GDC Playtesting; the island shrinks again…

This month was time for the annual Game Developers Conference in San Francisco [this has been its official name for a while now: the completely ungrammatical "Game Developers Conference". Whatever.] We used this opportunity to have game designer friends come and playtest The Witness. We did somewhere between 40 and 50 hours of playtesting that week, and it was all very useful. Thanks to everyone who came by and played!

As a result of these sessions it immediately became clear how to redesign some of the areas to improve pacing. So I started radically restructuring three of the major areas, as well as rearranging the relative positions of areas on the map. That process isn't done yet, but it is starting to converge (just one more area left to redesign). I am very happy with the two areas already redesigned; they are obviously far better than the original versions. It feels very rewarding when you feel good about a game already, and then do something to improve it so much.

Also, I've shrunk the island again. Here's what it looks like now:

The current puzzle count is 275.

Also, we are hiring.


  1. So, how big is the player relative to the island? Maybe you could put a little player avatar somewhere next time to give a sense of scale.

  2. Well, I can imagine that the player is smaller than those buildings, especially the one that looks like a house. Looking good by the way.

  3. interns do not get paid, right? would you accept someone who is very young and inexperienced that would do everything you want *for free*?

    • Jonathan Blow:Giving a short talk at UC Berkeley tomorrow, about the aesthetics of programming one forms as a productive game developer, and how this

      sweet! post the video when its ready! how long does it normally takes for schools to release this kinds of things?

      hey, what if someone had professional recording equipment and asked to video you, would you allow that person to go with you to talks and record video and audio of them to share for free on the internet? b/c most talks are not recorded for kids to learn from or you have to pay for a membership to a vault to see presentations or what ever, and i just think this is very important

  4. I’d travel all the way from Australia to work with you Jonathan and you don’t even have to pay me. I’m young and inexperienced but feel as if i’m creative and intelligent enough to learn quickly and be quite helpful.

  5. Jonathan O'Brien

    I’ve found all the island screenshots (I think) and taken them into Picture Viewer, scanning in chronological order. It must feel amazing to have come this far and I cannot wait to finally play the finished project. I am a big fan of your work, you helped inspire me to start looking at C++ tutorials so that one day perhaps I could create work that rivals you. Sorry, just being a fanboy. Now I’ll return to looking for the stars in Braid….

  6. sweet! thank you! i don’t know why but i was also waiting for a little joke about the witness like Hellman did with braid on April 1st… that would have been cool! the whole internet was acting like a buffoon yesterday! but no other joke has been as good as that co-op character in Braid…

  7. Is there a way to subscribe to this blog via email so I am informed of updates? I was absolutely amazed by Braid, it opened my eyes to the creativity and diversity of indie games. I plan on getting The Witness as soon as it comes out, but pre-release info would be great.

  8. ok guys, here i go: update!

    i found this in a totally unrelated topic but is very interesting and it explains alot a bout braid and jon:

    and finally the bastards at gametrailers decided to publish the interview with: “indie genius revolutionare Jonathan Blow, amazingly awesome and handsome fast talking Chris Hecker and the incredibly lazy ‘Notch’ ” unfortunately gametrailers is run by retards that only care about traffic and profit so they divided the interview in 4 parts that they will release throughout the month , but the interview is great and very informative about inde scene:

  9. I think every time I see an island snapshot, I get this strange feeling that you are showing us 1% of the actual progress – and your puzzle updates only reinforce this notion.

    How hopeful are you of actually shipping the game before the end of the year?

  10. The game isn’t coming out this year — we decided that a while ago. (The original release date was supposed to be this year, but hey, games slip). We announced that somewhere and in an interview or two, but I guess we never put it on the blog. So consider this an update!

  11. At the same time, though, if your idea of progress is “how does it look visually” then you are going to have a very distorted view of what’s going on. We are intentionally not working much on the visuals at this time. Almost everything being done is just about gameplay.

  12. I apologize if I was misunderstood: I meant to compliment your work on both fronts (since I feel that there’s been a lot of island updates!)

    Thanks for actually responding to the release-time-frame question. I guess this will give me adequate time to familiarize myself with the Dhammapada. Thanks for frequent updates!

  13. 275 puzzles? Nifty, but I’m hesitant. Any puzzle lover could plow through, say, Professor layton in a day.

