Immediately in 12 Minutes, you get the vibe it's going for. In the short tutorial, you're directed to walk across your hallway to your apartment door. The carpet is reminiscent of The Shining, a huge reference point for developer Luis Antonio. And with that, you go about an evening at home with your wife. She tells you that she's having a baby. The joyous occasion is short-lived, however, as a cop enters the apartment, accuses his wife of killing her dad, before swiftly tying both of them up and murdering you, the husband.
In a snap, you're back at the apartment unscathed, but retain all the information from your Groundhog Day-like experience. 12 Minutes is a time loop game, where you have 12 minutes to puzzle your way through each relived day. With every instance, new interactions unlock. And depending how you act, your wife will interact differently accordingly. In our demo, where at each loop we handed it off to a new player, we never got to the full 12 minutes because a couple minutes in, the cop would enter.
Long ago—I wanna say about four years ago when I was with another outlet—I demoed 12 Minutes at some event. I remember being intrigued by its time loop mechanics, and the general mystery of the story. What I see this week at E3 2019 is far more polished. Antonio even tells us at the behind closed doors demo that his team has blossomed to include five part-time co-developers alongside himself. There will be full voiceover, which isn't in our demo, and interactions will even be mocapped so that they're more natural looking.
"I was refining and refining how far I could go into the complexity of this loop," Antonio tells me of its lengthy six-year development cycle. "Like having the voice acting now we're realizing that, like, you could stab the wife with the knife. No one stabs the wife, right? Because you start to care about these characters, and then the deeper you go, eventually you're able to stop the cop and deal with the situation easily and then that's when you start to ask yourself. As the loop keeps going and because there's no direction, like you get into this field of: What is this? What should I be doing? What's happening here? And digging through this is what made the game take some time to figure it out."
It reminds me immediately of Her Story. Like the FMV hit, 12 Minutes is a game where the conclusion you reach is more of one's own satisfaction, with curiosity being what drives you. For instance, in my turn with a timeloop, I locked the front door and make a beeline for the knife, thinking I'd be able to defend myself. (I could't.) I also picked up some sleeping pills from the bathroom cabinet, and decided to combine it with dessert I got from the fridge from my inventory, Resident Evil herb style. If played right, you can drug your wife (or someone else), apparently.
The now-Annapurna Interactive published 12 Minutes was one of the few indie games to make a big splash at Microsoft's E3 2019 conference. Antonio tells us that after the long, long development cycle, it's nearing completion for early 2020, and at the moment it's actually feature complete. "If you stayed here for like six, eight hours you would reach something," he says, motioning to a conclusion (or epiphany) of some sort. 12 Minutes is currently in development for Xbox One and PC.