Back before The Witness was released, lead developer Jonathan Blow said it would take 100 hours for players to complete every puzzle and unlock each of the mysterious island’s secrets. “There’s at least one puzzle in the game right now that almost nobody – like 1% of players – will ever be able to figure out,” he said, leaving a tantalising goal for puzzle professionals in the search of bragging material.
If you’re at peace with the amount of puzzles you’ve completed in The Witness, why not check out our list of the best indie games on PCinstead.
Blow and some of the other The Witness developers recently did an AMA (ask me anything) on Reddit, and it seems he might regret having said that, not realising it would be something people would pick up on.
When asked by a Redditor which puzzle he thought would only be completed by the 1%, Blow replied with: “This is one of those weird things the internet really picked up on that I didn’t think was that important. I just, offhandedly in an interview sometime, was discussing how some puzzles are easy and some are hard, [and] said ‘there’s at least one puzzle that fewer than 1% of people will solve’, as a way of illustrating the range of difficulties.
“But somehow people picked up on this and it became A BIG THING ABOUT THE GAME. I did not mean it to be so. I was thinking about the door in the shipwreck, but it doesn’t matter that much. There are some other things approximately as hard as that, and ‘The Challenge’ is probably harder, though who can really say? Everybody has different amounts of trouble with different things.”
Before this revelation, The Witness being the cryptic puzzle game it is, some people assumed Blow was referring to something hidden, and they’ve been scouring the game searching for any hint of secrets beyond the 100% completion counter. Some players have been feeling like they’re getting close, searching by the in-game windmill, lured by an odd sound that’s made when pushing a button and the strange way the shadows from the windmill blades fall on the environment.
“It is probably just an old sound that we didn’t correctly tune,” says Blow, smashing the hopes of these secret sleuths. “The windmill used to work very differently. It used to be more of a power generator for other stuff on the island, and there was a visual battery gauge that would fill up as it turned, and then there was a timing puzzle where you would turn it off and the battery started draining and you had a certain amount of time to go do something non-obvious before the battery ran out. But that was too much like stuff in other games, and was not really related to the core ideas of The Witness – i.e. it sucked so I cut it.”
Likewise, people who have been searching through the game’s files have also been barking up the wrong hyper-stylised tree. Digging through the game’s files shows players that the only animated character in the game – the player character – has the filename ‘Carl’, but Blow had a deflating explanation for this discovery too. “You guys are going to be disappointed in the real reason,” he said. “At some point earlier in development we bought an animation set from some online store and it was called Carl, for some reason. Eventually we decided it was not going to work for us, and we wanted to replace it with our own animations. But the old filenames were already being used by the code so it was easiest not to rename it.”
Blow explained in the AMA that these discovered fragments mostly just point to the iterative development process. “I do believe in the power of revision and in trying stuff out, seeing how it worked, then realising how to do it better, and then doing the better thing,” he explained. “So really, the game we shipped is more like The Witness 3. The made The Witness 1 and 2, we just didn’t ship them, because we knew how to get to 3. But 1 and 2 were not wasted work, they were natural steps on the way to making the good thing.”
Don’t feel too deflated if you’ve been scouring every corner of The Witness in the hope of making a discovery, though, because one of the things Blow says in the AMA does suggest there is more stuff outside of the completion percentage, but it’s probably more abstract than you might expect.
“I will say that focusing on the things that are explicitly accounted for in the ‘score’ of the game is a little bit of a diversion,” says Blow. “There may be a lot of things to notice or understand that are not counted in that way. So the idea of 100%-ing the game does not really make complete sense.
“I always like to go back to my favorite books as examples. It is not meaningful to 100% Gravity’s Rainbow or Invisible Cities. The very idea is absurd. So I am not sure why we are so eager to apply the idea to games, except that maybe historically games were simpler.” Or maybe it’s because you put a percentage completion counter in your game? Who knows.
Anyway, this the biggest thing to take out of this AMA was the discovery of this video of Soulja Boy delivering a deep, thoughtful critique of Braid. Enjoy: