Have You Played… Thirty Flights Of Loving?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Too many games are so terrified of me not understanding everything that they spew nonsense at me about their world, their characters, their story, and their magic/technology/I don’t care. For some reason, many video games believe that we’re incapable of understanding something we didn’t see happen, that we’re incapable of inference. Huzzah, then, for Thirty Flights of Loving [official site].

Thirty Flights of Loving is a heist where you don’t see the heist, a betrayal where you don’t see the betrayal, and a love story where you don’t live through when it all fell apart. Non-linear storytelling and vignettes with cinematic tricks like smash cuts and time-lapse unfold this thriller in a fascinating order, slowly revealing little bits and trusting you’ll piece them together. It only takes fifteen minutes, but is beautifully paced with seemingly endless quiet moments crashing into chase sequences.

You may not pick everything up immediately, but the game still rolls on happily – you always have a path to continue on, and you may stumble blindly down that for reasons you won’t understand until later. Another playthrough really helped me to notice details like key characters lurking in the background, or have sudden awful realisations about what a scene actually meant. Clear graphics and atmospheric environments tie it all together.

It’s more thrilling, funny, romantic, and tragic than many games manage in fifteen hours. It’s nice to be trusted. Celebrate small games doing small things well.

45 Comments

  1. jezcentral says:

    This was the first game that I hated. 15 mins of barely interacting rubbish. I actually played it a second time to make sure I hadn’t missed anything, so big was the gap between the my reaction and that of critics (i.e. RPS).

    Maybe I just needed to have my expectations challenged like this, to allow later games like Gone Home (cracking game) to get through, without the same shock. Whatever, TFOL still stands as something I can’t stand. I’m convinced there was a honeymoon period for Indie development, where anything not from Big Gaming was greeted as the Second Coming. This was the prime example. See also Atom Zombie Smasher. Maybe I just have something against Brendon Chung? (Not really, I love hearing his interviews, just not playing his games).

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      phuzz says:

      I’m not sure, I remember enjoying playing it, but I don’t think I can remember anything about it now, so it can’t have been superbly memorable.
      I should probably go back and play it again, 15 mins isn’t too much to ask.

    • Adamustache says:

      I’m not entirely sure that I agree with the idea of the honeymoon period with indie games, but surely if there was one, it would have been during this game’s predecessor, Gravity Bone. By the time Thirty Flights came out, indie games were already prominent. Personally, I loved Thirty Flights. And since you brought it up, I was especially into Atom Zombie Smasher. I couldn’t put that game down. Interesting that you hated both, since they are so different from each other, but I suppose Brendon Chung’s games must be a matter of personal taste even more than other games.

    • jrodman says:

      I have something against Brendon Chung, but love thirty flights of loving. That is, I find his gamey-games really annoying, but the experience of Thirty Flights of Loving captivated me.

    • HERP DERP NANOMACHINES says:

      “15 mins of barely interacting rubbish” MAYBE YOU SHOULD TRY PAYING ATTENTION??? The Environmental Narrative genre requires very little interaction, your ignorance about the mechanics and story driven aspect of this genre says more about you than the quality of tis game.

      • Eightball says:

        >The Environmental Narrative genre

        “You’re just not smart enough to *get* the Being Hit With A Hammer Genre you dumb pleb”

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        Phasma Felis says:

        Settle down and step away from the capslock. We can disagree without getting screechy.

      • PancakeWizard says:

        “The Environmental Narrative genre”

        Thanks for the laugh!

      • Frank says:

        Please tell me you’re joking.

    • elpuma says:

      In the end, buying and trying to play this game made more aware of the need to not only check the summary of a review, but also how did a reviewer got to that conclusion. RPS is in general great at that, though the original wot I think was not a prime example.

    • geldonyetich says:

      Honestly, I’m inclined to agree. Thirty Flights Of Loving was more pretentious than entertaining for me. I guess I appreciated the unique ideas being communicated, but that’s about it.

    • Mctittles says:

      Having messed around in the Hammer Editor I felt like this was just someone learning how to use it. You click things and they disappear. “Hey I figured out how to do something when someone clicks an object…..let’s publish”.

      • zipdrive says:

        I’m also one of those not enchanted by TSoL. Part of it is what I see as over-hyping by the press (including RPS) that led to disappointment, and part is that, yeah, maybe I’m just too thick to “get” all this fancy avant-garde Art. I found the hints of a story unclear, the locations too restrictive and the interaction minimal. Too short for the money, and additional play-throughs didn’t help much.

        I think the (over-) enthusiasm gaming press has with innovation may be responsible to the gap in reception with this and other strange indie efforts. I’m still looking forward quadrilateral Cowboy, though.

  2. Jeroen D Stout says:

    Have I!

    It is one of my favourite games. It swings, dazzles, does some odd things, pushes you through. It uses jump cuts to great effect, has a great mixture of stress and peace, implies a story more than it tells it… and it is slightly bizarre.

