Panel Art Update

It’s now been over 5 months since I joined The Witness team as an artist and I would like to share a bit of my experience on the project coming from a “big studio” as well as the most recent work I’ve done.

Just before I left my last job I was working as a Lead/Art Director on a marketing driven project focused on selling as many units as possible. On one side I had high level decisions being made by stockholders whose focus is on turning a profit while on the other side there was the development team who truly believed they would be able to make a good game.

Also I was surrounded by schedules, performance reviews, hierarchical titles, producers, human resources, bonus system and all the other corporate systems that eventually dilute the organic process of doing something creative. While I understand the logic behind it I  realized that is not the reason why I joined the video games industry and that something wasn’t right.

Now, after these few months, the answers for these questions became clear. Its all based on trust. In this project, all the decisions we arrive at are very organic. Jonathan has a very clear vision of what he wants and the fact that we can see it and believe in it makes it extremely logical and simple.

Our passion for what we do (and what we would probably be doing on our free time if we weren’t being paid for it) gets distilled directly into the game in a very rewarding process.How much and how we give it depends entirely on us and that creates a natural challenge and pressure that most AAA companies cannot provide.

This trust leads to respect and it creates a very unique work environment. This is something that I’ve never seen with all the project management, task scheduling and scrum meetings that try to fix an inherently broken game. I don’t think video games can be produced like an assembly line, at least not games that have something meaningful to say, and I’m glad that I found people that are doing it the right way.

All this may sound trivial but probably 90% of the game developers that I know will understand how big of an issue this is. I still believe big companies can change their ways and make the same profit if not more, but it has to start from the bottom, the people who are hard at work making the games.

As for the second part, I would like to share what we have been trying to do with the many island panels. As you might already know the player has to solve different puzzles using these panel interfaces scattered around the island.

I started my research by looking at what materials they could be made of, what technology they would use and how they would be assembled and how all this could relate with the different areas and narrative of the game.

This first set of images shows some proposals of how the panel screens could possibly look. I tried not to focus so much on the gameplay but more on ideas that could lead to further discussions among the team.

After some solid feedback and a couple of art meetings I was able to understand what was working or not and decided to do a new set of proposals. Also this time I tried to focus on the more technical aspect of getting these panels to work in the game and if the effort we would have to put into them would be worthwhile.

The same amount of work went into the structure of the panels and how they would be assembled. This time, working with the architects gave valuable input into understanding how they would actually be built in the environment and the amount of work required. On this image you can see a screen capture of several prototypes before being tested ingame.

These are usually modelled very fast with just base colors so I can do several iterations until I find something that I'm happy with.
And finally here is how some of them are looking in-game. They are still in concept but by placing them in the correct context makes it a lot easier to understand what is working or not.


  1. I waited years for Fez and it was worth it.
    Take your time, do it right, and thank you.

  2. Luis,

    Thanks for the insight, this is very beautiful work. Can’t wait to see what else you post.

  3. Luis – Cool post! Thanks for sharing some of your process! I’d love to see more blog posts in the future about the art development process for this game. I think you guys have achieved some stunning visuals so far – certainly many of us are being sucked in just as much by the screen grabs as the anticipated gameplay. :)

    It’s cool to hear about the difference in work environment you’ve experienced in moving from AAA to working on this game. I recently left my job with Activision to “go indie” so I definitely understand what you’re talking about. I wish I shared your optimism that mainstream game development could ever adopt the same culture of trust that you’re talking about. I think as soon as you require a large amount of money, you’re just not going to get that level of ‘hands-off’-quality trust. We just need more self made millionaires who are willing to slowly build teams they trust up around themselves (a la Gabe Newell). Or, you know – maybe you guys can become such a studio in the future. :)

  4. Hey Luis,

    Awesome post! As a game design student looking to enter the industry, hearing your experiences with both large studios and now The Witness has been extremely insightful.

    But I’m curious, how do you keep the asset creators invested in making a fun and meaningful game when a large portion of the industry is demanding the bare minimum in the quickest time possible? Irrational Studio’s Tim Gerritsen here in Boston does a good job of dealing with the corporate side and allowing his team a substantial amount of creative freedom, but how would you go about this?

    Digging the art work, can’t wait to see more. Though the prototype pic got me thinking; will there possibly be puzzles that need to be to be solved simultaneously? (answer may already be somewhere on the blog, feel free to ignore this if it is)

    Above all, take your time and know there are those who are willing to wait.

