On the sixth day of the month of Horace, it's worth remembering that although Horace is infinite and endless, other things are brief and limited. That makes them no less valuable to us. Like this astounding morsel behind the seventh window of the advent calendar. What could it be?
It's... Thirty Flights Of Loving!
2012 was the year I finally lost my already well-frayed rag with game storylines. The bloated self-indulgence of Assassin's Creed III was the final straw, but the likes of Halo 4, Diablo III, Mass Effect 3, CODBLOPS 2, Hitman: Absolution and oh so many more all contributed to the damage. Time and again I had to endure pseudo-mystical nonsense and posturing macho super-soldiers, hysterical Saturday morning cartoons as directed by Michael Bay, space magic, ancestor races, prophecies and so much talking. Talking, talking, talking for an eternity about nothing about nothing at all, about someone else's made-up, ad-hoc gibberish starring one-dimensional ciphers. People write Wikipedia pages about these kinds of insipid adolescent fantasies, you know. People write and buy spin-off novels and comics about it. What is wrong with those people? Why do they give so much of themselves to something so puerile and meaningless? And how much more of this shit will I have to suffer over the coming years?
Then there was Thirty Flights of Loving. Thank God there was Thirty Flights of Loving. Wordlessly telling or at least implying a good dozen interlinked stories I badly wanted to know more about in the space of 15 mute minutes. Each new scene a world unto itself, loaded with character, atmosphere, seeds of possibility and cats without wasting anything.
Lean as can be, rewarding analysis rather than spoon-feeding exposition, but also a dramatic, explosive, immediate spy/criminal movie despite its nuance, opacity and, admittedly, simplicity. Those fifteen strange, jump-cutting, cubist minutes are as thrilling as anything games offered this year.
I hate writing about Thirty Flights because it does such a stand-up job of telling its tale without words. By typing these ones I'm failing to learn its lesson - engaging, personal-feeling game narrative via the visual, the sonic, the architectural and the interactive, not by droning on directly at the player's face.
I want to know more about Blendo Games' Nuevos Aires / Citizen Abel world. I'm so glad they decline to tell me any more about it. Instead, adventures!
I don't replay games all that often. At least, not immediately. Mine is a brain that seeks to wring constant novelty and wonderment from this world – which is a nice way of saying I'm extremely easily distracted. But the second Thirty Flights Of Loving's credits rolled (or I rammed a car into their fancy museum party, as it were), I dove straight back in. Admittedly, this is in part due to the fact that Thirty Flights Of Loving is, like, 30 seconds long, but – more importantly – I felt compelled to know every inch of it.
Sure, at the end of the day, it wasn't much of a game in the traditional “overcome a challenge, get points/achievements/maybe also a pony” sense, and yeah, it made judicious use of smoke and mirrors. But that was kind of the point: to do a whole, whole lot with very little. And in doing so, Thirty Flights left just enough room for imagination to take the wheel – to traverse moment-to-moment gaps with powerful leaps of logic and emotion. As I pointed out a while back, my favorite parts were actually the bits it didn't show me. I got to own those.
Even then, Thirty Flights wasn't the most complex tale ever, but it was just so well-told. Many games – in their misguided quests to fill out some arbitrary notion of “correct” length – just kind of wash over me. You've shot one dude, you 've shot 'em all, basically. But, to this day, Thirty Flights occupies my mind as this series of nearly perfect, completely unforgettable moments. Rapid cuts, a totally wild chase, oranges, cats, crazy psychedelic drunk-o-vision, blood everywhere, her smiling at me, her pointing a gun at me, that sunrise.
Oh god, that sunrise.
Put simply, Thirty Flights did an incredible number of things I can't believe other games haven't tried. And like all the best pioneers, it did them so well that I imagine successors will have one hell of a time topping it.