Stream of Consciousness Review of The Witness

The Witness is a wicked smart puzzler from the mold of Myst that you have to try.
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Stream of Consciousness Review of The Witness

WitnessPosterI’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for The Witness since I first heard about it back in 2010. Blow, the creator of the epic mind-bending independent game – Braid, has spent the last FOREVER building out this new mind numbing gaming experience. But the thing is… it’s unclassifiable. There is nothing like it. There is some Myst in there, and there is some Pneuma, there’s some Portal here too.

The Witness Game Play

The concept of The Witness is about as boring as it gets. You materialize on an island, locked in a castle of sorts. And the only way to get out is to solve puzzles and to move power through circuits which then opens the large castle gates. And from there, cables run around the island and you just follow them to find locked areas… and then find the puzzles to open the areas.

Pretty boring.

Except that it is anything but. The game could have been executed on an iOS platform for about 3% of the cost I’m betting. But the gorgeous island backdrop adds mystery and a layer of urgency to the efforts. If you want to see the rest of the island, you better start solving the puzzles. If you want to figure the story out? Get on top of these puzzles like pronto. We’ve heard from Jonathan that there are something like 650 puzzles in the game. And the average duration of game play is something like 80 hours. 80 HOURS? hahaha. I’ve played Destiny for like 150 hours… but other than that, I’ve never spent more than 10 or 15 hours on a single game. Ever. So these puzzles should be pretty damn interesting if they are worth 80 hours of play time. And they are. Trust me… they are fascinating. So, take this screenscrape below from my game…


You know what this means? This is an exciting shot. It means, that my work for the last 2 hours was successful. That I completed my battery of puzzles, and this green cable is saying… power has left the area you were just in, and now it’s powering up this area over here. Congratulations.  But because you are detached from my game, you see this and think… kinda chunky CG. But me? I am stoked to see this cable twisting it’s way on to the next area.

The Puzzles are Progressive


So, as I leave the last area and I come to the new area, the next battery of puzzles bay looks like this. The power lights up the first panel, and I’m free to use the information from the last puzzles in order to try and figure out how to get on to the next puzzle… So let’s take a closer look at one of the puzzles.


Immediately, as I step up to this puzzle I get this. But don’t look at the solution yet… listen to me explain it, and then work through the logic yourself to see if you understand. Because the game has taught me already how to solve this puzzle by ever expanding leaps and bounds of logic I see immediately how to solve this one. But the way this one works is simple enough… the green and yellow lit circles at the center of the puzzle are me drawing lines. Both lines are being drawn simultaneously. And everywhere that there is a green or a yellow shape? The correct corresponding line should pass through it. Then the lines need to go out and exit at the little white circles at the top and the bottom. Right?

Well, this is the first puzzle of this panel, so it is by far the easiest one of the five right here. Each puzzle will leap in difficulty. But you get it right? So I would aim the lines across each shape, and as I move the green line down, the yellow one will go up. And as witnes-play-example-2I go left with the yellow, the green with go right. You can only use a path once. You get it I’m sure.  Just so you can visualize what I’m saying – here is the solution to that puzzle. If you compare the unfinished one to the finished one you’ll see what I mean.

There is no speaking in the game. There is no indication that you are doing it wrong, or if you are doing it correctly. It just is there. At one map bay, I stood and stared and stared, and then I realized, OHHH, the answer is in the world around me. Clever. I don’t want to be too specific because I don’t want to give anything away. But it’s that level of ingeniousness. Constantly changing constantly adapting challenges. Each one leans on the previous levels in order to make the concepts additive.

