Before I begin – I’d like to say a few words about this series. This series will take reference from my previous posts and will be a continuation of all my work combined till date.
But nonetheless, I also try to focus the content to be presentable for any new viewer joining midway too. And also again, to note, this series will feature content comparable as per ‘brain farts’ in succession to my growth as a Game Designer.
So anyways, without any further due, let’s begin!
Escaping from the crutches of Braid, this game was indeed most welcoming to come after it. Guess why? Because this game lets me practice its mechanics with apposite progression.
At least in the beginning it does… the future of this game might be similar to Braid, as these are both developed by the same person, Jonathon Blow.
As a mice finding its path when trapped, I began to explore the world of “Witness” with high hopes. Holding tight these high anticipations, I carry on to witness what this game has in store for me…
Braid comes off to train the Player using the same levels with different mechanics. The one thing I feel Braid didn’t quite shine – are the “filler” puzzles which are used to train the Player, by giving multiple scenarios to a singular mechanic. But with Witness, it’s not same case. Right off the bat, on every puzzle, I first had to complete the very basic pattern of the puzzle to further progress into actually dealing with the complicated part of the puzzles. This is exactly what Braid needed to make it little better than what it actually is.
Basic Analysis – The Mechanic and the Rule
From the simple mechanic of drawing a line, the first rule was born to keep the line in boundaries. Although it might seem very simple, it has the potential to evolve beyond the basic mechanic and as a rule it is. Many more restrictions and mechanic could be added as an overlay to the basic themselves, this is exactly what seemed in Braid, a game born with a simple mechanic.
Besides movement-navigation abilities, the Player solves the puzzles with the help of a Mouse, by forming lines (drawing with it). The mechanic of solving might seem inspirational from inspecting type games, but besides the basic usages of the mechanic – it develops onto differentiating itself from the others on how actually the mechanic is used in its puzzles. This reminds me of how Braid executed its mechanics…
Breaking Bonds – Enough of what it is…
From the strong reminiscence feeling of Braid, I can clearly see the developer did learn from his mistakes. You can feel this game was made by the backing of great puzzle game development experience. Everything I hated about Braid was done justice in this game. Now separating myself apart from Braid, I venture onto the wide world of Witness, and to experience what is has in store for me!
First Castle – Exposed!
An endless freedom with no restrictions – right after completing the Castle (First Structure maze), the game just opened me to its enormity by leaving me to explore its wide world. The game left me without any shackles or boundaries! But I guess everything still has a pattern to it. The designer expected the Player to go from Point A to Point B, although this might not happen every time, the game I think gets it right most of the time. I think only time will tell how intact this decision is, to release the Player to everything at once.
After finishing up the first Puzzle, the Castle, I had to choose my Path on where to actually go? Following, I just went to what I could see in front. I found some random puzzles lying in my path (which could have some meaning), and I progressed by learning about them and by completing them; All until I faced a Boat house. I felt like, this might connect me with everything that can/will happen. Though It might also be the case that I’ve already been connected to everything from the Castle itself. Unsure of what’s in store, I carry on with the path…
From my experience of Castle, I could see wires going everywhere connecting puzzles from another. Here I leaned of a new mechanic, two lines are created as a reflection to one another. And I could control both of those lines at the same time using single control. Interestingly the whole area seemed to be filled of this same mechanic. With available scenarios, I practiced up on how the mechanic actually works and followed it with the whole area. Due to my practice, the puzzles seemed trivial and easy to trail.
There is a bigger picture running around this game. I have opened the gate for the Hill, noticing the wires, from experience I began following them. It came to a point where the game tested me with all of mechanics occurred till now. It wasn’t just testing me; the game was reaffirming my ability/knowledge on the mechanic to complete the puzzles.
Realization of the objective…
A Laser was shot out. I followed the laser out of curiosity, on where it may lead me. On my Path, I realized everything about this Island is a puzzle. And somewhere in my mind, I realized the objective of the game, to make all the lasers connect to the center from all the corners of the island.
Leaving the player in the open could often mislead the player from the core objective. But I don’t that’s the problem running here. I Understood what was going on, and what needs to happen. The carefully crafted Path gave me my restriction to this wide world (it could have been horrible). Then again, if I was the person who likes to explore everywhere, this might cause huge problem to the game. Though I think the game found a good balance in this aspect, for now. Now, I had to decide on my journey… my path.
Explore or Follow?
The path was now actually made open for me. The designer has stopped holding my hand, and wants me to explore the island to my will. Though at some parts it still feels like there’s a pattern to the path, personally, I’m not the one to follow a certain path. If I play something, I explore every corner available. And this is where I break my bond with the designer, this is where I create my own lead, this is where he leaves me out to play in a park full of adventures and puzzles!
