witness lights

The unrelenting science of The Witness

When I played a demo version of The Witness at a Sony event in 2013, I was offered two approaches: 1) I could be lead through a basic tutorial of the way the game’s puzzle systems work, or 2) I could be left to wander around the island landscape and discover it at my whim. I chose the latter option, only encountered a handful of the game’s signature line-tracing puzzle panels, and spent the rest of my time gawking at the natural and architectural framework of the island. I strolled down to a seashore under a desert cliff where a…

The Witness

The Witness is videogames’ long take

There are all sorts of studies floating around about the human attention span, and usually about how it’s getting shorter. I’ve heard my fair share of anecdotes over the years from teachers, supervisors, and fellow artists about how long an average audience member is willing to engage with a piece of media. Five seconds for a painting. Six seconds for a single shot in a film. 30 seconds for a free iPhone game. The list goes on, but suffice to say, these soft rules are geared toward grabbing audience attention quickly in hope that they’ll stick around for much longer.…


The problem with empathy games

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel. A niche genre of videogames hopes to inspire players to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, leading to an important discussion about how players experience empathy. Biofeedback videogames feed off players’ physiological responses, impacting gameplay in new and interesting ways. But what happens when developers create games designed to evoke a specific emotional or psychological response? Empathy games attempt to answer that question. These videogames aspire to enhance a player’s understanding of an outside perspective, particularly those pertaining to real-world struggles and inequalities, through interactive experiences. “You have to…


Groundhoth Day

Stage One They call Hoth “the ice planet,” because that’s exactly what it is. I found that out immediately upon arriving at the Rebels’ Echo Base mere days ago. The word “Hoth” even sounds frigid, like the exhale of visible breath in winter. We’re out in the middle of nowhere on Hoth, a tiny speck on an uninhabited world of permanent freeze. The remote location of Echo Base helps us to escape prying Imperial eyes, but as an extra precaution, the fort itself is dug out of snow and mountain rock, hidden from plain sight by all but the most…


Can Telltale game design and the Game of Thrones universe coexist?

On paper, Game of Thrones’ complex medieval intrigue and Telltale Games’ unique brand of choose-your-own-adventure storytelling is a perfect match. And in the final episode of season 1 of Telltale’s series, the stakes are the highest of the whole season, not only for the characters beset with the inevitably bloody dealings within, but also for a game design thesis that has continued to promise and remind players that their choices will matter, steering the plot and shaping the characters. But now with season 1 at its close, it’s worth asking whether a plot that the player controls is really in the…