The Witness is all about perspective. It’s the only conclusion that I can think of that pulls it all together. It’s a game about experiencing things multiple times and seeing something different each time. I love this game. I also hated it. I think you should play it. I also think you shouldn’t play it. I’m not trying to be coy or difficult, this is simply how conflicted I am on the game and after failing to write the script several times, I’ve resolved that the only way I can get through it is to be honest to the point of being contradictory. This video will spoil everything about this game. Reviews have purposefully omitted several important features; I will not be doing that. If you have the slightest intention of playing this game, whether it’s a week from now or a year when it goes on sale, then do not watch this video. This is not a review, and this game is best played blind. I already had two questions I wanted answered before I started playing The Witness: the first was, “Why is it called ‘The Witness?’ ” The second was, “How is the game going to keep line puzzles interesting for its entire duration?” After playing the game for 50 hours I can answer this question here with, And I can only propose a guess for the first one for reasons that are, unfortunately, so complex that it needs its own section later. So let’s get right to it with what is the biggest chunk of The Witness: gameplay. The game starts like Infinifactory does; no title screen, no selecting anything, you launch the game and after it loads, you’re put right at the start of the game. You have no idea where you are or where you’re going, and the game doesn’t even trust you with the ability to turn around yet. you have to walk forward and go through its silent tutorial. A lot has been said about this game’s ability to teach you mechanics without pop-up tutorials or a helping hand. You’re left to infer the rules of the puzzles being presented to you on your own. So at the start, it’s as simple as drawing the line from the beginning to the end. Then there are simple modifiers to how you draw those lines that you have to follow. The puzzles here are short, so when you make a mistake, you can quickly try again. This part of the game is less about teaching you how to solve these individual puzzles, and more about laying the foundation for you to be able to work out for yourself how to solve EVERY puzzle. Whether the game succeeds in doing this is something we’ll be talking about. You’re also taught that some puzzles will unlock things. In this case, you’re led around by neon wires to the next panels, which eventually end to the locked gate. You open it, and now the whole island is available to you. There are 11 main puzzle hubs that you can approach in any order, although the game does try to guide you towards select areas first. There are two side areas along this path that I explored my first time through. For now, let’s stop at one of them; a puzzle that is far more complex than anything you’ve seen so far, with shapes and concepts you haven’t had to deal with yet. You can try to solve this but the panels that teach you the rules of this puzzle are nearby, so the idea here, I think, is that most players will give up and follow the path to where they learn the rules, and then turn around and go back now that they have the knowledge necessary to open this puzzle This is trying to teach the player that if something is beyond them, that they might want to consider going somewhere else, and then coming back. Maybe they haven’t learned a lesson yet. So far, so good right? Well, let’s continue. There are two areas nearby that have what I consider to be the easiest set of puzzles in the game, the orchard series and the seaside set of mirrored lines. I went into the latter section first and completed it before moving on. This was fairly enjoyable and required a leaping guess to see that you have to use the background behind the puzzle as a guide to solve some of them. Even though I worked this out quickly, I think this is poorly communicated to the player and is too big of a departure from what came before it to be reasonably worked out. The environmental aspects in the orchard do a much better job of this, so it might be forgivable if the game wanted you to go there first, but then the game didn’t HAVE to be an open island, so it’s also not that forgivable. The rest of this area is good. I liked the final series here that twists the mirror concept by having you repeat the puzzle layouts from memory. After this, a box opens and shoots a laser beam across the island to a mountaintop. If you’re human this will be a curious enough event that you will follow the laser to the mountaintop to see what that’s all about. You’ll pass a few areas on your way and eventually arrive there. So this is the goal of the game; to find more lasers to shoot at this mountain. I think it’s conveyed fairly well, however something far more important happens here. There’s a line puzzle that doesn’t do anything. It’s a curvy line that you can draw over and over; it does nothing. I drew it three times, and then stepped forward to see what it was all about. I saw the river below that looked like the puzzle, so I clicked on it. *This* happened, and I yelled, There are more puzzles like this in the game, and I’ve gone through the sequence of events carefully in order not to ruin any more than I had to, because I think there might be at least a few people who kept watching who thought the game only had panel puzzles. If this sort of thing has made you interested in the game now, this is your last chance to stop the video to avoid even more spoilers. Like so many other games lately, I’ve seen the witness compared to Dark Souls in regards to teaching you things. But even Dark Souls will put messages and NPC’s down to guide you with information. You can also stumble or brute-force your way through a lot of encounters in the early and mid-game and learn lessons later while still progressing, whereas if you hit a wall in the witness the game crosses its arms and goes, “Nope, nuh-uh!” And won’t let you progress through this area until you give it the exact answer that it wants. The more apt comparison, funnily enough, is the game’s difficulty. It fosters that same elitist attitude that I HATE about Dark Souls, even though I love the game specifically for that difficulty. It’s always so easy to point to the “You’re just bad!” excuse, or the stance that “I got through it, so anyone [else who] doesn’t sucks,” which is meant to somehow elevate the game above criticism? I… I don’t know how they think that. Not many Dark Souls or Witness fans do this, but it does happen. I’ve seen some very legitimate