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The first week of The Longing: depressing royalist art and talking walls

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You may recall that for some time now I have been quietly longing, lol, for The Longing, a "sad Tamagotchi" game where you, a small servant to a subterranean rock king, must hang about while he has a nap for 400 days. 400 real time days. This game takes over a year to finish. And it has multiple endings, which include reaching the surface, or just sitting in a sad, damp cave for the entire time.

This is, I suppose, technically a preview. The precise release date hasn't been pinned down yet, but reviewing The Longing in a conventional way would be almost impossible in any case. Instead, I'm going to update you every month or so on my own progress in a diary. With the multiple endings in mind, our ultimate goal for this series will be... escape!

Escape to the surface, that is. There are many obstacles in the way, however, without even counting the entire year-and-change it will take to play the game. Here are some things you should know before we start.

The player character is just called A Shade. They resemble one of those oil spill appeal posters, only if the creature covered in unrefined oil was Dobby the House Elf off of Harry Potter, instead of a pelican. They have big tennis ball eyes and are expressionless, apart from when they sit in their chair to read, and break into a gappy-toothed smile.They move at one speed (approximately that of an elderly woman walking an equally elderly terrier to the post office), and start off in the throne room of the king's palace, right at the bottom of a network of palatial caves. While exploring them, you can 'remember' areas you find, after which you can tell A Shade to return to them - although they will walk there in real time. There is no fast travel.

A Shade also has a squalid hole in the wall to call home, which starts furnished with an armchair, a rug, a table with some paper and coal for drawing, and an alcove that you could build a fire in. Time passes more quickly in A Shade's little home, and the nicer it is, the faster time will tick away. I'm not going to be too specific about where I find different things, though, because that will spoil the exploration. You find that stuffed horse's head by yourself, pal.

Currently A Shade's home is "not comfortable enough". We know this because A Shade keeps a not-quite-diary of their thoughts, which functions as an undefined kind of quest list for the player. As such, while the ultimate goal for us over the next year is to escape, there are several mini-goals that I'm choosing to group together under the subheading of Making A Shade's Life Less Awful. These include (but are not limited to):

  • Get all the colours for A Shade's art
  • Find the palace library
  • Make a bed
  • Find all the bits of the broken flute thing
  • Find flint to make a fire
  • Find a mattock, allowing A Shade to perform various QOL tasks

Ready? Let's begin.

January 3rd, 2020

The first order of business, after the king declares he is in embarking on a deep Rip Van Winkle larp session, has to be exploration in the name of better furnishings. A Shade's home is literally a room scraped out of the rock. The king has given himself flagstones, but oh no: you get a hole by my feet, mate. This is why we need to disband the monarchy, that's all I'm saying.

On my way out, I explore the drawing options at A Shade's art table, and immediately begin to worry about their state of mind.

A Shade achieves a lot in their first day, though! Mostly, it consists of walking, and discovering areas we can't reach yet. The palace halls are a weird mix of ruined grandeur and damp, earthy caves that haven't enjoyed any renovations at all. Lumps of coal regularly fall from the ceiling with a sad little echoey noise, and I collect them in the hope of making a fire soon. I briefly worry that we might enter a kind of The Descent scenario, encountering Bad Gollums, but that much excitement goes against the principle of the game.

To the east there is a large drop, but moss is slowly growing on the rocks below, which may eventually cushion A Shade's frail little body from the fall. East-northeast reveals a flight of stairs with a big gap in them, which will become passable if the stalactite above falls down. In the West (I think -- it is very hard to pinpoint directions in these tunnels) there is a maze of caves which, eventually, A Shade navigates to find the Halls Of Eternity. They appear to be an endless white room of spindly columns.

After a while, A Shade returns home. I get them to draw "Soul", which is a crown shape. We're going to have to divorce A Shade from their extreme royalist tendencies, somehow. It's giving me flashbacks to Christmas Day, and having to pause frivolities in order to watch the Queen's Speech.

January 6th, 2020

I didn't play during the weekend, but that's OK: while you're not playing, A Shade will just hang out where you last left them. For me, that was reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra in their chair. Reading can make time pass more quickly, as well.

Today A Shade finds red and white pigments for doing their art, so they make a lot of new paintings. Their diary indicates that A Shade likes drawings of lice, so another goal becomes to have a louse drawing in every colour (suck a dick, da Vinci, and other famous artists who didn't draw lice).

They also find two bits of flint, so now they can make a fire! I am becoming convinced that A Shade is actually made of coal themselves, because they often say "a falling brother is returning home," when they pick up coal. Perhaps there is some process whereby I can clean them, or turn them into a diamond. Metaphors abound.

