Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Longest Road


Surprising though it seems (to me, at least) informed comments by XyzzSqrl and Paeroka on yesterday's post suggest at least some of the demos in the Steam Game Festival will only be available for a week. Make that three days if you're starting from now. 

I was going to spend this evening playing through a couple more but given the urgency, I thought I'd better get this up right away. I would strongly recommend taking a look at The Longest Road On Earth while you have the chance. It'll only take you twenty minutes but it'll be a good twenty.

The Longest Road is a difficult game to describe. For a start, it's not a game. I know I say that about a lot of things but in this instance it's the plain fact. The full version, when it appears later this year, may or may not be a game; the demo certainly is not.

To be scrupulously fair to the publisher, Raw Fury, they don't claim that it is. They describe it as "An emotive interactive visual and auditory experience". A bit fancy for my taste but accurate nonetheless. 

Raw Fury are quite fancy, though. They describe themselves as an "(Un)publisher": We don’t care about genres or mechanics. We care about experiences and emotions." There's quite a lot more like that. You can read it here if you like.

I don't particularly care how they describe themselves, not if they're going to (un)publish "games" like this. Not to mention Kathy Rain and Backbone, both of which they also have in their stable. 

If pushed, I'd say the Longest Road demo is the closest thing I've seen to a true adaptation of the classic indie graphic novel style for interactive media. Everything from the choice of black and white to the animals-as-people characters to the focus on small, personal slice-of-life storytelling suggests it. 

If that sounds appealing then you'll love this demo. It's elegaic, evocative and open to interpretation as the best small press comic-shop favorite. Just don't expect a story.

As the Steam notes say, "There’s no context given in these chapters, you won’t know these characters or their stories, but you can experience moments of time with them and create your interpretations." What I'm not so clear about is whether that applies just to the demo or to the full game. It seems to be lifted verbatim from the game's entry on the Raw Fury website, which doesn't mention the demo at all. 

I hope the finished product will be very much the same. I found the complete lack of exposition to be one of the most compelling aspects of what was, for me, an exceptionally immersive experience. I don't feel any narrative is necessary. Context, though... well, I felt it had plenty. 

The mechanics deserve a mention. There aren't any. Oh, alright, there are a few. Here are the keys I had to press: A, D, Space. And here's how much say I had about when to press them: none.

The "game" (seriously, it's not a game) prompts you at every possible interaction. Those actions are sequential. You either press the correct key and the next thing happens or you don't and you sit and watch a static image. Your choice. 

It's compelling. Despite having no agency you feel you have agency. The exact same agency you have reading a graphic novel. You can turn the page or not. Sometimes you want to turn the page. Sometimes you want to linger. That's your choice.

The best part I've left 'til last. Yes, the pixel art is beautiful. Yes, the non-mechanical mechanics are a joy. The real reason the whole thing feels so magical, though, is the music. 


The Longest Road On Earth demo has what may well be the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a video game, bar none, although it's hardly a fair competition. I've never played a video game before that simply uses a succession of songs as its soundtrack in the exact same way you'd hear them if you'd put on an album. 

The Steam page acknowledges how crucial the music is to the experience: "The Longest Road on Earth includes the soundtrack so you can take the experience with you on your journey". If the aural experience of the demo is replicated throughout the full game when it appears, it might be hard to tell whether it's the music soundtracking the visuals or the visuals providing video in support of the songs.

The first thing I did when the demo ended was to trawl the web to find out who I'd just been listening to. It wasn't hard. The songs are the work of one person, Beicoli. She's a Spanish indie-type with a very low-key presence on the usual platforms: Bandcamp and YouTube,. I found only one video of her performing live:

The bulk of her available material seems to be on Soundcloud. I'm listening to it as I write this. It could scarcely be more in my wheelhouse but that doesn't explain the superb synergy between her music and Mohammed Bakir's pixel art.

While I'm handing out praise I ought to mention the other members of the  team, Ed Verz, in charge of the game's aesthetics, graphic development and programming and Arturo Monadero, who handles production and narrative design.

Together, the four of them have brought something quite special into the world. Why all the characters have to be anthropomorphic animals yet again is a question for another day.

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