Time Flies

“Time Flies” turns a housefly’s life into a cute game about existential fear Engadget

I did not expect to laugh when I played Time flies, but I did, high on the Summer Game Fest show floor. It is a deceptively simple game with monochromatic graphics in MS Paint style and a clear premise: You are a fly and you have a short time to live a whole life in a random house.

There are layers to the game’s main objectives, as the fly has a bucket list filled with things like “learn an instrument,” “read a book,” “get a friend,” and “get drunk.” Each of these tasks is completed in a wonderfully surprising way – for example, getting drunk lands on the base of a martini glass and sipping the small drop of alcohol there. Afterwards, the screen becomes distorted, skewed lines that make it more difficult to fly through the house. Getting a friend means joining a trail of ants as they go single through cracks in the kitchen walls. The fly lands on the back of an ant and it can hang, disappear into a small hole and reappear from the other in a continuous, friendly loop.

And then the fly dies. Each round ends with the fly’s death, whether caused by the inevitable progression of time or the player’s direct actions, such as getting too close to a strip of flypaper, touching a light bulb or drowning in the full martini glass. A timer ticks down all the time in the upper left corner, starting at a maximum of 80 seconds, and when it reaches zero, the fly falls to the ground like a speck of dust.

The timer itself presents a convincing thought experiment at the beginning of each life cycle. The length of each round is determined by selecting a location from a drop-down menu for all countries in the world, and it is based on the life expectancy of each region. Selecting “USA”, for example, gives players 77.4 seconds because people there are expected to live 77.4 years, according to the database used by the game. This mechanic, who begins each round with a self-inflicted geographical death sentence, founds the game in reality. It emphasizes whatever stupid, pixelated mechanics follow, and reflects the silent way in which existential fear constantly grips us all.

Knowing that you will die does not mean that you can not have fun while you are alive – like the fly, that is. The house is full of personal items such as books, art, instruments and furniture, and for a dizzying little fly, it feels almost endless. It is possible to land in certain environments and the screen will zoom in to allow players to interact with the objects there and view additional details. The fly can turn the switch on a phonograph and collect coins inside a light bulb, each of these new areas appearing as the fly buzzes past or into them.

Time flies

Michael Frei and Raphaël Munoz

The scene that made me laugh out loud involved a headless mannequin sticking out of the ceiling. Yes, you read that right, but that’s not where I laughed yet. Flying into the dummy’s open throat revealed a network of intestines to escape – funny, but I still had not laughed – with an exit exactly where you expected it to be. When the screen shifted from a dark intestinal tract to show the fly popping up from the dangling mannequin’s butt cheeks, I could not help it. I laughed and heard people watching behind me laugh too. Together we all enjoyed the surprising ridiculousness of this fly’s life, and then it fell dead.

I particularly enjoyed that fly. I played a few rounds of Time flies and crossed out a few items on the list, but there is still so much more to explore in the lonely house. I just need a little more time.

Time flies

Michael Frei and Raphaël Munoz

Time flies is planned for PlayStation, Switch and Steam 2023, developed by Michael Frei and Raphaël Munoz.

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