criticism of the games be dismissed because of it. If we go back to that orchard near the starting area, you can see that the game is trying to teach you to look at the environment for hints. The branches here sort of mimic the tree that’s in view and the only other information you have to work with is that one branch has an apple. So the correct goal is to match the apple on the drawing. I figured this out immediately, but I had already gone to the mountain and seen the river line. If we go to Super Bunny hops review, you can see him struggling with it. And he’s not a stupid guy, he’s simply being conditioned by the game to focus on the panels and solve it THERE, and not to look for anything in the environment yet. People have criticized him for this in the comments on his video; not a lot, but it’s there. Some people love the game for this sort of thing, when you’re taught to look at something in a certain way, to see it from a different perspective, the “click” moment, or the “a-ha” moment, and I am one of those people. That’s what I loved about this game. I often felt challenged and, when that challenge was fair, I was very satisfied that I solved something that had me stumped. Even with finding lines to draw on parts of the island around you, the vast majority of this game is still focused on panel puzzles. These can be boiled down to two very simple ways that each one of them challenges you: First, to identify and understand the rule, or the code, depending on what you want to call it. Secondly, to apply that rule or code and find the correct path through the maze that adheres to it. That’s it. That’s 90% of the game in The Witness. And when it does a good enough job in introducing new rules and teaching them to you, you’ll spend most of your time trying to work out the solution. And this is ALMOST always fine. You know the rules, you just need to work through applying them. It’s when the game fails to communicate with you, or introduces a new idea without any prior information, that it becomes monumentally frustrating. You’re left staring at something that may as well be created by aliens for how incomprehensible it is, or, at worst, when the game’s introduction doesn’t work as well as it should, or leaps forward with the concept and expects you to make a similar leap without preparation. I didn’t get stuck very often, I think this is more due to luck than any amount of intelligence or perception on my part. In the desert area I noticed very quickly that the sun will erase lines on the panels if viewed from a certain angle, changing your perspective. And I can vividly imagine the frustration someone who doesn’t notice this might go through, and how it could turn into a repulsion when they finally do figure it out. – they’ll probably cry But because I did notice it this ended up being one of my favorite areas in the game. Which is one of many reasons why I’m so conflicted when it comes to judging it. For a place that I did hit a wall, we have to go to the quarry after the desert. One of the entrances into this area is a set of two doors. The second one has two L shapes, and THAT’S IT. That’s all the information it’s telling you. This was the first time I had seen these types of blocks. And it looks really simple right? It looks SO simple. And it’s a door that serves as an entrance to an area so it must be one of the introductory puzzles, right? I’m not exaggerating when I say I was here for over an hour, and my thought process was this: So, I’m obviously meant to draw those shapes. I try, and fail. I wonder if the square that contains the symbol has to be inside the shape or if it’s just a guide. I noticed that the one in the bottom-right has a shape that’s impossible to draw while having that square inside of it, so I figured that I don’t have to have that block inside the shape. So I spent over an hour trying to find some way to squeeze both individual shapes on the grid, failing each time because the line I draw for the first one always gets in my way when it comes to the second one. I learned that when you need to draw shapes, you always need to use the edge of the puzzle grid in order to close it off, and I keep trying and trying and then I begin to berate myself because this is obviously a tutorial puzzle. It’s the entrance door to a whole area. This is trying to teach me something basic. And the answer is (deadpan) that you can draw both shapes as one combined shape like this. Am I an idiot for not working that out sooner? You’ll have to be the one to decide that. But when I solved this there wasn’t any sense of “a-ha,” It was “They could have made that a little more fucking clear!” Of course, these shapes are introduced better in another area, but I think I’ve already made my point in how misleading this door can be. To show it in another way, there’s another puzzle in the quarry that had me similarly stumped. It involves colored stars and after trying it a handful of times, I recognized that it was too advanced for me to be expected to solve it, and surmised that it must be taught in another area. Sure enough, it was, and this puzzle was easy after that. These kinds of puzzles that are placed at a sink are both good and bad; to go back to Dark Souls for a second, they’re the equivalent of the Black Knight in Undead Burg. Are you meant to fight them now? Probably not, but you still can and if you succeed, awesome! Same for here, so I like them for that, but I think there could have been better ways to make it clear that you haven’t finished the introduction to this type of puzzle just yet. Especially when they can masquerade as simple challenges. Worse than all of this, however, and perhaps the worst thing in the entire game, period, are the rare few puzzles that are so obscure that, to me, they don’t even make sense AFTER you solve them. One is in a side area connected to the quarry, you have to use shadows as either an area to avoid or as a guide to follow in order to draw the correct path. It’s introduced well and you can blaze through them quite quickly after that. Then I came to this one, and after over another hour of trying, I gave up. This is one of three times while playing the game that I have to resort to using a guide, and even after seeing the answer, I STILL don’t understand the rule here. The shadows are broken. You can’t stay in them the whole time. You can’t stay out of them the whole time, either. You can’t stay to just one branch. I still have NO idea where you meant to be looking at here, and it doesn’t build on any of the past lessons that this area taught you The other times I had to resort to a guide were the red door in the sunken ship, and the final section in the speaker