Jonathan Blow on Puzzles in The Witness: “I’m Not Tricking You Into Feeling Smart”
Ahead of the release of The Witness on January 26 for PlayStation 4 and PC, Thekla President President Jonathan Blow sat down with Gamasutra, saying, “The Witness is way, way bigger [than Braid], and I think of it as a more mature designer’s game.”
When Braid first released in 2008, it became a big success, giving Blow enough money to create The Witness. In the time since Braid’s launch, all the money is gone. “So… hopefully some people will buy this new game,” he joked.
Running out of money isn’t much of a big deal for Blow, who is more focused on creating than getting rich:
I’m not that much of a money-motivated person. It’s a bummer to run out of money and have to budget things carefully so that your company can make the ship date and all that. I’d rather not have to deal with that. But it’s never been my ambition in life to be rich and live on an island doing nothing. I like making things and figuring things out.
Money is nice to the extent that it helps me do those things. I wouldn’t have been able to do this game without making Braid. Now we’ll see if this game makes anything back.
When The Witness is released later this month, you won’t receive any instructions from the game when you start. “You are fending for yourself and taking a great deal of initiative to solve problems,” Blow says. “You know that it’s not just the solving the problems but what happens when you do. The game is designed to create many opportunities for epiphany moments, both small and large.”
Since Blow is irritated by puzzles designed with “aha” moments where the player gets stuck, figures it out, and then feels smart, puzzles in The Witness aren’t arbitrary and there are real ideas behind every single one:
When you figure out the puzzle, you clearly see some relationship that happens in reality, or space, or time, or something like that. And you see very clearly how that relates to the current situation. It’s not an arbitrary “aha” that makes the player feel smart: The player really understands this thing, and they are smart. I’m not tricking you into feeling smart, you are getting to exercise your natural intelligence.
Blow also confirmed that “there’s a definite story,” which is subtle at first, but “the more you explore the more clues you can find to what’s going on. The people who really thoroughly solve the game will see the most concrete things. There’s a great opportunity for discovery of backstory through exploration. “
He then touched on the current state of indie games:
When Braid came out it was a really good time to be an independent developer. I told people to enjoy it while it lasts. Now, it’s reached this state where making a reasonable game people might want to play is not enough, because there are so many games. The press are just bombarded by people who want attention. That’s the challenge for developers – how do you get people interested?
Will you be getting The Witness this month?