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Myst is considered by many to be one of – if not the – greatest puzzle game of all-time. It’s also served as an inspiration to many developers; The Witness’ Jonathan Blow is one of them.
Blow found success in 2008 with platformer Braid, which some describe as the original indie game. The title made him a millionaire but instead of taking his money and walking off into the sunset, Blow set about investing his fortune into his next big project.
The developer announced the adventure puzzle game in 2009, targeting a Christmas 2011 launch date – a window it would miss by more than four years.
The Witness is very deliberately an homage to Myst, Blow recently told Polygon. True enough, the game begins with players emerging from a cave on a beautiful – yet desolate – island. With no one else to communicate with, the only logical thing to do is explore the island and solve its many puzzles along the way. Sound familiar?
Blow was a huge fan of Myst but as a designer today, there are some things he would do very differently if it were up to him. Those things are a big part of why The Witness is the type of game it is. Pixel hunting, for example, was a huge part of Myst. With The Witness, it’s not as much of a search game as all of the puzzles play out on “panels” across the island.
The final build features nearly 650 panel puzzles. Blow notes that players don’t have to solve every one of them to complete the game. Diehards that strive for 100 percent completion could easily spend more than 80 hours trying, he added. In the 20 hours or so that Polygon spent playing the game, they solved just 150 of them.
Sure, there are lots of puzzles to solve, but why has it taken seven years to develop? For lack of better words, the game simply ended up being much bigger than initially thought.
Blow said he could have gotten rid of a lot of stuff they wanted to add, made the world smaller, toned down the unique details and locations and even used a readily-available game engine like Unity. Having the financial resources to take his time, that’s exactly what he did.
Another takeaway? The Witness won’t hold your hand or babysit gamers as they progress. It’s an open-world game and players are bound to get stuck at some point. In fact, it’s almost a guarantee as Blow said one particular puzzle is so difficult, less than one percent of people will likely figure it out without a walkthrough.
When that happens, they can simply wander off and tackle a different set of puzzles.
The Witness is slated to arrive on PlayStation 4 and PC on January 26, 2016 (and later on iOS). Don’t expect to see it land on previous generation consoles as its high-density graphics and open-world concept would not run properly on old hardware with insufficient memory.