Meeting Photos

Every week we have a meeting with the architects where we plan the structures and landscapes on the island. Most of the week, the architects are generally off thinking about this stuff while we are building the game. During the weekly meeting we get together, talk about what concepts the architects have come up with, figure out how those might integrate with the game, make decisions about which ones to pursue, and iterate in detail on concepts we have already decided to pursue.

A while back we took some photos of this meeting, so I figured it would be fun to post them.

Here we are looking at a number of different possibilities for one of the areas in the game. I had already done the gameplay design, so we had a working location that was built out of blocky programmer stuff (if you see blocky things in the island update screenshots, it was something like that). So we knew the general shape of what we were trying to build and how it had to behave; the architects started with that and made proposals about what the location might be like in terms of its basic construction.

We chose one of these ideas and iterated on it a while. Other concerns, having to do with the overall layout of elements on the island, then caused us to change the size and shape of this location; once we had done this, the original design was felt to be a bit weak at the new size and shape, so we went back and heavily modified the concept. Only this past week have we converged on the final design and gotten a good first approximation into the game in a playable way. It's pretty cool.

Because we're working on a lot of things at once, we usually talk about a few different locations that are at different stages of development. At this particular meeting we were also looking at some early concepts of the visual design and modeling of the area where you start the game:


  1. It seems so hard for me to imagine why you would bring in actual architects for your game world. I can imagine this must be a very unusual project for them.

    Do you think that their expertise brings something to the game that will be noticeable to the average player? Is it simply an experiment on your part to see how grounded in reality you can make the world?

    It is quite curious, although I certainly can appreciate the attention to detail.

  2. Cool! Have all the architects played through a build of the game?

  3. The architects all have the game installed at their offices and work with it regularly.

    Of course their expertise brings things that will be noticeable to the average player. Most buildings / landscapes / etc in games are terrible.

    • Mostly my question was along what dimension you thought they were terrible. I am interested in how you are thinking about the spaces. It is a very different approach and illuminates design goals which are orthogonal to those of most game environments.

      I understand everything is very hush-hush for now. But when you and the team finish the game, I would be very interested in hearing some of your reasoning.

      Although you perhaps don’t like to direct the conversation about the work that much.

      • Yeah, it is pretty hard to say meaningful stuff about the spaces at this time that would not be mega-spoilers, so I want to stay away from that.

  4. Are you incorporating any kind of photometric lighting techniques, such as using IES files to define distribution of interior lights?

    This would be only relevant for the interior areas but I was wondering if it was something you looked into. I know that point and spotlights calculate much faster in terms of dynamic lighting. I’ve used them in Mental Ray but I have no idea how fast they would calculate in real time. I was curious if it is something the architects ever brought up since they are used a lot in visualizations.

  5. The princess is in another carefully constructed building designed by professional architects.

  6. Looking at the pictures on the walls I can’t tell wich ones are real and which ones are from the game. The game looks very good graphics wise and very realistic in a weird way maybe becauase of a heavy focus on lighthing. I don’t know if its meant to end up looking photoreal but that’s kinda what it looks like in some parts. I like it!

    Also, I got the new iPad 3 yesterday and the only thing I could think of was The Witness, super excited to see how it ends up looking and feeling in the pad and now that I have one I can’t wait for the pad port aswell!

    Good luck to the whole team, send them my best!

  7. Cool stuff! I really appreciate you keeping this blog up. It offers some very interesting insights to what I’m sure is a very unique development. All the best!

  8. Jonathan,

    I am a fan of your work and the principles with which you design games, respecting the player. As a fellow programmer, I’m curious to know what you’d recommend as an entry way into creating games. I’m a computer science major in college and have experience with Python and C++. Where do I start?


    • You start by making something small and interesting. Then you take what you learned and make something bigger. etc. That is really all there is to it.

  9. As always, very interesting to see yet another aspect of the development. Having professional architects must bring a completely unique feel to the design of the game, and I’m sure you’ve had some interesting discussions.

