Polishing the Architecture

In the last few weeks we’ve been adding the final art touches to the island.
Now that we have all the content locked down, Deanna, one of the architects,  is reviewing all the structures we created and make sure they are as correct as possible.
Even though they previously designed the buildings and we implemented them, there have been many revisions and tweaks  for gameplay that caused deviations from the original concepts, and in some cases, we just had to make stuff up with  the best of our knowledge without ever having the Architect Seal Of Approval

Here is an example, a set of stairs added to a roof structure:shot_2015.06.02__time_21_18_n01


It looks ok, but looking close up you can see how flimsy the roof attachment is:
shot_2015.06.02__time_21_19_n02Or the way the railings are assembled together:

Deanna showed us that it would make more sense to extend the main roof support to accommodate for the stairs:shot_2015.06.03__time_13_36_n01


An in the case of the railings, to do a better job showing the assembled pieces, removing the awkward intersections:


Another example is this stone wall door frame. It lacks any assembly detail for its size, making it feel it was made from one single gigantic piece of stone:
shot_2015.06.02__time_21_21_n04And here is the revised version:

Another type of issue is how two different surfaces meet. The more detailed the island gets, the more these stand out as incomplete. As an example, the way this wood structure connects with the floor:

And after the revision:

Some of this work might seem minute but it really makes the whole environment feel more grounded, adding a lot to the experience!




  1. Very exciting times. Polishing polishing polishing. That last 90% always takes a long time, I hear.

    I hope the Tester position has gotten filled and that’s working out. I had thought about applying but I figured it probably wasn’t that wise since I would have to relocate.

    • I’d relocate to test this. Logistics be damned! I’ll sleep on the couch, or even the floor with Oswin!

      It matters little!

    • I had a professor who would say, “90% of the work takes the first 90% of your time. The last 10% takes the other 90% of your time.”

  2. Cant wait.

  3. The addition of all this “minute” detail is one of the big things separating The Witness from the larger, profit-driven, release-date-hurried crowd. What’s more, it verifies the seemingly preposterous notion that Mr. Blow has been putting forth since day one: having pride in your work comes above getting paid for your work.

    • He’s a definite boss. Can’t wait until this game kills everyone’s expectations… I just hope it sells well.

      I’m a little worried about that. It deserves to be played but… puzzle game isn’t inside of everyone’s gamer repertoire.

      It should be.

    • Fetishisation over detail does not mean the developers are not profit driven. It’s just a belief that profit can be better derived from chasing detail. It’s essentially the Apple model, and that philosophy is seen increasingly in mobile games, such as Hundreds and Threes and other numbers.

      Producing a carefully designed singular experience, as opposed to the Facebook/Early Access style “move fast and break stuff” format of capitalism.

  4. These are exactly the kinds of details AAA teams could be using their mega-budgets and half-decade development times to differentiate themselves with, rather than spending months in crunch fixing a half-dozen half-assed me-too features added at the end of development.

  5. Oh my goodness. Yes. So much YES!


    I totally understand all of those changes and you are completely right — it’s grounding everything!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post these insights!

    They literally make my day!

    And I have a feeling seeing these little details will help satiate the issue with people wondering why the game isn’t out yet.


    Thank you!

    : )

  6. Did I mention how gorgeous this engine is?

    Seriously, thing is a work of art in itself. And I bet it purrs under the hood!

    So beautiful.

    • Agreed. The rendering and the way light is handled is gorgeous.

      I built my first opengl based engine in order to create a really simple 3d parkour platformer. Hopefully once im in college after highschool I will be making engines of this caliber.

      May I ask what books/documents you read to learn this stuff?

      • I recommend a book called Real-Time Rendering by Tomas Akenine-Moller, Eric Haines & Naty Hoffman – that should give you a lot of the fundamentals at least. After that I’m less sure, maybe academic papers, gdc presentations and blog posts? (I don’t work in graphics so that’s my best guess)

      • I don’t think these guys read too many books any more. SIGGRAPH papers, yeah.

  7. Let’s evolve the whole Release Date thing to a new level and change the boring question “When is the game coming out” to questions that are less boring.

    1st attempt:
    So, is “The Witness” going to hit the Steam Summer Sale or the Holiday Sale?

    • I doubt it’ll be on sale this year, haha!

      Maybe next year’s summer sale though!

      • I’m putting my money on Christmas release…. although maybe business wise it makes more sense to release at a quieter time with less competition noise.

