On Valentine’s Day, indie game developers axcho and knivel released a little game called The Love Letter. It’s a free, five-minute experience, a slice of life as the most popular boy in school. But things aren’t so easy at the top, especially when you find a mysterious love letter in your locker and you have to read the whole thing during passing period without any of your so-called friends catching you.
“It’s hard for me to say where The Love Letter fits in the spectrum of game to notgame. The purpose is to get across a particular five-minute experience, not to make it about a challenging game with a lot of replay value,” says axcho, who wrote the code for the game.
While there are no points, achievements or levels to be found in The Love Letter, it is possible to win or lose. Getting caught by another student while reading your love letter results in a cute but painful shaming in front of your peers, and a quick trip back to the title screen to try again. If you do get to the end of the letter without anyone seeing you, you are rewarded with an awkward but adorable encounter with your secret admirer, and a satisfying “the end” that makes it clear you’ve met the game’s expectations.
Still, there is a balance to be struck. You could call it a casual stealth game with only one level, but that would be missing the point.
The Love Letter was originally a 72-hour creation for the Ludum Dare 22 game jam, where hundreds of participants all over the world spent a weekend making games inspired by the theme of “alone”. The game’s author knivel says that the brief development time encouraged him to try making a short, scripted experience that really explores the competition theme rather than simply trying to make a fun game that people would want to play over and over again. It lasts for five minutes because that’s as long as it needs to be. It’s not particularly deep or profound, but it stands on its own for five minutes, without all the gameplay fluff that would be needed to sustain a longer playing time.
As one player mentioned on the notgames forum,
“What made this for me was the fact that the game didn’t try to ‘challenge’ me with levels, achievements, or points. It could have been more ‘fun’ and earn more flash portal money if you went that route. I can imagine myself adding more challenging level design and mechanics to this until the game ends up as this soulless fun machine.
But you sir, made this with the notgames mindset and left me with something pure and sincere. Thanks for that.”
We’ve all seen shallow themes stretched out to hours of gameplay, whether in killing monsters or clicking cows. But while some developers choose to reach for lofty heights with themes that deserve such extended introspection, others like axcho and knivel simply take something sweet and fresh and give it all the time it deserves. Five minutes.
This quote says it best:
You can read more about The Love Letter’s development on axcho’s blog.