Michał Staniszewski has been a member of Plastic, a demoscene studio, since the 1990s, creating digital art in the form of virtual multimedia performances, or ‘demos’.
Michał ‘Bonzaj’ Staniszewski, born in 1981, began his programming career on the demoscene, a community that creates digital arts which merges spectacular visuals with rigorous programming. The goal for each demo is to reach the very limits of a computer’s technical capabilities. Demos are usually abstract and don't tell stories, but are primarily a formal presentation.
Plastic, of which Staniszewski is a member, has become more and more famous with passing years. In 2004-2005 they received awards for demos such as Your Fingers So Gently On My Skin, 195/95, and Final Audition.
The group’s work quickly caught the attention of Sony, which was looking for original productions for their then-new PlayStation 3 console. Their interest resulted in a groundbreaking title for Plastic – Linger in Shadows. This interactive demo was widely known among PS3 users, as it was quite distinct from other titles available on the console and, what’s more, it well utilised the console’s processing power. It caused quite a discussion among critics. Some of them praised the artistic and technical sides of the project, others criticised it, as they expected a full-blown game.
Plastic, under Staniszewski’s management, continued to work with Sony. In 2012 Datura was released in co-operation with Plastic Image studio. It strayed away from demoscene conventions, but it also wasn’t easily classified as a game. It begins as a clear allusion to Divine Comedy – the hero, brought back to life in an ambulance, is suddenly transported to a mysterious forest. It’s autumn time and the ground is covered in colourful leaves. The player is not on any kind of quest – the goal is to start exploring. When new places are discovered, sometimes the player is transported into another reality, where some ethical decision has to be made really quickly (should you help a man trapped under ice, or run away? Crash into a pig crossing a road, or somehow try to avoid it?) These decisions have an impact on the forest’s condition, as it either comes back to life, or dies completely. Staniszewski admitted that seemingly random scenes really allude to the Way of the Cross. The creators were inspired to do so by Kieślowski’s Decalogue. Datura was to be a showcase of the new Move controller’s capabilities, but it didn’t do well in that respect. It, however, became an important voice in discussion on the artistic value of games and the maturity of the topics that they tackle.
The collaboration between Plastic and Plastic Image was furthered with the production of the oddly funny demo Catzilla. It tells the story of a gigantic cat that is destroying a metropolis, but it’s at the same time a testing tool for a computer’s processing power. Around this time, Plastic Image studio became a shareholder of Plastic, as well as an important creative partner.
Staniszewski’s newest project is Bound, a game awarded with Polityka magazine’s Paszport award in 2017. It’s sort of a summary of the developer’s output – complicated technical aspects, with awe-inducing geometrical effects as an obvious throwback to the demoscene. Its story is about an ordinary family and, like Datura, is an attempt to search for a way video games can tackle important topics that are not often discussed in this medium.
Originally written in Polish, April 2017, translated by AS