Note: iOS 9 + Facebook users w/ trouble scrolling: #super sorry# we hope to fix it asap. In the meantime Chrome Mobile is a reach around
hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Blow's enigmatic The Witness is the highlight of the PS4

8:45 PM on 06.14.2013 // Steven Hansen

Bear witness

Braid creator Jonathan Blow's The Witness is probably my most anticipated PS4 game -- almost definitely among games that are coming to the system this year. It, in its own way, stole the show at Sony's PlayStation 4 announcement conference and stole E3 for me, too.

In a behind closed doors, hands-off demo, Blow took members of the press through a live explanation of the game, using his small team's working build of the game. No "carefully manicured E3 thing" here. It was running on the PlayStation 4, looking quite close to completion, and I'm excited to delve deeply into its mysterious depths later this year.

The Witness (PS4 [timed exclusive], PC, iOS)
Developer: Thekla, Inc.
Publisher: Thekla, Inc.
Release: 2013

The Witness
is a puzzle game couched in an explorable world, emphasis on exploration. It's "not about rushing through the environments as quickly as possible," Blow explained. Indeed, this isn't just a claim being made to encourage a meditative pace befitting of the atmosphere. The game's puzzles require some consideration and they are designed in such a way to slowly teach you how to solve them.

The most consistent thing the game is about is nonverbal communication. You "build an explanation to yourself of what you're doing. The game never tells you." In fact, aside from some optional collectible audio logs that fill in the island's backstory, The Witness is almost entirely reticent.

You start the game in a dark corridor and the only thing to do is go forward and begin opening doors with simple line puzzles through simple mazes, setting precedent for all the subsequent puzzles to come. In one of the early areas you will encounter, two rows of puzzles of increasing complexity sit near each other. Earlier still, there is a door with a nonsensical-seeming, incomprehensible lock barring you from entry.

After you complete the first row of puzzles, and then the second, you'll find that, "nothing actually happened. Nothing obvious," Blow said. In the first set of puzzles, you try to guide a line through a maze while covering all the black blips o screen before getting to the end. You can't run into yourself, so this gets more challenging. In the second set, you intuitively begin to realize you have to separate blips of different colors on your way to the maze's exit.

Each set of puzzle starts out simple and gets more challenging. You can theoretically blow by the first few quickly and by luck, but you've not gained any understanding of how they work and would subsequently be stuck when solutions become less clear and less prone to guesswork. You're tasked with figuring out the rules of the puzzle and then applying them.

While it seems nothing obvious has resulted from solving those two sets of puzzles, you've actually organically learned how to operate those puzzles and then, eureka, you've developed the skill set necessary to solve the aforementioned, seemingly incomprehensible puzzle that locks the door.

"The key was in my head the entire time," Blow explained. It's a fascinating concept. The Witness bears similarities to adventure games, but the differences are paramount. It is entirely open and explorable, rather than linear. The puzzles are obviously present and divided into palpable sections, keeping the logic from spiraling out of control. "As a game designer who was ideas about games I look at [adventure games] now and just think they're all bad," Blow explained.

When I asked him how he felt about comparisons to the well-known Myst, Blow told me that his game bore important similarities to Myst, minus all of the things people -- or Blow himself -- dislike about the game.

The idea that solving puzzles can give you actual intuition -- a metaphorical key inside your head -- rather than a throwaway inventory item is an interesting refutation of cliche game mechanics and systems. It also seems emblematic of the general theme of The Witness as a game that encourages more consideration than is typical.

The Witness is not, however, arcane or intentional obfuscating. Puzzles and other elements in the environment are constantly linked through cables that light up when active, keeping you from circling areas trying to figure out what you're supposed to do. You know: you're supposed to do the puzzles, and the game teaches you to do them.

You're free to wander the island, but there is a goal that reveals itself clearly upon clearing the first of ten areas. Within these areas, progress is relatively linear, making you feel forward momentum, yet not locking you into a certain area if you're stuck. In fact, only seven of the ten areas need to be cleared, though "something better happens" if you clear all ten, solving all the puzzles. Your level of engagement decides how much you understand the game and its underlying intent, but Blow is "preparing for variable levels of engagement," partially through intuitive design.

"When you go in, if you just are interested in a puzzle game and you're not really looking at story or philosophy or anything like that, there is a really good puzzle game," Jonathan Blow said here in this developer video. "But if you want to read further than that, there's other layers."

I believe it. The puzzles we were shown were varied and clever, though often mechanically simple. One segment that necessitated completing three similar puzzles to continue made you start from the first if you messed up on the second. "You can't brute force it or you end up having to keep walking back and forth like an idiot," Blow explained.

Every element of the game's design seems intricately considered to serve Blow's intentions (Blow "designed 95% of the puzzles" in addition to programming for the game and serving as its figurehead) and through this fastidiousness a plainly interesting puzzle game was borne for those only in it for the surface level. And it's a damn fine surface level. Beyond the puzzles, the game looks absolutely stunning with it's almost 3D vector art aesthetic and gorgeous cherry blossom trees, among other geography -- I'm a sucker for cherry blossoms. And I can't wait for The Witness.

