Twelve Minutes is a time-looping masterclass of innovative game design

Time loops are in right now. Whether it’s a roguelike sci-fi adventure to an alien world or Groundhog Day and Live, Die, Repeat rewatch parties (are these a thing?), everyone’s going ga-ga for time loop mysteries. Twelve Minutes is just one game that has enraptured people, from its core concept of getting stuck in a murderous cycle and trying to break out, to its trio of Hollywood stars that provide the voice acting.

Twelve Minutes is a deliberately small and compact game, taking place in a single flat and with only three characters, voiced by James McAvoy, Daisy Ridley and Willem Dafoe. Because of the way that the world view has been narrowed so far, it allows for this environment, these characters, their interactions, and how events can unfold with depth.

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The story picks up as you (the protagonist voiced by McAvoy) comes home from work and is greeted by his wife (Ridley), promising that she’s made a special dessert that’s ready whenever you are. You can explore the environment at this point, moving the cursor to see all of the objects that you can interact with and pick up. Take the cup next to her, walk it over to the sink, bring it back and she’ll thank you for the drink, for example. There’s a simple point & click style approach to inventory and item management.

Sitting down for dessert, though, is when things take a turn for the evening. There’s banging at the door, hollering that it’s the police and to open up and, when the wife does exactly that, she’s confronted by a policeman (Defoe) accusing her of a crime and forcefully arresting her and you.

You can react during this, the course of events changing as you decide to stand and watch, try to intervene or object. Comply and find yourself bound while on the floor, and you can struggle. Struggle a time or two too often and the cop wanders over to put you in your place. That place, it seems, is in a grave after being choked to death.

You know, I’m not so sure he’s a cop after all…

What happens next is what catches the husband by surprise. He’s warped back to the moment in time that he walked through the door to his flat, left gasping for air as he struggles to come to terms with what happened. From here, with knowledge of what’s about to happen, you can follow a different path. Try to tell your wife that you’ve just warped back a few minutes in time, tell her that she’s thirsty or that you know she’s prepared dessert already. HE learns about this loop, just as you do, gaining more dialogue options depending on how things have panned out through previous runs, but it’s a tough act to convince someone you’re a time traveller. So maybe you need to take stronger action? Grab a knife and hide in the bathroom to try and spring a trap to defend yourselves.

It doesn’t go well.

Eventually, through all these loops, you’ll start to learn how to overcome this assailant and survive past the first few minutes, but there’s plenty more to this tale to uncover, as even if you don’t end up dead, the 12 minutes time loop will still send you back to the start.

Twelve Minutes is a fascinating concept. As developer Luis Antonio gave us a tour of two possible attempts at the game and answered questions, we were able to peel back a few more layers of this game’s mystery. For one, it doesn’t seem that there’s necessarily a Groundhog Day-style happy ending where the loop is broken, and even once clarity over the game’s story has been reached, it might not be the end. Instead, the game ends once you are ready to walk away. That in and of itself is a fascinating notion, perhaps comparable to the way you can explore different narrative endings in games like Heavy Rain and Until Dawn, delving down different paths in the broad array of possibilities.

Antonio also explained elements of how the game came together. The involvement of McAvoy, Ridley and Dafoe is remarkable for a solo developer, but was helped massively by signing to publisher Annapurna Interactive, who used their connections through their parent company Annapurna Pictures to help with casting the trio. It certainly adds a distinctive tone to the game to have such accomplished actors.

The original intention was actually for the game to be 24 hours long, or at least represent 24 hours, but he discovered that there were too many pain points in the feedback loop at this size. Actions and reactions are much quicker in a 12-minute span, the player having to retain a more manageable amount of knowledge and detail in order to play.

The one disappointment from the preview was that, due to being a remote demo, we didn’t get the chance to go hands-on and explore the time loop for ourselves at this time. Thankfully, it doesn’t sound like we’ll have to wait too much longer. Antonio said that the game is nearly finished, just a few months away, whereupon it will be released across Xbox consoles and PC.

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1 Comment

  1. Had this game on my radar for quite some time, but hope it’ll make it to PlayStation sometime later, otherwise I’d miss out on this one.

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