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Thirty Flights of Loving

Thirty Flights of Loving

So I’ve had this game on my hard drive for a long time. Most likely I bought it as part of a bundle where I was more interested in another game on offer, or I bought it during a steam sale where it was ridiculously cheap and, being a game that people have talked about a fair bit, I thought I’d nab it then and there. And then forget about it.

But in an effort to try and play some of the many unloved games in my Steam collection the other day, I decided to click on and load this. To be honest, if I’d known it was so short, I most definitely would have played it earlier!

thirty_flights_of_loving_01

(side note: this highlights the use of a feature in Big Picture mode (which I access via my Steam Link) which pulls up games you haven’t played or haven’t played for a long time – it’s useful. Our collections are so big these days that I’m sure I’m not the only one to forget what I have and haven’t got in there.)

So Thirty Flights of Loving (TFOL) is a very short (about 15-20 minutes max) 1st person adventure game which, crucially, uses fragmented narrative and unusual story-telling devices to tell the story of a trio of criminals attempting to pull off a heist of some sort. If you’re looking for high-quality shaders and super-realistic animation, you have most definitely come to the wrong place!

Instead the developer (Brendan Cheung with Blendo Games) has opted for very lo-fi models and textures, as well as a very old engine (it’s made in the idTech2 engine – the engine use to create Quake II, and then opensourced in 2001…that’s a LONG time ago!).

These in and of themselves make for interesting choices. I often talk about how the video games industry’s tech arms race has kind of gimped it creatively in many other ways – we never stop to make proper use of what we have already. What I mean is, rather than exploring all the creative and expressive possibilities of the tools at hand (and which we have only just started to scrape the surface of with games), as an industry we have just been solely focused on more polygons, more textures, better lighting effects etc. More ‘wow!’, more spectacle and awe, but not necessarily more expression.

So TFOL is interesting for these reasons and more. It kind of jars with you because so many of the gaming conventions that we’re used to are dispensed with. This is a kind of ‘formal complicit’ (to use Brian Schrenk’s nomenclature) avant-garde video game, because it forces us to re-examine how we interact with video games and what we expect of them when we come to play them. Dialogue is dispensed with and all story is environmental, narrative is non-sequential and sewn together with smash cuts (quick changes between scenes of radically different natures), montages and unexplained time-skips.

Thirty-Flights-of-Loving-Screenshot-Wallpaper-Floating-Dancers

At first I found it kind of annoying, and I wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about. Playing it through again with the developer’s commentary turned on helps alot in attempting to understand what was going on and what the context of everything that went on was. Eventually, as I’ve thought about it, there is so much here to think about and experiment with for future games, it’s a shame that it’s obviously passed many game-makers by. I can’t think of any other games that may have taken inspiration from it – save for, perhaps, the sublime Stanley Parable. Yes, the mechanics are almost non-existent, but this is kind of the walking simulator that existed before walking simulators existed – and so it’s the narrative and experimentation with presentation of the story that is key here.

I really should have played it a lot earlier than I did!

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