  10. this post reminded me of The 7th Guest. my memories of that game are ancient and faded. i recall most of the puzzles were much too hard for me at the time i played. in fact, i think i was unable to solve some of them even after consulting yesteryear’s equivalent of a FAQ.

    anyway, i remember that it all took place inside a house. you could walk around the house, even in the parts where there were seemingly no puzzles. the design of the rooms that contained puzzles strongly reflected the puzzles. i think it was a cool game, but as i mentioned, too hard for a little kid.

  11. Always taking things to a new/different level…

    Obviously, this approach you are taking is out of the conventional workflow of games – at some point (or many) you felt general game environment artists were lacking in the area of constructing architecturally correct structures. Although in game worlds, the geometry is floating within its virtual coordinates and do not follow the real world laws of gravity.

    My question is when you were looking to contract these architects, what specific skill set were you looking for? Were they able to pick up this type of workflow, where polygons are limited, while still retaining the essence of their designs?

    As a game designer and world artist – how could I implement these philosophies?

    • Well, it’s just that video game modelers/texturers are not domain experts about buildings or landscape, and it would be asking a lot to expect them to be. So if you want to do a good job of designing those things, it makes sense to consult domain experts. It’s not exactly rocket science but it took me a little too long to come to that conclusion.

      • Eric, there are so many brilliant classical artists out there who want to be able to use the skills they’ve spent most of their life mastering – and there are less and less jobs for them in traditional industries. They don’t want to be sucked up into the corporate advertising machine anymore than we do! Check for groups in your area?

        The best game artists I’ve worked with were classically trained from traditional disciplines. I can teach a classic artist or architect to work in 3D – I can’t teach a 3D techie to think and see like an artist :P

        And the best game designer I’ve worked with came from a theatre background and would recommend The Dramatic Imagination (written by a brilliant set designer of the 1930’s and 40’s) before he’d ever recommend something by today’s popular design authors.

        Love what you’re doing Jonathan!

        I can’t wait to see what happens when more game developers get inspired by this and bring more traditional artists and scientists into Play :)

        • I spent most of my young and early adult years in the theatre! Hopefully, your incite is valid. :)

          • Heh, well, it’s been a huge help to me and my teams to think of game dev in terms of theatre production – we’ve been making small games in the same way that a troupe would improvise and try out different scripts before finding the one that feels right and worth developing further. In 5 months we’ve made 17 games, of those we found 3 that felt “right” (ie: satisfying for us to work on and satisfying for others to play).

            Rehearsals = iterative development. Dress rehearsals = Alpha. Opening night = Beta. Then there’s going on tour, taking a break, evaluating where you’re at and planning for the next season of production!

            Creating magic within the structure of a seasonal theatre production translates surprisingly well to creating magic in a digital space of play.

            As much as I would love to say what’s worked for me and my teams would work for everyone – you’re going to find your own incite based in your own unique skills, interests and history.
            And the more games you make, the more of an instinct you’ll develop for making great games.

            There’s a ton of tools out there for getting started (gamemaker and kodu if you’re new to scripting for example).

            Make games. Make lots of them. Make games no one else is making.

            Looking forward to seeing what you do Eric!

  12. As an avid reader and gamer who formerly worked for a game company where I pitched the idea — has anyone read Moore’s Mythopoeia? It is an odd, humorous, thrilling read, but for me, profoundly, as I was reading it, I was thinking — this should be a game!

    The main character goes on a quest that would be on par with Braid. I can think of few people capable of pulling it off, but what a fascinating idea.

    I’m truly excited for The Witness.

  13. Thanks, shortly after posting the question, I watched one of your talks on youtube, very inspiring.

  14. Tommy Hupp Becherman

    I know you’re working on a pc version, but is it 100% certain that we will not see it on current or the next generation of consoles?

  15. Still wondering about the visuals. Do they represent final look, or will there be another round of texturing etc and is this programmer art?

    • Which visuals where? There are hardly any shown in this post.

      At the current time, we have first-pass structures done for many areas in the island, with only a couple of areas at anything approaching final texturing. With some categories, like landscape, we have not done very much yet but are going to be pushing on that in the near future.

