The Witness Overview

What do you think of Johnathan Blowhard? I hear he recently released a new game called The Witness and it looks pretty pretentious.

I think I’ve remarked on him before.

Anyway, I’ve been playing The Witness, because I felt like playing a puzzle game and this intrigued me more than Braid did. It’s alright. The biggest issue I’ve had with it so far is that the rules for overlapping shape symbols are not adequately explained in the swamp area, first that the overlapping shapes can be connected to each other, next that as long as the symbol is contained, the shape represented by that symbol can be anywhere within the contained area. Not to mention that a lot of puzzles in that area which have multiple solutions will reject a large number of valid solutions. The blue square subtraction puzzles are a similar issue, with the hardest puzzles of that type having solutions that honestly don’t make any sense compared to the puzzles that came before them, or after them, seemingly violating their own rules. Oh, and I wish you could sprint faster and the acceleration weren’t so slow.

The Witness is honestly kind of a curiosity to me. It’s literally a game about drawing lines, yet so much effort was put into making a fancy island with a unique visual style, really striking environmental design in terms of landscaping and color design throughout. You find audio logs that are far as I can tell, all just quotes from famous people, particularly scientists. Then there’s the $40 price tag. Does he think this game is really the same as other $40 games on the digital market? The 10/10 is also striking from IGN, because while I think it’s an interesting game, I don’t think it’s worthy of a 10/10, there’s not enough there. I’d give it a 7/10 personally.

What do you think of this?

This actually really pissed me off. I haven’t finished the game yet, I’m on the final area, and I’ve taken far less time than he has. I did all the work in my head with no accompanying notes and almost no hints. throughout the video he attempts solutions that I can tell are wrong, probably selected on purpose to convey his dissatisfaction with the game.

The thing I disliked about Braid was that the puzzles were too easy, and when they were tricky to figure out, it was because they relied on an interaction of the mechanics that was difficult to extrapolate from the earlier puzzles. I have a similar issue with Portal’s puzzles where the thing is playtested so hard that all the corners are carefully sanded down to prevent people from getting stuck.

The Witness was a big step up from Braid in my mind as a puzzle game because it introduces base concepts, then expects you to solve for them in a larger problem set, where the possibility space is big enough to make brute force prohibitively expensive.

Then it combines concepts, like two per area, areas needing to be a certain shape and excluding colors, plus connecting circuits and correcting 1 mistake, and because you know all the simpler rules you can figure out the trick to making this one whole puzzle work. Then there’s a bunch of observational puzzles and it’s like, yeah I can look at the environment or make this thing line up in perspective, give me a real one.

Part of what pisses me off is the way he criticizes it for not having more mechanics relating to the manipulation of simulated space. I thought it was an oddity frankly that jon blow decided to make an island at all, but frankly it’s neat to have nonlinear connections between areas and puzzles. I just wish sprint was faster and you could fall off more cliffs and the like.

Blow is trying to do something really elementary here with game design, with using basic abstract symbols for game rules. He managed to create a ruleset with these simple things that has a massive combinational complexity, then he leveraged it to make a massive fucking number of pretty good and difficult puzzles that almost always have good simple demonstrations of the base mechanics.

SBH whining that he’s not making use of the medium is ignorant, especially given portal 2 removed all the realtime execution components, and could probably be formatted to be solved like a crossword puzzle too. There’s no other game on paper, or otherwise, with rules like this, to my knowledge, and it being digital allows the system to check your answer against the correct one without revealing it to you in the process. Not to mention it allows multiple correct answers when applicable.

Demanding there at least be some sort of narrative thing to justify it is like the ultimate insult here. If you don’t like the game for what the game is, you don’t need this additional narrative thing to try to justify its existence to you, give up! Go back to puzzle games made specifically to coax you through any point you might get stuck or need to think.

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