jungle. Let’s go there first to highlight a problem that I may have luckily avoided in some areas. The most treacherous thing about the design of this game, specifically never giving any information, and instead letting easy puzzles do it for you, is that sometimes it assumes that players are going to think of things in the same way that the developer is, or in this case, perceive them in the same way. I think this is slightly easier to do with sight, since you can make sure shapes and colors are really distinct. In the jungle, the puzzles involve sound. (bird chirping intermittently) This whole area is like the shadow puzzle I just showed. Even knowing the solutions, I have absolutely no fucking idea of what I’m meant to be doing here. I understand that you have to differentiate the sounds and match them to shapes on the panels, but I genuinely do not understand what the game wants. Is it volume? Pitch? Tone? Does going up match a rise or lower in each? (bird chirping) Do the shapes that come later match a small sharp sound, or are those sharp sounds associated with a bigger symbol since they have the most impact? And this is all before I say that I can’t even tell some of these sounds apart. The bird chirps fast, and when I hear the sounds back-to-back, I can tell they’re the same. (bird chirping) But when you break the chain, then go back to a third sound that kind of seems like it’s the first sound again, but it turns out it isn’t, maybe? (exasperated) I have no idea. I brute-forced my way through all of the early puzzles here; by that, I mean I whipped out pen and paper and I wrote down all the different sequences that I could enter into the panels, and I did them all in order and crossed them off when they didn’t work until I finally eliminated all the wrong answers and got the right solution. When I got to the more complicated one at the end, I said “Fuck it,” and looked up the answer. I still don’t understand it. The only other time I resorted to a guide was the red door puzzle in the crashed ship. I read that this is considered by many to be the hardest puzzle in the game, and I wholeheartedly disagree. Difficulty implies that there’s something to logically work through, and I firmly believe that this puzzle is a joke put in by the developers. It’s once again about sound but the game doesn’t tell you that. (various ambient noises) In the jungle, the sound comes out of a speaker to make sure you know it’s artificial and deliberate and tied to the panels. I couldn’t find a speaker in the ship. It also has an invisible line that matches your actions, but again the game, doesn’t tell you that. Hopefully you remember the seaside symmetry area and the puzzles that use the vanishing lines there. So, without any information you meant to stand here staring at this panel and realize that the groaning ship and dripping water is the key to decoding it. You’re meant to work out what symbol refers to what sound, then you’re somehow meant to work out when the sequence of sound STARTS so you can hit the symbols in that order while also using the invisible line in that same sequence. How your meant to work out the BEGINNING of the sound sequence is beyond me, aside from trial and error. Again, maybe I’m stupid and missing something, but there wasn’t a single other puzzle in the game that had me Googling for a guide aside from these three. Even if I got stuck for a while I was still able to work through them, whereas if I ever solved THESE, it would be through guesswork. For the rest of the puzzles you have some that are fantastic and others that I wish there were less of. The game boasts on its store page about having so many hundreds of puzzles, and we’ll get to that store page in a little bit. For now, I’ll say that it’s not something to brag about when they’re so quick, and in the case of the treetop village, so highly-condensed that I ended up feeling annoyed rather than challenged. It’s what I meant earlier by “It doesn’t,” for the panels remaining interesting. I got through these quickly, and although it was sort of neat that the panel’s form bridges, I can’t help but wish that they’d be made bigger so that less of them were needed. The hedge maze zone is one of my favorite areas along with the desert. I also enjoy drawing the shapes in the marsh after the game taught me their rules, although this area does suffer a little from the same high concentration of panels as the treehouse area. The standout puzzle in this location was the full-on Tetris one, which had a surprisingly easy solution that I missed for about 10 minutes, before laughing to myself, happy that I finally solved it. Going back to the hedge maze the game is at its best when the panels are linked with the environment. The more the better, really. In this location, your character is linked to the lines you have to draw. You have to find the correct path through these mazes and learn the rules of both areas, paying careful attention to each one. I really enjoyed these. Same goes for drawing the line by walking on the panels. The game has one of the best and subtle moments of teaching you here with this puzzle, since it shows that you don’t have to draw the line in actual order from starting circle to end curve. As long as it remains one line by the end and doesn’t break another rule, you can light up the panels in broken pieces. And the game teaches you this by forcing you to step on a middle piece in order to enter this room for the first time, which is the only way you can start this puzzle. A really simple and really clear way of teaching you. It’s fantastic. The last puzzles here, with linking either side together, and you having a choice between what you find easier or challenging yourself to do both, were also great. It was clear what I needed to do and it was building on my successes through this area. The temple and the bunker with stained glass weren’t quite as satisfying, but were still enjoyable. They both once again use the environment to find a way for something to make a path over the panel or to show the real colors of symbols so you can work out how to draw the line through them. The temple nudges you to realizing this through having you look through the broken windows and shutters to open the first two doors to the other puzzles. And the bunker does something similar with having the glass block your line of sight on puzzles before you can get to them. What I like most about this concept, however, was how it was made more difficult later on. The final area of the 11 that I haven’t spoken about yet is the town in the middle of the island. This combines all the lessons you learned throughout the game, and is unfortunately placed in the most