On the spectrum of influences, The Witness, developer Jonathan Blow's upcoming game, lies somewhere between Myst, Snake and the TV show Lost. He admits that's both "weird" and "unconventional," but he's clearly happy that Sony is bringing it to the PlayStation 4.
At a closed-door event at E3 2013, Blow started the game from its beginning and gave live commentary about his intentions, hopes and goals for the game that will make its console debut on PlayStation 4, the platform on which he played through the game.
Some of The Witness' influence may be esoteric — like Myst, for example, it drops you onto an island without any explanation — but Blow and a team of 15 others are designing the game to appeal to a mass audience.
'It cuts down a lot of ambiguity that used to exist in adventure games.'
Part of their strategy for doing so is grouping the game's puzzles into discrete areas, where all of the information players need to solve those puzzles exists. Blow traveled to a few areas where he approached panels and played a Snake-like game with ever more difficult objectives. Each panel introduced a new concept, and internalizing the concept helped solved the next puzzle in the sequence.
Some areas are more challenging than others, he admits, but they're all constructed to communicate their solutions to players through non-verbal cues.
"The other thing that this does, grouping stuff into areas, is it cuts down a lot of ambiguity that used to exist in adventure games," Blow said.
"One of the things that the puzzles do is give you clarity that that's a puzzle, right? But the other thing that making them based on panels does is that it means you don't have to have an inventory item, and it means there isn't necessarily action at a distance. If something powers something, you see a cable going to the thing.
"That gets rid of a lot of this horrible flailing that happens in adventure games," he said.
In the aggregate, Blow said he's designing the game for all who might be interested — everyone from the casual player to the completionist. For example, only 7 of the game's 10 puzzle areas need to be solved to move on to the final stage of the game, which makes it more accessible, but also teases "something better" for those who invest the time in solving all of the game's puzzles.
"We're trying to prepare for variable levels of engagement," he said. "The more interested you are in different parts of the game, you can just do that."
The key, Blow said, is that, unlike old-school adventure games, The Witness doesn't require a key — at least not in the game. The sum of the player's accumulated knowledge is the key.
To illustrate the point, he traveled to a building that appeared to function like a bonus area. There, off the island's literal batten path, there were no contextual clues. Instead, unlocking the door to this building required knowledge from puzzles he'd solved earlier in the game.
There's a key, in other words, but not in the way one would normally think of it.
"The key was in my head," he said. "I didn't need the inventory item."