Whew!

In a previous post I mentioned that we had done a bunch of playtesting at the GDC. As a result of that playtesting, I ended up heavily restructuring some areas of the game world. On top of that, there were a few areas that had been incomplete at that time, and I felt it was important to get those finished. So after the GDC I entered a period of very hard work to get all this stuff done, and it is now done! Here is how the island is looking now:

The puzzle count is now 285.

This means I am getting closer to my Gameplay Complete milestone. The bulk of the game design is now more-or-less there, in the sense that you can go and solve all the puzzles and they are basically the body of puzzles that will be there for the final game (though in the final game they will be refined, and more will be added -- but if we had to ship with only the puzzles that are in there now, we could do that, and it would be a good game). However, there's no endgame or winning condition, so I will be working on this next.

I think the endgame is going to be a bunch of work -- the original idea was ambitious, and I need to do a bunch of redesign on it since the game as a whole has evolved since the time the endgame was originally conceived. We'll see how it goes.

The visuals are still placeholder. In a couple of weeks we have some architects coming in to start designing buildings and terrain; at that time our production pipeline will change and we'll be moving a little closer to "the real visuals".

39 Comments:

  1. So, has the news of Nintendo’s new HD console set off any alarms? The interviews I’ve read/heard from you and Hecker lately seem to have been somewhat worried about that, but I could have interpreted that wrong.

  2. what is the endgame? what do you mean by that?

  3. Hi Jonathan,

    I am following your blog about The Witness for quit a long time now, and I learned a lot of your experiences. So thank you for that. At this moment myself and two friends are also developing a (digital) game, so I am very interested in all the areas that need to be covered to get a game out there in in the big, scary world.
    In your last post you mentioned that as a result of the playtesting at GDC you ended up heavily restructuring some areas of the game world. I am very interested in the proces behind this/these decision(s). For example: did you ask for feedback, or was it a result of examining the testers? Could you give an insight in your decision proces?

    By the way, I just watched the last episode of the Bonus Round at Gametrailers. Very informative and good interview!

    Thanks in advance for your reaction!
    Stefan

  4. I assume that by “the Endgame”, Jonathan meant the final sequence of the game, which would (I assume) take place after you’ve solved all (or most of) the puzzles.

    Also, architects? Terrain? Visuals? No more placeholder graphics? This sounds exciting!

  5. I don’t know why it would set off alarms. Yeah, there is always a question of how to deal with console transitions, but the fact that Nintendo seems to be jumping first means there may be more than 1 year between their transition and the other ones (or before any new players enter the market with new consoles), which gives us more options about where to go. So that is only good.

    (Also, given that there’s no way The Witness would end up on the Wii, it is nice to have Nintendo release a platform that would be capable of running the game, since that only expands the market of the game.)

  6. The architects *start* working in a couple of weeks; it’s unclear how long it will be before the results show up clearly in the game!

    About the endgame: isn’t it good when a game has a satisfying ending that takes what has come before and plays off it in a new way?

  7. Stefan: It’s just about observing people playing the game, and seeing how that corresponds to what I would like to happen.

    I don’t find it very useful to listen to feedback from players. In general (in any context in life) people are very unreliable reporters about what they are thinking or feeling. This is why modern psychological experiments are all about observing what people actually do, as opposed to how they report that they feel.

  8. by architects, do you mean *real* architects that design or construct buildings or do you mean someone like Alex Roman, who is a 3D artist that has an understanding of spaces and how to build them?

    http://vimeo.com/7809605 (this is what shipping graphics will look like, right? )

    also… there is a Steam account with the name Jonathan Blow and the profile pic is of a Braid room, it says that Jonathan blow has played portal for 15 hours, is that you? if it is really you….. do you want to play Portal 2 with me?

    if its not… nvm i mentioned it!

