We showed The Witness secretly at PAX… in plain sight.

Chris Hecker, the developer of SpyParty, and Andy Schatz, the developer of Monaco, have been writing about their preparations for a joint exhibit at PAX.  They were keeping a secret, though: there was a secret 3rd partner in the exhibit, and that was The Witness.

For all three days of PAX 2010, The Witness was publicly playable by anyone who came by the booth.  However, it was unmarked and unattended, so it was easy to miss (as many people did; but then, plenty of people played it, too).

Here’s a close-up, with the opening scene of the game, as it silently waits for someone to sit down and play:

I had several reasons for wanting to show the game this way.  Firstly: At a show full of companies trying to capture your attention and sell you things, I wanted to do something that is subtle, and a surprise — if you notice it, and decide to investigate, you find something unexpected.

Also, I wanted people to be able to play the game for as long as they want, not feeling pressured to stop playing because of a huge line of antsy people waiting behind them.

Before PAX, only two people had ever played the game; those people were game developers, and the versions they played were very rudimentary.  This was the first time the game had ever been played by general players, and I wanted to see how people would react to it, as honestly as possible.  I didn’t want to give them any reason to think that this was a good game, or was by any designer they might have heard of.  So I just left the game running, and would occasionally peek at it from afar to see who was playing and how they were doing.

PAX is a huge show, with tons of stuff to see everywhere; if the game could hold peoples’ attention under those conditions, purely on its own merits rather than by hype or pedigree, then I would know that it was really working.

Happily, the game worked very well — despite the fact that the visuals are still in an early prototype stage.  People tended to play for a long time, and they liked what they played.  Here’s a picture from Sunday; these guys played for a long time, perhaps an hour and a half:

Some game designers did recognize the game; here’s Dylan Fitterer (of AudioSurf) playing:

Stephen Totilo of Kotaku recognized the game early, on Friday, and found me camping out on the other side of the booth.  Thankfully, though, he didn’t spill the beans.

I am very happy with how this playtest session went.  I am glad I was able to bring a game directly to players, as a surprise.

The common wisdom among game designers is that the first time you put your game in the hands of players, it totally falls apart, and nothing works the way you expected.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen here.  The game does work as expected, despite being kind of crazy and experimental, and people enjoy playing it.

All that’s left now is just to do all the hard work required to finish the game!

Update: Stephen Totilo has posted his impressions, along with a gameplay video, at Kotaku.

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31 Comments

  1. Jason
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    Ahh!! I saw this game! I looked at it straight on for a good 10 seconds and thought “Huh, I wonder what is. Oh well.” I was afraid to touch it cause no one was there and I didn’t know if it was some developer’s thing that I shouldn’t use.

    I also saw you but wasn’t sure if it was actually you – I probably would have shaken your hand and thanked you for making Braid, one of my all-time favorite games.

    Two reasons I will now go jump off a bridge, I think.

  2. David
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    I can’t believe I missed this — I was at the SpyParty booth for most of Sunday, and I never noticed. I am now filled with regret. And an even more powerful desire to play The Witness.

  3. Masem
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    What an amazing way to reveal a game. I know people are already hating on it, claiming it to be too much like Myst, but I see very core mechanic that appears to be prime for exploitation in a variety of settings (just as time was in Braid). Can’t wait for more details.

  4. Rick
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    I see there’s a 360 controller there. Are you devoping this for multiple platforms?

  5. zaka
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    looks good, the scenery with haunting music like braid ones can do magic, also i expected more better variety of puzzles than kindergarten puzzles

  6. John-Luke
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    Cool experiment! I always found that, while watching other other people try out these new games is fun, it’s always been interesting and sometimes funny to watch developers reacting to people playing their games. Decisions made by the players, no matter how rudimentary, always seem to have meaning to these guys. Traveling left instead of going right, knocking over some boxes, whatever, and you see them shooting fierce looks at each other, lots of pointing and notetaking. It’s a dialogue seldom seen by us.
    I didn’t get to try out your game this time, but hopefully you’ll end up displaying it at PAX East. Be sure to give us a heads-up if you do. :)

  7. MarioColbert
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Despite following The Witness since it was announced on Braid-Blog, like many others I’ve had no idea how the game is to be played. At the moment, I’m getting the “opposite of Myst” vibes – in that in this world it seems that things are welcoming interaction, and the whole thing feels dynamic.

    Can’t wait. Thank you very much for sharing this so early.

  8. Posted September 6, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    http://spyparty.com/wp-content/gallery/pax-day-3/p1020816.jpg – Aha! So that *was* you. Quite a clever scheme this was, I like it.

  9. Sean
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    What platforms will this game launch on? I know it’s being demoed with a 360 controller.

  10. JJ
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    Ha, I played that for a good 20 min. I asked Chris Hecker who made it, and he just said “a friend.”

    Looking good.

  11. Shawn Murphy
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Hey I played this for a good 30 min that day waiting in line to play Monaco. I got out of the electric fence and started wandering. I really enjoyed the style of the game and the puzzles were really fun to learn. My first problem came when I ran across one of the later puzzles far too early.

    It was one where you had to draw the line to separate the colors and run through all of the dots. It was kind of rough and I knew there was a tutorial puzzle somewhere but I couldn’t find it. All in all it was a really fun game that stands out quite a bit in my experience at PAX.

    One question. Most of the game went for a simple style but then located in the house was a very strange picture. Any chance you could tell me a bit about it?

