The Longing is a 2020 point-and-click adventure game created by independent Studio Seufz. Set in an underground kingdom, the player controls the Shade, a creature tasked with watching over a sleeping king for 400 days. The Shade explores caves, draws pictures, and reads books as they wait out the 400 days in real time. The in-game timer continues regardless of the player's actions, but moves faster if the Shade performs certain actions inside its home, such as decorating the walls with drawings.
|Publisher(s)||Application Systems Heidelberg|
|Genre(s)||Point-and-click adventure, idle|
Developer Anselm Pyta conceived The Longing after hearing a legend about a sleeping king. Pyta sought to explore emotional themes in a narrative-driven story, while using time as a game mechanic. The developer was inspired by dungeon synth music, which helped him define the subterranean atmosphere and theme of loneliness. Pyta acted as the primary developer for most of the game's six year production, using Photoshop for the backgrounds. Adobe Flash for the character designs, and coding the final product in Unity. The Longing was released for Windows, macOS, and Linux on March 5, 2020, and for Nintendo Switch on April 14, 2021.
The Longing received praise for its soundtrack, visuals, and experimental nature, while the pacing had a mixed reception. Many commentators drew comparisons between the game and the COVID-19 pandemic, relating gameplay elements to life under quarantine. The Longing was nominated for the Nuovo Award at the 2020 Independent Games Festival and won the "Best Debut" award at the 2020 Deutscher Computerspielpreis.
The Longing is a point-and-click adventure game that takes place in an underground kingdom. The player controls the Shade, a lonely creature serving an old king. After being informed that the king will slumber to regain his diminished powers, the Shade is tasked with awakening its master after 400 days in real time. The player receives no instructions after the king sleeps, and may spend their time underground doing whatever they wish. The Shade can explore caves, gather resources to furnish its home, or perform other activities such as reading classical literature and drawing.
Interaction with the world is slow-paced, with the Shade's walking speed being particularly slow. Many aspects of gameplay depend upon the passage of time, including puzzles that require the player to wait for a certain period to progress. By performing certain actions inside the Shade's home, the player can cause time to pass at an increased rate. For example, reading books and decorating the walls with drawings results in the in-game timer advancing a few seconds faster.
Other mechanics are reminiscent of idle games, such as a reading feature, through which the Shade can be set to read a book without input from the player. Another mechanic called the "bookmark system" can be accessed through a menu, and the player can use it to instruct the Shade to automatically walk to a previously saved location, return to its home, or randomly wander around. The player is provided a to-do list of things to improve the Shade's life, but no interaction is required to advance the timer, and it continues even if the game is not open. Resultingly, it is possible to finish The Longing by simply starting the game, closing it, and returning after the timer has elapsed. To prevent cheating, players are sent to a dungeon if they attempt to circumvent the time limit by changing their computer's system clock. The Longing features several endings, and not all require the player to wait out the 400 days.
The Longing begins with an old king informing the Shade that he will sleep to recover his powers. After 400 days have passed, the Shade may awaken its master, and will be rewarded with "a world without longing". The Shade is granted permission to wander wherever it wishes underground, but is warned by the king to never leave the caves. While waiting to awaken the king, the Shade contemplates its own loneliness and muses over the nature of the king's reward. It considers leaving the kingdom for the outside world, and recalls that an exit to the caves exists far above from where the king sleeps, separated from the surface by a "Great Darkness".
If the Shade waits all 400 days and awakens its master, the stirring of the king causes a cave-in. Once the event subsides, the king explains that he has given the Shade exactly what he promised, and created a world without longing “by destroying everything inside of it.” The world ceases to exist, and the king and Shade rule over the endless void of the universe for eternity. Alternatively, if the Shade explores enough of the caves close to the surface world, it discovers a dark cavern at the edge of a bottomless pit. The Shade can either commit suicide by throwing itself into the pit, or continue onward to face the Darkness, a mysterious creature that resembles the Shade in appearance. Depending on how the player previously interacted with the Shade, it will either hide itself from the Darkness by closing its eyes, or be caught by the creature and sent back to its home.
If the Shade hides from the Darkness and continues walking, it arrives at a cave just below the surface. There, the Shade is given the option of abandoning the kingdom by leaving through a well. If Shade decides to leave, it taken out of the well by either a young child, who drops the Shade back down the well to its death, or an elderly man. If the Shade is taken out by the man, the creature follows him to his home and is served dinner by his family. A post-credits scene afterwards shows that the Shade’s departure has caused the king to die.
