“12 Minutes” was one of the promising indie games Microsoft highlighted at its E3 2019 press briefing on Sunday. The trailer showed a man who could seemingly predict the future. But as it went on, you realize that he’s stuck reliving the same horrible moments over and over.
During a private demo at E3, creator Luis Antonio (who used to work at Ubisoft and was the former art director on “The Witness”) talked about how his trippy time traveling game works. He wanted to tell a compelling story in a non-linear way, looking at films like “The Shining” and “Memento” for inspiration.
“Each time you play a loop, you’re gonna learn more about the situation. And you use your interpretation of the events to decide what to do,” said Antonio. “The game never gives you any objectives or tells you what to do [next].”
The title of the game actually refers to its central premise: each time loop only lasts for 12 minutes. These minutes pass in real time, and you can always check how much time you have left by pausing the game and looking at the large clock in the menu screen.
“12 Minutes” only has three characters: the husband (who you control), his wife, and the mysterious policeman. Though small, the apartment that the story takes place in is packed with details. You can, for example, sleep in your bed to pass the time, or rummage through closets and drawers to find items that might help you.
The cop always comes knocking on your door three minutes into each time loop, claiming that he is there to arrest your wife for murder. If you let him in, he’ll immediately handcuff both you and the woman, and if you don’t find a way to stop him, he’ll suffocate you until you pass out.
Whenever you’re knocked out, you transition into the next time loop by literally falling onto the ground of the apartment as if you just dropped out of the sky. Your character is so disoriented the first time this happens — processing both the time traveling and the traumatizing experience of being choked out — that he throws up.
But an interesting aspect of “12 Minutes” is that you don’t lose any progress when you’re sent back in time. In fact, the more time loops the man experiences, the smarter he becomes, which in turn unlocks new dialogue options. With his newfound knowledge, the man can tell his wife that he’s seen all this before and that she needs to run away before the cop knocks on the door.
One of the main challenges in the game is just trying to convince the wife of the danger she’s in. You’ll have to search the apartment for clues about how to break the time loop and save your wife from a crime she may or may not have committed. Along the way, you’ll discover more about the wife’s past and her relationship to the main character.
“I think there’s enough breadcrumbs every loop that [will make] you want to figure something out. There’s always something to discover. … Hopefully, you’ll never feel bored,” said Antonio.
“12 Minutes” will be coming to Xbox One and PC next year.