    Peeling oranges was just such a nice bit. It’s a great sketch of a game for more interesting things yet to come.

    I never felt anything matched it in its own field, not even close. One of those games that feels like it came from a parallel dimension in which games are far more interesting.

  3. TychoCelchuuu says:

    I adore this game. There are so many little amazing touches, like being able to pick up all the bullets in the planning sequence. The developer’s commentary mode is also a fun little bonus. This is one of those great games that doesn’t compromise at all on its vision: as Alice points out, it doesn’t treat us like idiots, and the tone throughout is absolutely pitch perfect because it’s not afraid to (for instance) do wacky stuff like have all the people float into the air while you get drunk. And that ending is sublime.

  4. Frings says:

    I have not, but that picture promptly reminded me of the Cuboy: Back To The Cubeture games.

    I think it’s time for another replay…

  5. apa says:

    30 Flights is the real cinematic game. It uses story telling techniques from movies and trusts the player to understand what’s going on.

    First time I played it I just sat a while overwhelmed – and had to experience it instantly again.

  6. Xocrates says:

    I have. Though I can’t say I dislike it, I feel it’s an experience that doesn’t quite work (though I believe it existing is more important than it working).

    The story was neither complex or hard to follow, it simply was half missing. I don’t have a problem about it wanting me to infer things, I just don’t think it ever gives me enough for me to want to care.

    But the cinematic smash cuts are the thing that I don’t think work here. They don’t always fail though, I think the transition from the plane into the title is really good, eliciting the appropriate response of confusion and panic, but in every other case I can think of it just caused the flow to break, since everytime it happened I instinctively stopped to get a bearing of what was happening, which in multiple scenes was the opposite of what should have done.

    Games are in large part about navigating a space, and TFOL tries to cut that space out. Walking simulators like Gone Home work while this doesn’t simply because they keep the space in.

    • Urthman says:

      I really enjoyed TFoL, but I agree with this that it could be a genuinely great game if it had a more interesting story. Like Half-Life, the game is cinematic in a revolutionary way, making it a great gaming experience, but the story itself would make a mediocre TV movie.

      I think I enjoyed Gravity Bone even more than TFoL.

    • Synesthesia says:

      “Games are in large part about navigating a space”

      That’s part of the problem TFoL game explores quite directly, doesn’t it? The fact that games are largely about navigating spaces have more to do with historical, technical limits, that just became ingrained in most of their design.
      Sort of how the Lumiere chaps were forced to do short takes with one short film reel, and then show that.
      Videogames are not movies, but they are very, very young, and they can learn a lot from its language. TFoL is living proof of that, in my opinion.

      • Xocrates says:

        While I agree that this is in part what TFoL explores (and why I think the game is important), the navigating a space thing has nothing to do with technical constraints. The navigating a space thing is related to the fact that when you have direct control it’s confusing when the space you’re trying to transverse isn’t there.

        There are many games that are not about navigating a space, but you usually don’t have direct control or have that.

        TFoL is trying to applying film language to games, and while I commend it for trying, to me it just shows some of the fundamental differences between games and movies.

        • Jeroen D Stout says:

          I think it might be possible it is just not common enough… I say this, as I really enjoyed (and ‘got’) the jump cuts. I think the problem is games are so devoid of jump cuts that having them does not read easily. You need to trust the game and just sort-of go on forward without having a meticulous understanding of the area, which runs really contrary to the way most games are played, but I feel is not a necessary element of games. I think if we had a hundred more games with jump cuts we would all just be used to the language of it.

          • Xocrates says:

            That’s the thing though. If you have to “trust” the game, then why give agency to the player in the first place?

            Now, to be clear here, the problem are unpredictable jump cuts, which is what TFoL uses, if you can predict or initiate the jump cut this is a non-issue.

          • Jeroen D Stout says:

            Obviously you want to give the player some agency to have him play through the thing :) I didn’t really find the jump-cuts unpredictable, or at least, not so unpredictable it bothered me.

  7. MrFinnishDude says:

    That game made me feel actual love for a block woman.
    If that is not good storytelling and emotion inducing then I don’t know what is.

  8. neoncat says:

    TFOL did so many amazing things with staging and framing. You really have to look at it through the lens of movies and how it translates that story-telling vocabulary into an interactive experience.

    It’s also one of those few games that pairs quite well with a glass of wine.

    (Did anybody else spend five minutes just throwing orange peels off the balcony?)

  9. santouryuu says:

    i did play it.didn’t understand much of it,don’t want to.not that i disliked the game or anything,i actually really liked the game.it was a good to great experience,falling somewhere in between.it was an experience,i think and so i don’t really care about knowing the exact story,but just feel the overall mood(or maybe i am just dumb for not understanding the game).
    the best part i thought was the end where there was a sort of museums containing art and other tidbits of the game,somewhat like The Stanley Parable.

