(Note: Contains minor spoilers, intended for people that have played the game. If you haven’t yet played Brendon Chung’s 15 minute masterclass in narrative design, you can do so from his website!)
The narrative in Thirty Flights of Loving is embedded, pre-generated story content that is exposed to the player linearly. What makes the game so interesting and unique however, is how this content is presented.
The game presents an excellent example of a story being told via the game environment. With no dialogue or cut-scenes, every piece of information is communicated to the player visually, be this through objects on a table, posters on a wall or the clothes a character is wearing. In order for the player to notice at least a few of these details, and with an attempt to provide a vague idea of what’s actually going on, the game is incredibly linear. Putting the standard point A to point B corridor shooter to shame, TFOL primarily requires you to simply walk through the path it has laid out in front of you in order to progress the story. Even more unusual, is the way the game physically ‘jump-cuts’ you seamlessly from one scene to the next, in the same way a film would. Building upon these filmic influences, the jump-cuts can dramatically change the mood and tone of the present scene in an instant, simulating a fractured timeline; erratically jolting the player forwards and backwards through pieces of the story. Chung cleverly uses this method to expose the player only to scenes that are the build-up to or aftermath of a pivotal action sequence, of which are never actually shown. The scenes that are present work as an attempt to briefly inform the player of what has happened in these missing pieces of the story, requiring the player to piece together what they do know and, pleasingly, actually think about what is happening in the story in a broader sense.
One interesting point surrounding TFOL concerns the actual level of interactivity that the player governs within the game world, and how this is reflected in the narrative. The scattered interactive objects, such as weapons that can only be picked up but not used, have absolutely no impact on the outcome of the story. It’s a strictly linear playthrough with no immediately obvious goals or objectives; where the execution of the story will always be exactly the same. The purpose of the objects within the game world serve only to visually give context to the story. The choice and interaction with the environment, bar a few examples, simply means the player can halt the progression of the story by remaining in the current scene until they decided to proceed. Ultimately, the level of observation with the game world dictates the depth of story presented to the player.
TFOL is flourishing with risky yet rich design decisions, with Chung further expanding on how the medium can provide an engaging narrative experience.