        • my moneys on october, little competition and no ps4 exclusives are coming out anytime soon, it just seems like this game would thrive, as long as it drops long before or long after fallout 4. if theyre aiming for the holidays they should honestly delay until spring 2016

  8. Please continue these little updates! I know they might not seem like anything at all but just the slightest update on this game helps cure my hunger. I have never anticipated anything as much as I anticipate this game. So, make it perfect Mr.Blow but as soon as that’s done please, please, let me play!

  9. Am I misreading the perspective, or are the stones in the stone wall door frame asymmetrical? Near the top.

  10. That’s really cool! These details will add-up to the global realism of the environment, which seems to be an important goal for this game. My guess is that they are looking for a better player immersion… but will see how it actually feels in-game!

  11. It’s great to see the level of care and attention to detail that’s going into this game. These updates are greatly appreciated; it makes the long wait a little more bearable!

  12. How long did it take to rework that staircase? If I had to do it in something like Google Sketchup (I’m not a designer/artist), it would probably take me a couple hours.

    For your team, I’m sure you have: the architect’s time, a (quick) design meeting, time to rework the model, then testing. My guess is that something simple like this could take half a day or more. Or maybe less, given your talent/skills?

    • While there are some structural changes that take a significant amount of time because of the complexity of the mesh, etc., the staircase change looks like it took Luis maybe twenty minutes. A lot of these things are mostly just about going from file to file, making a bunch of little tweaks…and catching and fixing tons of other stuff you find along the way.

    • I’m assuming they have pretty solid object placement by now, so when a mesh gets updated with cosmetic changes, it’s hopefully a (relatively) small change.

      I’m also guessing they have the architects swing by and review as much as they can, all at once then come back with feedback. Jon probably schedules the occasional meeting with some people who were willing to or interested in working on this kind of thing.

      • Deanna, the architect, reviews the structures on her own, area by area, then drops by the office for our weekly art meeting with a big stack of printed out screenshots she sketched over, and goes over it with us. Then we make the changes, usually in a couple of days.

        • Mark van de Koot

          Which drawing program are you using? I wonder if it is also used for the design of real life structures.

  13. Looking at these optimisations tick some boxes deep down in my brain :)

  14. As someone who pays attention to these tiny details in games, I always wondered what process put them there for me to find. Now I know!

  15. Hello
    It looks like you have the diagonal bracing installed the wrong way around on the doors. The bracing is intended to reduce sag on the side of the door which is not supported by the hinge. So the lower side of the diagonal should be on the hinge side.

    Access stairs. Usually the flat and the angle will be constructed of separate components and bolted together. Railing will be bolted to the side of the stair string. Reduces cost of manufacture and transport. Just noticed the original model for the stairs had some of the features.

    Flat hex bolts on roof panels? Nails or screws, occasionally bolts “with washers”.
    You have a loose panel with no fixing, and no sign that it was ever fixed. It is missing a hole for the fixing which should have been there at some point, or a breakout of material on the corner when it was dislodged.

    You have extended the roof ridge beam to carry the stairs, which would imply that the stairs were intended to be where they are from the inception of the building. Why else would a ridge beam extend past the roof structure.
    If you intend for these stairs to give the impression they are an addition to an existing structure, perhaps consider changing the method of fixing.

    No overhang of the roof structure, a roof would normally reach past the edge of a buildings fabric to divert, and protect from rainwater.

    I posted these observation as an initial impression. I hope they are constructive to the ends you hope to achieve.
    Props for a gorgeous looking environment, I look forward to savouring the experience.

    • I don’t think they can quite go into this level of detail, but I love that you thought of this stuff none-the-less!

      The concept of the staircase being added later bothered me as well about having pre thought the length of the beam to accomodate it — that didnt make sense.

      They sure are going through a lot of details for a place that I don’t think will actually end up existing as far as the story goes, but I imagine that they are only trying gto balance the ideas as much as possible before the game is done.

      It is a game after all, so some inaccuracy would be alright! But it is very cool, the level of deatil and thought that is going into it!

      • I appreciate the art style does not require minute detail. I appreciate many people will fill in the gaps. My real concern was not a lack of detail, it was that causality is maintained. Causality being the difference between the real and un-real.
        If the environment is to be used as a medium for any given method of communication, there are certain criteria that should be met.

