There are three simple reasons why The Witness is my most anticipated game of 2014.
The first is Jonathan Blow. His debut game, Braid, still dazzles and thrills me when I revisit it, five years after its release. Quite simply, I like how Jonathan Blow thinks about games. I like that he doesn't see their artistic worth as somehow separate from their mechanical parts, but inextricably linked to them. He isn't ashamed or embarrassed by the medium's fondness for jumping from platforms and squashing bizarrely shaped enemies. He makes games that are artful, rather than making art that looks like a game.
My second reason for awaiting The Witness like a Pavlovian hound is that it looks absolutely nothing like Braid. From 2D platformer to vast 3D first-person puzzle-adventure - that's a stylistic switch that most developers wouldn't dare to take. At the risk of reigniting the smouldering embers of old arguments, one of my biggest disappointments of 2013 was Phil Fish announcing he was working on Fez 2. Maybe that ill-fated game would have been nothing like Fez, but to see one of the leading lights of thoughtful indie development apparently falling prey to the same sequelitis that is choking the mainstream games industry was a real let down. While I wish the decision had been made under more pleasant circumstances, and hadn't led to his premature retirement, I was actually glad when Fish axed the project.
Blow could easily have delivered another academically minded platform game and reaped both commercial and critical rewards. That he instead chose to challenge himself - building a new 3D engine from scratch, no less - fills me with hope. The Witness may end up as a disappointment, but that's all part of the thrill of watching the tightrope walker at work. If Blow does stumble or fall with The Witness, it will at least be an honest failure, born of thwarted ambition rather than low expectation.
Mostly, however, I can't wait to play The Witness because I have no idea what The Witness is. In fact, I find myself avoiding even what little information has been released so far. It invites comparisons to Myst (one of the development team has prior form on that seminal series) but I suspect that's a facile comparison that tells only a tiny part of the story. The Witness remains a glorious mystery.
It's an exciting feeling. I miss being surprised by games, I miss pressing start and not knowing what will come next. The games industry is in real danger of becoming a clockwork factory, spitting out sequels to the same games at the same time every year, but the comforting embrace of the familiar has quietly turned to a smothering chokehold.
By carefully restricting how much we know about The Witness, Blow is banking on his own nascent reputation as a design guru, deserving of our trust with few questions asked, but more importantly he's swimming against a toxic tide of endless announcements, teasers, announcements of teasers, previews, trailers, developer diaries and other pointless ephemera that clogs up our faculties.
All I know about The Witness is that it's set on an island, and there will be puzzles. Frankly, that's all I need to know and it's all I want to know. I'm ready to be surprised.