Imagine that you’ve started a new level in a game that sets the scene for endless opportunities. A new environment riddled with context clues that allow the player to consider their options on how to proceed—until an uninvited UI prompt coddles their decision-making and shatters the illusion of choice. This is the problem that Luis Antonio, creator of the upcoming Twelve Minutes, presents through his examination of the recently-released Hitman.
His game is about creating a dynamic environment that responds to the player. The game is about a man who is trapped in a time loop of 12 minute intervals, where the player must use their knowledge of what’s going to happen to change the outcome. Early footage shows dialogue but little else. The player is given no hints, no indication of what path to choose next. This hands-off approach is something that Antonio is a stalwart believer in, as he proves in his critique, which begins by him introducing good and bad examples of storytelling through cinematography, before addressing his disdain for movies “plastered with in-your-face explanations.” Then he moves on to videogames.
Antonio describes his experience playing the second level of Hitman by analyzing the surrounding environment in detail. “As the episode starts, you have that unique moment of not knowing what lies ahead, and for a few seconds, you think your possibilities are endless. I couldn’t wait to start analyzing the environment to try and figure out, by myself, how I could get inside.” The scene is set and carefully crafted to tell a story. But as Antonio finds out, the work is ruined, at least for him, by unnecessary prompts the game uses that point out the obvious.
He adds: “subconsciously, these design choices set the tone and change my relationship with the game. It sets the standard for a ‘This is a dumb game, and I’m not expect to connect any dots.'” He explains that there is no need to pay attention to his surroundings. He won’t experience being a hitman in the way he plays the game, but it will happen when the game tells him so. “Most story driven games nowadays are too straightforward and clearly marked as ‘Leave your brain at the door’ experiences, so when someone delivers something more complex, they have to fight back expectations and explain clearly why it’s different.”
To read more of Antonio’s thoughts on why trusting your player is important, click here.