The people trying to save programming from itself

“Most things in the world are broken,” noted RAD Game Tools owner Jeff Roberts in a 2013 vodcast with programmer Casey Muratori. Roberts was talking about the busted, often unusable state of technology in our every day lives. You’ve probably seen examples of this when you’ve simply tried to install a game: “driver not found”; “reboot now or install later?”; “an error occurred.” These are the result of poor decisions made decades ago, Roberts explains: “We’re in the mess that we are in now because of software engineering preferences from 30 years ago, made by people that just didn’t write enough code to have those preferences…

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 only opinion of The Witness I care about is Soulja Boy’s

I love Soulja Boy almost as much as Soulja Boy loves videogames. He was supposed to disappear after 2007’s “Crank That”—a misogynist dance anthem that was embraced, largely, sarcastically—but instead he hit the gas, beefing like crazy, flirting with major-label pop, and then dissolving in a haze of weird, fractured mixtapes. Early on, he co-opted the image of Sonic the Hedgehog, and in some ways that remains the defining image of the emcee, spinning wheels and flying off to god-knows-where. He could release something like the lacerating, subversive “Turn My Swag On,” on which he defied all reason by electing…


Jonathan Blow’s Laboratory

A series of opaque circles flicker around a crudely rendered pool table like digital fireflies. As you choose your shot, a program simulates the aftermath, allowing brief insights into the future before you’ve even decided what to do. The game is Oracle Billiards, named after, and partly inspired by, a character from the Matrix. It’s a straightforward experiment based on a simple concept: how does seeing into a game’s future change how you play it? Exploring the contours of that question proved difficult, however, and so the prototype was scrapped. Its creator, Jonathan Blow, had decided that the “billiard-balls-physics phenomenon…


After six years of teasing, The Witness will finally come out on January 26th

Even the release date for The Witness is puzzling at first. It pops up at the end of the announcement trailer like this: “0126 • 2016.” It took a good 10 seconds for my brain to realize it said January 26th 2016.  We have another four months to wait for it. We’ve already waited six years since Jonathan Blow announced it way back in August 2009. That was a year after Braid blew up and sent his name soaring. We’re halfway through the next decade now. What does he and his small team have awaiting us? there’s much more to The…


The Witness gets the Limbo treatment

Just as photographs generally look good with a black and white filter, no matter the subject matter, it’s become increasingly apparent to me that stripping a game of its textures almost always produces a cool effect. One of the artists working on The Witness seems to agree—she was able to produce these moody screenshots by tinkering around with the game’s depth editor, turning the usually bright and colorful island into a stark and foggy shadowland. The obvious comparison here is to Limbo, Playdead’s gloomy grayscale platformer that borrowed its look heavily from the sharp monochrome of German expressionist film. It’s…