    • I think the way to solve it is to stop seeing people as “asset creators” but as game developers.
      In theory is someone joins the game industry instead of movies or advertising it’s usually because there is something unique to this environment that attracts them. Whoever hires you should understand your passion and how it will fit with the goals of the studio.
      But it has to be an effort from both sides. The studio you will work for should have a clear vision and be able to show you their philosophy (more than just “make good games”) but you, as a creative person, also have to be clear on what you want and actually work for it.

  5. I think all the panels look cool. Are you going to be sticking to only one design, or will different areas have different style panels?

    Also, and I don’t know if this has ben asked before, but will there be a puzzle builder system in the game, where users can design there own panel puzzles and share them with other players? Perhaps a special area or building that has nothing to do with finishing the game, just sort of a bonus room for people who have finished the game, and want more of a challenge?

    • The Witness is very deliberately an authored experience and not a world-building kind of game.

      It’s easy to get excited about different ideas of what could happen, but focus is very important, so we are focusing on making the game as it is as high-quality as possible.

    • I think that it would be cool if some modding tools were included. Not so much a “bonus room”, but something like Braid’s level editor would be more than enough.
      The only problem I can think of is that because The Witness is 3D and so detailed, creating your own island would be way too much work. Braid just uses 2D images, so making your own levels is doable, but anything more than panel puzzles would be too difficult for most modders to make.

      Maybe a special room or location where you can play other peoples’ panel puzzles (and test your own), similar to what Casey suggested, would be possible. It could appear once the game is completed, and tools outside of the game could be used to create the puzzles.

      • Almost nobody used Braid’s level editor. It wasn’t worth putting in the development effort, when you consider the opportunity cost of working on a new game instead.

        To make a level editor that people will actually use, you have to put a lot of effort into making it usable, which is effort that is not going toward the core experience. The core experience of The Witness would be diluted.

        Also, that “only problem you can think of” is a giant one. Nothing most people built would look remotely like anything in the game.

        I understand the enthusiasm behind wanting something like this, and I appreciate it, but it’s a mistake trying to make a game that is everything to everyone. Maybe the next game will be a player-creativity game but if and when we do that we will do it very well, in a game designed specifically for that purpose.

        • I see. Well, that you replied and explained it is really enough for me anyway. I’m just one of those people who like to mess around with games. I’m sure the Witness will be a great game, regardless of the editing possibilities, and to know how much you care about the core experience (unlike a lot of commercial developers) makes it all the more awesome.

          By the way, I agree that the Braid editor seems to be greatly underused, especially for all the effort put into it. I my want to (re)create a modding community so that people can help one another. Although it may take some time, if I succeed it’ll be a great chance for lots of new universes to be made for a great game that deserves to be longer :D

        • I used the Braid level editor, and it was a very valuable experience to me. I can totally understand you not wanting to bother with one here though – I just wanted it to be known that Braid’s was appreciated.

  6. Benoit FOULETIER

    “marketing driven project”… I just loved that! I’m in the middle of development hell right the fuck now, supposed to work overtime this week-end as we very officially enter crunch in the worst possible way (no design, no management, insane deadlines). We still have good days, exciting days, and I’m surrounded by very talented and capable people, so how can this twisted corporate structure make it so that most of us are in pain, wondering what we’re still doing here? … counting the days till the project is over is not why I joined this industry!
    Sorry if it feels like I’m venting here (I am!), but your post just resonated with me, especially what you said about trust (how I miss that! being treated like an adult!). That’s what I like about this blog, you never know what the topic will be: one day uber-technical stuff, the next design, or philosophy, or a bit of everything…

  7. Just wanted to say thanks for the post, Luis — the art style is gorgeous, and I love getting to see how the designs have progressed from concept to in-game pieces. I think the fact that a post like this is so beguiling is a testament to the unique, trust-driven environment you guys have built. Also, congrats on escaping what sounds like a fundamentally broken work environment. Looking forward to the next update!

  8. I have a concept of a game that you take into your life to make it better rather than having the game suck you into and addict you to being online with it.

  9. Hello Mr. Luis Antonio! The 3D art is very beautiful and looking at your website maybe the game will endup looking like Braid. A painting in motion, but then how will that talk about the game? It made sense in Braqid but The Witness is ot about worlds building as you go, like dreams. Unless the island is manmade.

    Can you tell what game specifically you were working on at Rockstar and Ubisoft?! I think you worked at that dancing game that Ubisoft was making and maybe Red dead or a Gran Theft Auto expansion at R*? …It’s cool if you don’t want to say though!

    I hope we can see the visual style of the game e volve with your post, so please keep us posted ma brethen! : )

    Also, I’m gald you are happy at Thekla Inc. and hope you stay to help with future projects cuz u r awezome!

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