  12. Jonathan Blow
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    We haven’t decided what platforms the game will be released for, yet. At PAX we had it played on a 360 controller because that was the simplest / most robust control scheme.

  13. Branden
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    I played this. I asked the guy at the booth many times for at least the name of the game. I am very happy to find this blog. I can’t wait till this game ships!

  14. SD
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

    For the love of all, PS3 please!

  15. Posted September 6, 2010 at 9:14 pm | Permalink
  16. matthatter
    Posted September 6, 2010 at 10:53 pm | Permalink

    i wasn’t there but am intrigued! feed me more amateur sightings!

  17. Posted September 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm | Permalink

    Tinus, if you’re up for a game of Where’s Jonathan, he’s actually skulking in a fair number of the shots in my PAX posts, and even cameos in some of the videos. :)

  18. Posted September 7, 2010 at 1:17 am | Permalink

    That’s really cool! Glad the feedback was positive.

  19. Mike
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    Jonathan: I spent a lot of time at PAX at the Monaco/SpyParty booth, playing both. I saw the machine off to the side, but assumed it was something belonging to Andy Schatz. Had I had any idea that it was open for anyone’s use I would have tried it. I wish I’d been more adventurous. And had I known you were there I’d have thanked you for Braid!

    So, at the least, thanks for Braid. I look forward to playing The Witness.

  20. Oddkins
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    Having been to the dev blog at least once a week since it’s reveal, and assuming I had been an attendee at PAX, that unassuming screen with that unassuming image of a door in a hallway… Let’s just say The Witness would no longer have been a secret at the show and would have only been played by ONE MAN!

    But I digress. What a perfect way to demo a game, and unleash it unto the masses. Hope everyone enjoyed it! Lucky indeed!

  21. Jonp382
    Posted September 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    It wouldn’t have been played by one man, but only one would be known to have played it.

    Conquer PAX…by any means necessary. © BioWare

  22. Posted September 7, 2010 at 4:19 pm | Permalink

    Hi.Im From Iran .You are very famous person in Iran.Breid is Masterpiece.In Iran, we have a lot game magazines.Your game is a masterpiece.we like to interview to you.pleas answer me in emil.thanks alot….

  23. justin
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:17 pm | Permalink

    hello, jonathan! i am not a journalist or anything but i wanted to ask 2 questions, according to your principals and philosophi on game desing, authorship and game lenght…

    1) since it seems you don’t work with a team or studio but with some sort of freelancers, will you be putting out the your games under the name “Numbernone” or under the name “Jonathan blow”? why?

    2) there are different ways in wich people enjoy a medium, a movie is watch in a sitting, a book is read in few days, paintings are appreciated in 10 minutes, music gives you a feeling in 5 min, etc. When individuals play your games would you like them to experience the whole game in one sitting (like a movie) or to digested it little by little in their own free time (like a book) or what would you like?

    thanks for your time : )

  24. James
    Posted September 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    Wow, this game looks beautiful. If you’re considering a PS3 version, I’d love to play this with a Move, for camera controls, object manipulation, etc.

  25. Posted September 9, 2010 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    Game looks great!
    And let’s be honest here… this concept just BEGS for PlayStation Move support.

    Will buy PS3 version when it’s released.

  26. a
    Posted September 9, 2010 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    @James, hello james! the Witness is INDEED being develop for the PS3, XBox306, PC, Wii and Iphone! the primary features are megapixel graphics… that is millions and millions of pixels that will give the game a look of HD fractals! the game is also working with a huge budget to get the newest technology from big corporations like microsoft and sony, to develop the game with a motion wand, camara control bia limb moments and voice recognition to manipulate the enviroment. (that’s right. you can control the game with voice only) you can also chose to play in different islands and with different characters with their own unique AI behavior, personality trait, back story and voice actor. you can also chose to play in different planes of the environment, like day, night, snow, rain, tornadoes, etc etc etc… apart from regular multiplayer and co-op, the game has a MMO style play where up to 26 people can be on the map at the same time, riding from a selection of many different vehicles including helicopters, planes, golf cards and of course ships to navigate between the many different islands and cities. you can do all this while listening to over one hundred licensed tracks raging from hip-hop, R&B, rock pop and special exclusive tracks by Braid fan soulja-boy featuring gucci and many more! if you have any more questions about the tittle please contact one of the many M&PR guys to see what else will be added, hope you pre-order your CD at the local Gamestop : )

  27. Posted September 20, 2010 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    hi m.r blow.
    I am Omid Asgari(iran)
    Your interview was published in the magazine Pilban.
    Agein Thanks
    You Can See iranian game in
    http://www.garshasp.com

  28. a
    Posted September 21, 2010 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    sorry about that… i just wanted to say that coincidentally i found this game today:

    http://ian.janasnyder.com/feign_2.html

    after i read the coment about mazes in games.
    is a cool game. original. tought some of the Witness’ followers might want to try it out.

  29. V. O.
    Posted September 22, 2010 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

    Hello Jonathan,

    I watched the Witness gameplay video (Kotaku) and I have to say that I am very pleased with the new graphic approach. Witness looks miles better than Braid in any possible way.

    Jonathan, if you can make this game (Witness) as challenging –in puzzles- as Braid was and if you can deliver a similar powerful/emotional end to it then Witness will be a total blast.

    The only problem I “witness” so far is time -because I already saw a preview- I want to play this game as soon as possible! Do try to hurry up mate!

    Cheers and good luck!

  30. Vincent
    Posted October 17, 2010 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I want this game. I want it now, I DEMAND it now Jonathan :P, dammit.

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