The Witness is a 3D puzzle video game developed and published by Thekla, Inc. The Witness was released for Microsoft Windows and PlayStation 4, with the iOS version scheduled for a later date.
Inspired by Myst, The Witness has the player explore an open world island filled with a number of natural and man-made structures. The player progresses by solving puzzles which are based on interactions with mazes presented on panels around the island. The rules and outcomes of solving the individual mazes are part of the puzzles that the player will have to come to learn themselves through both visual clues around the island and through audio logs that the player can find. Blow aimed to include as little instruction as possible, wanting to have players come to understand the rules of these puzzles for themselves and coming to moments of realization while exploring the island. The final game has about 650 total puzzles to be solved, though the player is not required to solve them all to finish the game.
Though originally announced in 2009, The Witness had a lengthy development period. Blow started work on the title in 2008 after a short break from releasing Braid. The financial success of Braid allowed him to hire a larger team to develop the title and maintain his vision of what the final game would be without making any sacrifices. This led to a protracted development period, extending the game’s release from 2011 to 2016, spanning a console generation. Original plans for release on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 were abandoned because the game’s engine became too demanding, and Blow opted to develop the console version for the PlayStation 4 as Sony was more open towards independent developers.
You wake up, alone, on a strange island full of puzzles that will challenge and surprise you.
You don’t remember who you are, and you don’t remember how you got here, but there’s one thing you can do: explore the island in hope of discovering clues, regaining your memory, and somehow finding your way home.
The Witness is a single-player game in an open world with dozens of locations to explore and over 500 puzzles. This game respects you as an intelligent player and it treats your time as precious. There’s no filler; each of those puzzles brings its own new idea into the mix. So, this is a game full of ideas.
The Witness is a puzzle adventure game, experienced in the first-person view. The player, as an unnamed character, finds themself on an island with numerous structures and natural formations. The island is divided into ten sections arranged around a mountain that represents the ultimate goal for the player. Within each section, the player will encounter numerous puzzles, and once the player has completed all puzzles in a section, a gold turret will emerge from around that section and shine a light towards the mountain. The player needs to complete only a portion of the puzzles in the game to complete this objective and reach the final goal. The final game has more than 650 puzzles, which Jonathan Blow estimates will take the average player about 80 hours to solve. The puzzles include one that Blow believed that less than 1% of the players would be able to solve.
The puzzles within each section are based on a similar theme, with early puzzles in the sections designed to help the player identify the theme and understand how to solve the later puzzles. All puzzles are based on a mechanic of tracing a path through a maze-like route; the goal of these puzzles is not always to simply complete the maze but to find the right path of several that completes the puzzle correctly. For example, one puzzle involves finding a path that successfully divides marked white and black areas on the panel. While many puzzles are obvious, placed on panels through the island, other puzzles may be visually incorporated into the game’s architecture, such as a tree that has branches that mimics the paths, or as symbols that appear as decorative elements on walls and floors of the buildings. In an early build shown at the 2010 Penny Arcade Expo one puzzle requires a player to etch the maze solution on a pane of glass, using background elements of the setting seen through the pane as walls of the maze, while another maze involved following an underground cable across the island.
Puzzles in a given section of the island are presented in a non-linear fashion, and with the open world nature of the game, the player may encounter puzzle panels that they have yet to learn the rules for; as such, players are not required to finish a puzzle once they start, and can leave and wander to any other area to solve the puzzles there.Blow has stated that there is more to the game than these mazes, in response to concerns from players; to Blow, “the point is the magic that happens in the player’s mind when he understands the subtle things that the mazes are saying – because the mazes aren’t just puzzles, they are lines of communication that aggregate, become more complex and eventually say surprising things”.
Throughout the island are stations with audio recordings that provide obfuscated background information for the player. Voice actors for these logs include Ashley Johnson, Phil LaMarr, Matthew Waterson, and Terra Deva.