A few minutes with Twelve Minutes is not nearly enough
Twelve Minutes, the point-and-click adventure game that takes place in a time loop of the titular length, has been in development for the better part of the past decade — and it has been making appearances on “most anticipated games of the year” lists for almost as long. I first played it more than six years ago, at PAX East 2015, the first time developer Luis Antonio showed the game publicly. What started as a side project while Antonio was working on The Witness has since grown into a prestige indie game with a Hollywood voice cast and the imprimatur of boutique publisher Annapurna Interactive (What Remains of Edith Finch, Gorogoa, Outer Wilds). But in some ways, the final product — due out this year on Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X, though there’s no concrete release date yet — will actually be simpler than the initial prototype.
“Since that prototype, it was a lot about removing things,” Antonio told me in a Discord call last month, after I had played two loops of Twelve Minutes (which, admittedly, is far from the optimal amount of time to spend trying out the game). Antonio has spent the intervening years refining the game, eliminating elements that he realized were superfluous.
The central conceit of the game remains unchanged; it consists of up-to-12-minute loops inside a one-bedroom apartment. The premise is also the same as it was in 2015: The player character comes home to his wife, who has planned a special evening for the two of them, which gets interrupted when an intruder assaults them.
Other aspects of Twelve Minutes have evolved. The three characters don’t have names anymore, partly because Antonio wants you to “impart your own values” on them. The décor of the apartment is meant to be timeless, or at least, the place is designed in a way to prevent it from feeling like a period piece. And there are no longer any clocks within the environment, because Antonio found that players gain an instinctive sense of how much time has passed once they’ve completed a few loops. While there is still a clock in the pause menu, it shows only the minute hand, not the hour. All you know is that the game takes place at dusk.
“It’s about the repetition of time, but the time is not what’s important here,” said Antonio. The lack of any in-game clocks, according to Antonio, forces you to “hold more in your head, rather than relying on the game.”
Twelve Minutes is analogous to Mobius Digital Games’ time loop game Outer Wilds in that the player and the game’s protagonist can increase their knowledge with every loop. Whereas Outer Wilds’ spaceship features a computer that logs each new discovery, Twelve Minutes’ dialogue changes to reflect new loops and events. After my very first loop, a new option appeared in conversations with my character’s wife: “Tell her this feels like the same day.”
Then I had the more difficult task of actually convincing her that something weird was going on.
At that point, I had to figure out which objects in the apartment would be likely to trigger a line that would prove I was reliving this day. Anything you can interact with will be highlighted with a pop-up of its name that appears when you mouse over it. Certain items, like keys, will go into your inventory, and you can drag them onto objects in the world where interactions involving them make sense.