The Witness is One of 2012’s Greatest Mysteries «

The Witness is One of 2012’s Greatest Mysteries

It’s hard not to marvel at Jonathan Blow’s chutzpah. Braid, his 2008 XBLA puzzler, played with the concepts and consequences of time travel through its mechanics as well as narrative. After high sales and quite a bit of accolade, Blow used most of the money he made off of Braid to help finance his next project, a first person exploration game called The Witness. While a decision like this would seems cripplingly frightening, you have to applaud the confidence that Blow has in his art. This confidence is part of the reason why The Witness is my most anticipated game of 2012, and after sitting down with Blow during GDC, it remains at the top of my list. Although the game still has a ways to go, Blow is confident that the final portion of the game is the single best thing that he’s ever designed. Coming from the man who created one of my favorite video games of this generation, it’s safe to say that my anticipation for The Witness grows with every new look. In preparation for its release, I’ve compiled a list of five ways to ready yourself for the title, some of which Blow himself alluded to while others contain connections that I’ve made from what we learned about the game.

Dear Esther

Upon first viewing the screenshots for The Witness, the immediate comparison to Myst sprang forward. They’re both environmental puzzle games played through a first person view and set on an enigmatic island. Blow even admits to drawing inspiration from the PC classic. But instead of replaying Myst for the dozenth time, try something a little more modern. I suggest Dear Esther, a Half-Life 2 mod created by British developers thechineseroom. The mod was first released 2008, but just last month received a full-fledged remake that improves on the original in every way possible. The game places you in the role of a nameless wanderer who explores the expanses of a dreary island. Narration in the game is delivered via snippets of letters sent to a woman named Esther. There are no puzzles or combat scenarios whatsoever, so the game ends up becoming equal parts ghost story and walkabout. From what we’ve seen from The Witness, both games share a similarly lonesome tone that emanates from a mysterious island lost in time.

Dictionary of the Khazars

One of the ways players will be able to experience the story of The Witness is by piecing together a narrative through a collection of disarranged audio entries. The entries may sometimes be oral histories of your surroundings, allegories for your time on the mysterious island, or just mundane tales of a narrator’s life. Players may glean different meanings of these recordings based on the path you choose to take throughout the island. After hearing this, I asked Blow if he’d ever read Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars. A smile formed on his face and he nodded in silent respect of the book, making me believe that he had made this same connection before. Dictionary of the Khazars is a fictional encyclopedia of people, places, and events that can be digested in any order you want. Because of this, readers tend to take vastly different meanings from the book upon completion based on their own personal chronology. Although the book can initially come off as dense, the reader’s ability to partially piece together their own narrative