Have You Played… One Chance?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Tfw you invent a cure for cancer and it becomes an unstoppable disease that starts to kill everyone on the planet. One Chance is a short scrolling story game that puts you in the role of that scientist man, John Pilgrim, as he tries to fix his own research team’s mess by making daily decisions about what to do next. If you haven’t heard of it and don’t want the entire point of the story taken away from you, then just go play it. It’s quite good. Otherwise, read on.

The point is that you can only play it once, the clue was in the name. Your browser saves the end-state of the game and any return to the page will simply greet you with whatever final scene you had. Obviously, you can get around this with some cache fiddling but it’s bad form, and to do so would pervert the whole purpose of the game: to live with the consequence of your decisions.

Even today, most games have either not learned how powerful a device this can be, or they don’t want to indulge in it out of fear. Yes, we have Ironman mode in strategy games like XCOM – an excellent handicap that gives extra weight to every small choice and extra misery to every large setback. But I would love to see someone like BioWare add such a mode, making you live with the death of a character, and not from a decision that was clear and obvious (press left to save John, press right to save Jane) but from decisions that are only harmful in hindsight. One Chance gave the world of game design a small, understated lesson in remorse. Six years later, it’s disappointing to see that few studios have applied it.

31 Comments

  1. Seafoam says:

    I played this back in the day. It was really interesting!
    The story was pretty cool and somewhat haunting. I managed to get the best ending the first try (spoiler-ish protip: science).

  2. Bull0 says:

    I really liked this, back in the day.

    I’m a huge XCOM fan but I can’t get behind ironman mode at all; I’ve tried, but if I fuck up I usually just give up and either restart or more typically start a non iron man game instead and have much more fun.

    I think maybe I’m more interested in the idea of making considered choices that are then irreversible a la One Chance, as opposed to being forced to live with my fuckups or RNG misfortunes a la XCOM on ironman.

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      phuzz says:

      I’ve never wanted to give ironman a go either. Games are for having fun, and if I’m constantly worrying if I’m playing it “right” I won’t have any fun.

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      tigerfort says:

      I found a curious home for Ironman in XCOM: as an experiment, I played the game on the easiest difficulty, but with Ironman turned on. The result was that, despite knowing what was coming from previous playthroughs, I got a heightened feeling of threat and adventure as I played without actually being stressed about it. People are weird.

  3. blindcoder says:

    I played the game just now, googled the “good ending” but still everyone dies for me. Is the game bugged by now?

    • ThePuzzler says:

      Literally everyone?

      Haven’t played it since it came out, but I believe the good ending was ‘some life on the planet survives’, not ‘everyone is fine’.

      • blindcoder says:

        Yes, Molly is dead in front of lab and I’m dead in the lab with a red X on the screen even though I

        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER
        SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER

        went to the lab every day except the second where the dude jumped off the roof.

        • ThePuzzler says:

          Well, that was where you went wrong. In the modern high-pressure office environment, you can’t let a little thing like co-worker suicide stop you from doing a full nine hours.

          • blindcoder says:

            Guess I need to figure out how to work on that day then as the door to the Lab is locked.

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      shevek says:

      Pretty sure there wasn’t a “good ending” in the sense people seem to mean. The game tells you up front how it’s going to end; the point is how you respond to that.

      (If I had an issue with the game then its’s that your character doesn’t know the end is predetermined, so there’s really only one ethical way for them to act. Or so it seemed to me.)

      • Yglorba says:

        That’s… not true. I distinctly remember getting an ending where me and my daughter survived, with the last scene showing us on a park bench surrounded by greenery.

        You have to work every single day, even the first one before you find out things have gone wrong. On the day the lab is locked, if you talk to one of your co-workers on the way out, he’ll offer to unlock it for you.

  4. mashkeyboardgetusername says:

    Been a long time since I played it, but as I recall I wasn’t that impressed. Seemed like at each stage there was obviously a Right Thing to do and a Wrong Thing to do, so I didn’t feel I was making especially interesting decisions.

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    Drib says:

    I recall reading about the idea (back when PC Accellerator was a game mag) of having a game sold that would give you one life.

    Whatever the genre, one life. Like this thing. Once you die, or get an ending, or whatever, you’re done. No restarts, no reinstalling. You get one.

    Of course you’d have people yelling for refunds and it’s a bit of a silly idea. But it’s still neat.

    In a manner of speaking, see Undertale genocide runs.

    • Snowskeeper says:

      Those were interesting. There were consequences for doing it even if you restarted.

  6. mpk says:

    I cried.

  7. jj2112 says:

    Well I just played it. I knew I should have never gone to the bar to celebrate but what the hell.

  8. geldonyetich says:

    Welp, my John died alone in the lab, futilely attempting to find a cure each day, except the second day when the game didn’t give me a choice because I went to the roof.

    And this annoyed me a bit because, as a player trying to make informed decisions, it seems the most responsible thing to do would be to try to continue his work to find a cure. So that’s what I did. But nooo that would be the *obvious* solution, so too bad, game over, everybody dies.

    Harrumph.

    Funny enough, I looked up a walkthrough and that’s exactly how you get the cure, too. I’m thinking there’s a random chance of succeeding even if you make all the right choices.

