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The Witness for iOS - The story so far

Closer to solving the puzzle
Product: The Witness | Developer: Thekla Inc. | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad | Genre: Puzzle
When The Witness launched on PC and console in January 2016, it proved to be a modern classic and a true original.

Here was a lush open world experience that was nevertheless filled with dozens of finely honed single-screen puzzles. It was a serene and peaceful experience, yet also fiendishly challenging. It was a game that we felt would be perfect for mobile hardware, yet also one of the most technically impressive games of the year.

If you caught our Q&A with creator and all-round indie game genius Jonathan Blow recently, you'll know that the iOS version of his latest masterpiece The Witness is proving to be quite an undertaking.

With a mobile release in sight, here's a brief look back on the saga that has been The Witness iOS.

Witnessing paint dry

Waiting for The Witness is not a new experience. Development of the game started in earnest way back in 2008, shortly after the release of creator Jonathan Blow's debut indie smash Braid.

Maths wizards among you will have realised that this means the game took somewhere shy of eight years to make. That's a heck of a long time any way you cut it.

We've been in expectation of an iOS version for at least half that time. As long ago as 2012, Blow shared an image of an early build running on an iPad, and talked about the early technical issues involved.

A year later we received a video of The Witness running on one of Apple's tablets, in a form that players of the final game will now recognise. All very encouraging, but of course the game itself wouldn't be ready for several years yet.

Months ahead of launch on PC and PS4, we received confirmation that the iOS version would come later. Then, shortly following the game's launch, Jonathan Blow put the word out that his company was after a "serious programmer" to handle "the bulk of the iOS port of The Witness".

The wait was far from over for mobile gamers.

New Year's resolutions

As the game's first anniversary swung around, a bit of good news arrived for mobile gamers. Thekla released a version of The Witness for the NVIDIA SHIELD TV.

Not a mobile device, for sure, but an Android-based machine built on mobile-level hardware, and available on the Google Play Store. It was a sign that the game was up and running on more restricted hardware.

The game finally hit Apple devices a couple of months later, on March 9 - though this was in fact the Mac version rather than iOS. Still, we could sense a true mobile port getting nearer.

Then, on May 1st, we received another sign of progress. Thekla's Kenzie Paulus tweeted asking for help with artwork on the iOS version: "Do you want to help @witnessgame get on iOS? We're contracting an artist to help get us there!"

When someone suggested that this meant the game was likely still a way away, the reply came: "Not too much longer. We're headed to the finish line."

There's an additional hint as to the company's potential time frame in the aforementioned job listing over on the game's website. There it mentions that the job will entail "2-3 months of straightforward contract work", along with the claim that "We are planning on shipping The Witness on iOS in a few months, but still have a lot of optimization work to get done."

Witnessing the moment

I recently asked Jonathan Blow, the creative mind behind The Witness, if there was any update on a release date for The Witness iOS. He told me: "We're not sure yet! We're trying to get it done as soon as we can".

Blow did reveal that most of the main team at Thekla was now working on the iOS version, and that they had been working on it "in earnest for many months now".

As a best-case scenario, then, it seems we're looking at a July or August release date for The Witness on iOS - and quite possibly later. We're not completely certain, because Blow and his team aren't either. 

What we do know is that the long road to getting a mobile version of one of the best indie games of recent years running on mobile hardware is almost complete. We're optimistic that it'll be worth the wait.

Reviewer photo
Jon Mundy 24 May 2017
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