Update!

I am working hard on puzzles right now. We've had figured out, for a while, the basic set of locations you can travel to on the island, and what the puzzles are in each. These locations were defined to varying degrees of specificity, though. Sometimes we know what the puzzles are, exactly (they are all designed and implemented) but aren't sure what the architecture is. Sometimes I have concrete ideas for some puzzles but only vague ideas for other puzzles, and it's a case of "I will fill these in later on, when I have time to think about it and come up with something good here; but it is pretty clear to me that there will be something good here, so I am not worrying too much about it."

Eventually, these things have to be figured out. Over the past month or so we've done some of that figuring. We nailed down the architecture for a couple of areas (including the all-important area where the player starts the game). We've done this in a way where the architecture and the puzzle ideas have synergy, which is always nice. In particular, there was one location that, from the beginning of development, was basically a big box with a window cut into it and some puzzles stuffed inside. For a long time (maybe 2 years!) I was never sure what to do with it, but eventually the architects suggested an idea for that location. I mocked it up and didn't like it. They suggested another one. This one sparked an idea for how to make the structural properties resonate with the puzzle theme, and when I built even just a rough-draft of the building, I found the result to be strong. Lately we've been finalizing that location too.

So anyway, there are all these spots on the island that represented vague ideas, with puzzles there that were just in rough form, or that weren't even implemented fully, but just served as reminders to do something there. I've been going through and filling in a bunch of those.

I have also been working with some other puzzles, which seemed "done enough to ship", and thinking hard about how to make them better. Braid benefited from a lot of this kind of attention -- a lot of games would have shipped with just early versions of the puzzles in that game, considering them to be just fine; but the more I worked with the puzzles in Braid, the more I found better, simpler, more-to-the-point versions of them. The same thing is happening here (though The Witness is a much bigger, more-complicated game, so sometimes it is challenging to get to that same kind of clarity.)

With regard to the visuals (modeling and texturing), things have been coming along nicely as well. Pretty soon a high-profile game magazine will publish some screenshots of one of the most-finished areas of the game, showing the look we are targeting and giving a strong hint of what the game will be like stylistically. When the magazine is out there we will link it here.

(This has not been a particularly coherent update; just wanted to let you all know what is up!)

16 Comments:

  1. I’m curious what your workflow is with the architects in terms of software. Are you developing buildings in a CAD program like VectorWorks or Revit and then bringing them into something like Max or Maya to detail them? I only ask because it is a workflow I have used and am curious about how others approach it. Also these kind of details are just interesting to me.

    Thanks a lot.

  2. They work with paper sketches often during the initial idea phase, then use SketchUp to model stuff and give it to us. We import it into Maya, make structural modifications, and clean up the geometry (SketchUp’s exported geometry is often pretty terrible). Sometimes we just use the imported model as a guide and rebuild the geometry completely.

    • It sounds like Sketchup is good for that type of rapid prototyping. It’s interesting to know that’s what the architects are using, I guess some of these CAD programs can be overkill if you are designing. Anyway thanks for the answer I’m excited to see the screenshots when they’re ready.

  3. I’ve been following this blog for a few months now. I’m very excited about this project and can’t wait to learn more. I really appreciate this insight into your puzzle design process. I like how you are open to allowing puzzles to evolve along their own unique paths, and how you are then dedicated to refining and simplifying them, making them more elegant. These are truths I strive to embrace in my own artistic work.

  4. Thanks for the update, it’s great to be able to follow your progress as a game developer and as a game player I’m really excited to try it!

  5. Hi Johnathan. I am at the beginning of my career working for a games company that specialises in mobile and social games. I am not happy. There are few companies in my country, not much technical expertise and even less design expertise. My situation is not ideal but it is all I can do here right now, short of just finding a part time job to make ends meet and self-learning and creating something in my spare time. The internet has been my only real learning resource and it is a mixed bag to say the least. My point is I would like to thank you for making videos of lectures you have given (like Designing to Reveal the Nature of the Universe) available online. They are much appreciated. I have little experience and do not know much, but yours is the direction I feel motivated to head in. I’m curious as to what your day to day is like working on The Witness. Am I right in assuming that you design using a lot of prototyping? When you design, how is your time divided between things like documentation, prototyping, staring-out-the-window thinking and any other processes you use? Does the studio use any kind of strict methodology for the project? Do you set milestones for yourself? Have you ever considered offering some kind of internship position?

  6. It’s just cool to follow the development of The Witness, as a wannabe game developer I think it’s nice to see the kind of steps gone through to create such a game.

    Sounds like everything’s going smoothly. I’m really looking forward to play this when it’s finished!

  7. No pictures? Great! Thanks for not spoling the beggining of the game!
    I can’t wait to see the mag , if I can get it I’ll scan and post.
    I hope the game just keeps getting better both graphically and gameplay wise.
    I really whish you can work really hard on this jonathan and that you can make this all that this can be and to fulfill as much of its infinite potential as you can.
    I want to whish Jonathan and his team (Thekla/NumberNone) the best of luck and may all your hard work be a rewarding in your life.
    Also… will you be keeping the achitecs and whole team after The Witness is done or what will you guys do? Will you keep the achitecs?

  8. Hey John, what are your thoughts on Chris Hecker’s Spy Party? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you give comment to it.

  9. I cannot wait to see this attention to detail put into action. Surely this is how development is supposed to be…

  10. Great to here things are coming along nicely, not just in the way of progress but also refinement, too many games now days run on deadlines and release dates that really shouldn’t be there.

    Also great to see that no one on this blog seems to ask when the game is coming out, very intelligent people in my opinion, people who demand games be released ASAP usually get a bad end product upon release due to Bugs from not enough play testing and areas that just seem “unfinished” (Halo 2 for example)

    Take as long as you need Jonathan, me and all your fans will be waiting as long as you deem necessary.

  11. Jonathan,

    Great to hear things coming along so well. And it is also refreshing to hear that I am not alone in my (often seemingly endless) revision cycles. There’s little that can compare to those “a ha” moments when seemingly disparate pieces can get bridged together in satisfying ways. However that then causes you to revisit / revise other parts yet again, but now to create similar connections. Do you often find yourself stumbling upon these, or have you found a way to deliberately grind until you establish connections?

    -Paul

    • I think you can definitely “force it” to make connections between things, but whenever I do this they end up being kind of contrived and less-interesting. It is much better to let them organically happen as they do. Sometimes this just requires calendar time — at one point you have no idea, but you come back to it two months later, and suddenly what to do is obvious.

  12. I love it when ideas fall together and connect almost seemingly of themselves. It is always another sweet moment along the way. To me there seems to be poetry of being, that we just have to discover within the purpose we wish to create, just waiting to be uncovered.

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