Jonathan Blow and “The Witness”, Part 2

Jonathan Blow and “The Witness”, Part 2  (photo)

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In part 1 on IFC’s focus on “The Witness,” I talked about the experience of playing Jonathan Blow’s next game and how it differed from his 2008 hit “Braid.” The build of the game I experienced was still a work-in-progress but Blow stated that it provided an accurate representation of what he was aiming for in developing “The Witness.” It should go without saying that Blow’s not creating such an ambitious undertaking all by himself. “The Witness” is being built by a small team of developers, all at the service of Blow’s ideas.

After playing the game for a few hours, I talked with Blow about what he’s trying to achieve with “The Witness,” the problems with big-budget AAA games and his thoughts on the indie gaming landscape.

One thing that became obvious as I played is that the idea of perspective is super- important here. An audio recording says that the lead character is here supposedly of his own free will, even though we don’t know whether to trust the guy who’s talking. That puts the player in a complete, moral anti-gravity zone. You don’t know which way is up. It seems like the player is going to be able to get their narrative bearings is through the gameplay itself. Is that a fair assessment?

Yeah. The idea is to provide a lot of freedom, and at the same time, not provide a lot of help. What you do in this game, you kind of decided to do. Now, there’s sort of a non-verbal guide, in the form of activities that are encouraged. It’s how you figure out how to solve all these puzzles. It’s pretty straightforward.

Yeah, the exploration and the mechanics of the puzzles are.

But you don’t really know the why of it, at least at this point in the game. That’s something that sort of comes together by the end.

The very, very end?

Yeah. It’s probably at least 10 hours of gameplay. And the way that the story works is each of these areas has a certain puzzle theme that will have a certain narrative. And yet, I don’t really know as the designer where the player is going to go and in what order. I don’t want to cheat on that kind of thing.

To force them, to experience it a certain way.

Right. So it’s a very nonlinear story. But the idea being that you hear all of it, and then you get to the end, and you kind of put all of that together; things start to make sense.

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Like, in more of an ambient way?

I’m not all about like answering every question someone might have. But there’s definitely a backstory going on with this, that you may get a pretty good idea of by playing to the end. But I like the feeling of mystery and not knowing at the beginning.

And that is definitely inherited from games like “Myst,” from shows like “The Prisoner,” although that [series] tends to be a little more-character oriented. But there’s all these machinations that are happening in each of those things.

I feel like when modern games try to do that, it really doesn’t work very well because they’re so much about guidance now. Modern game design is pretty much, you’re going down a linear path and everything is taken care of for you, you know you’re in good hands the whole time and the designer has prepped this path for you.

It seems like you might have an unreliable narrator, too? When the person on the recording commented about the situation the player finds himself in, he said, “You have no reason to trust me.” But then he says, “I have faith in you.” And that kind of hit me weird. Like, well, the guy said something nice, but I don’t know if I should necessarily trust him. It feels encouraging and but it leaves you in this motivationally weird space.

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I remember at IndieCade last year you were calling this an adventure game. So, why these kinds of puzzles? Why first-person?

Yeah. I think of it as kind of what you get when you take on the spirit of adventure games. In this case, it’s very specifically a graphic adventure like “Myst,” which is like, “Hey, you’re on this island and there’s stuff to solve, and it’s up to you, and there were people there maybe, but they’re not around now.” But, then we’re taking away the “Myst” gameplay and substituting it with something that is more modern. And this certainly is not the only way to do it. There’s like an infinite number of ways to do it.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. 

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number! 

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time. 

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by. 


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo. 

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim. 

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t? 

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?” 

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud. 

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.