Jonathan Blow’s release of Braid in 2008 can confidently be, at least partially, attributed to the rise in popularity of “indie” gaming. Indie gaming as a concept has evolved heavily almost yearly since then, so the term can be hard to pin down. As a technical definition, indie games typically use alternative funding methods, reduced distribution models, and often (though not always) have non-traditional aspects in gameplay, control scheme, and visual style. Even writing that definition was difficult, given the changing landscape of indie gaming.
And so Blow is at the helm again; The Witness represents yet another significant shift in the indie gaming community. Though, there is nothing strictly “indie” about it if we’re using 2008’s definition of the word. The game has been, it seems, in production in some way or another since the release of Braid. And maybe fittingly, in some ways, The Witness couldn’t be further on the gaming spectrum from its predecessor.
The game starts immediately on opening, with no menu; there are no save points, and I’m sure if he could have somehow gotten away with it, there wouldn’t even be a “pause” menu to adjust the sound and camera controls. The Witness requires almost no dexterous ability or previous skill with gaming. Its minimal UI design (is minimal the right word for something that is almost non-existant?) may initially hinder players unfamiliar with a controller, but a small amount of trial and error, paired with an intuitive and unobtrusive tutorial, make quick work of that. From there, you’re set loose in the world. “Open world” has never felt so terrifying and beautiful; certainly, one has never been so quiet.
After a few hours of play, I can’t claim to know its progress or intentions completely. But, it certainly is one of the purest examples of game design I’ve ever experienced; literally, it is “game design.” I can’t wait to experience everything The Witness has to offer.
(More thoughts to come throughout playing, or at the very least after finishing the game!)
[ Today I Was Playing: The Witness ]
January 25, 2016