Well, obviously it is a game, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Brendon Chung’s Thirty Flights of Loving, for those who don’t know, is a ten minute long, Quake 2-powered, short story. It’s about a heist gone wrong. That’s probably all you need to know.
That, and it’s fantastic. It would be very easy to attack the game for its lack of interactivity. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever played a more linear game, but that’s entirely the point of Thirty Flights of Loving. It looks how so many post-Half Life games have approached storytelling, strips out all the gameplay elements and then examines and improves on the way that games communicate narrative. Sure you could complain about the lack of player choice, but Thirty Flights of Loving isn’t about player choice. It’s a statement of intent. It’s a manifesto.
At its core, it’s a story told entirely through level design. It lets nothing else get in the way of telling the story – the environment guides you in such a way that you always know where to go and what to do. There’s no UI, no voice over, no cut scenes, nothing but the environment and your intuition as a player to tell the story.
It borrows liberally from film-making techniques, using jump-cuts as short hand. Why force the player to walk all the way down a series of long corridors to get somewhere, when you can just give 5 seconds of an environment, enough time to get the idea of what’s going on, before jumping to the next?
It uses montage to establish character, accomplishing more in 10 seconds than other games would in 10 minutes of cut scene and dialogue exposition.
My point is, Thirty Flights of Loving is an educational exercise in game narrative as much as it is a game and Chung knows it. He presents the credits and epilogue through a museum environment, with assets from the game itself shown as exhibits that NPCs are crowding around and eagerly discussing. He quite literally puts the game on a pedestal. No really, the ‘The End’ screen is a block of granite with ‘The End’ written on it, atop a pedestal.
Chung even goes so far as to include a developer commentary in the game, allowing the player to wonder around its environments as he describes the ‘whys’ and the ‘hows’ of it all.
Those who complain about paying £4 for ten minutes of game time are missing the point. Thirty Flights of Loving is so much more than the time it takes to play through it. It’s a manifesto. It says we can do a better job of telling stories in games, using only the tools that games provide us.