Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Why The Longing Takes Four Hundred Days to Play

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Welcome back. The Longing is a game that takes 400 days to play. Yep, you heard that right.

400 days, thats 9600 hours or 576,000 minutes, the damn thing even has a four hour trailer.

It sees you playing as this little gremlin fella, a shade, who is created by the Old

King to essentially serve as a living alarm clock whilst he has a nap and charges up his


This leaves you with 400 days to spend doingnot much. You can walk very slowly around

a bunch of boring caves, paint pictures, grow mushrooms and even read the entirety of moby

dick, all in real time. The Longings primary mechanic is basically just waiting, In order

for new areas to open up you have to wait for a spider to spin a web, a stalactite to

fall from a ceiling and even wait for moss to grow, and this can take days or sometimes

even weeks to happen. Blessedly, time still progresses whilst the game is closed, but

thats not exactly much of a consolation.

You might be thinking that this game sounds terrible, and to be honest, I was thinking

exactly the same thing when I started playing. But luckily, I think it turned out to be pretty

fantastic, in spite of the fact that it is.... Objectively boring. Somehow, this game was

able to get me to care about the shade, keep me engaged for longer than a bunch of AAA

games, and most importantly of all, it taught me a fundamental lesson about how games motivate

players, all through the use of that big 400 day timer - which brings me onto the subject

of this video.

I want to talk about temporal mechanics, that is to say stuff like countdowns, loops, schedules

and all those interesting things in game that have to do with chronology. More specifically,

I want to explain how they work, why messing with temporality is such an effective way

to change a players state of mind and to break down why this makes The Longing is one

of my surprise hits of this year. But if that all sounds a bit complicated, my good friend

Tichus finley can break down what this video is all about very succinctly. *HELL, ITS


Lets start at the most logical point, the very beginning. Time limits are probably the

oldest and simplest temporal mechanic, and its really no surprise that theyre so

damn popular, by lighting a fire underneath players and forcing them to play at a faster

pace than theyd ordinarily be comfortable with - games can ramp up the pressure, and

force players into truly mastering what theyre doing, or create interesting decisions that

encourage players to take risks and improvise in order to make the most of their limited


The oldest time limits can be found in arcade games and platformers, and they serve a very

important purpose. By giving players finite time to tackle every obstacle not only is

the difficulty increased, but players also avoid the boredom of attempting the same thing

over and over. A time limit encourages players to roll with the punches and keep moving rather

than obsessing over one tiny detail. For example, in Pikmin, getting all your ship parts before

the 30-day limit is elapsed as well as not being caught out in the open at nighttime

is pretty tricky, leading to great, tense situations as you rush to drag ship parts

back to base or kill a boss before time runs out. This leads to you making a lot of mistakes

and having to take interesting risks as waiting around rebuilding your forces sometimes just

isnt an option.

These exact same principles can also work in the case of narrative time limits. Vintage

spoiler warning for mass effect 2 skip here if you dont want to hear small story details

about an oldass game. For the most part, mass effect 2 has a very relaxed feel as you jet

around space building up your rag-tag team of badasses, but once you get your hands on

the reaper IFF that allows you to enter the omega 4 relay and head to the final mission,

a secret countdown is started. The next mission you go on is interrupted by the normandy getting

invaded and all your crew members getting kidnapped and from then on, every mission

that passes without you going to save them leads to more and more of the normandys

personnel getting harvested for their delicious meat juices. This time pressure creates a

great moral choice between rescuing the fun side characters and doing the right thing

versus being selfish and getting all your squadmates loyal so they dont die in the

final mission. In my first playthrough having to pick which characters I really liked and

which characters I was okay risking was an awesome choice, and it was one I only got

to make because of that soft time limit pushing me towards the final mission. Of course this

being a mass effect game theres a way to get everyone loyal and save all the crew but

thats a whole nother issue.

Interestingly, stuff like time trials and speedrunning mechanics, are sort of time limits

done in reverse, and as such, create the opposite play experience. Where time pressure created

by the developer creates tense, hectic gameplay, when the onus for setting the limits is shifted

to the player, it instead encourages more thoughtful and almost zen mastery driven gameplay.