    (btw im not a stalker i found it by accident)

  9. Hi Jonathan,

    What’s your philosophy on level design? I always figured maps were large in order to seem “realistic”. But based on peoples’ comments on Braid, you keep puzzles compact. So does a large environment just widen your “canvas”?

    Ex: Each part of the landscape has its own unique set of constraints, which promote the creation of different kinds of puzzles.

    Thanks,
    – Pritchard

  10. “What’s my philosophy on level design” is kind of an unanswerable question. It’s very complicated.

    But what is the point of things being big if that results in the player walking through essentially fallow spaces most of the time?

  11. I think the point of things being big is the sense of immersion. Look at Shadow of the Colossus; the world is pretty huge, and the vast majority of it is, indeed, essentially fallow spaces. The point of it in that case is the feeling you get from it. Of course, if it was TOO fallow, it would have just been boring. Big spaces can be OK as long as there are a few interesting things along the way.

  12. That’s fine. You eliminate possibilities by saying what your level design philosophy is not.

  13. Jonathan

    Congratulations on the gameplay milestone.

    Even though it must be tempting to release it “once the gameplay is done” I’m glad you’re taking the time to make it as good as it can be.

    I’m sure it’s one of the reasons Braid was a cut above the regular indie game offerings.

    Best of luck with the endgame and final graphics.
    –Phil

  14. Here’s to hoping that the game will be out soon! Are you releasing the game on PC, PS3, and Xbox 360? Or just PC?

  15. Will the Game have an actual story to it? The only way I can think of incorporating a story in what looks to be a very non-linear puzzle game like this is that the player uncovers hints at a story that takes place before or after the puzzles are all done…

  16. Phil, I’ve wondered about that myself. It takes extra time and effort in the design phase to continue creating content once the core milestones have been met. Missing “one thing” may lead to having missed “everything else” important.

    Individuals who have dual designer/developer roles may benefit from occasionally evaluating their design to see if there are any questions left unanswered. Even a simple pong game cannot be coded unless the designer has specified how paddles move. Is velocity constant? If not, is acceleration constant or variable? Is there friction? etc.

    Imagine having all the mechanics and rules thought out in your head and on paper, only for development to still be difficult, because you never thought out how the game will actually play – You never thought out even a single level or puzzle prototype.

    Of course, most designers and even most programmers will suffer from providing too much or too little detail at some point in time. But it’s not about how much detail you provide. It’s about effectively transmitting ideas from your mind onto paper or code. What information is needed to go from abstract to implementation as quickly as possible?

    On this note, does anyone have recommendations on game design/development texts? Ideally, something that will lead to actual productivity toward designing and developing games. Not just something to satisfy my philosophical needs. Although if the philosophy is good enough, I’m interested in that, too.

    Thanks,
    – Pritchard

  17. It’s funny how you always talk about currently using “Placeholder visuals” and how they will be improved upon later in production, while actually the current graphics look very neat and clean. I hope the new artist stick a bit to the style you’ve been using so far yourself.

  18. Hi

    I just did an interesting experiment. I opened every island snapshot each in different chart, making a slideshow. A really funny thing, and the island have indeed shrinked considerably from early versions.

    I have 2 questions though. What are the numbers in brackets that are visible on two earliest snapshots? (or 1st and third) . the funny thing is that the more visible ones differ on photos in spite of being in same location: (3,1) turns to (1,1). :)

    Second might be too close to spoiler. What is the story about the building visible on first plane ot the cliff? You started with a wooden one that looked like two buildings close together, than you aded a long one with yellow cube near it, and on the last shot, than you removed both, and added two white, brick ones, that look a bit industrial ones. I ask, because save for removing redundant space, it is element that seems to have changed most times, and most radicaly.

  19. Hey guys, check out this Witness gameplay video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN4q2dtxkHk

    Did anyone notice the “Shadow figure” moving at 00:05?

    Jakub

  20. @M.M: make a video of it, and put it in youtube and then link to it here! i want to see the progress like that too, but its just to much work…. but if you did it already post it!