Connecting with Environment
I came across a puzzle which made me approach it with Trail and error… or so I though in the beginning. The puzzle forced me to think out of the box, separating myself from just forming the lines. It made me question its relevance to the Environment. Why does this area have different colored trees? Do they mean something in comparison of line formation? Is my path the objective line? Or are the Branches of the trees which are in relevance here?
The first answer was the Fruit, and the branch connected to it. I tried and found a solution in the environment of the game. And it wasn’t instantaneous, the game trained me in viewing the environment in relevant ways which could be useful to solve a puzzle. The game made me think out of its grid. And I say “first” because it’s not the only solution from the environment.
Sand Castle – Reflection
Observe, explore, angle yourself – all to find the proper reflection of the solution of the puzzle. Simple as it may seem, Jonathan has a special trait in developing simple game mechanics while overlapping everything upon each other. It’s hard to find games which are in peace with itself, which are in harmony while doing this.
Coming back – Reflection, I think it was the main topic running around his head on how he might manipulate it to make puzzles. On my play-through, I faced the topic of reflection more times compared to the games which are solely based on reflection. The place involved, sunlight, tube light, water, dim light, curved planes, and many factors supporting these elements. At one point I was so much into the game where I didn’t mind solving the puzzles outside of the game.
To ease up the puzzles, I started solving them outside the game, through means of paper and paint. Outside the box? That’s old. Think outside the game! The game didn’t force me into this, it is my emergent gameplay in accordance to the game. Probably this game might have made every player, either to solve puzzles outside of the game or might have made them quit from frustration.
The idea of reflection also gave me one more plot point for the game. This island was populated, at least from before I came into existence. Although I don’t know why would anyone want to live while solving drawing puzzles, it made me realize everything is connected ‘universe-wise’ and there’s a plan in-store to reveal what might happen or what is happening. I begin drawing the setting in accordance to the game’s presentation.
Everything is a Puzzle!
I was always questioning the placement of environmental assets. Why do they exist in such color? Do they have pattern? Is everything actually connected? I came across a temple, which on first sight, I noticed “Wait I know this pattern. I know the dot and the end line”. Following, I tried to interact with it, and to my surprise it actually worked! I understood why such freedom was allotted to the line drawing mechanic.
The idea of puzzle under a puzzle… no, this just isn’t it. This is a puzzle under a puzzle, under a puzzle, under a puzzle, in a chain flow. Every puzzle was planned out first with delicate care and… only then were they executed to merge together.
After solving the environment puzzle, some particles flew off to a nearest black monolith. There is no story nor a universe to hold the environment together. Still, as goofy as it may sound, it all comes together. Just like the Mario games. The universe might seem goofy but on a certain level it will make sense (At least to most of the players it does).
Following the Monolith puzzle, I followed into the Temple because I found it to be rather interesting, to my randomness… I now understood how the difficulty works around this game. Every area has its own theme of puzzles. And inside a particular area, all of the puzzles are based on a single theme, yet they further progress in difficulty using that single theme. Once the player completes an area, he will be back to square one, to deal with a new theme of puzzles all over again…
It’s like balancing multiple games at the same time. The problem here with this system is “Refreshment”, how lengthy should the areas be? How far are they to each other? are the areas surrounded by different type of puzzles? All of these factors come into play while balancing such games. Mainly here the problem might be the distance, and the different puzzles surrounding an area. I say this because, just outside the castle, I was surrounded by connecting puzzles. But once I entered the Temple, the theme immediately changed, demanding me to instantly change with it. Braid did the same in almost every world, from puzzle to puzzle… though Witness clearly is doing things differently.
Back to Temple – Peeking
The Temple begins with player drawing lines from outside of the structure. This gives the Theme for the whole area, to peek on the solution of the puzzles. Player is further trained in the puzzles by solving more see through puzzles. At one point, to raise the difficulty, the solution of the puzzle is inverted/reflected which reminded me of my previous level, although the topic might’ve been used in every puzzle.