    • Seafoam says:

      you skipped a chance to work on some day. Simple as that.

      • geldonyetich says:

        You’re either bad at reading or trying to troll me, because I already explained that I worked in the lab each and every day the game allowed me to, and even confirmed this against a walkthrough afterward. It’s not like the game gives you enough choices to lose track of the number of times you went to the lab.

        If it’s not random, then they changed the game since the walkthrough. Or it’s bugged.

        • QWERASDFZXCV says:

          Pretty sure it’s a bug with the version that was linked in the article. Played through it a couple of times the way you did, but died. Tried the same thing on newgrounds and lived. You also stop carrying your daughter in the newgrounds version, hence the screen where she’s sitting against a wall.

    • Sin Vega says:

      I had much the same problem with the game, and to me it kind of undermined most of its impact. Obviously (SPOILERS) the choice you’re given is basically to try to save the world or just spend what little time you have left with your daughter. But it’s not much of a choice because you are literally the one person in the world who has the most chance to save all life – absolutely all living things on the entire planet. So like, of course I chose to try, it was the only sane option.

      If the protagonist was anyone else, then yeah, sure, I’d have had to ponder that decision. But as it was? Nope, didn’t need to think that one over a second time. I can spend my last week failing to enjoy time with my daughter because of the crushing guilt of condemning every living cell in existence, or trying to actually do something about it, even if it fucks up my family. Honestly, it takes longer to even type it out than to choose.

  9. QWERASDFZXCV says:

    FYI I’m pretty sure there’s no way to get the good ending if you play the version that was linked in the article.

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    MajorLag says:

    It’s weird for me to hear about a “good” ending, especially since the ending I recall as the reward for working every day matches what people are describing and I wouldn’t have called it good. Seems to me the implication was that yes, you found a cure, but there isn’t enough time left to really save anyone with it except your kid.

    But playing for that goal, I think, misses the point of the game anyway. One thing I really liked about the work was how uncompromisingly bleak it was. The entire species is dying, there’s no way out, and what are you going to do? “I’m going to go to work every day for 16 hours and find that impossible cure!” is just way too videogame of an answer for me. I think you get the best out of the experience by forgetting that their is a “good” (not really) ending, accepting your fate, and making decisions you think you’d really make, instead of treating it like a game with a win state you have to get for the achievement.

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      shevek says:

      That’s interestingly different from the way I saw it – I thought the only ethical thing to do in the situation was to work for a cure as long as there was even the remotest chance of getting one. I didn’t see it as a particularly videogame decision, probably because I didn’t really expect to succeed.

      I found the game a bit facile at the time but the range of responses here is making think better of it.

  11. Drakedude says:

    Waste of time and gamey. You only live once was at least slightly funny.

  12. Snowskeeper says:

    I think the game’d be better if you had more than one chance. Games like this are only interesting, to me, when you can go back and see how things would have gone if you’d done things differently. This is why I fiddled with my cache after the first time I played it through, a few years back when I first discovered it.

  13. and its man says:

    “The point is that you can only play it once.
    […] to live with the consequence of your decisions.
    Even today, most games have either not learned how powerful a device this can be, or they don’t want to indulge in it out of fear.”

    Well Toby Fox fiddled with this whole idea quite successfully in Undertale.

    • SavageTech says:

      Well Toby Fox fiddled with this whole idea quite successfully in Undertale.

      Did he? I felt like he bungled it catastrophically.

      I went into the game blind, and I spared all the enemies up to the first boss because that’s what Toriel encouraged me to do. But that boss just kept killing me no matter what nonviolent option I tried. An earlier enemy said that some enemies need to be weakened by fighting before they’ll give up, so I decided to try that. I got the boss fairly low and killed her with an “accidental” critical hit, so I restarted to try the fight again. I finally succeeded in sparing her and felt good for two seconds until I got bitched out by a glorified Mr. Resetti. He tried to lay a guilt trip on me for killing her the previous time, but I wasn’t having any of that shit because I hadn’t meant to kill her at all.

      At that point I knew the game was fucking with me, so I took to the internet to figure out if it was even possible to save the boss before killing her or if resetting was part of the gameplay. I not only found out that you could save her the first time, but also that the game is programmed to force a critical hit once you get the boss to low HP. That’s when the game lost me completely. It intentionally deceives you by telling you that you have to weaken some enemies to spare them, then punishes you for trying that the first time it seems like it might be necessary. Undertale didn’t make me live with the consequences of my actions, it duped me into a course of action that I was actively trying to avoid by following its misleading instructions. In my book that completely ruins the impact of the permanent choice mechanic.

  14. daemonofdecay says:

    The copy of the game linked in the article is bugged.

    If you do everything “right” to get a cure, you still die in the lab.

    Why am I pretty sure that version is bugged? Because on the last day, when you walk into the lab with your daughter, you walk with her past her own corpse laying against the wall.

  15. sdfv says:

    Played the wrong version(that the author of this article linked,) got the bad ending despite doing everything “right”, f*ck the author of this article, f*ck the creator of this game. I hope you all are kicked in the nuts soon like this game was a kick in the nuts for me.

    Don’t play this game.