accessible location, leading to what I can imagine to be some frustrating moments for many players. Some of the puzzles here are hit and miss, and not always for that reason. I think it’s fair for players to eventually realize that this is meant to be the final area, but even then, a handful require you to have already solved the puzzle in THIS area before they become solvable, which is a really mean trick. Using the glass door from solving a puzzle here to see the true colors on another next to it, or having to look at this red panel puzzle from the roof that unlocks from another puzzle, but not before they put some suspicious-looking shadows nearby to trick you into thinking they’re the real hint when in reality, it’s a sun glare panel, like in the desert. This one is pretty mean. But then this area also had one of the best moments in the entire game for me when it uses colored lights in a closed-off room. You have to change the colors, and… …Well, I tried not to rely on pen and paper much while I played but I think this might be one of the few cases where it’s impossible NOT to use it. If someone out there did this by memory, then I am incredibly impressed that robots have gotten so good to pass as humans. For me, I found it very satisfying to write out of a grid and make a rule about all the symbols reacting to each color. The puzzles aren’t pushovers after this either, so it was a great challenge. I did some of these after finishing the game. You only need to complete seven areas to get to the end, seven of the eleven laser boxes that you open after doing enough puzzles in each location. This unlocks the way into the mountain and through the final sequence of puzzles I really, really enjoyed this area to the point, that you might be thinking right now, “Well, shit, Joe, you said you were conflicted, but so far, you sure are gushing a lot.” I know, and we’ll get to that, I promise. I want to be fair and show what the game does well, just as much as it does badly. The puzzles begin to disintegrate in this area, by that I mean the rules that surround them begin to crumble. This could be seen as artificial difficulty by some since panels will be covered to obscure your view, or will be moving to make it awkward. But these were straightforward enough that it was a cool twist. It was the puzzles farther in that I really enjoyed. The series with the broken colors that I had to use my hands to block some of them on my monitor to see which ones flashed in the same pattern was pretty good. The road that has you solving new puzzles but with the same line was even better. And it’s capped off with the dual light bridge, Which is what I consider to be one of the best balanced puzzles in terms of creativity and challenge. The final rooms were the shapes on the floor and the pillars aren’t as good, but they provide something new at the end that isn’t a grand enough departure to corrupt concepts you’ve already been taught. Then you leave the angelic looking area in a pearly elevator and fly over the island for what will be the end of the game for some people. That’s most of the gameplay in this game. For those who have played The Witness a lot, and are wondering, I DID continue playing and see the hidden ending, and completed the challenge cave with the time-to-music gauntlet. I got this ending with the elevator in about 25 hours with 380 puzzles solved and 38 of the environmental patterns found. I played for another 25 hours after that for almost 100% completion. My thoughts from here get a little less structured. I have to talk about the game’s creator, and the story as well as tying into those environmental puzzles. I know this video is long, so if you want to take a break and come back to it, now would be the time. I don’t think it’s right for me to speak in detail about this game without discussing its creator. The Witness was developed by Thekla Incorporated, but it’s Jonathan Blow that you’ll hear most often attributed to the game’s creation. There are two reasons that I feel obligated to bring them up. The first, less important reason is that Jonathan Blow is one of many people that got me thinking about making this YouTube channel. I’ve watched several of the talks he has given and been consistently impressed by what he has to say. The second, more important reason is that everyone else who speaks about the game can’t seem to avoid bringing him up either. And why that’s happening ties directly into how I feel about this game. The fact of the matter is that if you’re interested enough in video games to be watching a video on my channel, then you’ve probably heard of Jonathan Blow, and that alone is significant. How many other game developers have you really heard of more than once? I’d wager that most gaming enthusiasts would struggle to name the same amount of game directors as the equivalent person could about film. These names are rarely brought up in discussion Assuming that I’m wrong Jonathan blow is the guy who made Braid, a 2D puzzle platformer that came out way back in 2008. Many people claimed it was one of the most important games to be released that year, and it was the first game that really proved that indie titles could be truly worth your time. I don’t necessarily agree with all that I played braid the same month it came out, and I remember it fondly, but not as a big event in gaming. I think I’ve gotten more out of Jonathan Blow’s presentations than his games. And that’s why I’m really hesitant to say what I’m about to say. It’s why I said in the opening about how I just need to be honest. The reason I just explained everything there about Braid, its reception, and people talking about The Witness is that I can’t shake the feeling that Jonathan Blow is fucking with us. I have three big reasons for thinking this, and I’ll start with what I think is the strongest one. The Witness is a glorified tablet game that does little to justify its $40 price tag when it comes to gameplay. And I know you might be thinking, “How can you say that after you just got done praising so much of it?” And you’re right that it’s contradictory, but I still would have enjoyed the vast majority of this game just as much if the panels had been presented to me in a selection screen on a tablet interface that also cost $10. Drawing the lines would have arguably been easier with that interface, too. There simply aren’t enough times that the game uses its environment in ways that justify it being a big 3D adventure Even some of the areas that do, like the desert and temple sections, could have been simulated with clever ways on a tablet. The environment isn’t used enough. Nothing proves this more than when the game DOES start using