essay, playing, video games

A fantastic ride of jump cuts and scenic nonsense (Thirty Flights of Loving)

Thirty Flights of Loving

Thirty Flights of Loving does more to push the visual storytelling possibilities of the first-person genre than than most shooter franchises have ever accomplished. Through a mad series of scene transitions and perception inversions, the game is more film than mechanics. It’s more mad-dash than minigame. Oh, and did I mention it lasts about 10 minutes total?

Thirty Flights of LovingThe game recently received honorable mentions in both the Nuovo and Seumas McNally Grand Prize categories of the Independent Game Festival. It’s no wonder too. By cramming every inch with story and serving as a master-class in how to seize a narrative, deconstruct it, and put in only the most important parts in the most interesting ways possible, Thirty Flights of Loving puts cut-scenes to shame. It puts many first-person shooters to shame. It shows, more than any other game I have played this year, how an short economy of actions can lead to excess of visual delight.

Thirty Flights of LovingEven after playing through it twice now, I can’t totally explain what it is going on in this game. Nor can I adequately describe the joy of following a bullet, flipping between scenes like pages in a book blown by the wind, or even the perverse satisfaction of reading through a set of displays about the Bernoulli’s Principle just because Brendon Chung thought it was interesting. It’s left me wondering — and wanting more one trip through its kaleidoscopic of plot and people.

Thirty Flights of LovingThis game is authored. From start to finish, it feels like the result of a craft honed by one person. The music may be from Chris Remo, but the style and feel is all one designer. This is Brendon Chung. This is his virtual world. From the rooftop dance partying into the sky to the drones hung by balloons, it’s a weird and wonderful exploration of the intersection of spies, spatial geometry, and seemingly nonsense scenes.

Thirty Flights of LovingThirty Flights of Loving excels at a technique common to film but often overlooked in games: the jump cut. Moving quickly from one scene to another, hopping back and forth through time, characters appear to “jump” from one thing to another. Continuity and even linearity is smashed and reassembled as the character’s narrative and that of player overlap only in that they experience the same events. The order of these events, however, varies between the two. In Thirty Flights of Loving, as the player moves forward through the story, time warps, wobbles, and finally breaks as plot is overcome by the breakneck pace of the game.

Thirty Flights of LovingIt’s short fiction, a type of game sorely lacking among the shooters, skill-based puzzles, and action platformers of today. And unlike those games which seek to capture interest over time, Thirty Flights of Loving  takes you on a ride, drops you off, and offers you the chance to ride again. With rich details and subtle jokes that reward a close inspection on a third or even fourth playthrough, the world is littered with small objects, wandering people, and signs referencing other places in the Blendo Games greater universe.

The game prompts the player to think about the illusion of choice, the power of visual storytelling, and the strengths of starting a tale late and getting out early. It also allows the option of pushing swains off railings. (Hint: it’s fun. Do it.)

Thirty Flights of Loving questions time, answers for itself, and takes all comers.