The Witness: how Jonathan Blow rejected game design rules to make a masterpiece

There’s no story, no tutorial and no human interaction, yet this puzzle game has been a huge hit. Could it all be down to Blow’s idiosyncratic approach to development?

Most of the games industry would describe a seven-year development cycle as hell on Earth. It brings to mind tortured, much delayed projects like Duke Nukem Forever and Daikatana – the sort of games that sink studios. So when asking Jonathan Blow to describe the process of making The Witness, the critically acclaimed puzzle game he started way back in 2008, you may expect horror stories. But you won’t get them. “It was very chill,” he says.

Apparently, over those several years, Blow and his team at Thekla, Inc brought on extra help from architects and sound designers when they needed it, but for the most part they were just “six people in a room” with lenient working hours. They generally turned up by about 10:30am. Thursdays and Fridays were optional.

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