And the brilliance of this particular panel? The hook? The yellow line gets weaker and weaker, until you can’t see it anymore at all. And so you play out your blue (tourquoise?) line, but you have to keep the opposite line’s location in your head at all times. Makes me giggle it’s so clever. Not impossible, just tricky.

witness-puzzle-purple-exampleHere’s an even better example – the purple puzzle panel gives you the hints you need. But this time, you need to solve it in the real world. You walk on the glass and the panels light up – and as they light up, the corresponding path on the panel lights up as well. So I looked at the display and thought, really? That is so easy! And then I start moving down the panels, and woah, broken glass? Eh? So I had to survey the board, and head back to the panel and rethink my strategy from beginning to end. I can’t even tell you just how giddy these kinds of challenges make me. Yeah, I am a serious geek.



The Witness Creator’s Appeal

So a couple weeks ago I posted about playing the game non-stop, full tilt, as soon as I got my hands on it. And while, reality hardly lived up to my desire, I still have put a significant number of hours in on the game since it’s release a couple days ago. But already Jonathan Blow, the game’s creator, has already appealed to the masses to (stop stealing it… that was his first ask, and his second ask was) take a break if you are stuck. That the game is solvable. He appealed to the masses to do something I haven’t heard in a long long time… he asked them to stop cheating. Stop looking online for the answers. He begged them to just think it through. Go for a walk. To have a conversation. Get a shower. And then come back to it. That the puzzles are solvable. That there are other areas of the map to explore if you get stuck on one area. Blow appealed to the collective intelligence of the whole… and appealed to them to push through.

And I have to echo that refrain. There are walk throughs of the game going up everywhere. You can watch hours and hours and hours of people playing through the game so that if you get stuck you can flip to the offending section and see where you went wrong.

But I just have to agree with Jonathan here and say – Struggle with it. There was one puzzle I was working on – I was staring at it and staring at it. I literally said to myself… this is physically impossible. Like, I can’t even start. There isn’t even a chance here. Left it for a few hours, and then I was like… oh, my brain is thinking about it backwards. Flip it around. This thought came to me while on a walk. And in that moment, on the walk, I had this thought of exultation. I knew I had solved the puzzle.

How often do we give up too early though? In life… in games… in relationships. How often do we just punt and say, this is way way too hard. I can’t do this? I’m going to flip to Youtube and be done with the struggle. Or divorce this guy, it isn’t worth the struggle. Or give up on writing that book that you’ve just gotten nowhere with in your head. Who cares if you get published. Who cares if you win couple of the year award. Or whether you beat the game in record time. Did you do it? Did you succeed?

When I got back to the puzzle, and started from an upside down perspective, everything snapped into place. And that is a sense of accomplishment and exultation that you can’t take away from me, or even understand really. The game isn’t quite what I expected. There are a number of areas where the game is unpolished and the interface is kinda clunky… but the puzzles, the actual game aspect of the game are beyond excellent. And that is what we knew we would get from Jonathan Blow.

If A is true… can you figure out B. Good. Well done. Now that you have B, can you tell me what E would be? Great job. Well done. Now…

what is -27?

WHAT the @#$@#$*^)#$%???!? hahah. But if you give it a minute, and you look, the game has given you the leap from E to -27. It’s there, you just have to think about it.


The Witness Overview

The game development is pretty bad in today’s standards. The CG is all custom and kinda cartoony. The world is really beautiful, I’ll give you that. And the sound is really out of the late nineties. When I play Destiny my jaw just hits the floor regularly the CG is so completely off the hook. And the latest Call of Duty Black Ops game just decimates this poor little game that was started back in 2009. And yet, here I am, playing The Witness and I am not playing Destiny or Black Ops. So it obviously has something that those other two don’t have. And you know what it is? Neither do I.

Remember that first season of Lost? When the survivors find a cable on the beach? And they follow it, and then dig out a bunker? And then they work all season long to get the hatch open? And then they push a button successively for a whole season or two? And they don’t know why? And you don’t know why you care? Yeah, that is what this game has. In spades. What is going to happen next? And what are these doors for? And where are we? This game has questions on top of questions and puzzles on top of puzzles. It’s a perfect game for those of you that love struggling through a question until you get the answer.