      • I’ve worked on a variety of Australian rooves, maybe it’s a thing elsewhere but it feels really weird having that sort of stair on a pitched roof, plus if you went straight you’d only need four steps. I’d expect a ladder or a stair as steep, like this link. http://www.fsindustries.com/more_info/lapeyre_stairs/images/yellow_stairs_drawing.jpg

  16. This game is going to be AWESOME!!!

  17. Looking good sharp peoples!

  18. Looking good, thanks for the update!

  19. The original roof support for the stairs is very funny, lol. Very Kawaii! #BringItBack

  20. It’s looking really good. I did notice that the new feet on those wood posts are exact copies of each other with the same paint/stain marks, and I have to agree with Evan the roof being flush with the outside wall does look odd, as if inviting rain water into the interior. Neither of these details would detract from my enjoyment of the game. I probably wouldn’t have noticed either if you had not drawn attention to them.

  21. I usually think achievments are largely useless in games… however I hope that The Witness will have many. Anything to incentivise me to explore every corner. Or maybe they will do one better and use the panels themselves to get me to do that? Would love for there to be hidden panels off the beaten path.

    • Pretty sure I saw an oddly placed panel in the release trailer. Might not have been intended for physical interaction though.
      I get the impression none of the paths we will walk in the Witness could be described as walked by the masses. I expect the concepts taught in the panels might been repeated in the environment.

  22. Did anyone else notice the little decal of Tim from Braid in one of the images?!

    It took me forever and I almost didn’t see it!

  23. Polishing a game on this level is something I’ve never seen before. Hopefully I will feel this devotion after playing some hours just to say in the End: “Never seen this before in a Video Game”

  24. This is the first I’ve heard of this game (via Twitter) and I’m excited about it, but that doesn’t mean that I won’t have forgotten about it (or at least forgotten its name) by the time it comes out. So why not have a simple mailing list sign up on your site so that you can notify people who are not checking this blog every day? Meticulousness in marketing is also a virtue!

  25. I’m glad you are going for this level of realism. These little things might otherwise frustrate me :p

    May I also suggest an improvement for a structure you showed in one of the previous blog posts? It’s this one: http://the-witness.net/news/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/shot_2014.09.24__time_17_35_n04.png

    I think the small metal bars which connect the big metal bars to the wall are a little bit to thin? Maybe you can discuss this with your architect?

    Looking forward to the game!

    kind regards,


    • There is a fair bit of tensile strength in those hangers. If you ever get the chance to pop your head up into a partitioned ceiling, the grid kind you see in offices; they are usually held up with threaded rod or steel straps only a few mm thick.
      I do like the open feel this particular partition gives. It is quite modern in its aesthetic.

  26. What calls my attention is how you have proper steel stairs with railings and all connecting to a very steep roof your could hardly walk on, even if its a later addition.

    I mean, if you assume you can walk on that roof, why not building 3 steps to the opposite direction and reach the lower part of the pitched roof, for instance.

    But man, this is clearly perfectionism. The first thing I thought when seeing your first screenshots of architecture was that I couldnt believe some of the structures you were pulling off. I cant imagine how much you are learning to be able to draw these things and how challenging it can get at times.

    What I know for sure is that Im gonna enjoy every single bit of construction that you do right in this game. Thank you for the effort, it will most certainly be appreciated!

  27. Wow, that must be a lot of work. Probably a stupid question, but do you guys use a system to mark stuff that you think will need to be checked later on or do you sweep all the world looking for this kind of things?

  28. Thought this was kind of interesting in light of this article:
    Looks like you guys are ahead of the curve.

  29. Jay that sounds awesome. I might be doing something like that after Im done with university. Thanks for the article!

  30. Stones on the door frame look better. It is strange that the resulting apparent stonework is asymmetric, though.

  31. Wow, all these little touches are super interesting. I’d love to see more of this sort of thing; Just small details that help crate a cohesive, believable space.

  32. Stones on the door frame look better. The resulting stonework is asymmetric, which detracts from the realism.

  33. If the roof was extended to not be flush from the building, I don’t see why the stairs could be bolted onto the roof.

  34. I’ve been reding comments from the last few posts and all I can say is Oddkins…dude…calm down.

    • Funny. Hadn’t realized that I was uncalm. I apologize if I offended with my enthusiasm, sarcasm, comedy, thoughtfulness, praise, criticism, or any other of the range of emotiions I have posted using over the last five or so years on this fine website.

      But then again it would be hard to discern what exactly it is you are referring to and or commenting on as in your travels here the only thing you could think of to say was an unguided critisism on one of the posters that has literally nothing to do with the game at all.