But, the theme evolves, I had to solve a puzzle by overlapping a pattern, remembering the pattern, and executing it. I didn’t have to peek, I now had to overlap. But the pattern was easy to understand, of what I needed to overlap though. The game trained me with 2 different mechanics in a single area, without disturbing the theme. It is quite a risky move Jonathan always bets on (even in Braid), this style of puzzles, often I think scares the players away from progressing. When designing a puzzle game, I need to keep note of this point, to remind myself I’m not Jonathan Blow, and to realize my boundaries in retaining my player count. Because, I don’t think this would work with any no-name game…
To keep my randomness up, I ventured into the nearest area I could first lay my sights on. It was a Fort. On entering the area, I’ve noticed my challenges here are based on mazes, and my movement in these mazes. You draw out the solution based on the Path you take. But I feel this area is rushed… The game doesn’t let me practice its new path solving mechanic. Up until now I haven’t faced this problem. I began to wonder – is it because of the ‘area’ geographical place allotted? Maybe the player can get scared due to massive area filled with puzzles? Or the designer is just expecting the players to keep up with the game pace? Or did the designer get reminded of his experience in developing Braid? I say this because each puzzle of this area mechanically change after each other, and are totally different with one another. It totally throws one off when they are sincerely into a certain style of play, and something totally unexpected happens (Braid’s core).
Suddenly besides the solution being the Path, the solution now changed to the player depending on Sound que. It took me awhile to figure this out, on what’s the solution here? It’s not until I came back refreshed that I found out something was going on with the Sound of the area. The solution was revealed by the quietest sound path. This puzzle might be almost impossible to figure out for people who are in hurry, or who are crowded with some other noise, or some other work. The game, in this puzzle, demands Player’s total attention!
Being a puzzle only game, I think this was really interesting to perceive… The puzzle utilizes many factors upon which have already been built. Factors like, memory, sound, vision. But mainly, the problem here becomes – the puzzles are crumbled in one location without any prior practice to the player, else individually they take a step above one another and in the end, leave an everlasting memory in the player. If they ever succeed in completing them that is… it can be really frustrating for many to cope with them until completion. Clearing the puzzles which drain your life on trial and errors, I venture onto explore the Fort even further.
Uncertainty of the Objective, and my progress
I have already activated a Laser, yet there are more puzzles to complete in this area. Does this explain the complexity of the puzzles? Can 2 Lasers spawn from a single area? Is starting the Lasers the main objective of the game? I’m bundled with various questions with no answers (clichéd over top game). Normally I guess normal players would quit here and move onto something else.
Note: I’ve come to a point where using paper and outside resources has become absolute necessity to solve the puzzles (Mostly due to my bad memory). I’m sure each player will have their own means of planning out the solution of the puzzle, and that’s a part of the beauty of the game. This is evolving into a good factor for the gameplay… which I’m soundly liking.
Drawing while Moving – Optional??
The puzzles are now based on the movement itself, depending on where you step, you begin drawing. So, first you memorize the puzzle path, then walk over it to draw. It becomes interesting when your draw path is covered with some type of obstacles (broken path, obstacles blocking).
While learning about the puzzle layouts and different possible solutions, I faced the 3rd puzzle of the maze. At this point, I was itching to go online for a solution, as most players would do. But, I wanted to test my capabilities in solving it with the game itself. First I learned about the purpose of the “Blocks with shapes”. I learned, I can only form such shapes surrounding the blocks (Example: straight line block, I need to draw straight line surrounding the shape block). With this I took my pen and paper and using the actual walking path, I tried to figure the puzzle.
To complete this puzzle, I first had to break my restrictions binding me from thinking outside of the box. The main problem grew when my foot path was blocked by some wood… after another try I noticed I wasn’t restricted by the actual pathway unlike the previous puzzles, I could get off the path and reconnect it anywhere in path. With this, I began forming another pattern to get through the puzzle while keeping the obstacles in mind. To my surprise, it actually worked! And with success in mind, I follow onto the next puzzle.
Unlike Braid, this game doesn’t tick me off with its puzzles, it is mostly due to the fact that the puzzles don’t involve actual motor skills. You just need to be smart enough to solve them.
Looking from the vantage point up above the Fort, I noticed this area is a combination of 2 themes, each comprised in 2×2 layouts. And I could see my final test of this area waiting for me to approach.
With my experience from the previous puzzles, I pretty much knew what I was going to face (unlike the “Maze”). There is a new gimmick in this place, the shaped blocks consist of angled shapes. It was weird to see and approach… Nonetheless, I completed them by using their non-angled format, by straightening them out in a paper to approach them suitably. This puzzle reminded me of the first puzzle format, of spawning 2 lines at the same time. And I now had to figure out the path according to both of the line path, considering the obstacles in path.
On completion, the end felt like a conclusion to this big area. It tested everything I learned from this and other areas by forming everything into one-single-big puzzle. Though on completion, I didn’t get to see any Laser coming out. It made me realize, Move-Draw puzzles are optional, and an area might feature two types of puzzles. The Laser shoot might lie in solving both of them, or by any one of them, or by only one of them. The objective is still hazy, but I think a puzzle game staying this way is fine.