Verlet Swing, a grapple-hooking vaporwave platformer is fun enough on its own, but theres

a sense of deep satisfaction you get from improving your times or finding sneaky routes

and openings that youd never be able to get if you were rushing through every level

at top speed and not stopping to really understand and appreciate all the different ways to approach


Spelunkys ghost is a great example of both of these kinds of time limits in one. Whenever

you enter a new level of the caves, a two and a half minute timer starts, which once

elapsed summons this fella, the ghost. The ghost kills you in a single hit, is unkillable

itself and can phase through blocks - meaning that new players have to balance navigating

through each level quickly enough to avoid summoning and being murdered by the ghost,

but slowly enough to avoid making a mistake and dying anyway. As players get better and

better at navigating to the goal, they can use spare time to comb through each level

for extra goodies and items, racking up a bigger score. However, theres an additional

layer to Spelunkys ghost, any gems it passes through whilst hunting you down turn into

super valuable diamonds, so the time limit for expert spelunkers is more like the time

they have to prepare for the ghosts arrival, whereupon they make bank as they try to avoid

it. The ghost starts as some fun pressure for noobs, stops average players from farming

cash forever, but lets experts show off their stuff in these ridiculously complicated dances

that test their understanding of the platforming fundamentals surprise surprise, spelunkys


If time limits are responsible for motivating players through the threat of failure to go

fast enough, then what about time loops where players are forced to replay the same snapshot

of time over and over? Theyre sort of a limit, but also effectively infinite in length

- how do they work? Well, more often than not, the function of a timeloop isnt to

motivate players through stress, but to act as a reset button and give players the opportunity

to explore the same locales and mechanics from a different perspective, and equipped

with new information.

Minit, for example sees you given sixty seconds to live and asked to solve a bunch of puzzles

before you get respawned. What this leads to is you gradually building up a picture

of what needs doing and the fastest way to move around the map across various lives,

before finally executing it all in a single run. The Sexy Brutale also uses time loops

as a puzzle mechanic - at the end of each day, the nightmare casino youre trapped

in resets, but you can use knowledge of how your friends died in one loop to save them

in the next. For example, once you know sixpence here gets shot, you can save him by finding

a blank cartridge during the next loop and inserting it into the murder weapon, giving

him time to defend himself.

Fundamentally, what time loops are great at is creating a sense of familiarity with an

area, cast of characters or set of systems - with every go through the loop youre

getting to know the play space that little bit better, and uncovering additional layers

of nuance as you go. When you first start playing Outer Wilds, the solar system beyond

timber hearth can seem incredibly daunting, with planets disintegrating, teleporters going

off and things exploding seemingly at random. But with every loop, you learn something new

about how the 21 minutes of time you have plays out, and that chaos slowly resolves

into a sense of intimate understanding of the cosmic dance that plays out each time

you wake up. The events happening, like brittle hollow breaking up or the tornadoes on Giants

Deep always happen the same way, but your understanding of them is constantly changing.

For example, the dust storm on the twin planets starts off as a hazard that can crush you

and sucks up your ship, becomes a fun time limit as the deposited sand fills up this

network of caves, and then an opportunity as sand leaving ash twin reveals these important

endgame towers. This is the key to using time loops correctly.

When you think about it, you could make the argument that most games have some sort of

time loop at their core- but games that really make the most of this mechanic are the ones

that take advantage of the way our perspective and understanding can change over time through

successive goes through the loop. One really interesting example of time loops is in Quantum

League, competitive FPS where you play the same duel three times, alongside your previous

lives, meaning that if you shoot the enemy who killed you in the previous round, you

can save your own life - and other paradoxical nonsense. This completely upends the fast-paced

and twitchy nature of most FPS and turns the game into something much more cerebral as

each player figures out not only how to score points but also how to work around both their

own and their opponents past lives. The more rounds go on, the more complicated your

relationship with the battle landscape becomes, with players laying down fields of fire and

creating traps in round one that go onto define the terms of engagement right up until the

final seconds of the game.

Even games without narratively justified time loops can still engage with this core concept

During your early assasination attempts in Hitman, youll really only be getting a

glimpse of the puzzlebox that is each level - but with each successive loop youll be

able to recognize the fundamental patterns and schedules that hold the world together,

and begin to manipulate them. For example, the central race that dominates the Miami

level ends at exactly 17 minutes after you first start and you can use this to plan some

really creative assassinations like trapping the garage or kicking the drivers dad onto

the track at just the right time to get run over by his daughter which is just brutal

and amazing.

