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

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:

I could have done anything with my life, but somehow I ended up designing puzzles, including these here on this island. You could be doing anything with your life, but somehow you ended up here, solving these puzzles.

Suppose this project cost several million dollars. Do the math on how large an impact that money could have had. This very structure you’re walking around in, these puzzles you’ve been working your way through, are the result of my willful blindness to the suffering of others. Yes, I come from a culture of decadent, selfish people - I am immersed in all that - but that is no excuse.

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:

On this island, where you and I meet through the medium of these puzzles, we are doing a wonderful thing. This is an experience that nobody anytime earlier in the history of humanity was privileged to have. There is magic here - something fundamentally worthwhile.

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

Aug 8, 2011

16 comments

  • TheDigitalG - August 14, 2011 9:04 p.m.

    I thought he was trying to renovate the adventure genre? This looks exactly like a '95 point-n-click... Or is it going to be another hipster, 'deep', self-referential game exactly as Braid was? As an Adventure game veteran, this only excites me in a nostalgia way, worth a buy when it's on offer.
  • mentalityljs - August 9, 2011 11:30 p.m.

    I honestly think the art style is appropriate for this style of game. It's not ultra-realistic, yet not too cartoony either. Has a nice warm dream-like look to it. I loved Braid, and room escape and point and click adventures can very well occupy a lot of my time when im in the mood, and this looks to be no exception.
  • GamesRadarCharlieBarratt - August 9, 2011 6 p.m.

    @ParanoidAndroid The graphics are still very much a work in progress. Blow showed me concept art of what they're hoping to achieve by release, and it had a lot of potential. Of course, it's still only concept art, so we'll see...
  • Fusionmix - August 9, 2011 3:50 p.m.

    Looks fun, but Blow's artsy pretentiousness really turns me off. If there's a way to mute those stupid audiorecordings, I'll definitely get it nonetheless.
  • ParanoidAndroid - August 9, 2011 12:49 p.m.

    Hmmm... I kinda hate the art style. Seems kinda bland, like a virtual tour of a museum or something...
  • Thequestion 121 - August 9, 2011 1:06 a.m.

    Wow, now this game is interesting
  • Randomwordcombination - August 8, 2011 11:52 p.m.

    Interesting!
  • Gene - August 8, 2011 9:25 p.m.

    Braid is the third best game of all time in my eyes, after Zelda: Majora's Mask and Ico. I cannot wait for this. I trust Jonathan Blow.
  • santaclouse37 - August 8, 2011 7:46 p.m.

    I'm so excited for this. Loves me some lateral thinking.
  • Letter11 - August 8, 2011 6:49 p.m.

    I'm not sure "get" it. But hey, I didn't grasp all the symbolism, and artistic temperament of Braid either but I loved that game. I'm pretty interested. @Yaro Ha! Nice one.
  • Dlinedj09 - August 8, 2011 6:15 p.m.

    This sounds like a game my wife would love
  • Yaro - August 8, 2011 6:05 p.m.

    You could say that Charlie was the first to *puts on shades* witness this game. YEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAH!!!!
  • Zepaw - August 8, 2011 5:55 p.m.

    Sounds fantastic. I second your feelings NearNRiver. Seems a lot like Braid where a lot of the experience is from getting stumped and pushing through until it finally makes sense. I killed part of the experience by giving up and using a guide for some of the last levels.
  • Lemming - August 8, 2011 5:54 p.m.

    For the longest time, my sister has been looking for an alternative to Myst (she's not into other adventure games like Monkey Island (she's not into chatty games) or Big Fish's Hidden Object adventures) and this might just be it.
  • NearNRiver - August 8, 2011 5:51 p.m.

    I, for one, cannot wait for this. I'm having to balance my aversion to spoilers and my want to read everything about it.
  • Security77 - August 8, 2011 5:49 p.m.

    I'm Jonathan Blown away.

Showing 1-16 of 16 comments

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