The release and my playthrough of The Witness happened to coincide with a ramp-up in my video game podcast consumption. (Maybe not so much a coincidence than a subconscious attempt to glean a hints from podcasters.) Through this, I came across a couple of keen observations of the game’s design that I had not considered:
Jake Rodkin: It uses so many rules of Disneyland-esque design and video game level design to make it easy to navigate, but it’s not built assuming there’s that huge framework of video game messaging beneath it.
Chris Remo: That Disneyland thing is a good comparison. Video game designers have often—for good reason—and accurately pointed to Disneyland as a really useful design touchstone. Not for the experience of the rides themselves, but for the design of the actual park.
JR: Disneyland is the closest we have in real life to a constructed open-world level.
CR: Areas are connected where there’s an intuitive sense of structure, but when you’re in any given place, it feels like it’s entirely enveloping you.
JR: Until you come around a corner and then the foliage and architecture perfectly frames on a sightline – spire that is in a waypoint to a different land of the park.
CR: And The Witness is totally like that.
I completely agree. The Idle Thumbs crew may also have unraveled a core reason why I loved Myst so much. And quite possibly why I love Disneyland so much.
Jared Petty on IGN’s Game Scoop!, ep 376, 3:27:
This is a secret Metroidvania game. In a Metroid game, you get to an area. You can’t get far. You go off to a different area. You find a power-up. (In this case, the power-ups are not items you find in the game. It’s the knowledge that you gain through working out a different set of puzzles.) You get frustrated. You go off to a different area. You learn something. You come back. Boom! You get through.
Sometimes you can “bomb-jump” your way around it by figuring out something by being clever that you got a little ahead of. Or a little more doggedness or experimentation. It’s a neat game.
A very neat game.