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How Jonathan Blow found the roots of The Witness inside Braid

Speaking with Time Magazine, Jonathan Blow offers some insights on how he arrived at the central puzzles of The Witness, and how the game connects back to his earlier title Braid.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

June 22, 2016

2 Min Read

Are there other forms of communication that we can refine in the way that we’ve refined language? What would those look like? Even if they’re more intangible than language, and even if you can’t refine them as much, I’m interested in that.

- Jonathan Blow, explaining the questions he was interested in pursuing while designing The Witness

Jonathan Blow still isn't giving away all the secrets and mysteries underneath the island of The Witness, but an interview with Time Magazine's Matt Peckham from earlier in June, he was willing to share some of his thoughts on how he structured the game's puzzles, and how those design conceptions emerged from Braid.

Explaining some of his work on Braid, Blow tells Time that he wasn't intending to make a game about nonverbal communication, but "a lot of nonverbal communication ended up happening, because I had these other ideas about what the design should be."

"I decided the levels shouldn’t have lots of red herrings, and that the puzzles should be minimal, and they’d come through more strongly because they weren’t obfuscating the solutions," says Blow. "When and if they’re hard, they’re hard because you genuinely don’t see the possibilities."

When Blow transitioned to working on The Witness, he realized he was interested in this notion of nonverbal communication, and it's why Braid is so minimally interactive. "I wanted extreme clarity, at least around the first layer of puzzles. ‘How do I recognize when there’s a puzzle? What do I do? What is the mechanism by which I solve it?’" 

"You always know that you’re drawing a line on the panel. And then the question becomes ‘What is this line?’ And that’s the point at which communication starts to happen."

You can read the rest of the interview to learn more about what Blow thinks games should be communicating, (though he doesn't quite elaborate on what he's trying to say in The Witness,) and more thoughts about focusing exclusively on this kind of communication in game design.  

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