Jonathan Blow wants The Witness to deliver adventure gameplay that doesn’t suck

The Witness

Above: Another scene from The Witness.

Image Credit: Jonathan Blow

GamesBeat: You had a big success before this with Braid. Did you have any advantages this time around to really do what you wanted to do?

Blow: We had a much higher budget. But the game is also a lot bigger. Braid was a four- or five-hour single-player game. This is maybe 25 or 30 hours. That’s six or seven times as big, and in 3D, which is always hard. But it’s been great because when we started building this 3D game, I said we’re a small indie team. There’s no way it’s going to look good. It’s going to look kind of amateur, and that’s fine. We’ll just make the gameplay good. But to my surprise, we have managed to make a really beautiful game. Our trailer was in the PS4 launch announcement last year, which is unheard-of exposure for an indie developer. I’m really happy with that. The development cycle’s been long, though. It’s been a lot of work.

GamesBeat: One of the Gone Home guys was talking about this new class of “super indies” now, teams that are able to make these kinds of games.

Blow: We’re able to do it with this game, but then this game has to be successful.

GamesBeat: Or you’re back to regular indie?

Blow: That’s always a possibility. We’ll see.

GamesBeat: Have you been pleased with your decision to go with Sony?

Blow: Yeah, I’m very happy. The console’s nice. Of all the consoles we could have chosen to be our main target, it’s the nicest one to develop for. It also seems to have the largest active user base right now. That’s growing. So hey, I couldn’t have necessarily predicted that, but it’s great.

GamesBeat: What are you taking advantage of in the PS4 that you might not have otherwise been able to?

Blow: In our game, it’s mostly that it’s a fast computer with fast graphics and a lot of memory. The memory makes it easier to develop for. There’s a lot of stuff about the platform that I think is neat but that we’re not the right game for. The sharing stuff and live streaming is super cool, but this is a single-player puzzle game. That spoils all the puzzles. So we’re not going to emphasize that feature. I’m happy we picked the platform, though. We’re doing great on it.

The Witness

Above: The Witness is coming to the PlayStation 4 first.

Image Credit: Jonathan Blow

GamesBeat: Are you close to finishing the game?

Blow: This year is the plan. That’s a little scary because we may end up launching during the big Christmas game launches. We’ll see.

GamesBeat: The whole indie ecosystem seems to be in pretty good shape now.

Blow: 2008 was a good year. Braid came out that year and a few other indies. Around 2009, I was thinking this can’t last that long. What happens in markets is people show up, the gold rush happens, and it fills up. That’s happened to some extent. Some indies are complaining now, “I can’t get on Steam. Nobody pays attention to my game.” And that’s true, compared to 2008. But it’s still really wide open. If you work hard on your game and it has something eye-catching about it, some good story behind it, you have a very good chance of getting it in front of people now.

When I started in games, in 1996, it was impossible. You had to get something through retail. So, I’m very happy. Steam is a more open place, in a sense, than even something like Sony, where you have to sign a deal with a relatively closed group. There are still plenty of games getting through there.

GamesBeat: Are you into a period of polishing the game now?

Blow: That’s the hardest part. All the ideas have already happened. All the creative part, or most of the creative part, has happened. Now, it’s just nailing it down. I’m enjoying how most of the big risks are behind us. We’re not going to run out of money before we finish. We’re not going to have an ugly game. We’re not going to have some gameplay element that seemed promising but ends up sucking. All those risks are down. We just need to finish it. That’s nice. But I also run the business, design the game, and program. It’s a lot to do.

GamesBeat: It seems like the idea has sustained you a long time. You haven’t gotten bored.

Blow: No, it had to be a good idea to last me five years.

The Witness

Above: The Witness might come in time for the holidays.

Image Credit: Jonathan Blow
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