Island Snapshot

It's been a while since we've posted one of these...

One interesting change, compared to the previous shots: you'll notice that the lake that used to be in the center of the island, with the windmill on the edge, has moved over toward the left side and become a bay.

This is one of those interesting area where design and technical constraints interact heavily. We wanted the water of that lake to be reflective, but the way 3D graphics works, you basically need to render the entire scene an extra time in order to make a reflective surface. For outdoor scenes this is very expensive. Now, we also wanted some of the water out at the edge of the island to be reflective. If the inland lake and the water near the beach were at different elevations, this would mean we need to render the entire scene twice, all the time, to generate water reflections, before rendering the main scene. This can be optimized somewhat, but in an open-world game, there is only so much you can do.

The workaround to this was just to keep the inland lake at sea level, so that we can use a single rendering pass to generate all water reflections. Technically this worked fine, but design-wise, it meant that we had to have this big spot in the middle of the island that was at sea level, while also having everything at the edge of the island being at sea level (by definition). This gives the island a doughnut kind of shape, and given that the island is so small, this ended up severely restricting how many elevation changes can be introduced -- the island was being artificially influenced to be flatter than it ought to be, because of this constraint of being sea-level in the middle.

So I moved that lake off to the side and connected it to the ocean. This involved moving a couple of other areas as well. The gameplay is preserved, and the new position is actually better for certain gameplay purposes. The island is still pretty flat, but I think you'll see it getting less flat over time, now.


  1. Looking good, some green and blocky drafts, but it’s getting there pretty good. Keep up the good work.

  2. i hadn’t notice… you still have a water thingy in the middle of the island. by the logs where you put a bridge to cross the body of water. is this so small that it doesn’t really matter or will it need to render separate and still be sea level? or maybe you’re just not finished moving things around…

  3. I think it’s a good move to not texture some of the structures, but what about all the other components? The grass texture for example looks relatively low-res, is it just a placeholder?

  4. Looking great. Great job what you and your team are doing =)

  5. Wouldn’t it be possible to split the map into logical chunks, and then only use chunks that are in close proximity to water generate reflections? So, for the outside sea it would pretty much render the entire scene as it is now, but for the lake it would render say 40% of the scene necessary to pull off the lake reflections.

  6. did you guys (the witness developers) hear about Dear Esther remake?

  7. Hey Jonathan, I’ve just read the recent interview in Gamasutra, you said that you don’t want any text on the game, at least verbal comunication, but no text at all… please don’t make the wrong decision of not use captions, please. You will need captions for all that verbal comunications for the translations to other languages.

    That’s all, I’m sure you will do the right thing, but it is better to say something now that lament later a release without localization.


  8. Yep, I am looking forward to the Dear Esther remake’s release in 2011.

    Ruber: We’ll see. I’m not positively predisposed, right now, to the use of captions.

  9. @Jonathan Blow:

    …and for deaf gamers?

    I’m not deaf, but I don’t understand why you’re not liking the idea of captions as an option. You would grant that “we” are intelligent enough to discern the difference between random pop-up text (or reading in-game texts or any other way of having in-game data presented via text) and captioning of audio, yes?

    I’d say captions for audio is no less egregious to sucking someone out of a world–like when you talk about not wanting Achievements for this game–then having the “A” button appear when first approaching one of the blue puzzles as shown in a gameplay video.

  10. I’ve got to agree with the above person. Personally, I have a lot of strong memories and emotions tied to games that used text for conveying messages and dialogue. I found Final Fantasy VI-IX did a great job of this. They had well-timed pop-ups of the right lengths of text, with appropriate character animations to convey certain reactions/emotions, and I thought that it really blended well to give me a powerful experience (where the realism existed in my head, despite the lack of verbal dialogue).

  11. From reading the gamasutra interview, it sounds like Jonathan isn’t avoiding the use of text for some arbitrary reason: he’s actually doing it for an artistic reason which gets right to the heart of the game. Whether text, as an object on-screen, is distracting, isn’t the point: the point is, he’s deliberately not using text to convey messages in any way. That means all communication with the player is through symbols, imagery, colour, lighting, and is completely non-verbal, unless they decide to listen to the audio logs. This is not a decision to just use good voice-actors and have no subtitles for conversations: this goes way beyond that.

    Having said that, it would be a shame if deaf players can’t play the game. So perhaps a “subtitles” option would be sensible for if/when they listen to the audio logs?

  12. “That means all communication with the player is through symbols, imagery, colour, lighting, and is completely non-verbal, unless they decide to listen to the audio logs. This is not a decision to just use good voice-actors and have no subtitles for conversations: this goes way beyond that.”

    Right, but deaf players are going to miss out on the full Witness experience. I get the idea of using the not-traditional ways of game information dispersion, but we both agree deaf gamers shouldn’t be left out.

    What do you think about having the ‘A’ button appear on screen? I get that it’s a game, but if the idea is too truly immerse oneself, reminding the player that they are holding a controller doesn’t seem less egregious that subtitled audio.

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