  16. I am really looking forward to this. It looks like tons of work is going into it and I can’t wait to see the finished product. I was just wondering, will this be on Steam? I’m just kind of OCD about getting most of my games from there.

    • Yes, the plan is that it will be on Steam. Of course something unexpected can always happen, but that is the current plan.

  17. Looking forward to see any work for this game. I recently watched Indie Game: The Movie. I saw the hater posts/videos you get about Braid and that really made me mad. How did you overcome that feeling? I played and really enjoyed playing Braid. It was a classic for me. Some people will never understand to not only play, but feel the game. Best wishes.


    • If you make games, the internet is basically horrible. What I try to do is just to remember that the voice I hear from the internet is not representative of the real audience out there. (If it were, I would quit making games and go do something better with life).

      The problem is that this is an intellectual thing and not an emotional thing, so your emotional mind still gets beaten up even though you rationalize about why it shouldn’t. I do not have a solution for this except to toughen up and/or ignore the internet. Since too much of the former is unhealthy, the latter is recommended.

    • I hope you’re not talking about the soulja boy deal… I thought that was soo cool!

      I hope when The Witnes comes out someone personally contacts soulja boy and give him a the game to review, and tyen he will play it and review the game and it becomes a trend for all of Jonathans games… I can dream, yeah!

      But seriously maybe some of his fans can get him the game and convince him to play and then make a video about it!

      • Soulja Boi’s comments on Braid were ridiculously unintelligible and obnoxious. He had clearly put no effort into the game, or even trying to experience what Jonathan had created. It was ultimately insulting to Jonathan for someone to take his creation and say that “there’s no point to the game”. After all his effort in creating a unique playing experience, only to have it so quickly disregarded, would be utterly heartbreaking.

        Sure, the rap artist’s comments were “funny” I suppose, but they were also insulting, and as an artist myself, I can vouch for Jonathan in saying that it would be an incredibly depressing experience to find someone percieving my work as little more than “pointless”.

        • This comes across a little wrong in the movie. Soulja Boy and friends were totally high and making a quick video about a game they had just found on XBLA. Expecting them to be some kind of deep thinkers about the game in that circumstance would be silly.

          he main thing I am talking about in the movie is the reaction of “critics”. People innocently playing the game and having reactions, that’s a totally different thing.

        • I was more mad at proffesional game critics TM than I was at souljaboy and his niggas just playing vidya and having fun…

          “Der be no point to dis gaem, man! u just mario with red hair and the lil nigga neva runs out of teh tiem potion” “look i dead, ohh no niggaz i don’t. Look! Psych ohh no I didnt!1!!! “XDD lolzzz 2FUNNY

          capcha: designs, ngoiansa

  18. I watched the movie too, but I knew Braid WAY before watching it.
    I loved the game too, and I’m always checking for any bit of information I can get from your work in progress : The Witness.

    I was surprised at the choice of the video shawn into the movie. Right, it was quite representative of all the terrible things you can see/hear on the Internet. People in the video just looked like art ignorant laughing at a painting without trying to understand it.

    But I think this isn’t the way most people reacted to the game.
    The thing is, gold in Braid is suggested and requires to the player to pay attention, to think twice about what he sees.
    I’m not saying that it’s bad, it’s awersome ! I’m just saying that it could explains all thoses superficial approaches to Braid.

    There’s a lot of information on the Internet, but it needs to be sorted before being assimilated.
    Seems like you didn’t turn your back completely to the Web though since you are answering to your fans in places like this one.

    Keep up with the awersome work, there are discreet people out there that really love it.
    (since i’m French, i don’t guarantee the 100% correct english writing, but i hope this is at least understandable)

  19. Why are they all wearing sweaters?

    I think you need to turn down the AC :(

  20. I’m neither a designer nor a programmer, but I do enjoy playing and studying well-crafted video games. Jonathan and team, thank you so much for these updates and insights into how The Witness is progressing. I am eagerly anticipating the release of the game even more after seeing that working architects are consulting with you all. I find that immersion into a video game is helped along greatly by the design of the environment.

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