On Music, Sound Effects, Story


Music and Sound Effects

Once in a while I get a question, from someone who really liked the music in Braid, what the soundtrack in The Witness is like. The answer to this question is that there isn’t one. There is (almost) no music in the game. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact very important to the coherence of the thing we are making.

The Witness is a game about being perceptive: noticing subtleties in the puzzles you find, noticing details in the world around you. If we slather on a layer of music that is just arbitrarily playing, and not really coming from the world, then we’re adding a layer of stuff that works against the game. It’d be like a layer of insulation that you have to hear through in order to be more present in the world.

Instead, we put a great deal of care into the sounds of the world around you, in a way that maximizes immersion in the game. This is made trickier by the game’s setting: you are alone on this island, and there are not even any other animals. There are no birds in the trees! In everyday life if we imagine the sound of nature, we’ll think of some elements that have no place on the island: a forest naturally has the sounds of birds, plains with smaller shrubbery will have crickets, a marsh will have the sounds of many insects. There’s none of that in this game because in this game you are really alone, and it has forced us to be very creative with the audio in order to ensure things have depth and texture to them. This work is being done by Wabi Sabi Sound, who did the sound for the very atmospheric Dead Space series, and more recently some smaller, artier games like Ori and the Blind Forest.

We thought it would be fun to release a few more small videos to give you more of a feel of what the world of the game is like, so here’s:

Story and Voicework

Lately I have been doing a lot of work on story and voice acting stuff. When wandering around the island, you may find voice recordings that were placed by … well, at the outset of the game, you don’t know who; and as the game goes along, there is an interesting mystery to unfold about who these people are or were. In the game currently we have what is known as “temp voice”, which is me reading all the parts under very noisy conditions and just getting them into the game so we can make sure the data works properly with the engine, to get all the subtitles into the game and roughly synced with the audio (which we need to do sooner than later so we can give the translators those subtitles, which they will translate into many different languages).

We have cast the real actors and starting tomorrow we’ll do our first test readings with those actors. We’ll use this to get a new layer of temp voice in the game, which will get it closer to final; this will allow me to see how the game really feels with this stuff in there, possibly to adjust the nuances of the way the recordings appear in the game and the way they are played back. When everything feels good we’ll do a set of final recording sessions. There’s not a whole lot of time until release, and we have several holidays coming up, but we’ll get it done!

We are working with Warner Brothers Game Audio in Burbank, California to do the voice stuff; they are providing the facilities and voice direction and production assistance. After we do a few recording sessions I will have more details to share in this department.


Earlier, I mentioned subtitles. As many games do, we will be localizing our game so that people who speak many different languages will be able to understand the words. We are not recording voice acting in different languages, mainly because it is pretty hard to make sure quality is high when you do that. It is hard enough making sure acting is good in just *one* language. We generally seem to feel the same way about movies: a foreign-language dub of a movie is generally considered to be inferior to a subtitled version, because the acting is so important.

Our localization efforts will involve menu text and subtitles, just as for a good movie.

This is not 100% final, but here’s the list of languages we are planning to have translations for, at launch:

  • English
  • Italian
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish (Spain)
  • Spanish (Latin America)
  • Portuguese (Portugal)
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish
  • Indonesian

We may add more languages later but man this stuff is expensive, so there is a limit to how many languages we can do at once.

We will have more news for you before too long!

Workin’ on a new trailer.

This week we have been working on a new trailer that we hope to release before too long.

It will not only show the game in a further state of visual development than the previous trailer (which is two and a half years old now — wow!), it’ll also show lots of scenes you probably haven’t seen before.

The trailer isn’t done yet, but here are a few stills:

vlcsnap-2015-09-05-18h56m05s251 vlcsnap-2015-09-05-18h57m01s238 vlcsnap-2015-09-05-18h58m26s420

Ignore the debug text in the upper-right (including the frame rate; these were taken on a monitor that’s locked at 30Hz; the game runs much faster on higher-end PCs.) Also, the actual trailer will be produced at much sharper image quality and higher resolution. These are just snippets of the non-final footage we are using to figure out the composition and flow of the trailer.


We are in full bug extermination mode.

A few months ago, only a few of Jon’s friends were playing the game and checking for major problems, but now we have Francis as a game tester, and we have an other guy starting later this month as a tester too. With someone testing the game full time, the bugs are really piling up. This is great because we are getting the game in shape for release, but it’s also wearing us down a bit because it’s non-creative, discouraging work, since for every bug we solve there are usually more that appear on our list.

There are many different kinds of bugs, some really major and a ton of minor things that can be solved fairly quickly. We are finding errors of all sorts, in lightmaps, shadows, collision, grass planting, reflections, mesh placement, modeling, materials, sound, etc. Not to mention a bunch of weird things that sometimes take a while to track down. We also have to check the game in High, Medium and Low quality, because different errors can happen at the different settings.

