The Witness hands-on preview: Braid creator's new game is Myst, Mensa and a whole lot of Meta

A first look at indie designer Jonathan Blow's latest philosophical puzzler

See, the blue squares are only half the puzzle. The other half – what could potentially make The Witness as brilliant and original as Braid – is its cryptic island environment and how that environment can be perceived from varying perspectives, both physical and psychological. In many cases, the blue squares are merely the place you “write” down your answers once you’ve interpreted your surroundings in the right way.

Blow takes back the controller to show me further examples of this design. A hedge maze in which the twists and turns you take tie directly to the blue square’s solution. An elevator that won’t move until you’ve drawn a shape that indicates you want the elevator to move. A science museum in which the squares make absolutely no sense until you’ve viewed them through the correct combination of color filters. Leaves, shadows, sunlight… any of these could hold the key to a puzzle in The Witness.

The Witness wouldn’t be a true Jonathan Blow creation, however, if The Witness was just about puzzles. As the developer admits, he “might be incapable of making games that are not about games,” and this one is laced with enough meta philosophy to make Braid seem literal by comparison. Scattered all across the island are voice recorders with mysterious messages like the following:

Breaking the fourth wall? That’s happened in plenty of games previously, but breaking the fourth wall so that the game’s designer can speak directly to the game’s player about the meaning and impact of their shared experience? That’s unusual. That’s, at the very least, an interesting experiment... one which the folks who criticized Braid as “pretentious” will no doubt find annoyingly navel-gazing, but one which is unarguably interesting nonetheless. Plus, the more voice messages you discover, the closer to some great and games-affirming revelation you become:

We’ll know if The Witness can live up to such grand ideals when it releases in 2012.

Aug 8, 2011


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