It’d be hard to find any similarities except that I focused mostly on game design at the beginning of the project, ensuring we had a very solid, very playable game, before staffing up to do all the 3D art, location design, and the like.
What games would you point to as predecessors or sources of inspiration for The Witness?
I wouldn’t point to any specific games as predecessors of The Witness, except possibly for Myst. But Myst is more of a mood and setting inspiration; the gameplay of The Witness is very different from the gameplay of Myst or any of those graphic adventures, because I am very consciously re-approaching the design of these games (which I consider to be highly problematic, in fact unplayable by modern standards) and asking, what happens if I strip this genre down to its bare minimum and then, applying modern design understanding, build it up again?
I’m intrigued by a comment from your GDC Europe talk—about the self-creating process of game design—and I’m curious how The Witness has evolved along these lines. Have you observed truth arising from the systems you’ve created in The Witness?
Yes, The Witness is heavily built upon that process of exploration alluded to in the GDC Europe talk. Actually, a little later, Marc Ten Bosch (designer of the amazing game Miegakure, and I almost never compliment games. I think most video games suck, so that is really saying something for me) and I outlined the technique in a very pragmatic way, to show other designers how to do it step-by-step. This talk also contains some examples from The Witness:
Did your experience with Indie Game: The Movie shed any fresh light on creating Braid, or on the similar struggles between you and other developers?
Indie Game: The Movie was fun to participate in but I had already talked about Braid plenty by that time, and was well into designing The Witness. I think the things I say in those scenes are heavily shaped by my thoughts about The Witness, even though I was talking about Braid.
What were your most memorable/valuable gaming experiences in 2011?
As for memorable gaming experiences in 2011, I really liked The Binding of Isaac. That game shows a lot of potential, it’s like shining a light down a vast new tunnel where games could go, and we can only see the beginnings of that tunnel from this one dim light. I think it’s crazy that the game design community is not speaking more frequently and more heavily about this game, but since I think most game designers don’t really have any idea what they are doing, I guess I should not be surprised!