Review: 30 Flights of Loving

30 Flights of Loving featured

I’m a big fan of the short story, despite it being a somewhat unpopular medium these days. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who actively hated the short story form, but these days readers are typically all about novels. It’s inarguable: just look at the sales of novels versus short story collections (single or multiple authors) and the steady decline in readership of short story magazines over the past few decades.

There are complex explanations for this, but as Arcadian Rhythms is a website about games rather than literature I won’t blather on. But I did want to take the opportunity to say that I like short stories. Rather a lot, actually. I like being able to read something in a short period of time and in that time be introduced to a whole new set of ideas or concepts, or to be emotionally drawn into a narrative and its characters, or be impressed by a particular prose style. I like short novels for the same reason. You can read a whole bunch of them in an equivalent amount of time to a big, ponderous novel.

Gaming is not really lacking its equivalent of the short story; web gaming hubs like Newgrounds have plenty of compact experiences that are comparable in length and reward to short stories. But what I’ve not come across often are games which are all about delivering a short narrative to the player. And that is Thirty Flights of Loving, and before it Gravity Bone.

Both games are the work of Brendan Chung, the man behind indie outfit Blendo Games (we previously reviewed Flotilla and are fans of his other work such as Atom Zombie Smasher). The presentation is characteristically Blendo; aside from the block-headed style familiar from Gravity Bone the art style, design and music are reminiscent of other Blendo Games titles.

30 Flights of Loving forger

Very Blendo. The style, I mean, not the source of revenue.

Gameplay is very simple, as in Gravity Bone: you move and one-button interact your way along a linear route whilst experiencing a somewhat surreal narrative. You can’t fail or die in any way. The game’s story takes advantage of montage techniques; you experience segments of the story that are usually less than a minute in length, variously chopped up and mixed together so that you piece together events as you play on. It’s an effective technique, in one deft stroke distracting you from the fact that you’re not really playing so much as acting the role of appreciative audience, and simultaneously making you focus your attention on the details of the story being put before you – a habit most of us lose when playing games in the face of how dreadful and overwrought so many game stories tend to be.

Thirty Flights of Loving is admittedly rich in melodrama, just as much as it is rich in absurdity, but it’s a melodrama that entertains and captivates rather than produces snorts of derision. Instead of cramming exposition down your throat it presents a series of vignettes that each present a particular moment in a simple and direct manner, whether it’s thrills or human drama. Transitions from one scene to another can be abrupt and jarring, a deliberate part of the technique that accentuates its effectiveness through disorientation and a sharpening of focus. Thirty Flights of Loving is an intelligently and thoughtfully constructed experience.

There’s not much more to say about it than that, really, without going ahead and telling you what the story is, which would be stupid. Play through it when you can: it’ll probably be free  at some point and it’s a charmer. It is also, like so many of the best short stories, a little open to interpretation. For example, whilst I’m not entirely convinced yet I suspect that the story actually includes two potential narratives, each demonstrating how events might have unfolded – and there’s a mildly malicious irony in that interpretation, too.

Still, have a play and see what interpretation you favour…

30 Flights of Loving Jeff

A popular interpretation is “Jeff Goldblum”. Exuberant!

With thanks to Idle Thumbs for taking my money and being a podcast again.