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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.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.