  21. I have no idea how to make a movie, and it is not that much work to make wha i did.

    Mayby I a bit ha exegarated with “slideshow” i jost opened every 8 or 9 images, each in different chart and in chronological order. The effect was similar to a slideshow. I could comfortably analyse differences – like the mill moving to shore, removing space from the top-left from cliff (including hill, and the numbers), but the biggest difference apart from removing empty spaces, was differences to the buildings on the cliff. For most time it was a wooden twin-building, which was given a companion of a long one with yellow cube by it, both of which have been replaced by two buildings visible now

  22. @Jakub: the video was taken at pax from a tv monitor with a handheld camera, the shadow moving is not a creature or enemy in the game, but it is a gentlemen waking pass the witness both….

    @M.M: cool idea i will try!

    @Jonathan: hey, im doing an animation in lightwave and i want the only source of light to be the sun (sun won’t be animated, light will not move) but i can not do it without the light outdoors to be nuclear hot! it looks great and sunny rays come trough the window but when you look at the house from the outside is all white!!! if any otrher person can also help me with this, please! how did you do it? do you have more lights than just the sun, but they just were invisible or something?

    i want it to look like this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EN4q2dtxkHk

  23. M.M’s slideshow idea done as an animated gif:
    http://oi52.tinypic.com/2ahayc3.jpg (color)
    http://oi56.tinypic.com/2urxm38.jpg (black & white)

    I played around with matching the layers, but quickly abandoned the idea due to angle differences between islands, which automatically favored the front edge of the island. It’s also a lot of fun with 45ms delay between frames:
    http://i56.tinypic.com/rm2zpy.jpg (Epilepsy warning?)

  24. @Jakub

    Wow. That’s…

    That’s really, really interesting, and opens up a pretty decent avenue about the content of the game.

  25. Effect indeed is not overhelming. I all moves a bit too fast for my liking.

    I think my method was better, i could study every detail.

    glad you liked the idea tough :)

  26. what did you want to do with Braid? for Tim to change colors or dimensions or something? what is the thing from Outland that you wanted? is it a good game? should i get it?

    btw… i still need help with my renders if somebody, anybody has figured out how to do that without doing maps or real tiem graphics…

  27. Wow, gameplay complete! This is a great milestone, I’d be taking a sigh of relief if I were you.

    Small question: How come the texture quality went significantly down for some things like the cliffs and the trees since the last screenshot? This is probably pretty irrelevant since you guys are now working on getting the final visuals, but I’m just curious.

  28. The texturing is a LOD thing. This kind of thing is in flux as we keep working on the game. The player can’t ever see the island from a viewpoint that is that high and that far, so the viewpoint is making the texture substitution more blatant than it would be during gameplay. (But also, it is unlikely we would have those things textured in that way in the final game… the target art style is closer to broad swaths of color, and the LOD works better on that.)

  29. Architects designing buildings… That seems like a really obvious, good idea. One of the things that I love about video games is how they pull from experts in all sorts of distinct fields of expertise. You have artists, 3D modelers, musicians, sound engineers (…) I remember reading an article about how the Oblivion team consulted a bunch of geologists to help create a procedural landscaping/erosion toolset. People working together, valuing their differences, and using their abilities to create something amazing; good stuff!

  30. Ah, the texturing is an LOD thing. I was wondering if it was an intentional stylization.

  31. Aleksandar Stojanovic

    Endgame? I’m guessing there will be a story.

    I would like to make a point that at this point of the game is where the hook for the replay value can be placed and advertised most effectively. Since the game will have at least some level of story it is a good idea to reflect to some player actions and at the same time not to reflect to other actions in order to create that feeling of achievement and mystery.