    Are the puzzles completely original, or straight from the stock puzzle warehouse?

    Solving good puzzles uses inductive and deductive reasoning. Simply hiding the answer inside the puzzle is bad, as is making random guessing an unproductive process.

    Are you using scattered clues? Be sure that context is provided! Room A has a lock, Rooms B, C, and D have clues, but without the clue all the way over in room Z, it’s unsolvable, and when you get to room Z, there could easily be not enough context to link the clue to the previously passed puzzle.

  14. I would think that as the designer of Braid (which has what most would consider some pretty original puzzles), I’d get some benefit of the doubt here.

    I hear your concerns, but I think you will find they are inapplicable to this game.

    As for duration, last time we playtested, there were something like 8-12 hours of gameplay, depending on who was playing. The game isn’t done yet, so that number is likely to go up. However, my goal is not to raise the hours-of-gameplay or number-of-puzzles. My goal is to make a very interesting, high-density experience, and where that involves cutting content I will do that. (I’ve already deleted maybe 50 puzzles, as you’ll find mentioned in an earlier entry.)

  15. oh wow, firstly i never knew of your new game until just now, i cannot wait for it and will be buying on release day.

    Also i’m glad to hear youre making a ‘high-density’ experience. Although Braid is kind of short, it doesn’t matter because you had the story and puzzles and delivered them perfectly so it all came together in the best way possible. so stick to it :P

    you should have some thoughts of co-op in your future games. With two people having to work together to solve the puzzle, they could be endlessly complicated! just a thought :)

  16. Jonathan O'Brien


    The idea of Braid was the experience of the player as his/her mind processed the puzzle and figured out the solution, thus making it an intensely personal experience. The Witness has been described by Mr. Blow as an “existential” game, outlining the fact that you are lonely and in this by yourself in the end. (Sorry if I do your thoughts no justice, Jonathan). Again, this theme leans towards an intensely personal experience which would be best explored alone.

    The trouble with games akin to Braid and The Witness is that they are essentially “A Thinking Man’s Game”, meaning that to fully experience the playthrough, one must constantly be thinking.

    A game like Portal 2, however, while fantastic on it’s own merits, is not like Braid. It is simply aiming to be a good time (at least in the co-op sections). Not a demerit to the game at all, so far it is fantastic on my playthough.

    For Number None to go into co-operative gameplay development would be for them to completely change their style of game – which is a rare enough style in the industry as it is. – Keep up the good work.

  17. The aspect that I enjoyed the most about Braid was the relatively riskless gameplay because it allowed for me to simply focus on the puzzles and try every creative idea that I had without being afraid of falling into a pit of lava and having to start back at Point A. Have you decided to continue that style of gameplay?

    I saw some gameplay of the witness and there didn’t appear to be any impending danger, but I realize that the game is still in development.

  18. Like Braid, in The Witness, there’s no way to die or lose the game. But The Witness is even more pensive and less action-oriented than Braid.

  19. I do have a general idea for what I think would be a good cooperative game design, that we could do sometime in the future, but hey, one project at a time.

  20. Pingback: Whew! | The Witness

  21. Wow the game really is shaping up to be awesome! I love the art style and focus on exploration and discovery, the idea feels reminiscent to the ethos of the first Zelda game.

    I’m studying a game design course and I’m really impressed at your approach and methodology to play testing. Where play testing has become an integral part of your development process which is constantly occurring. Where you dont see play testing as just getting an opinion or an after thought near the end of development like some developers. But rather as a dynamic invaluable tool to refine the game.

    It’s refreshing to see that when you get results of play tests you dont just simply consider them, but act directly at them. Where your bold enough to take the feedback and radically change your game to fix the issues. This has to be one of the largest benefits of being an independent where theres no corporate structure to hold you down and instead focus on creating the best possible and unique experience for the player no matter the time or effort.

    Your stance at taking a third person approach such as at PAX where you wanted to observe players in an environment where they are playing a game for their first time unexpectedly was brilliant! As one of my lecturers for a business subject put it; through observation you can pick up processes that a person carrying out doesn’t even realise and then analyse why and how they came about this process. Such as, did this process come about from redundant practices? or did something new and dynamic cause this?

    Anyway keep up the great work and your truly an inspiration to new (and im sure old) game designers!

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