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How game designer Luis Antonio created the indie hit ‘Twelve Minutes,’ the most novel game in years

Behind his psychological thriller of a game is a rare digital world that treats characters like real people.

How game designer Luis Antonio created the indie hit ‘Twelve Minutes,’ the most novel game in years
[Illustration: Emans]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.

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You and your wife are enjoying dessert when there’s a knock at the door. It’s the police. An officer enters, zip-ties your wife’s hands, and interrogates her. When you try to stop him, violence ensues, a cello string gets plucked, and your day resets.

This is Twelve Minutes, the hit indie video game released last summer that’s like Groundhog Day reimagined as a psychological thriller. As players loop through the story line (which resets whenever they leave the apartment or die—or when 12 minutes have passed), they must slowly piece together what is happening.

The game was written, coded, and designed by Luis Antonio, who worked as an artist at Rockstar Games and Ubisoft before leaving the corporate world to help legendary indie game designer Jonathan Blow create his critically acclaimed The Witness in 2016. While working with Blow, Antonio began developing the concept for a looping-style game, in which the characters that players meet aren’t static, but imbued with emotional secrets and needs.

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At first, he imagined Twelve Minutes as an entire world, but he soon realized that due to the constant restarting, players would never find their way through. He slowly designed his way to the elegant final gameplay: “I started to remove noise and connect the elements. Instead of a city [it would be set in] an apartment. Instead of 24 hours, I made it shorter.” Much shorter, ultimately, but no less profound, as the fate of each character comes down to the values and choices of the player. (The game ends—and the credits finally roll—when you solve the central mystery.)

His demo of Twelve Minutes caught the eye of Microsoft, which became a launch partner, along with Annapurna Interactive (the film studio’s gaming arm), which signed on as a publisher and helped bring in actors Daisy Ridley, Willem Dafoe, and James McAvoy to voice the roles. Twelve Minutes launched last August as an exclusive on Microsoft’s Game Pass subscription service, before landing on Switch and PlayStation later in the year. To date, more than a million users have played the game across these platforms.

Antonio is now working on his next project. “I was always fascinated by Westworld [robots], and this idea of [non-playable characters] having enough identity that, naturally, there’s some gameplay coming out of it,” he says. “I’ve been exploring that slowly. . . . It’s about the journey, and making each moment as pleasurable as possible.”

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About the author

Mark Wilson is the Global Design Editor at Fast Company. He has written about design, technology, and culture for almost 15 years

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