Home to myriad experimental interactive pieces, the PS3 served as fertile ground for developers looking to stretch their legs in a different direction than AAA had typically allowed. Microsoft and Sony went back and forth, cultivating marketplaces stuffed with interesting and unique titles, courting small teams and individuals to produce content exclusively for either platform. In the case of Sony, some of these endeavors veered into territory fairly unknown for mainstream audiences.
Enter Linger in Shadows. Developed by Polish group Plastic, the title was adamantly touted as “not a game” by senior producer Rusty Buchert. Despite interactivity and trophy support, Linger in Shadows was positioned as a piece of interactive digital art. While only $3, games journalism at large rebuffed it, baffled as to why such a short-form experience would cost money in the first place, much less be pushed by Sony themselves.
Painted with brushstrokes, the visuals blend the organic and cybernetic, exploring abstractions of geometric shapes and patterns alongside crumbling manmade vistas. If nothing else, it’s truly a feat of graphical engineering and accomplishes what it set out to do, push the PS3’s hardware to its limits. It’s playable in two forms, “Watch” and “Linger”. Users enjoy a 7-minute long visual treat based around abstract cityscapes, dogs, cats, pandas, and what may as well be a squiddy from The Matrix. While “Watch” simply played the visuals out in real time, “Linger” allowed players to scrub the timeline, interacting with chunks of scenes via the SIXAXIS. In these moments, players could also peer around the scene to explore the space outside the frame. Nothing major came of that, though, outside of unlocking trophies.
Sadly, this seems to comprise the majority of Linger’s legacy, as it became something of a go-to for trophy hunters. Buchert introduced trophies to Linger to “be explored as part of ideas, philosophy, mocking the traditional idea of Trophies, or for very unique approaches to playing the game, art, or whatever.” Ironically, this addition is probably what ended up drawing so many adopters to the title who would have otherwise never cared.
Nevertheless, for the oddity that it was, Linger brought something to the mainstream, one way or another, that had long been lurking in the underground: the demoscene, communities of programmers, musicians, and graphic artists drawing as much audiovisual splendor as possible out of hardware. What began as cracktros, ever more elaborate signatures left by software crackers since the dawn of copy-protected commercial software, became demos, a showy, competitive art form standing on its own. The scene has a decidedly physical aspect, demoparties, where artists or groups submit creations and vote on winners. It’s a community in its own right, standing, as its eponymous art form does, on its own, apart from the warez scene.
This sterilization, if you want to call it that, has served artists in the scene well, allowing many to move aboveboard, working with big-name game development studios such as Remedy and Guerrilla Games. It makes sense, given that those making demos were already at the forefront of graphical wizardry and visual design.
It’s understandable, then, that Sony would want to pluck from the avant-garde, to carve out a niche of its own in the emerging art games market. Especially so with how hard they were pushing the “Power of the Cell” as the PS3’s raison d’être. However, this merging of worlds seemed to really only exacerbate the dissonance between the long-term core gamers in the market and the burgeoning section of consumers looking to grapple with the medium from a more critical standpoint. Given that this was late 2008, indie games had just begun to enter their renaissance, as far as exposure is concerned, and slapping a price tag on something markedly “not a game” drew ire from some.
On the other side of things, some in the demoscene resented having their counterculture coopted and sold back to them. Linger in Shadows was announced formally at 2008’s German demoparty “Breakpoint,” an event put on by partners such as ATI and nVidia. Underground no longer, Linger serves as a pivotal moment in the scene far outgrowing its origins.
While Linger may not have touted itself as a game, it still resides in the pantheon of titles drawing heavily from, or directly tying themselves to, the demoscene. Games such as REZ or EVERY EXTEND which drew from such inspirations as WinAmp music visualizers and Tokyo VJ sets, were drawing from the demoscene by proxy. Modern art games still carry a torch in some ways for the scene; titles such as Mu Cartographer or the VR fractal engine Coral maintain tinges of the trails of visual experimentation blazed by those in the demoscene. Plastic even continued on with Sony after Linger, creating the abstract ballet adventure Bound 8 years later to moderately positive reviews.
Simply ahead of its time, and sadly left to be one of the long-forgotten progenitors of the endless “are games art” debate, Linger in Shadows is an interesting title to look back on. Modest in its own way, the title radically shifted the proverbial Overton Window of what could be classified as a “game” and released into modern console shop environments. While it may not be spoken of in the same hushed whispers as other indie landmarks of its time (Braid, for reference came out mere months prior), Linger deserves to be remembered for what it was: a gorgeous piece of art and a then unprecedentedly bare and obvious intersection of the games industry and the demoscene. If nothing else, it gave people a reason to dive deeper into the audiovisual influences that play out behind the scenes for many game developers, and widened the scope of what may be considered a “game.”
Catherine Brinegar is a trans game developer and filmmaker who explores the surreal and abstract in her work. Beyond her creative endeavors she enjoys losing herself inside other worlds, interactive and not. Finding inspiration in everything, Catherine aims to see all the world has to offer, through the continual conversation of art. You can keep up with her on twitter @cathroon.