Development and releaseEdit
Development of The Longing began in 2014 and lasted six years. Developer Anselm Pyta had a background creating flash animations that were released on Newgrounds, until he co-founded Studio Seufz in 2017. The concept for The Longing came from Pyta's experience hiking in the Barbarossa Cave. According to legend, the cave was home to an old king sleeping inside for hundreds of years, while a related poem mentioned a dwarf checking on the king once per century to see if he would awaken. Perplexed about how the dwarf lived its life with so much waiting, the character stuck with Pyta. He created most of the game alone, including its art, sound design, and mechanics, while receiving some help with the coding. He used Photoshop to draw the backgrounds and Adobe Flash to animate the characters; both elements were coded and merged in Unity.
The Longing was influenced by idle games such as Clicker Heroes. Although he was impressed with their gameplay style, Pyta disliked that they lacked endings. He sought to create a story-focused idle game containing elements of adventure games, and with emotional stakes. Pyta was especially interested in exploring time-based and waiting mechanics, believing that video games are the only medium that could uniquely use extended time to tell a story. Though waiting is often seen as a negative by players, he believed with the right story it could foster user investment.
Pyta defined The Longing's core elements while he was studying. He began listening to dungeon synth music, which helped him imagine the theme of loneliness and describe the subterranean atmosphere. Gameplay was primarily envisioned along three possible "routes" that the player would take: doing nothing but wait for the timer to advance, trying to make the Shade's life comfortable while waiting, or abandoning the king and leave the caves. Waiting offered a stress-free way of playing the game, while leaving forces the player to solve puzzles and navigate increasingly dangerous caves. He described the greatest challenge as coming up with novel ways of using the waiting mechanic without too much repetition.
The Shade was purposefully designed with a cryptic appearance and motivation, so the audience could project their own feelings onto the character. Due to game's long duration, Pyta had difficulty with playtesting, and had to use personal intuition to pace The Longing and ensure that players would not give up. He realized that empathy between the player and protagonist would be essential to retaining user interest. Needing ways to remind players progress was occurring, he implemented behaviors for the Shade that changed as time passed, such as self-talking and sleeping. Rocks falling in the cave were added to record the passing of time in lieu of a day-night cycle.
Prior to launch, the game was featured at PAX West in 2019 and a demo was showcased at AdventureX 2020. The Longing was published by Application Systems Heidelberg and released on March 5, 2020, to Steam for Windows, macOS, and Linux, followed by a version for Nintendo Switch on April 14, 2021. The launch amidst the COVID-19 pandemic caused audience reactions that surprised Pyta, and he thought that the pandemic allowed the player to better connect with the Shade. The Longing won the "Best Debut" award at the 2020 Deutscher Computerspielpreis and was nominated for the Nuovo Award at the 2020 Independent Games Festival.
|Nintendo World Report||9/10|
|PC Gamer (Sweden)||82%|
Reception of the game was largely positive; On the review aggregate website Metacritic, the PC and Switch versions received generally favorable reviews. Critics praised The Longing's experimental premise. Adventure Gamers recommended it to players who liked unusual gameplay, or enjoyed video games as an art form. PC Gamer in Swedish called it a "fascinating experiment" with plenty of atmosphere. The Washington Post said that it demonstrated the potential of what video games could do.
The slow-paced gameplay divided reviewers. The Washington Post praised the slowness for allowing the player's mind to wander, comparing it to the works of filmmaker Béla Tarr. Similarly, Hardcore Gamer said that the appeal of the Shade helped pass the time, and ease the player into the pacing naturally. On the other hand, many critics thought that players would become impatient while playing, and the sedate pacing would not be for everyone. Nintendo Life shared in this opinion, saying that the game was "perhaps the most boring we have ever played" and although the reviewer liked its reflection on loneliness, he criticized the wait times as tedious. Some critics enjoyed caring for the Shade, and positively compared the protagonist to the Tamagotchi virtual pet.
The Longing's design was subject to significant commentary. The atmosphere in particular was variously described as "gloomy", "lonely" and "eerie". The visuals were highlighted as a strength. Nintendo World Report felt that the caves were well-drawn and distinct, while 4Players and Der Spiegel compared the art to that of German cartoonist Walter Moers. In a more critical review, Nintendo Life commended the art and sounds for their boldness, but found the atmosphere to be dull and uninteresting. The soundtrack received similar praise from critics. Adventure Gamers appreciated the music for displaying a medley of emotions, feeling as though the songs expressed the breadth of the kingdom and the Shade's small size in comparison. The Games Machine similarly felt that the sound effectively blended the movement of the Shade with the atmosphere.
Due to the release during the COVID-19 pandemic, commentators frequently compared the game experience to life under quarantine. GamesRadar+ likened The Longing to experiencing a COVID-19 lockdown, saying it "best sums up life in the 2020 pandemic". Adventure Gamers suggested that the game's release during the lockdown made the theme of loneliness more relevant, thus enhancing the game's appeal. Wired wrote that the Shade felt alive in a magical way, and that The Longing best captured "2020's sad and surreal lockdown energy". The reviewer further appreciated the melancholic feel, adding that the game served as a refutation to the attention economy that commercial games oriented themselves around.
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