Island Partition

This week we've been having discussions about how it's almost time to move into full-on Production Mode and start cranking out final-ish 3D models and textures ... following schedules, and all kinds of organized stuff like that.

Up until now we have not been in that kind of work mode, because we were figuring out the game, and in that kind of mode, I find schedules to be anti-quality. But once you have everything figured out and need to produce a volume of work, schedules are pro-quality, since they help you gauge how well you are doing, whether you need a reality check on the rate or quality of things you can produce, etc.

Luis has made this handy map that we are using to partition up modeling tasks, which I have then edited to remove spoilers:


I like looking at this map because it reminds me how many distinct areas there are and how they relate to each other.

Today I was showing the game to someone who had not seen it before, and that's always interesting because it helps me see the game through fresh eyes a little. It really feels unlike any other game in the way it is an Open World but also a Small World, where you can be in one location and see several neighboring locations, and that helps keep you oriented, but it also helps you reflect on what you have done and orient on where you are in the course of things you are planning to do.

We still have a ton of work to do, though, and I was reminded of this as well. Not just in detailing all these areas, but in filling out the story, crafting details that further help the areas relate to each other, etc.

It is going to be an interesting time!


  1. Desert sounds neat, wasn’t expecting that.

  2. Sounds exciting, can’t wait!

  3. may be it is my first post in your great blog. But sometimes i like to follow in silent mode :D
    but this nice map is pretty detailed. But can’t you see it is missing something may be pretty common in games ?!

  4. Urge to explore… rising…

  5. Thank you for sharing thoughts and updates so often, I get genuinely excited every time there’s a new post on this site. I can’t wait to play the game, but I’m gonna do my best to remind myself that it’s just gonna be finished when it’s finished. I can wait.

    I also love how much enfasis you put on the “open world – small world” concept, that, for me, it’s something really fundamental that gets ignored way too often. How many games have we played, in the last years, where we had wander for hours in huge, empty wastelands? I’m thinking about Red Dead Redemption, Fallout, Skyrim, and now even Far Cry 3. Just because it’s possible to create giant worlds doesn’t mean developers should do that, the same way games shouldn’t last absurd amount of hours if they don’t need to. I know that The Witnesses’ Island is gonna be just big enough for exploration to be intriguing, and just small enough for every corner of it to be interesting.

    I apologize if my english sounds a bit weird, it’s not my native language.
    Thanks for doing what you from Lorenzo, Italy

  6. I want to go hang out in the Laser Area.

  7. I hope there’ll be at least one tombstone in the Symmetry.

    • Hmm… Why??

      • Because the impression when seeing that name is that it is a misspelling of the word Cemetary.

        • Oh I see! Also I see a lot of factories… Wood, Glass, Concrete and lasers??
          Everything in the island is made there. They make everything from scratch and use it there.

          What are we going to do in these factories are they still working or re-purpose for something else?

          The people is this island were not only builders and creators but were also very spiritual. Note the monastery, stupa etc… And at one point there was a place to see stars or into the sky (I forgot the name: Planetarium?) Also sculpture studios…

          And why these people wanted/needed lasers for? To keep you or protect you form what? And where did they go and why are there movies about evolution, humanity and the stars in some vaults and why are there tape recordings with game design talks and lessons of spontaneous generosity? very interesting!

    • I think that Johnathan might have not edited out a spoiler there! Maybe Symmetry is the area’s main gameplay mechanic…

  8. Cool, there’s a shipwreck! Can’t wait to explore that, even if it is comparatively small.

  9. Congrats on your progress, Jon! I admit I’m damn curious about how all of this will turn out! As someone above pointed out, the Open / Small World concept is VERY interesting. I’m struggling with a problem on The Journey of Eko that can maybe be put in similar terms: now that we have a procedural map generator going (and therefore it’s cost zero to create whatever landmass I want), I feel more and more tempted to use it to create very SMALL worlds instead!

    I’ve learned this with procgen: if I use it to create small things (levels, combination of items, whatever), it can create tons of unique flavours. If I use it to create huge things (explore these 200 square miles and find 847 items while on it), it’s quite impressive in the first 5 minutes, but very quickly everything ends up tasting the same!

    I hope you keep elaborating on that, I’m always interested in how you frame this kind of matter, it’s usually totally out of the box thinking.

