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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.

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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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

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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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.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

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

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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