"We first set out to reverse engineer the Island, as it might have existed before civilization. Hundreds of Islands were identified and studied, in the search for small, temperate islands that have a rich history of isolated civilizations. Known as Europe’s secret Islands, the Archipelago of the Azores offered the most material to work with. The layers of different cultures, from ancient civilizations to the Portuguese monarchy, to present day fishing villages, proved most analogous. Available aerial imagery was collected from the Azores and then collaged together to create a fictional Island in plan, now with topography, beaches, water bodies, etc..."
"We also wrote an environmental narrative for the Island, which formed the basis for design in subsequent phases. Through determination of solar orientation and dominant winds, the studio was able to establish the crucial gradients of wet and dry, windward and leeward. We then diagrammed the underlying geology, establishing assumptions regarding rock types, soils and substrates. The resultant mash-up of granite, basalt cinder cones, limestone and loose sandstones were located in specific zones and guided building materiality, soil types, and subsequent biomes. Using these fundamental climate and geological assumptions, we began to develop a set of simple ecological rules that established the make-up of the Island’s ecologies, and their bordering ecotones.... The past was divided into three successive epochs, which we termed Civilizations (CIV’s) One, Two and Three. A simple description of each was developed, and then a larger matrix, was produced that related to each in terms of infrastructure, architecture, and landscape. Each of these three categories had their technologies, agriculture, religion, and cultures. Materially, each epoch had its own techniques of building, based on assigned resources and technologies, with each CIV methodologies and products growing more refined over time..."
"... In our narrative, the Windmill began as a CIV One sacred mound, whose rock was reused to construct the foundation for a watchtower in CIV Two. Civilization Three then adapted the tower, as a means to pump freshwater from the reservoir to the rest of the island.
Often, once a structure had been given meaning, it then inspired the addition of other landscapes and infrastructures. The existence of the Windmill necessitated the addition of a lake, a small stream, and eventually a dam and a logging flume. There was a growing reciprocity between the gameplay, architecture and landscape with the island environment and story.For example, the use of a given building material, lead to the creation of a logged forest, a rock quarry, a glass factory. Puzzles were added to support the resource extraction and manufacturing narrative: A shipping freighter was added to justify the use of steel on the island. This ship was perhaps the source of something that not be easily made on the island, and much of it’s iron had been harvested, and can be seen in various states of reuse throughout." -- from "The Witness: Designing Video Game Environments" by Fletcher Studio, 26 May 2017