    Congrats and good luck with the final assets! Can’t wait to see more! :)

  10. Now that you’re discussing the process of establishing deadlines for development I can see a-lot of people asking when the ‘planned’ release date will be. Does the question of ‘when will you ship’ frustrate or does it provide some use?

    • It annoys the shit out of me. I mean, it’s nice, because it means people are looking forward to the game, and often it’s the most substantive question that they have the idea do ask. But it still annoys the shit out of me.

      • That makes me think of Phil Fish’s opening scene in IGTM where he’s very frustrated at commenters asking the same question and his response is to tell them to fuck off.

        Is it that the question disregards how hard you are working to make the game what it deserves to be? In a recent interview Chris Hecker had this interesting statement that it’s ‘unethical to not explore a concept to it’s full potential.’

        • Don’t compare Phil Fish to John blow.

        • Well, it’s a lot of things. The main thing about the question is that it is asking about exactly the maximum point of pressure of a large, ambitious game project. Everything I do every day is all about trying to get the game done and have it be good. It can get very, very, very stressful if you let it. So basically, this question is putting more weight on the maximally-stressed point. There is no reason for me ever to want to hear this question.

          On top of that… it is sort of like kids in the family car, on a road-trip to a vacation destination, asking “are we there yet??” all the time. They are excited to get there, and that’s a positive thing, probably. But the car is going to get there when it gets there, and asking the question isn’t going to make the car arrive any faster. In fact asking the question doesn’t do anything except take energy away from the driver. (And even though any individual person might only ask the question once or twice, because this is the Internet, I am hearing it all the time, and the cumulative effect is about the same as the kids in the back of the car asking every 30 seconds, for 4 hours.)

          I honestly do not know when the game will be done. When I know, I will announce that, and everyone will know. (And maybe that announcement will even be wrong; wouldn’t be the first time!) In the meantime, all the question does is give me gray hair.

      • What a rude answer to a perfectly reasonable and inoffensive question. Braid was brilliant; it’s my favorite game. But too few people call you out for gratuitous obnoxiousness such as this. I wonder if you realize that copping that sort of attitude gets old fast. Especially when The Witness could very well be inferior to Braid: we don’t know that it won’t be, nor do you.

        • It’s an honest answer. I don’t think it’s rude, because I go on to talk about how it’s nice that people care about the game, and I understand that is why they are asking.

          But look, if you ask how I feel about something, I am going to tell you honestly. I am not going to grinfuck you just to maintain some semblance of niceness or a good PR face or whatever.

          As for notions of relative game quality and whether that modulates how much permission I have to speak honestly… I find *that* extremely offensive.

          • Lying about things like this is not authentic niceness… it is two-faced selfish behavior. I am a little bit sad that this isn’t just clear.

          • Thankyou. That was an honest answer and I found it very useful hear. I don’t see how your comments could be taken as offensive.

          • Also don’t see how Jon’s reply was offensive. I found it refreshingly frank.

        • Hello,
          I’ve never commented on this blog before but I’ve been following for a while. Jon isn’t the first developer to express how annoying that particular question is, as well as the pressure that comes with it. I thought the care he put into his fitting illustration showed that he wanted everyone to understand why from his perspective it’s kind of a thoughtless question. I’ve always enjoyed his frank but respectful manner of speaking. Why do you think he started this blog in the first place? He obviously cares about what people want to ask him as well as some feedback, or possibly receiving some encouragement as he sets out to do what most people never get off their ass to try. It’s so easy for us to sit here WAITING and to demand that we need to play this game immediately that we aren’t putting our every day mental focus and effort towards. Movies are amazingly complex and they get delayed all the time and yet games are often much more complicated to make than films are. I say all of this with the utmost respect.

        • English can’t be your first language. In that case, I can kind of see how you would misinterpret it as rude. If it is your first language, then you should know that “copping” with idiots is even more patience testing.

          • C’mon now, aren’t we trying to appeal to Steve here? He does mention how Braid is his favorite game even if he might have mistook Jon for being rude. Also, if anyone here has been indeed rude in some way why would we want to respond back with the same undesirable attitude? There’s no need to get nasty or condescending. I would like to believe that the people who read this blog are more respectful and thoughtful than the average site. This isn’t the youtube comments section, is it?