Note: Clearly there are still some traces of Braid left in Jonathon (At least from what I’ve seen in the Maze pattern). But following the Maze, you could experience Jonathan huge amassed puzzle game knowledge by the Move-Draw puzzles, and all the puzzles which came till now. Honestly, I don’t know what happened to the designer while designing the Maze layout, because other areas trained and taught me while progressing, the Maze was quite the opposite…
As of now, I don’t see the purpose of the Maze pattern and I think it could have been done much better. Then again, with his experience and looking at my future puzzles, I’m sure I will find the answer for his decisions relative to both Braid and Witness in mind.
I noticed an empty ship wreck with nothing inside except the path leading me to the nothingness. Similar to a Line originating from a round, I found out few structures which represented such patterns. On trying to interact with them, these started glowing and I could now draw with the glow originated. Though I had to position myself to form a path for the line, this ensured me to check every structure in my Path, to find the round and a line.
I wanted to stop the train of randomness… and so I backtracked to where I started, and from there I started to rummage puzzles which haven’t been solved yet. On my adventure of exploration, I came across many puzzles which I can’t seem to find the answer for. I didn’t mind my inability to solve the puzzle, because I knew I could find the answer just by following on with my adventure, by learning from others puzzles.
This game felt like a rare gem in balancing. You don’t know about something? You will eventually learn about it. Though you need to have enough patience to explore, and to give room for trial-and-error. It’s almost like the game is balancing itself, and yet as being the designer of the game, Jonathan played still played his part in deciding the balancing pattern for the game.
Right beside the Sand Castle, I came across Wood Station. But to enter the station, I had to solve something which I didn’t know the answer for. So, while I was exploring around the area, I came across the Boat Station which seemed to fit to my current knowledge.
Boat Station – Through the shadows
Besides the Wood Station I encountered an entrance to something which seemed like a Boat Station. It was filled with screens of puzzles. I had to solve these puzzles with the help of shadows created by other objects, they acted as boundaries to keep the line in till the end.
After completing a set of puzzles, 2 more Paths emerged which featured different types of solutions. The first was to use the shadows as the boundary till the end, and the other was to follow the shadows themselves to the solution. To keep my theme intact, I wanted to follow on with the theme which I had up until now up to the next theme (only because I want to avoid confusion in puzzle mechanics).
Realization of a Gate, which holds a Laser… Objective!
After I completed certain set of puzzles using the shadow mechanic, I was led to a Gate which seemingly held a Laser. I opened the one side of the gate by the shadow puzzles and unlike the Fort puzzles, it seems like I have to open both the gates by completing both the themes in order to get the solution to shoot the Laser.
Gate – With the Shadows
Following the trail of shadows, I was able to open the Gate and shoot the Laser. Though, I have to say, I’d like to leave this place with one point. In a few scenarios I faced slight difficulty in solving the puzzles. The problem sometimes became so crucial where I had to leave to get myself some refreshment. Wondering about this, I think I understand the death of point-and-click puzzle-adventure genre… They fail to keep the player attention with their progress. Witness sure does a lot of things right to keep it away from such death, the wide map/ different routes, training me what could happen, etc. But there are still some nudges left here and there which could be better polished, then again I understand one person can’t do everything. And thus, I think the formula of Witness could be used in some way to solve the problem with the puzzle-adventure genre.
Red Swamp – Shape Blocks
Fort featured a similar puzzle, and although I felt like I completed the puzzle, this area made it clear saying “No, you don’t understand anything”. I thought maybe what I achieved was by fluke? But no, my logic still stood strong! Though I think “fluke” indeed played a small nit…
Just as I imagined the first time, I had to cover the shape block with the shape they represent. Where I went wrong was – The shapes aren’t just restricted to their actual shapes, you can rack up different shapes upon each other, stack a square and a vertical line to form a rectangle shape (or something like that). But, you can’t mix them with each other
The special thing about this puzzle is – up until now, puzzles mostly had only one solution. But here, there could many solutions, even for the simple shape blocks! To make this clear, to teach it better, Player can train using 2 tutorials in this area. One for the simple theme setting, other for going in-depth on the actual mechanics of the puzzles. Either way, the basic tutorials won’t be much of help while you keep progressing. The puzzles, one after the other keep getting complicated. Nonetheless, without the tutorial, any person, either if they are a puzzle maniac or a simple gamer, they will quit the game because of frustration… took me multiple hours to get the logic behind the puzzles, on their functionality and their mechanics. It was not because the tutorials were not helpful, but it’s because of the complexity of the puzzles themselves. They keep taking a step above one another. It goes up to a point, where I just sit figuring the puzzles on the paper… for hours.
