Indie Time: Thirty Flights Of Loving

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After finishing Gravity Bone I immediately purchased the sequel, Thirty Flights of Loving, because I wanted to see where Blendo Games took things next. And because everyone else was making quite a fuss about it. Turns out that Thirty Flights of Loving is a rather loose sequel that doesn’t have many obvious connections, story-wise, to the first game. Having said that, playing it is quite the experience. Even more so than Gravity Bone, Thirty Flights of Loving is unlike anything else you have played, and for that alone it is well worth your attention.

There are a few things I should mention up front. First, Thirty Flights of Loving is even shorter than Gravity Bone, and will only take around fifteen minutes to play through. And even though Blendo Games are only asking $5 for the game, many players will balk at paying any amount of money for such a short game. I disagree, not just because you’ll probably want to play through a few times, but because Thirty Flights of Loving is far more interesting in its short duration than most games manage in their entirety. But if this is something that concerns you, consider yourself warned.

Second, Thirty Flights of Loving is something of a shift of focus from Gravity Bone. Gravity Bone contained some novel narrative techniques, but also retained some very “game-y” elements, including exploration and even some platforming. The sequel, by contrast, goes all-in on the narrative experimentation. There are some who will complain that it is not actually a game, because the player does not really have any impact on the outcome; interaction is in many ways limited to walking forward to advance the story. I would argue that that’s not strictly true, that the spatial exploration has simply been replaced with a different kind of exploration, focused on observing small details within the confines of the game’s scenes. But, more importantly, to complain about the lack of interaction is to completely miss the point.

There are tons of linear games out there, where the player has essentially no control over what happens. The “play” in these games is based around overcoming obstacles, be they enemies, puzzles, or something else, under the assumption that the player will eventually prevail. The narrative is therefore what happens after success, with failure typically leading to a game over screen and a reload. Just because there are some challenges to master does not make the narrative experience any richer. Thirty Flights of Loving lacks any such challenges, but is a far more interesting narrative experience. Like Gravity Bone, it uses many techniques borrowed from film, including smash cuts and flashbacks, but it applies them in such a way that it never felt as if I was a mere observer at all. The simple fact of putting the player in the protagonist’s shoes, literally, makes a huge difference, and Thirty Flights of Loving knows it. There aren’t any parts of the game where you will simply watch events unfold, not unless you choose to. You may be along for the ride, but you’re actually on that ride, not simply watching it go.

Now, I don’t think that this is an inherent consequence of playing from a first-person perspective, which is why Thirty Flights of Loving is so impressive. Every aspect of its design is centered around using that first-person perspective to maximum effect. I was aware that I was controlling someone else, but I also felt exactly the right amount of personal investment. I gladly followed this person through both the present plight and past memories, experiencing them as if they were my own, and when I was finished, I immediately went through again with the developer commentary turned on. Here I learned some of the history behind the game’s development, including the challenges resulting from switching from a dialogue-heavy design to one without any dialogue at all. I learned that the excellent music was actually an original score by Chris Remo, unlike the borrowed film scores of Gravity Bone. But I didn’t learn much about the meaning behind the story, so I went back and played through a third time without the commentary, looking for more details and clues. Then I went online and starting reading everything that others had written about it.

That’s one more thing that might turn off some players: Thirty Flights of Loving tells one of those stories that won’t really make sense the first time through, and leaves a lot up to interpretation. I didn’t mind, because it got me thinking, and because it’s short enough to play through several more times to look for details that were missed the first time. Even so, there were some things I would never have caught on my own that I had to learn from other players’ accounts, things I think should have been made a little more obvious in the game itself. Some of these pertain to the connection with Gravity Bone, which is included with the purchase of Thirty Flights of Loving (but can also be downloaded for free from the Blendo Games webpage). After playing both, I found Gravity Bone to be more lighthearted and fun, but Thirty Flights of Loving made me think more. A lot more. It’s been more than two weeks since I played it, and I’m still thinking about it. That’s pretty good for a fifteen-minute game.

I highly recommend checking out both Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving. Even if you don’t like them, I guarantee you’ll find something interesting about them, something you’ll want to talk to someone else about. There are far worse ways to spend $5 than that.

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