          • Indeed, I would prefer this blog to be a place of civil conversation. We don’t want to spiral into Internet Negativity.

    • Love this thread.

      First and foremost. Jonathan, take your time. Quality is the byproduct of the amount of time and detail that you put into a single area. It’s like what John Carmack said once about the quality of 3d movies vs the quality of a 3d game. Even if we are technically capable of delivering the same quality in games as in 3d movies, the developer spends 1 second of his time on a single area compared to 1 day to a movie. If you remove the time constraints of when a game is done. It allows you as a developer to spend that extra hour or day on a single area to ensure that it looks, feels and fits perfect.

      As for people asking when it’s done. Well we’re just damn excited so I think it’s more of a habit than anything else, just ignore as a whole. I’m patiently following this thread (on a daily basis) to learn more about not only programming but project management as a whole. So I for one don’t really mind when it’s done, just getting very excited looking at this map and can’t wait to explore every nook and cranny.

      As for your attitude. Keep it up.

      • Totally agree. I can’t count the number of times I’ve read something on this blog along the lines of “Well, I *could* have just left that area as it was, but I had a really great idea and so I worked on that and it works so much better now…” This is exactly the sort of attitude that will produce a thoughtful and engaging game, even if it takes time. I’d rather wait five years for a game like this than have it next month in an “Oh, it’ll do, I guess” kind of state.

  11. Keep up the good work! You need moxie, and a good amount of your own money to do that: having the luxury of spending two-three years just in exploration of a set of rules and visual styles, before starting to follow a real schedule. But I think that in the end the investment will be paid back, both in terms of money, quality of the product and respectability. It’s a great risk, that most game producers (this could be said about cinema or music too) are afraid to take.

    Having said that… FINISH THAT @%*!§# GAME all this waiting is killing me! :D

  12. You didn’t describe it as such, but do you somewhat see the initial tasks, the creative tasks, as ‘fun’ and the later tasks, where you work hard, as ‘not fun’?

    It seems to me that the fun tasks don’t need someone with a timeclock watching over your shoulder, but the un-fun tasks do benefit from it. I had never really separated the 2 that way before, but your system makes a lot of sense to me.

    Now, when I’m calling them un-fun, I know that’s not strictly true. As a developer, I love coding as much as I love designing what I’ll be coding… But the actual coding does have its tedious moments.

  13. I’ve been watching the progress for a while now…thinking this was very Myst-esque. Now it seems so every more with these location themes. Did you have the idea of making a Myst-like game originally, or did this evolve organically? And why?

  14. Most of us that are here don’t really care. We’ve been waiting for four years. We just want the game to be all that it can be and to your quality standards.

    But when you talk about the game moving forward and progress people can’t help it to get a date or quarter out of you. We don’t mean to be annoying fans is just something that we care for a whole lot. Hope you understand and not get irate too much.

    I’m also still waiting for a post about sound, effects and music and overall sound in the game. It should be very interesting without music and puzzles needing sounds to be solved.

  15. Are you going to fill the island in any particular order? e.g shipreck after the hub hub non earlier then orchard etc?
    I guess doing this in randomway ( a better tree here, a better rock there) would be inefficient way to work, and probably it is best to start from area for witch you arleady have assets/project/ ready to implement concepts.

  16. However The Witness turns out, it’s my favorite game project to read about. Great work on the blog, you guys!

    The island looks massive– would it be inappropriate to ask for a scale in the corner?

    • If you click on the image to enlarge it, you can just about make out what I assume are trees. So that would give you a rough estimate, though a scale would give you a better idea.

  17. Don’t waste your words. “Rude” to some people means anything other than what they wanted to hear.

  18. As an indie game developer,I think making great games take its time because its not just a game which are made for fun or money but it has a soul of our imagination and dreams.

    You are one of the great pioneer of Indie Game community.I love your work.Thanks for showing us right path to make not good games but great games :)

  19. Hmm… I noticed something labeled “structure.” That sounds pretty suspicious, if you ask me.

    • Right? And that name that’s been crossed out in the Desert area…I have a feeling this map may be invaluable for players once the game comes out. As long as we remember it may be cropped :3

  20. I hope I can go to the Laser Structure and see a laser show of The Wall.

  21. I’m really suspicious that there’s an important area in or on at least one of the clouds.

  22. I wonder if this is still the general layout we can look forward too?

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