it, toward the end, when The Witness finally starts feeling like an actual video game. Right before you’re done, and kicked out. The mountain section is fantastic, just like the mazes and the fort elsewhere on the Island. But what really stands out is the secret cave section that you unlock after you activate all 11 lasers. Even here, however, you see examples of the game not living up to its own world. There are lines of puzzle panels here that don’t use the environment in any way. They’re just there for you to move through, camera zoomed in, in what might as well be a tablet game anyway. After you get through here you arrive at a section where you’re timed, and have to learn to move through a series of randomized puzzles. There’s a maze that I think you have to learn by looking at an earlier puzzle board, but I’m not sure. Remembering where the line picked up the symbols seemed to help me get through it. The music playing is your time limit and urges you to rush. Movement between panels is important, as is frantically remembering all the lessons that the game has taught you. This was my favorite part of the game. I felt challenged in so many different ways. I felt like I had conquered something when I beat it. And then, the game was over. The Witness boasts that it has over 500 puzzles when I’d say that barely more than 100 truly utilized the world constructed around them in an interesting way, that some of the draw-straight-line panels count toward that advertised number is also Insulting. And what can I say about that environment? That it’s beautiful, that it ties into the rest of the game’s theme on perspective, outlooks, or [points of view], whatever you want to call them. The island is crammed with hidden images that you can only see from certain angles. Roots that become fish in the water’s reflection, a person hiding in a burned hut, statues reaching for each other. I think I might have started seeing things that weren’t even there toward the end. These trees began to look like the foreign people to me from certain angles. The place is carefully structured the only reveal things if you’re looking at it right. Seeing the same thing you’ve already looked at, but seeing something completely new, just like when you finally see the solution in a puzzle. This is what The Witness is all about, but all this beauty isn’t worth how much wasteful panel staring you’ll be doing in the game. But what about the environmental puzzles? The circles you find in the island that you can draw shapes from? The “Holy shit!” moment that I mentioned in the first part of this video. These are hidden in the same way as all these images, and the way that they’ve been placed, somehow obvious and camouflaged at the same time, is often nothing short of genius. Some people might argue that finding these patterns is the actual, REAL game in The Witness, and that the panels are just a distraction placed to keep you busy until you finally start looking at the world around you. I don’t think it’s as extreme as that. I think they’re both equally important I think message the game is trying to convey, and what passes as a story, has more to do with the environmental puzzles, but we’ll get to that. The problem with that “Holy shit!” moment is that I only enjoyed finding these circles and lines as I explored the island on my own terms. It felt great to notice them and figure out how to start each one, although some of them requiring you to run so far away on the island was borderline absurd. By the time I hit fifty hours I had solved about 515 puzzles and found 75 of these hidden circles and lines. My goal was now to hunt for them, to search specifically for them on the island, and that’s when the “Holy shit!” became just “shit.” This was tedious because of the size of the island and how many different ways you can look at something. You need to find a circle to start it and some of these are only ever visible when you’ve found the WHOLE thing. By that, I mean sometimes you can see parts of a circle and work out roughly where to explore. But there are puzzles that the only way to find them are to stumble upon them by luck, or just going literally everywhere on the Island and looking at everything. I did not finish this part of the game by myself. My gut reaction is that this isn’t meant to be something you really do alone, and is a communal project that the game has for fans to pull solutions together to complete the six obelisks around the island. Maybe I’m wrong on that, but some of these are so obscure that I don’t know how one person is reasonably meant to find them all. So, you have a game that went to the trouble of a gorgeous 3D world without using it in a truly engaging way. You have a main mechanic that would be better suited for a phone or a tablet game, and only teases at the possible potential it could hold at the end just before it’s over. it’s possible that there’s more to find in the game that continues this trend, some super-secret area of more puzzle gauntlets. But after being available for two months, either this secret is too well hidden, or people far smarter than I am decided they didn’t care enough to find it. Either way’s a failing on the game, if such a secret exists at all. The second reason I think that Jonathan Blow might be fucking with us isn’t as strong, but in my opinion It’s worse than what I just said. It requires us to take a trip to the game’s Steam page [Quotes, beginning at “The Witness is a single-player game….”] This paragraph was the spark that convinced me that something fucked up is going on with this game. There’s enough said here that’s demonstrably untrue, so blatantly wrong that the person who wrote it is either delusional or a liar. The game is FULL of filler puzzles. But the worst thing here is this part. While the game definitely does treat you as an intelligent, inquisitive person, by NO metric does this game treat your time as precious. There are several key points that the OPPOSITE is true. I read this on the Steam page before I started playing, and it kept flashing in my head as I stood around waiting for platforms to move, or boats to arrive, or puzzle solutions to trigger their INFURIATINGLY slow animations on nearby objects. Your character’s movement speed is about half of what it should be, even when you’re holding down a button to run around. It’s made even worse by all of the invisible walls all over the place; I understand why you can’t jump since it would let you get to places that you otherwise shouldn’t and break some of the environmental puzzles But that you can’t slide down most ledges or bumps or buildings is really tiring. My guess is that there was no teleport function or really