I came across the Angled-shape blocks. I faced them in the Fort area, now I know this area comes before Fort, and thus it explains a bit of the Fort’s puzzle complexity. From how I learned to solve the angled blocks, I think they are just angled for representation? Because I solved them as I could have solved the normal shape blocks. I was right on my intuition in the Fort! It worked just as I perceived it to be. But the Fort was nothing in comparison to this area…. This area felt like the reincarnation of devil! By the amount of solutions one can have, it was too much for me… It could take me days to solve through this by my own.
Though I keep thinking of how hard the puzzles are, they never actually reach the point of Braid (on comparison). Why? Because this game, on each and every puzzle trained me in its mechanics, and it gives me enough space to follow up on my attempts. At times, it trained me in multiple ways to make sure I understood the theme concept. This is what Braid needed most… not the inclusion of motor abilities in its puzzles, it lacked actual problem discerning ability!
My eternal enemy… and I had to rely on it. Well, not to be over-dramatic or something, it wasn’t on the scale of trigonometry or other complicated stuff, it was just addition. Depending on the shape of the block, I just had to add them up like in “Tetris”. The problem in solving the puzzle might come from the actual line drawing path, you often end up thinking multiple solutions just because of the restriction caused by the drawing path. Although it might seem to be easy, and cool to cope with, it is actually quite daunting in experience. Each puzzle mugs up lot of time to go through.
I came across a bridge on which I solved to cross over to the other side. Though there are multiple ways on the bridge, I only selected the one which seemed to have most puzzles. At this point, I understood everything here are a cluster of puzzles, one upon each other. So, I have started expecting most of the stuff to happen, before it actually happens.
I solved a series of puzzles, connecting to the earlier blocked underground path filled with water. Although time consuming, the puzzles featured use the same mechanic of addition, in different ways (different shape blocks). Once done, I proceed to venture into the underground.
After my time consuming endeavor of the shape block puzzles, repeating and learning about the mechanic, I have now been introduced to a new mechanic! I’ve been expecting this ever-since, every area featured atleast two types of mechanics. In the shapes blocks instead of yellow dots, I was able to find blue dots. The blue dots introduced the mechanic of subtraction!
The Mixture – Addition and Subtraction
Compared to my previous puzzles, the ones using only addition, this seemed much cool, interesting, and easy to follow. Usually a theme area splits into two completely different type of puzzle mechanics. But they never merged together, the Shadows, the Maze, Reflection… The new mechanic not only is different, but it also acts together with the previous mechanic. With this mixture, though a bit hard, it made the puzzles even more interesting to solve! Sadly, I ran out of time, these consumed too much of my time to continue further. Probably, if I beat these, there will be even bigger hurdles waiting for me in future puzzles…
Temporary End Note:
Jonathan Blow takes everything that could have been done better ‘in terms of puzzle design’ (from Braid), and implements it into a new game called “Witness”. The game uses a simple mechanic, which he further expands in many ways to create interesting puzzle styles. I could go as far as to say, this game indeed felt like a mastery in puzzle design! (Though a bit stiff and hazy at times)
Most of the times I was questioning the designer by the basis of the ideology behind the puzzle designs… and mainly, I got my answers while I was progressing, by learning and moving forward from each puzzle. And while on my quest for different answers, I was clearly able to tell Jonathan’s vast experience gained from his previous titles, it almost seemed endless…
My experience is, not any less than what the game is, a mastery in puzzle design. I learned many things from Witness, from building proper puzzles, manipulating a single mechanic in ways, to managing them while keeping the fun factor in mind. The thing is, when you actually learn to perceive something, you get to use your perception into making something better than what it already is…
And to summarize what happened:
- At the beginning, by learning about the rule and the mechanic, and from setting my foot out of the castle to explore – I learned about the global objective and the themed areas which helped me with my progress on the objective.
- Nothing was explained to me, and I was left with my speculation on everything, from the setting to the gameplay interactions to the objects (like Braid).
- Following, I came to understand the reason behind the design of the areas, about their balance and their difficulty, and about how they work in correlation.
- On learning about these basic stuff, my quest now has begun to keep completing puzzles until there is an end. And this is where I stopped (Kind of – my journey can’t end here).
There is still a lot to this game I need to explore and learn from… But for now, I’m calling a stop to my adventure, a stop to my journey on witnessing the ambiguities of the diverse puzzle design mysteries…