A Shade finds a door that leads out of the palace and into, just, general caves. It takes two hours to open. I leave The Longing playing while I do some work, and listen to the grinding stone sound effect. But when I check in on it, A Shade had just curled up on the cold floor, with their back to the camera. So I feel bad and send them home... where they can make a fire, at last!

January 8th, 2020

It turns out that fires only last a few minutes, so when I boot up the game again, A Shade has been sitting on their armchair in a cold room for basically an entire day. Whenever I shut the game down I still get them to build a new fire, and start reading, so they're at least occupied for a while (currently reading: Moby Dick). It just feels more compassionate, you know? A Shade talks about being very lonely a lot. They don't even know I'm here! I wish I could talk to them. It's the moon diary all over again.

Today is another busy day - and the day that I realise how clever this game has been, with these mini-goals to keep me occupied. Giving A Shade a room that's a bit shit means you want to improve it, but it's not total shit to the point where you wouldn't bother starting.

A Shade goes through the door they'd opened on Monday. They run into a lot of blocked tunnels and impassable ledges, so they collect Disappointments - six whole Disappointments! I want to get rid of them somehow, because A Shade seems the sort of person whose disappointments will weigh on them. On the other hand, they find blue for their art, and an old mine with a lot of wood for their bed (although there's a whole other bit of mine they can't get to yet).

They also make friends with a spider, which is now building a new web to help A Shade get up a difficult gap and into a new tunnel. It will take several days, but I think that's the next step towards finding the exit.

I see them have a thought bubble which says "The king will not like this adventurous spirit of mine", and like, honestly, babes, fuck that king. I am genuinely both intrigued and concerned by the history of this kingdom, of which A Shade and the king are now the only inhabitants. Was it a hereditary monarchy? Was there any kind of system of government? A grim caste system? Finding the library seems more urgent, now.

January 9th, 2020

A Shade has finished Moby Dick, so fair play to them. But we're running out of books very quickly. Importantly, though, by clicking the 'walk somewhere random' button, A Shade finally finds all the bits of the instrument! Unfortunately they can only currently make a noise like a bulldog farting into a tin can, but hopefully if they practise every day they'll get better.

Yesterday I noticed that the stalactite mentioned on January 3rd had fallen down, but I didn't want to go and investigate straight away. I have 400 days. I need to ration actions out, like zombie apocalypse survivors portioning out chickpeas and old Snickers bars with shaking hands. So A Shade goes and looks today, instead. They discover a weird talking face in a cave, demanding tributes of coal and moss in exchange for answers to questions.

Listen. A Shade doesn't need this fucking Return To Oz shit right now. They have quite a weird frame of mind at the best of times. So they go straight home again.

My own project is to come up with a name for A Shade. Can't believe the king didn't even bother giving them a name. Fucksake.

January 10th, 2020

Today I finally realise how fast time ticks down in A Shade's home. They've spent almost 15 days waiting in the caves already, when it's only been about a week in human time. Being in their home, it turns out, makes three seconds pass in-game for every one on the outside (six, if there's a fire lit). Potentially, this game could take a lot less than 400 days...

A Shade is able to jump down and land safely on the mossy rocks! They discover a beautiful triple waterfall cascading onto bright white crystals. The air is alive with twinkling music. All A Shade could think about was the pissing king, however.

Did A Shade do a stint as an editor for a UK tabloid?? I wonder if finding all the colours for the art station will unlock the ability to scrawl LIBERTÉ, ÉGALITÉ, FRATERNITÉ across the king's sleeping face, fratboy-prank-style. It seems unlikely.

I still haven't thought of a name for A Shade, but I am fairly desperate to, so please offer suggestions. This diary feels more and more like I'm that weird assassin lad from Game Of Thrones that talked about everyone and everything, including himself, in the third person. I bet he got invited to loads of parties.

I have buried the lede though, because... A Shade has a mattock now! I leave them using it to carve out a set of steps down to a new area in their room. Soon it shall be a split-level flat. We've already made a lot of improvements with drawings and things we've found. It would probably go for £700pcm (excl bills) in London.

January 13th, 2020

A Shade has carved out a set of steps. I let them rest. Their reading today is Ovid's Metamorphoses.

So far I am very much enjoying The Longing.

Make A Shade's Life Less Awful
  • Get all the colours for A Shade's art
  • Find the palace library
  • Make a bed
  • Find all the bits of the broken flute thing
  • Get better at playing the flute thing
  • Find flint to make a fire
  • Find a mattock, allowing A Shade to perform various QOL tasks
  • Enlarge A Shade's home
  • Enter the second level of the mine
  • Mine crystals and minerals for decoration

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