fast movement speed because they wanted players to have more chances to see some of the perspective tricks the island pulls as they backtrack all over it. This isn’t a good enough reason to not make things a little easier to get around, though. Many of the better shortcuts around the Island don’t open until the very end. Nothing proves this more than some of the environmental patterns you have to find, and among them is one of the most tedious wastes of time that I have ever had to do in ANY GAME. Around the Island are some of the more difficult puzzles that block your way to a pattern drawn on a piece of paper. I think you’re meant to draw this yourself out-of-game for later (that’s what I did). There are six of these; the final one is your reward for finishing the time challenge in the bottom of the mountain. These are codes that you enter in a theater room underground, roughly in the middle of the island. A video starts playing for each code you enter; six codes, six videos. Now, I’m going to discuss these in detail in the last section, but I want to point something specific out about some of them. There are circles hidden in these videos. Some of them are what I consider to be the most brilliant environmental patterns in the game. The ones in the James Burke video, where you use parts of circles on the screen with parts outside of it, were fantastic moments of discovery. I first noticed the circle at the end of the candle video, which you need to run out of the theater to complete by drawing the line where the screen is broken in the back. After you’ve entered the code, you can skip through to any point in the video to make these easier to complete. Some of these videos are longer than others; the James Burke one is about five minutes, the candle one feels just over twice as long as that, another is a ten minute video that are two clips of Richard Fineman, There’s also one by Rupert Spira that goes on for over half-a-fucking-hour. Now, I’ve watched videos like these before on my own time, especially interviews with Richard Feynman. But even enjoying them as I do they have no place taking up so much time in this game, especially since Rupert Spira is obviously insane, given what he says over the course of 35-odd minutes. The video that is your “reward” for completing the time puzzle is just shy of an hour long. It’s called the secret of Psalm 46 by Brian Moriarty. Was it interesting? Yes. Would I have preferred to watch it when I actually wanted to watch a video instead of play a game? An even bigger “yes!” I can’t really justify turning it off and walking away, either, since it was clearly important enough to the developers to include it in the game. But that’s not the real time-waste here. There’s a pattern puzzle hidden in this video. You need to run around the back and use the moon on the screen as your starting position to get it going Then you draw a line from white to where it mingles with black on the ceiling, and then complete it with the moon once again when it reaches the far side [of] the screen, FIFTY-SIX or so minutes later. You CANNOT fast forward this. You can’t skip ahead like the other puzzles. You need to start the pattern at the beginning of the video, and you need to stand there with the line active, waiting for the end. My screen saver tripped on THREE TIMES while I was doing this. You have my sympathies if you watched the video once all the way through before realizing this was in the game, and then had to watch it again. I cannot resolve the conflict of many things in this game with things said on the store page or by Jonathan Blow outside of it. I can’t resolve it with the prior work that was done in Braid, either. This part is so outrageous that I can’t even think of this without seeing proof that he’s fucking with us or can’t keep his own facts straight when he considers not wasting a player’s time is a core component of game design. So finally, why would he do that? Why would he fuck with us? The clearest reason I can think of is that he’s like a hugely popular band that’s sick to death of playing the song that made them, their breakout hit that fans scream for, that they play by the numbers each night, dying a little as they do. Braid was such a hit, and is hailed as so important by so many critics and reviewers, that he could justify a permanent name-change to Jonathan Blown. I could see the appeal of making a game and then adding so many things to it, just to see what I could get away with. “What are people going to call me on? Are people even paying attention, or are they just going to like whatever I do now because it’s me who does it?” Some authors have done similar things in the past with pseudonyms. It’s the only thing I can think of that can make all these awkward pieces fit together Parts of this game are genius, and I love just enough of it that I don’t consider myself cheated, but it’s close. And I can’t speak for everyone, but something is rotten in this game, And I hope that I’ve put my finger on what it is with this video, because I have no desire to ever play The Witness again. I have one more section to go through, a final look at perspective, and story Like last time, if you want to take a break from watching this, now is the time. There’s no circle burning above your head that you have to babysit for this video Some people have criticized the game for its lack of a story. I don’t think that’s fair, But the issue is surprisingly complicated. First off are they even right? Does The Witness have a story? The answer is clearly “no, it doesn’t,” but it does have an answer to what’s happening on the island, so in a sense, there’s something close to a narrative to discover. What’s going on? Through playing the game to its real ending, you get the answer to that question Some people have further criticized the game for having no reward structure. Usually this is tied to the same problem people have with the story. Many said they felt like they were solving puzzles for no real reason, whereas in another game, they’d usually be given some tidbits of story or character building or whatever you’d prefer. I also don’t think this is fair. Some games use rewards to keep you playing, but not every game has to. If you need something like that to keep you playing that I think that’s a sign of the core gameplay failing to engage you. Your reward in these types of games is simply more gameplay with more challenge and fresh twists. I think The Witness mostly delivers on this front, although I heavily criticized it in the last section for not using its world, I also said that I would have still enjoyed the puzzles on a tablet. They were still good, just not worth a 10 out of 10 perfect