    How many times have you seen an old episode of Simpsons/Whatever only to discover new jokes and things? This leads to the moment where you as a single member of the audience go ‘Aha!’ and then all of a sudden things in your mind fall together and uncover a bigger picture. This was done many times in many types of games (Dead Space, Portal, etc.), movies (Inception, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.), animations (Outlaw Star, Cowboy Bebop, etc.), and even music. At times this was even used to flip the whole story around and/or define a different perspective. These were the things that made us say ‘I want to watch it again’ or ‘I want to play it again’.

    I’m sure since there are over 200 puzzles you don’t expect the player to finish 100% of the puzzles in order to close the game. This is where it’s a good chance to put something to show to the player the option of choosing to get the puzzles missed and/or even uncover secret puzzles. Doing this would lead to further rewards with more clues which the player would put together themselves only to lead to a more accurate understanding of the story and the newly developed character.

    To achieve the want for replay, the character actions may or may not require changes in past parts of the story. Possibly even; changes in the environment, why certain puzzles were placed where, etc. Most of the time these mysteries could be produced just by studying the actions of our character’s past or even during the game play. Reading the past actions/changes of the: characters, behaviors, environments, settings, and so on can help us learn from our own creations and hence would allow us to put a deeper mystery just by simply adding on further actions/interactions. Should the mystery prove to be interesting enough, the player will replay the game to complete the missed puzzles, in the process uncovering a better understanding at the end of the game.

    However the sum is greater than its individual parts. It is not just the story that would get the player to play the game again. I have played Braid, it was very cool and this time I’m expecting something cool from Witness as well. I was just thinking that it would be nice if there was more of the Play element than what we were presented with in Braid.

  32. i love the way The Witness saves game Progress ! is just like Braid, there is no visual or audio prop that lets you know the game is saving. so you are not distracted or taken out of the moment, you don’t even have to do anything! at first i got scared and was like “omg, i have to live but how do i save?” but i just trust the game and the game had my back!

    i have a question for Jonathan: Is it not obligated for the gaem to be like “This game saves data automatically to the HDD. While this symbol is shown, do not turn off the system” and then is “Now Saving… Do not Turn Power off.” aren’t you obligated to put this by the channel? like PSN or XBLA…

    also Braid doesn’t have a ttitle screen/menu and does not credit a publisher and developer at the begining (which i love, that the game never takes control away from the player with cut scenes or what ever) but isn’t that illegal? i mean i don’t know if you could go to jail for that but i have heard that you could be sued.. how did you get away with these things for Braid?

  33. I think Aleksander may be dangerously close to the truth about the end of the game. I believe that Jon posted previously about a cutscene at the end showing previous puzzle solutions. So the end may have a narrative twist which is tightly coupled to the actions that the player has taken previously in the game. This is, in a way, similar to the twist in Bioshock, but I believe it will be more subtle and more closely related to your gameplay actions. This is exciting, what a great step for games as a medium. Thumbs up Jon if this is what you are planning. If anyone can pull this off, I belive that it’s you.

  34. Hey hey, all! Just a quick comment to say that I have posted my recent interview with Jonathan on my blog if y’all want to have a look :).

    Many thanks again, Jon!

    xx

  35. Gary – the interview is great! Thank you for posting it.
    And Jonathan – you are my hero!
    Jakub

  36. “Actually, I have 4 or 5 RPGs I want to make, so if we adapted The Witness engine into something that was good for RPGs, we could really do a string of interesting stuff.”

    I love RPGs, so I think this would be really awesome. Also thanks Gary.

  37. has anyone tried this? first time i see it and wow! now i know the importance of programming
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2s4ySkR48cI

  38. http://www.spyparty.com/beta-sign-up/

    sign up for Spy Party Beta!!! and also get the finish game (when its done!)

    now we just wait for the Miegakure Beta!

    …and the Witness Beta

    srly guys. sign up! and you can help “cHecker” get the game done (also: PC only! )

  39. justin,
    that’s basically several euclidean rooms connected through doorways . Nice trick , fairly easy . Try this for a brain bender :
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKwAS5omW_w

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