      Actaully, no, not sorry at all. Perhaps it is you that should calm down? Although I would never be that much of an assumptive ass actually. So you go ahead and feel whatever you feel, because hour feelings exist outside of the realm of what Imam interested in here.

      Your’s truly, Calm. But confused.

      : )

      • That’d be, “Your feelings”, and “What I’m interested in here”

        Cause you know, in before troll appears to correct it for me and disappears, again not discussing the game.

      • I don’t believe you need to apologize for unintended results of your enthusiasm. The great bulk of us are quite excited. If Blow didn’t think people would be emotionally invested in the game… this level of attention to detail might seem ill-founded. In a world consumed by frivolous attachment to popular culture, I for one am glad that some are reinvesting their time in something that truly appears worthwhile. Hats off to Blow for envisioning his masterpiece, the whole team for making it come to fruition, and everyone on here participating in constructive dialogue.

    • … so, should we looking for some Witness magic appearing on E3?

      • Jon tweeted about this.
        Jonathan Blow ‏@Jonathan_Blow Jun 15
        @benrwolfram No, we are skipping E3 this year and just finishing the game.

        Jonathan Blow ‏@Jonathan_Blow Jun 15
        @Animator @PlayStation We don’t have anything new to say until the game is out! E3 is the time to say new stuff.

  35. This kind of stuff is quite interesting to me.

  36. That would be awesome, but given that it probably takes a lot of time and resources to prepare an E3 I doubt they do it at this point. Anyway, I hope I´m wrong.

  37. I’m thinking launch title for Morpheus, Vive and Oculus, buckets of money from first adopters paying in full for any content, especially something looking to be as immersive as this! Can’t freaking wait!

  38. how is oswin? (:

  39. It’s looking fantastic. Thanks for the update!

  40. One thing that would be great is having small updates on the tasks you are taking on each week or something. Just to know about the creative process and to make the most out of this development blog. It must be very interesting even if it is “I plan to struggle with the programming of the menu” Really looking forward to know more about the game!

  41. Oh ok. Thank you for the answer Orsi. That is actually nothing but good news!

  42. I just wanted to say I love this post. Those details make me feel wonderful about the project. What your team is trying to accomplish is inspiring. As with everyone else, I am anxiously awaiting a release date. I thought there might be some news at E3, but I understand deciding to focus on the game and seeing E3 as a distraction (and maybe a waste of money). I hope The Witness gets all the love it deserves upon release. Keep up the amazing work.

  43. Frederic Pinotello

    I wonder if this might be the second last post in this blog before the witness is finally released. The last post obviously would be from john and hype that the game is ready. :D

  44. From Twitter:

    12h12 hours ago

    Mike Megally ‏@cmsimike

    @Jonathan_Blow re-watched indie game: the movie last night. it mentioned 2012 as the witness’ release. can’t believe it has been that long!

    Jonathan Blow– ‏@Jonathan_Blow

    @cmsimike Fortunately it won’t be TOO much longer.

    9:08 AM – 30 Jun 2015

    So impossible to judge how long this might be! But very enticing.

  45. I want play it !!!!

  46. What is the team using, if anything, to test VR support? I hear that Vive dev kits got shipped out to a number of devs lately.

  47. Luis or Jon, isn’t it time for an update? Maybe just a pretty pic of grass or short video of clouds flying above a tree or something, anything, let us see something cool, please, :).

    • Not that I’m saying that an update or a screenshot would be a lot of work, but the team also opted to stay out of E3 in favor of working on the game. I know they’re making progress, so I’m pretty alright with any lack of visible updates.

      If they had anything substantial to report/write about, I’m sure they would.

      I get the impatience, though. None of us are rocks or anything. I’m personally guilty of coming to this site multiple times a day. haha.

      • This is like, my second or third time today checking the site… *sigh*. Anyway, go team! We know you’re all hard at work!

      • Not impatient, just hopeful. Personally, I hope they launch this with Oculus/Vive/Morpheus so I can get the total immersive experience the first time around. That said, whatever is cool, was actually just thinking a little video of a cloud floating by a tree shimmering in the breeze would be nice to see daily for the next couple months. This warehouse image is not quite as inviting anymore, lol…

  48. Was watching acoustic versions of songs I liked and I found a tunnel/stone bridge that reminded me a bit of this game’s art style. Thought I might as well share it.


    (though ideally real world locations should probably look like this game’s art style at least to some extent if the assets are well-made, since the game pulls from real-world architecture– so it’s not entirely surprising or anything. :P )

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