Steven Hansen, Features Editor
 Follow Blog + disclosure dtoidsteven Tips
Steven watches anime & sports, buys meat out of trucks, dates a Muppet, and is only good at cooking. He stands before you bereft of solace and well on the road to perdition. ('^ω^) more   |   staff directory

 Setup email comments

Unsavory comments? Please report harassment, spam, and hate speech to our community fisters, and flag the user (we will ban users dishing bad karma). Can't see comments? Apps like Avast or browser extensions can cause it. You can fix it by adding * to your whitelists.

destructoid's previous coverage:
The Witness

  Nov 19

A tranquil moment with The Witness

The so-called 'long screenshot' returns

  Oct 16

Jon Blow: The Witness might be largest puzzle game ever

PlayStation 4 launch title sports 25-40 hours of gameplay

View all:powered by:  MM.Elephant

Ads on destructoid may be purchased from:

Please contact Crave Online, thanks!

Attack of the Friday Monsters: A Little Slice of Childhood

Top 5 Reasons Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 IS AWESOME!

Cblogs of 11/26/15 + Combat Heropon-isms

Video games go mainstream

I’m Not a SJW, I’m an Anthropologist: Making the Case for Diversity in Games

Insidia REVIEW - A whole dark, gloomy, and kinda creepy world to explore

DS REVIEWS: Trace Memory

Things I'm Thankful For

Cblogs of 11/25/15 + Turkey N Stuff

 Add your impressions

Status updates from C-bloggers

StriderHoang avatarStriderHoang
I've never earnestly went drinking before so it's cool to know I'm the slow, sleepy, impaired type.
The Dyslexic Laywer avatarThe Dyslexic Laywer
Got to admit I didn't expect to find a mewtwo amiibo at my bookstore of all places...
Mike Martin avatarMike Martin
My cousin found out I slept with his girlfriend and is pissed. Understandable. I am totally sick of the angry phone calls though. It reminds me so much of playing Call of Duty online. The screaming 11 year olds suck on there too.
OverlordZetta avatarOverlordZetta
Huh. Apparently even Japan has a Black Friday sale going on on PSN right now.
Lawman avatarLawman
Yes, Resident Evil: Revelations 2, I know that somebody has 2,625 more medallions than me. No, Resident Evil: Revelations 2, I don't really care.
Dr Mel avatarDr Mel
This fucking Bloodborne DLC, jesus. I'm on new game+, about level 90, and shit just tears my dick off. I don't know if I want to start another guy just to avoid NG+ and level him up, etc. sigh....
Shinta avatarShinta
Wii U, top selling black friday item on Take that you anti-Wii U people.
CoilWhine avatarCoilWhine
I am pretty hyped for when I get a laptop because I'll be able to have a good enough connection to stream XbOne/soon PS4 games to it along with natively rendered Steam games. Hype!
Avoclefo avatarAvoclefo
Got a PS4 that came with SW Battlefront this week, and planning on picking up the FFX/X-2 remake. Hype is through the roof, especially for FFX. If I were to get one other game, what should it be?
Niero Desu avatarNiero Desu
Did a google maps search around my parents house for bars and there isn't one in like 25 miles, so I picked up an Intel compute stick and South Park: Stick of Truth on Steam. That's more or less the drunken screaming I'm in the mood for at about the cost.
OrochiLeona avatarOrochiLeona
Do you ever have that moment of clarity when talking to someone and suddenly realising: You're just a skull, and they're just a skull, with fucking eyeballs and a sac of skin being the only comparative difference between you visually? ..just me then?
Nathan D avatarNathan D
After quitting for two days out of frustration, I beat Ludwig on my first try of the night. I'm on cloud fucking nine right now.
Pixie The Fairy avatarPixie The Fairy
When I did my retail shift today, we were moving more Smash/Splat Wii U bundles and the Gears/Rare Replay/Ori XB1 bundles than Uncharted and Battlefront PS4s. I think Nintendo and MS have better value on their side this holiday. Sony got lazy.
Confuseddalek avatarConfuseddalek
I found this weird game called Samurai Heroes for 8 dollars today. Its not bad.
Solar Pony Django avatarSolar Pony Django
Got Deadpool, Arkham Asylum and BioShock 1 and 2 all for 30$. Not to bad for going Black Friday shopping late.
RadicalYoseph avatarRadicalYoseph
If you haven't played Tales from the Borderlands yet, GO BUY IT! By far the funniest game I have ever played, and the characters and narrative are incredibly well written. Very few memes unlike BL2 by the way.
James Internet Ego avatarJames Internet Ego
Played all of Life is Strange today in one sitting. Bloody hell. You should all play it. Only game this year to make me cry. Bravo developers. Possibly the most valuable thing I've ever bought for £10.
Gamemaniac3434 avatarGamemaniac3434
Last night, got farther than ever in Wasteland 2. This is my third playthrough-once thru beta, once through the orig version, now on Directors cut. Worth the restart, and it speaks highly of the game that I like it enough to do this. DAMONTA HERE I COME!
KeithTheGeek avatarKeithTheGeek
GUYS HELP I KEEP BUYING MORE AMIIBO. Today it was Little Mac, since he went back up on Gamestop's website. I probably would have gotten Captain Falcon as well if I wasn't already running a little short on cash.
BigDoniel avatarBigDoniel
50 hours in and I can safely say that Xenoblade is the best JRPG I've played in years. Should hopefully be finished in time for X too!
more quickposts



Invert site colors

  Dark Theme
  Light Theme

Destructoid means family.
Living the dream, since 2006

Pssst. konami code + enter

modernmethod logo

Back to Top

We follow moms on   Facebook  and   Twitter
  Light Theme      Dark Theme
Pssst. Konami Code + Enter!
You may remix stuff our site under creative commons w/@
- Destructoid means family. Living the dream, since 2006 -