score, or anything. The two sides to the narrative in The Witness are the different perspectives that you experience while playing it, and that the game is about a game. It’s a meta-story that has a fictional dev team that has made the island and the puzzles and the like and that you are one of those developers who is playtesting it. Whether or not you are doing so safely or with the rest of the team knowing is questionable, but I don’t really care enough to find out. That’s the answer to the island. That’s why there are puzzles. You have no memory because you have a rebirth of sorts when you enter the program. There are some hints that the whole thing is meant to be able to teach you something. We’ll get to that in a few minutes. Let’s pause for a second and talk about stories. I want to pull them all together and make four different categories and make a very simplified chart that EVERY story EVER written can be put into. So, on one side, we have the story that’s being told. Is it a simple story, or is it a complex story? That’s all we want to know. We don’t care what it’s about, or the characters, or anything else, other than “is it a simple narrative or a complicated one?” Next up we have the same two qualities, but on a different part; is this story TOLD in a simple way or a complex way? Does it have a straightforward, reliable narrator who doesn’t mess around much with overly-flowery language or go off on tangents and the like? Is it clearly told, or is it filled with lots of different information and complex paragraphs that are difficult to read with lots of word play, stuff like that. We’re not interested in whether or not this is well done, we don’t care for now, We just want to determine how the story is told. So with these categories, we can form four distinct types of stories: A simple story that is told in a simple way, a complex story that is told in a simple way, a complex story that is told in a complex way, and a simple story that is told in a complex way. Three of these categories, in my mind, can work in wonderful ways. The best of them all is probably a complex story told in a simple way. almost anyone can read it and they can discover new things each time. That complexity is something that they can discover for themselves over multiple readings, or viewings if it’s a movie. A double helping of simple can be a relaxing experience, or one aimed at children, which isn’t an insult by any means, people love simple entertaining stories. Complex stories told in a complex way are difficult to get right, since the complexity in both parts needs to be worth it. These can be train wrecks or masterpieces. They can often be studied. There’s a lot to enjoy here when it’s done well. Finally we can draw one of The Witness’s puzzle shapes to quarantine off a simple story told in a complex way. I’m not so arrogant to say that this can never work; I’m sure that it can in many ways. But this is the category that The Witness, and many other pretentious stories like it, falls into, and it’s something that bothers me so much. The problem with many incredible books can come from how they’re often difficult to read and fully understand, from “Finnegan’s Wake” to something like “Catch-22,” which some people can understandably struggle with (that’s also my favorite book by the way). This idea of complexity equals worth can be infectious. The idea takes root that in order for something to be worth your time, that it has to be difficult to understand in some way. These people are missing the point. The complexity needs to be worth it for something in the book, not for the sake of complexity itself. So you have so many stories that are intentionally obtuse. They don’t like giving you information. They might even say that the mystery and wonder of knowing will always be more enjoyable than really finding out, which I think is bullshit, since there’s already enough to wonder out in the world. Although, again, I am certain that some exceptional stories could pull it off. But the worst part of all of this is how it can lead to experiences that are impenetrable in two ways: comprehension and criticism. They’re light on details that might even contradict themselves in order to appear deep, the result being something close to trying to hold on to a fish with epilepsy, you can’t even begin to grasp it, which is when you’re left with forming your own opinion, your own interpretation. Because what could be more powerful than that? You get all this information and get to decide what it all means to yourself, to YOU. And you create this whole narrative that you like, because of course you’re going to like it; YOU made it; so any nagging plotholes can be dismissed, all the while, you’re building a positive association with the piece of art that’s making you do this It’s like forming a twisted relationship, in a way. You’re feeling so smart, part of creating it. And if you like that sort of thing, then all right, I really don’t. If I want to use my imagination to create a story, then I’ll go do that on my own. When I experience a story I want an actual story with answers and meaning and all the ramifications of those things. The Witness does exactly this, it’s a simple story about a man doing a beta test of a video game. And it’s told with no information that even so much [as] hints to that until you’ve already gotten the first ending. The island resets, you’re flown through it, puzzles turn off, you go back to the start, the door closes and the game shuts down as abruptly as it turned on. You’re back on your desktop, it’s a cycle that has closed itself. Then you start again, but now you’re armed with knowledge of your first playthrough. You see something in the starting area that you missed your first time, an environmental pattern. You go through it and walk by some twisted scenery. You get to the end of your video game dream and wake up. A video plays of a guy in the office that made the game. He walks around, and that’s the end. This is pretty blatant, unless the game is lying to you here, which, after the store page stuff, it might be. What does it all mean? Well, you have to think about it and come to your own conclusions, and if anyone wants to criticize it, or gets it wrong, then you have that wonderful phrase, “You just didn’t get it,” which makes zero sense, since there’s nothing concrete here to actually GET, aside from the meta Dev-team stuff. The game is about perspectives, It’s taken one of the defining features of