Limits and Loops are all well and good, but I think to understand the fundamentals of

our relationship with time and to get our heads around why The Longing works, we need

to think more simply, and contemplate simplywaiting. That was five seconds of silence,

and it felt like an eternity right? We as human beings are naturally impatient, waiting

rarely feels good in the moment, but it does have a purpose beyond simple padding.

By demanding a player wait for something to happen, be it a special event, the completion

of a building or simply for a daily cooldown timer to tick over, like in, say, animal crossing

a game builds up anticipation and excitement in the mind of the player - giving them time

to think about what theyll do once the wait is over and plan their future actions.

This way, when things finally do happen, the sense of achievement is heightened because

of the buildup, and the player is going to have more appreciation for seeing the task


Incremental games are this principle turned into an entire genre. All youre really

doing in idle or clicker games is waiting until you can click a button to make waiting

for the next thing slightly more efficient. It sounds boring, but as anyone whos gotten

sucked into cookie clicker, Forager, or universal paperclips, will know, the post-wait milestones

these games hand out can be hugely rewarding, and more often than not give you a new system

to play with or a new resource to manage that keep things fresh, and also give you new things

to wait for.

The appeal of delayed gratification can also feed into some really fun optimisation puzzles,

as players work to minimise the time they spend waiting, and in the process only become

more invested in the time eventually elapsing - more often than not, games will have several

of these gratification loops going on at the same time, ensuring that the player always

has something to look forwards to. By sprinkling in active components like cookies to click

or resources to gather, idle games can keep players constantly occupied and engaged, all

through simple and intuitive mechanics.

The Longing is this sort of design taken to its logical extreme - instead of waiting for

merely a few minutes or hours, The Longing sees you waiting for days, weeks and possibly

even months for things to happen, and all youve really got to do in the meantime

is gather coal, drawing supplies and crafting materials scattered around the cave to make

your wait slightly more bearable.

This is where one of The Longings Cleverest mechanics comes in. The more comfortable you

make The Shades weird little house, the faster time advances because theyre less

bored - this means that not only is actually playing the game strictly optimal if you just

want to get to the ending, but it also gives you a bunch of great opportunities to get

invested in the shades struggle. With each new item of furniture you make and each seemingly

insignificant goal you achieve the shades outlook on life improves, and because youve

spent so much time guiding them from room to room and waiting for doors to open, these

things feel great to accomplish, and you cant help but get attached to the little monster

as a result. The games use of loops also archives this effect, because logging off

in your room is strictly optimal, each gameplay session plays out very similarly, with you

slowly exploring the same areas over and over. This creates the opportunity not only for

you to watch them change, but also for previously scare areas to become comfortable and familiar.

Without The Longings glacial pace and tactical use of boredom, it would never be able to

build up the anticipation required to make its milestones feel meaningful, nor would

you be able to build up a relationship with the shade as you;d be too focused getting

from point A to point b. When getting to the dark caves beyond the kingdom takes about

two hours, even something as pointless as meeting a spider friend becomes this memorable

moment, and the knowledge in the back of your head that your time with the shade must one

day come to an end makes those highlights all the more important.

This is where that big 400 day countdown comes in. Just like all timers, it acts as a source

of pressure - but because its so slow, it never really influences your day to day

actions, what the timer does do is serve as an existential threat to you and the shade.

When that 400 day timer elapses, the game is over, and the shades duty will be complete

- this seems simple, but with no way of knowing what will happen when the king wakes up, and

the fact that you helping the shade makes the clock only tick faster, you may begin

to doubt the old king and the initial premise of the game. Some mild spoilers for the longing

here, i wont be going into any major detail but if you fancy playing the game for yourself

you might want to skip ahead to this timestamp.

