Interview: Luis Antonio On The Ambitious Creation Of 12 Minutes

12 Minutes began life as a far larger project, but it wasn’t long until creative director Luis Antonio saw the importance in scale, and how forcing the player into a smaller, more claustrophobic environment could make the experience all the more memorable. It’s this confined idea of procedural decision making that helped the game make such a splash upon its initial reveal, and the finishing touches are finally being put on the long-awaited adventure.

I recently caught up with Antonio to talk about 12 Minutes, its influences, and the experience of working alongside Xbox and Annapurna Interactive. First I had to ask the most important question, does it really last 12 Minutes? “No, no, no. So it’s like Groundhog Day, so the cop shows up three minutes into the loop,” Antonio says. “First, you need to figure out how to overcome that before you can actually live the full loop. But then it just repeats, the actual game lasts maybe eight hours if you’re comfortable with adventure games.”

So the title is a lie, but before you pull out your pitchforks, let’s delve into the design behind 12 Minutes, and how a focus on a tighter, more intimate setting helped Antonio create a palpable sense of drama associated with even the smallest of decisions. “It is very hard to convey to players the consequences of their actions when things are so complex. So slowly, I started to compress the amount of time and the size of your environment until it became 12 Minutes in a small apartment,” Antonio explains. “I explored the magic of accumulated knowledge, and I realised the most interesting part are the relationships, how you, as a player deal with the information you’re given that is not so straightforward, and how you decide to use it.”

The premise of 12 Minutes is simple. You follow a couple, portrayed by James McAvoy and Daisy Ridley, who find themselves stuck in a time loop inside their apartment. This would be complicated on its own, but the situation grows more harrowing as cops, kidnappers, and all manner of other troubles begin to surface. Ignorant of the process of game development, I assumed this singular focus would make the creation of 12 Minutes more complicated, but Antonio assured me that it is actually quite the opposite: “It made it much clearer,” Antonio states. A lot of development was removing things that were unnecessary. When you do something you think about all the possibilities of that action, and if 90 percent of them are useless, it’s just frustrating for the player. So by removing everything that’s useless, we were left with everything from the first loop to the last loop that has meaning and makes sense.”

Antonio believes that removing needless interactions will compel players to think outside the box, toying with solutions to problems that might have otherwise been blocked by needless obstacles. He also wants 12 Minutes to be accessible to those who haven’t played games before. Its perspective is a part of that, introducing concepts and ideas that will be familiar to anyone, not just gamers. “My wife, she does not play games,” Antonio tells me. “And I often tried to get her to play stuff like Portal, I remember we spent one hour playing and she was running against the wall and looking at the ceiling because she cannot figure out the first person controls and, and I was like, okay, there’s this, there’s these people who want to try these experiences.”

Mobile gaming is helping to improve gaming accessibility, but Antonio hopes that a familiar perspective combined with a simplistic gameplay loop can draw in a much wider audience, one that will pick up 12 Minutes and feel right at home. “I mean, I think iPad and iPhones and all that is helping bridge the gap, you know, with games like Florence,“ Antonio explains. “I forget because I’m in the industry, but when you see an Xbox and you’re not a gamer, you’re like “what is that?” or a Playstation or even a console. They know Mario, that’s what people know, but it’s gonna get there.”

12 Minutes began development several years ago, acting as a small passion project for Antonio after working alongside Jonathan Blow on The Witness. Upon talking with friends, he realised that such an idea was possible, so it turned into a full-time job. Once partners began approaching him, it all came together. “It all started with Xbox, actually,” Antonio tells me. “For about a year I looked around and spoke with a lot of publishers and all of them had strings attached and what they wanted to impose, how they wanted to market it and how they wanted to do it. I had a clear vision, and [email protected] were the first ones to go, “you want to make this happen? Let’s do it.,” and there were no deadlines, no restraints. Just make the game, and here’s some funding to make it happen.”

Combined with the talents of Annapurna Interactive, 12 Minutes began to grow in size and ambition, while still maintaining the diorama-like setting that so many were enthralled by. Antonio always wanted to implement voice acting, but with more resources, access to big talent such as Willem Defoe, James McAvoy, and Daisy Ridley became possible – so they made it happen. “My biggest surprise was the reaction to the first demo, where clearly people wanted to try out this experience,” Antonio says. “We did the press demos in 2019 and I was like, okay, there’s definitely something here. We already wanted to have voice acting, [Annapurna] was just figuring out how to get the talent. I totally didn’t expect it to grow to this point.” The answer was a humbling one, Antonio still infatuated with creating a personal project that has somehow ballooned beyond comprehension.

The entire team is remote, consisting of only six or seven people around the world right now who are somewhat unphased by the nature of home working during the pandemic, with the game in its entirety being created amidst such circumstances. As our chat comes to a close, I ask Antonio what is next once 12 Minutes is finally out the door. “Once the game is out, I’m just gonna do another one,” Antonio says. “I’m just living in the present moment and enjoying the development and once that clicked, each day felt like a vacation. I’m loving what I’m doing.” You love to see it.

12 Minutes is coming to PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X later this year.

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Jade King is one of the Features Editors for TheGamer. Previously Gaming Editor over at Trusted Reviews, she can be found talking about games, anime and retweeting Catradora fanart @KonaYMA6.

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