  10. JFS says:

    Beautiful game, really. I love Blendo. Only played 30 Flights this year, but it was one of the most moving games I ever played. Not gamey, but actually cinematic, in a way. And I don’t mean that over-the-top-testosterone cinematic.

  11. Synesthesia says:

    Yes! I love blendo, I love brendon chung. I think he and Davey Wreden are one of the few guys who are pushing the medium forward by leaps, not by small, pre-checked, market secure baby steps.Went through it while sharing a beer with the girlfriend, and we both loved it to bits. Stopped to look at the small details, and gawped at the rooftop scene. More of thiat, Mr Chung, please.

  12. zarniwoop says:

    This is hands down my favourite game that I’ve ever played.

    I cannot wait for Quadrilateral Cowboy.

  13. baozi says:

    I think it’s brilliant – extremely high density storytelling, no unnecessary fluff, techniques that are unconventional in games. I thought it was actually doing something new (maybe there are predecessors that I don’t know) and that devs should pay attention.

  14. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Yes, thrice!

    • A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

      Once with the commentary on, which was fascinating, highly recommended.

      It is tiny, but perfectly formed. One of those games that makes it look so easy it inspires you to become a game maker, but leaves you knowing you might as well give up now because you’ll never be this good. Like looking at a late Picasso. There I said it.

  15. MrStones says:

    *click* *click* *click* *click*

    Those clicks (should be pretty obvious what bit I’m talking about to someone who’s played it without getting spoilery) are probably one of my favourite bits of any game. It’s barely a second or two long and has zero interaction but left me sat in a stunned silence and has stuck with me ever since.

  16. Shazbut says:

    I don’t want price to matter, but in this instance, with so much stuff available for free, it seems wrong to have to pay £4 for a game that lasts 15 minutes.

    • Scandalon says:

      I’m in the same boat. I *want* to play it, but being extremely limited with my extra income these days, I don’t want to pay full price – wishing for a sale. At a digital store where I have some credit. :P

    • caff says:

      It’s not quite that short. But I get your point – there are other indie “experiences” out there that can evoke a similar depth of emotion at zero cost. The key differentiator with Thirty Flights is that it oozes charm and style.

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      Sinomatic says:

      Yeah, I’m in the same boat. I actually did enjoy/appreciate TFoL (at least by the second run through anyway), but it was severely tempered by feeling that I had way overpaid for the experience. I should have waited for a sale really.

      Having said that, I will absolutely admit that the experience has stayed with me and I still think it’s a clever wee game in terms of it’s storytelling. It’s just that: far too wee.

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        Waltorious says:

        For me, the fact that the experience stayed with me, and I continued to think about it and read about it well after I was done playing (including playing through another couple of times) is exactly what made it worth the price. The “value” is more than just the time I spent playing. In fact, I think it’s worth it even for someone who ends up not liking it, because it will still prompt discussion and thought.

        But I can understand the sentiment. If you are curious about Thirty Flights of Loving but aren’t sure if you want to pay for it yet, I recommend trying Gravity Bone by the same developer, which is similar in some ways but very different in others, and is completely free. If you like it, there’s a good chance you’ll like Thirty Flights of Loving also. Just know that Gravity Bone features more “traditional” game-like elements, including some jumping, whereas Thirty Flights of Loving is more committed to the idea of designing around the narrative and trying new things.

    • baozi says:

      I’d be inclined to agree if there were tons of games like TFoL. But there aren’t and I was blown away by it, so I absolutely did not regret buying it. But I can understand people not liking it that much to be disappointed by its shortness.

    • baozi says:

      I’d be inclined to agree if there were tons of games like TFoL. But there aren’t, so I absolutely did not regret buying it. But I can understand people not liking it that much to be disappointed by its shortness.

  17. Danda says:

    This game is full of hot air. Too expensive for what it is, going for “cool” instead of “pretentious” but too similar in results to the games made by Tale of Tales.

    After buying it, I stopped following RPS’s advice blindly for good.

  18. dethtoll says:

    Brendan Chung is my lord and master. I’ve played just about his entire output (yes, even the weird little unfinished experimental Half-Life mods he made) and he has a very unique style that appeals to me. I like what he was doing with Gravity Bone, I love what he was doing with 30 Flights Of Loving, Barista 1 made me realize that maybe Marathon might be worth playing (it was) and I can’t wait for Quadrilateral Cowboy.

    I swear to God I will kill a whole lot of people if it’d mean he’d put together a really big team to make a full game in his style.

  19. Flit says:

    TFOL tried some neat things at the expense of agency, and I think that’s what makes it polarizing. Some people hate being “dragged along” while others are content to be an active observer. Personally I loved this game to bits, even though apparently it’s full of filmic references that flew over my head.

    I hear this game was a huge influence on the Stanley Parable crew.