In effect, the timer presents you with a moral choice - rather than the game simply going

into stasis when you close it, time in the game still progresses, so choosing not to

play the game, is actually the choice to consign the shade to their fate. This forces the player

to weigh up the pros and cons between making the shades sad life down in the caves as

comfortable as possible, or, helping them try to escape. Helping the shade escape pretty

much just asks you to do yet more waiting mechanics, but because youre invested in

their struggle by this point, even something so simple as making your way up a steep cliff

or unpacking some spooky riddles feels like a real moment of triumph - thats the power

of The Longings design, and temporal mechanics in general. Even if your average playtime

of the longing is actually somewhere around twelve to twenty hours, its the perception

of a 400 day game that drives much time to the game.

The Longing didnt need action packed gameplay, a bunch of different mechanics or a story

full of twists and turns to motivate me to beat it not once, but twice. All it needs

is an understanding of how to make the comparatively mundane engaging, emotionally resonant, and

compelling enough to make me come back once the novelty has worn off. The reason why the

longing use of time is so effective is because whilst you have a lot of time, the end is

inevitable and you can never go back. This is the super important lesson I mentioned

earlier. When you get right down to it, time itself is one of the great driving forces

not just in getting us to play video games, but also in our lives in general.

You as humans and I as an ageless superbeing only have so much time in the universe, and

so were driven to use our limited schedule as best we can. When we play games we cant

help but try to take shortcuts over mountains, optimise killing baddies as quickly as possible

and see all the content in a game as fast as we can, because we only have so much time

to play games, and we want to make the most of it. Time limits, time loops are such effective

motivators because they play on real-world impulses and fears. We live constantly worried

that we might not have the time to do everything we want to, and wish that we could replay

elements of our lives to understand them better, or change how they happened - and video games

allow us to explore those feelings in a way thats cathartic. This need to use our limited

time drives almost all of our decisions when you get right down to it, success, children,

wealth - we long for all these things because we have a limited time to get them in.

Note my use of the word Longing.

This is what I think the game is all about. We as gamers are often so eager to use our

precious time as efficiently as possible, that we sometimes dont use it meaningfully.

We waste hour grinding away at stuff we dont enjoy because itll make doing other stuff

we also dont enjoy slightly faster, we pour hundreds of hours into 100%ing games

by doing all the boring filler sidequests and get manipulated into blowing money on

sketchy free to play games that let us skip ahead, robbing us of the satisfaction of a

job well done. I am incredibly guilty of all of these things.

Instead, it pays sometimes to just take a moment, look past the flashy colours and mechanics

designed to milk you of your endorphins and just slow things down. - and Im aware of

the irony of that coming from the immortal space being who speaks 200 words a minute.

By taking our time and appreciating the experience of games as we play them, taking in the details

and the smaller moments that add so much texture to truly great games, we can enjoy the journey

of playing them that much more as well as make the all important destination feel much

better too. This is why its important to understand temporal mechanics, limits, loops

and waiting can make great games even more compelling and turn understated games into

experiences that stick with you for a very long time. However, they can also be used

to trick us into playing ones that we dont enjoy any more or are just plain bad. I like

to stay positive but Im sure you can make some reasonable deductions as to what games

Im talking about, yeah.

On that note, Next time you boot up a game, I want you to think about why youre playing

it. Are you genuinely enjoying yourself, or just going through the motions? Are you appreciating

the experience of playing a game, or are you too fixated on optimising your play to really

enjoy it? And of course are you spending your limited time wisely, or are you just watching

dumb youtube videooooooooo - you know what? Forget that one, youre good, keep watching.

In fact, lets loop it around again, shall we?

Hey Hey Hey and welcome to that bit and the end of each video when I talk about things

that arent the video! Wh, whatever. Anyway, I want to plug Grace Lee, and her channel,

whats so great about that which I just found and is [pretty great itself. I was not

expecting to enjoy a leftist reading of untitled goose game and the nature of taking back power

as much as I did, please check it out and the rest of her content.

If, on the other hand you fancy supporting my continuing nonsense then you might want

to consider pitching in on Patreon - where youll get updates, sneak peeks and a little

special thing from the Architect Archives coming alongside the next video so stay tuned

for that. My increasingly large group of top tier mysterious benefactors also get a free

shoutout at the end each video, and they are:

Alex Deloach Aseran

Ausicav Baxter Heal

Big Chess Bohdi

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Constantin apunkd Daniel Mettjes

David Dumitrascu David Sester

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Thank you for all your support, it means so much to be able to do this for a living, and

Ill see you soon - bye!

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