, a dark indie thriller from creator Luis Antonio and , is now available on Xbox and Steam. The new game tells the story of a couple’s life derailed by a violent home invasion. The shocking events trap you in a time loop. You’ll relive the horrific 12 minutes again and again — until you gather enough clues and information to change the night’s outcome and break out of the loop.
12 Minutes features the voice acting of James McAvoy (X-Men), Daisy Ridley ( ) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, 2002). Ahead of the game’s launch I spoke to McAvoy, who plays the game’s main character; Dafoe, who plays the intruder; and creator Antonio. They told me what working on such an intense game during the pandemic was like.
The actors signed on, the project got underway and continued amid a global pandemic. McAvoy and Ridley were in London, Dafoe was in Rome and Antonio was stateside in San Francisco. In over a month and with fewer than a dozen sessions, the actors recorded the twists, turns and multiple outcomes of 12 Minutes under Antonio’s guidance.
The whole game takes place in the couple’s apartment, and the player has a bird’s-eye view of the action. Antonio’s top-down design style puts a new spin on the third-person gaming experience one might expect. The game’s style allowed McAvoy and Dafoe unhindered creative freedom to develop their characters.
“It was brilliant,” McAvoy said of the top-down design versus matching a facial rendering. “I could just do my thing and not worry too much about copying the sadness being expressed in the eyes, or the anger in the mouth. I could decide all that for myself. And really, that’s quite a pure acting experience.”
Antonio said the game’s script was extensive, so Dafoe, McAvoy and Ridley had to learn their characters thoroughly while respecting the game’s needs.
“They’re so good,” Antonio said of the cast. “You have to care about the characters for this to work.”
Antonio’s visually minimalist approach allows its multifaceted characters to shine in a sprawling, yet masterfully orchestrated series of choices with multiple outcomes. 12 Minutes’ choice-based gameplay was an integral part of how the actors portrayed the characters.
“It’s really hard to wrap your brain around, and depending on how the player interacts and constructs the narrative makes certain choices, it’s a different character, basically,” Dafoe said of the possible variations in the game’s narrative.
As far as comparing Dafoe’s character of the intruder to any of his prior roles, he says that’s for the audience to decide. McAvoy likened his character’s struggle in the time loop to that of his character in Danny Boyle’s 2013 film Trance, as well as his role in Jon S. Baird’s 2013 film Filth.
Entertainment with a side of existential consideration
McAvoy, Dafoe and Antonio said they hope that players will not only enjoy the game, but walk away with a willingness to examine things from a different perspective.
While Dafoe doesn’t describe himself as a gamer, he’s worked on video games in the past like Beyond Two Souls from Quantic Dream. Quantic Dream is also the studio behind Detroit: Become Human, another choice-based game that leaves the player pondering some of life’s biggest questions.
“Everyone has a story and usually we just take things at face value,” Dafoe said. “But when you get chances to see from a slightly different perspective, that tends to open the door to a certain kind of understanding or a certain kind of empathy.”
12 Minutes’ structure offers little to no guidance in terms of what a player should do or not do, as well as what’s right or wrong, according to Antonio. He hopes players will find freedom in discovering.
“Because you are repeating a time loop, what could be considered a wrong answer or a mistake does not exist here,” Antonio said. “It just exists. Knowledge that you acquire based on the things you’re doing, and you’ll be carrying that knowledge as you go further, which I think is kind of liberating. There’s no fail state, there’s no game over, you just keep going over and over with the choices you’ve made.”
When it comes to choice-based games, McAvoy — a die-hard FIFA fan — says he tries to do the opposite of how he would act in real life.
“There’s loads of games that give you lots of options, and you can do some pretty left-field, horrendous things as well,” McAvoy said. “As a gamer, sometimes I will choose to do the thing that I am not. I’ll choose to make the bad decision instead of the right decision.”
In addition to the escapism video games offer, McAvoy hopes that the choices players are faced with elicit an empathetic, emotional or moral response. “That’s when games, for me, get really good,” he said.
12 Minutes is available now on Steam and .