The biggest bugs involve spoilers, since they are usually finicky and gameplay related, so I can’t share those, but here are some minor ones that wouldn’t generally take too long to fix:

-Here we have a bit of collision randomly hanging out in the desert. If you tried to walk through it, you would be blocked and have no idea why. Things like this were really difficult to find, until Casey added some tools to visualize the collision:



-Sometimes, we just get bugs of areas that look unfinished, or wrong, like this corner over here. Francis is supposed to tell us not only about serious errors, but also notify us about things that generally feel wrong to him as a player. By fixing these areas, we hopefully get rid of some potential immersion breaking moments.



-In this shot, some of the little modular rocks were not receiving any sunlight:



-And here we have two separate bugs, the turret that is getting black lightmaps, and an open rock mesh below:

not a lightmat issue look at the rock down below

-This is a shot of the player being able to walk into a rock, and seeing through it:



-This is a pretty one, some error with the clusters of the modular catwalk meshes:



-There are tons of cases where the grass is clipping through things:



-And little lightmap errors that mean there is a back-facing triangle somewhere in the mesh:



-In this area the dynamic lights create some really ugly shadows:



-And finally, the bug that haunted us for at least a year, the giant colorful grass bug. It would happen almost always when replanting grass, and would not disappear until you restarted the game. Insanely large, colorful versions of the grass would appear and wave in the wind, blocking you from doing anything. Still not sure if we ever figured this one out:



These are only a tiny sliver of all the different kinds of things that we run into while testing the game. It’s a huge island and a lot of things can go wrong, so to make sure we ship a great game, we have to do a really thorough job. However, this and some optimization is pretty much all that’s left to do!

And now, here is a bonus a picture of Jon doing something weird with a tape measure taped to a mug:

FullSizeRender (13)




Witness in Limbo

We have this depth mode in the editor, that I’ve never really used for anything other than taking neat screenshots for fun. It’s been a while since the last post, so I thought it might be cool to share some. It’s difficult to find interesting new screenshots to share lately, since we’ve already shown a lot of the game and don’t want to ruin the exploration when it comes out!

shot_2015.06.15__time_17_48_n01 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_49_n02 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_49_n03 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_49_n04 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_50_n05 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_51_n07 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_52_n09 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_53_n11 shot_2015.06.15__time_17_54_n12

Polishing the Architecture

In the last few weeks we’ve been adding the final art touches to the island.
Now that we have all the content locked down, Deanna, one of the architects,  is reviewing all the structures we created and make sure they are as correct as possible.
Even though they previously designed the buildings and we implemented them, there have been many revisions and tweaks  for gameplay that caused deviations from the original concepts, and in some cases, we just had to make stuff up with  the best of our knowledge without ever having the Architect Seal Of Approval

Here is an example, a set of stairs added to a roof structure:shot_2015.06.02__time_21_18_n01


It looks ok, but looking close up you can see how flimsy the roof attachment is:
shot_2015.06.02__time_21_19_n02Or the way the railings are assembled together:

Deanna showed us that it would make more sense to extend the main roof support to accommodate for the stairs:shot_2015.06.03__time_13_36_n01


An in the case of the railings, to do a better job showing the assembled pieces, removing the awkward intersections:


Another example is this stone wall door frame. It lacks any assembly detail for its size, making it feel it was made from one single gigantic piece of stone:
shot_2015.06.02__time_21_21_n04And here is the revised version:

Another type of issue is how two different surfaces meet. The more detailed the island gets, the more these stand out as incomplete. As an example, the way this wood structure connects with the floor:

And after the revision:

Some of this work might seem minute but it really makes the whole environment feel more grounded, adding a lot to the experience!




As some of you may have noticed in old screenshots, we had a few placeholder statues around the island. I designed these when I joined the project almost four years ago, and a while back Luis sculpted a couple of nice final ones. However, as we were finalizing some areas, we wanted to add even more statues. We realized that Luis would never have the time to sculpt all of them as well as help me finish the rest of the art, so we searched for a sculptor.

We managed to find Andrea Blasich, a most excellent artist skilled at both traditional and 3D sculpture. He is blowing through the statues and continues to wow us with his stuff. He just finished this giant lady sculpted into the mountainside, and it turned out so beautiful, I wanted to share it:

shot_2015.05.05__time_18_24_n01 shot_2015.05.05__time_18_25_n02

Island Snapshot

It seems like a good time to do one of these, since the island is pretty much all figured out! We have been wrapping up a lot of big tasks, working on some cool effects, and doing a bit of polishing and bugfixing. While we still have some things to finish, the island is probably not going to visibly change much anymore.




Last Sunday morning was exceptionally beautiful and sunny, and so I decided to spend the day reorganizing the office.

When we moved in two years ago, we just pulled things out of the moving boxes and shoved them here and there so we could get to work as quickly as possible, so the mess was only getting worse. We spend most of our waking lives here, so I thought it was worth a few hours to make it a more pleasant space. I moved some furniture around to create a more convenient place to test the ps4 build, threw out a giant pile of old things, put up some of the decorations we made for the Play Station Experience booth, etc.

I figured I’d put up some pictures, so you guys can see where The Witness is getting finished (because it’s getting finished, yo!):


You can use Oswin, a.k.a. The Witness Dog, for spatial reference.