March 24, 2023

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Twelve Minutes is easier to understand when you think of it as a theatrical play

Twelve Minutes begins to make a lot more sense to me when the director, Luis Antonio, talks about it being like a play. It’s not that the central time-looping concept is hard to grasp, nor that it’s confusing to play – it’s absolutely neither of those things. But it’s hard to see how such a contained set of ideas can fill eight to 10 hours of the game’s duration. Particularly as, after 25 minutes, I’ve apparently seen 95 percent of all the objects and things I can interact with. But when he says, “We’re going for kind of a character piece like a theatre play,” I begin to understand.

There are few, if any, distractions. There’s one small set – an apartment – three characters, a few props, and that’s it. And there are no gamey exaggerations like flashy powers or combat systems, or anything like that. Instead, there’s the characters, and a drama that comes through them, through the things they say and the things they do. Like in a play. Except it’s a play that rewinds roughly every 12 minutes and then runs again, and when it does, someone makes a change and triggers a chain reaction in which new character discoveries can occur. And that’s how the story emerges, in evolving loops of time.

For example, the first loop around, everything was new to me. I returned home late and found the spare key to let myself in, at which point my wife came from the bedroom to announce she had news to share with me over a special dessert, which I fetched from the fridge. (Incidentally, it’s a very simple game to play, like an old adventure game: one button to click on objects in the environment and drag them in or out of an inventory, and combine them together.) Then came the fateful knock on the door, from a man claiming to be the police. Naturally, I let him in, but I shouldn’t have. Things went from bad to worse and I blacked out not long after. I returned to my senses as I entered my apartment again, with my wife coming out of the bedroom to greet me as though nothing had happened. It hadn’t: time had rewound. But I remembered. I knew danger was coming. I could warn her, I could arm myself, I could lock the door. But would any of these things work?

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