post-modernism literally. It’s ABOUT perspectives, and I don’t mean multiple characters or viewpoints on some worthwhile story, I mean this game has a bunch of audio log strewn around its world that are ACTUAL ACTUAL, LITERAL ACTUAL, LITERAL perspectives, quotes from famous people that view the world in a different way which I see [as] more accurate, because I didn’t google every single one of them. You have the outlook of someone who has studied science, then from a religious man, Then someone in between, stories that make you look at things in a different way They make you think about situations like the one about the merchant who convinced himself his boat was seaworthy, and should still be considered guilty, even though his intentions weren’t malicious when it sunk, due to his negligence. They’re interesting, I enjoyed listening to them, but they aren’t new things written for the game. They’re placed to suit this theme of perspectives, that is built on as you play, that is matched by how you come to view the island and all those hidden images and the puzzles there. The concept is capped off in two ways the first of which is the video room. These six videos contradict each other. James Burke states that art isn’t as worthwhile a science. That art is easier to understand because it’s got people in it. But that it tells you more about the person who made it more than any actual truth Then you have Richard Feynman, who speaks about how the world can either be viewed as broken down pieces of things or the whole structures that they form. It’s a fascinating, different way of looking at things that we have been for our whole lives. This is a clip from a film called Nostalgia, which I’m going to take out of context because I haven’t seen it. The man is trying to carry a candle across an area without it blowing out. This seemingly pointless arbitrary task matches much of what the player is doing in the game. Each time the candle goes out he seems tempted to either light it again on the spot and cheat, or to give up. But continues anyway this probably means something else in the movie But that’s the connection I can make in the context of the game. You have two videos which are the worst of the bunch the one from Rupert Spira, a man so insane that he doesn’t know how to tell TIME anymore. He’s clearly pushing some sort of cult-like ideology and the whole video was awful and slow. I’m assuming this was included to show a warped perception of the world that someone can convince themselves is valid. Likewise, the video with the woman that Google tells me is called Gangaji (I apologize for pronouncing that wrong). She speaks about finding inner peace by giving up whatever it is you’re searching for in life, and accepting your own situation This is a disgustingly privileged outlook that doesn’t last more than ten seconds of thought. Why is she even giving a talk, if she believes it herself? Both of these people present their facts as so deeply simple, fundamental, with calm voices, attempting to lull you into submission. Clearly I have some perspective bias of my own here, right? Last up is the long video by Brian Moriarty, which was the most interesting of them. This speech offers even more contradictions to The Witness by saying that overthinking can sometimes be dangerous, and that patterns often don’t exist at all, and are just some people seeing things that aren’t there, which is an odd thing to say in a game that apparently needs you to analyze it to understand it, but also doesn’t want you to? The video speaks a lot about the number 46 and its significance in a number of ways, which is deviously linked to the game, since it’s the fourth video out of six in the list that you enter in the video room. The point I’m building to here is that the game is saying a whole load of nothing with all these videos and audio logs. They’re perspectives for the sake of perspectives. They can get you thinking, but the assumption the game has that it needs to educate you is something so terrible, but I don’t think I need to speak on it further. The one saving grace here Is that it’s linked to the perception shift you have while playing the game when you find your first environmental pattern, and you’re suddenly seeing the Island in a whole new way. “Are there more of these? Where can I find them?” You keep seeing circles and lines as you play, which you’re also nudged into looking for by completing so many of the panel puzzles. As I wrote this script I began to buy more into the idea that these environmental puzzles might be the REAL game in The Witness. the true ending to the game reinforces this idea After you go through the secret door and listen to the audio credits, you go through the weird hotel/airport lounge and depart back to reality. Your character wakes up and starts touching circles around the office. He’s seeing patterns, because I started seeing patterns after playing this game, too. Circles and lines in my apartment, outside in the street, in shadows cast on the wall from light coming through the blinds from outside lines of light on the ceiling while I was trying to sleep; it lasted for a few days, actually, and from reading online, I wasn’t the only one. I consider this to be the whole point of the game, this infection of perception. “Look the game has affected some change in you! Video Games can do that!” Except it’s more like an exaggerated version of the Tetris effect, when you start seeing the shapes and patterns of the game after playing it for so much, because of an intense session of a repetitive task. Like I said earlier, maybe there’s more to this game hidden away, some secret to do with the obelisks, of which there are six, and completing the game in a cycle in a certain sequence. Maybe there’s some real answer to why it’s called The Witness, which I could only guess [as it] being connected to some of the audio logs. The one on the Mountain did it for me, since it brought human achievement together and made those who accomplished it no better than the rest, simply the person who was part of the greater whole that got to be our representative, the one who got to “witness” it Aside from gameplay, this is all the game had to offer me, and it was done with so much unnecessary obfuscation, that the payoff wasn’t worth it. Maybe there’s more to it that I missed. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Or, hey, Or, hey, maybe I just didn’t get it. Thank you for watching! If this was the first video of mine that you seen, congrats on taking the chance on such a long video. I have some other, shorter ones on other games that you might have played. If you’d like to see some future videos, consider subscribing to the channel. I also have a Patreon page if you want to support me. I try to release three videos every month, although I’m cutting it close with this one. That’s all for now! My next video will be on Bloodborne.