This browser is supported only in Windows 10 and above.


Jonathan Blow and “The Witness”, Part 1

08062011_The _Witness_screen_1

Posted by on

Jonathan Blow’s last game was “Braid,” the 2008 masterpiece about time and memory as told through the template of a side-scrolling platformer. Players could manipulate the flow of time, pausing it or slowing it down, to solve various puzzles in the waterercolor dreamworld where “Braid” takes place. Tim, the game’s suit-and-tie wearing hero, journeys through a few different levels hunting for a princess in need of rescue. But, in “Braid,” the bond between hero and damsel is more postmodernly nuanced and fraught: Some action of Tim’s drove her away and into peril.

“Braid” generated warm, fuzzy feelings in those who played it. The indie hit held a lot to appeal to gamers’ heartstrings. Its jump-and-run gameplay–even with the chrono-manipulation–resembled to the classic “Super Mario Bros.” The digitization of an impressionist art style and chamber music accompaniment helped it stand out from other games of the time and, surely, the forlorn and fractured memories of Tim’s past relationship helped in making players wistful, too.

But, “The Witness” goes in the opposite direction. Getting the chance to play it this week, I found Blow’s new game to be cold, clinical and analytical. Foreboding, even.

You play in a first-person perspective, nameless and faceless, and must explore a vast, open-world island to find out exactly who you are and what’s going on. The proceedings remind a little bit of “Lost” but moreso–to me anyway–of the 1960s classic cult show “The Prisoner.” Actor Patrick McGoohan starred in the spy series which subverted many of the tropes of the espionage genre. Instead being a globetrotting rake, lead character No. 6 was trapped in the mysterious Village and fought for his individualism against the bizarre collective that ruled it. The occasional psychedelics and pointed thematic development of “The Prisoner” lent it the air that something more was going on that what was on screen.

“The Witness” shares that quality. I didn’t get that much story with my time with “The Witness” as Blow’s holding any such details very close to his vest right now. What I did get to experience were puzzles, which seemingly make up the sole play mechanic in the game. The tropical environment is studded with glowing blue screens that display diagrams where you need to create line drawings that get from one point to another. That’s harder than it sounds, of course.

Take the one sequence that gave me the most trouble during my time with the game. In an outdoor area, a set of puzzle screens stand in front of a group of apple trees. Each screen has the same pattern: a single line fans out into multiple forks. It all startat the same place but you have no idea where your endpoint is supposed to be. “The Witness” eschews help text, audio hints or any of the hand-holding chaperone trappings that today’s games spoonfeed the player. What you need to solve the game is in the world itself. This austerity is a hallmark of Blow’s games. So, I walk around, eventually noticing a single apple on a branch of the nearby trees. The branching growth of the trees roughly matches the repeating diagram on the puzzle screens. Trying out a few tracings eventually leads me to the winning one and makes the symbiosis between puzzle and environment–the axis around which the game revolves–click in my head

“The Witness” is about seeing. It’s a smirk-faced challenge to your mental prowess. Oh, it’ll train you to read its environments and solve its conundrums but you’ll need to maintain a level of cognitive focus and flexibility that modern video games don’t dare ask for. My short time with it let me glimpse a game that looks to challenge many assumptions of what a modern video game needs to be. Jonathan Blow’s just the man for the job and, in the next part of IFC’s “The Witness” coverage, I’ll be running an interview with where he talks about the ideas he’s trying to execute in his new game.

Do you think “The Witness” sounds interesting? Why? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

Watch More

The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

Posted by on

The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

Watch More

Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

Posted by on

Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

Watch More

Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

Posted by on
GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

Watch More