One Chance was one of those marvellously unexpected indie games which burst out of nowhere and immediately had half the internet talking. By talking, I mean "crying and/or arguing". It split the vote neatly between those who admired it for being built first and foremost around emotional clout and those who loathed it for being based first and foremost around emotional clout. For my money it was a bold, clever and above all gutwrenchingly maudlin experiment in storytelling and choice-making. Oh-so-final choices in fact, with the game sternly disallowing you from replaying - no matter how terrible the consequences. (Like wiping out humanity. Whoops).
But what of its creator's choices? Does he stand by that controversial restriction, how does he feel about the reaction to the game, and what happens now he's had a gentle nibble on zeitgeist's earlobe? AwkwardSilenceGames' Dean Moynihan responds to the response below.
RPS: So, what's the story behind One Chance? Was it about making something for an audience or more about exploring some dark creative urge to kill off humankind?
Dean Moynihan: I wasn't concerned with an audience when I first started the game. Up until about a week ago, my only real audience was my house mates. I mean, They're cool and all, but I guess I had to dream a little bigger. I essentially listen to much Bon Iver and Brand new. This leads to most of my creative outbursts to be a little dark and depressing. I've got videos, photography, animations and games all over the internet that are all fairly bleak, and since I was making this game for completely self indulgent reasons, it was a pretty natural theme to go with.
The idea for the game's story stems from the first time I played Babies Dream of Dead Worlds by Gregory Weir. It's about a race of squid-like looking dudes dealing with the end of their world, and while it's completely impossible to identify with any of the characters or situations, the story and the way it was told really inspired me.
RPS: Can you give a little insight on how you came to the no replays decision? Was that the intention all along?
Dean Moynihan: The no replay feature was absolutely, completely, definitely intended from the get-go. It was the first concept written down when I was creating the game. After a brief stint of research into the concept, and after playing games like "You Only Live Once" and Jesse Venbrux's "Execution", I found the concept of actually being forced to deal with my actions and think about what I could have done instead of quick-loading, was quite refreshing.
To me, choices within games often feel a little arbitrary. The fact that players can go back and undo that choice on a whim takes away from making the choice in the first place. I've become used to thinking "Right, I'll take up G-man's offer now. But when I reload my save, I won't". Which isn't really making a choice at all. It just depends which ending I want to see first. Obviously, for some games this isn't the case; exploring the choices and consequences is half the fun. But they're not real consequences, are they?
RPS: How have people reacted to that? Do they seem to get the resonance of it, or does the desire to want to 'win' the game seem to be the more powerful urge?
Dean Moynihan: The reactions vary from both extremes. I've gotten messages from people saying how it's one of the most emotionally engaging games they've ever played and it's literally brought them to tears, all because of the "no going back" concept. While at the same time I've had messages from people who have apparently experienced a nam-style flashback and want my head mounted in their front room. The more common negative reviews are mostly talking about how 'wrong' is it to have a game with more than one ending, unable to be played more than once. The word 'pretentious' and 'artsy' is used a lot too. A lot of reviews make it unclear whether they want a replay button because they genuinely want to help the in-game world, or whether they are just too stubborn to have been 'beaten' by the game.
It's having a very Marmite effect on people, which is the reason the game has received so much attention. But most people seem to get it. It is in the title after all.
RPS: Have you got a sense of what the more common trends are, in terms of the choices players are making? And are they what you expected?
Dean Moynihan: People seem to be getting the worse endings more than the "good" ending. Whether that's because people are going nuts because that's what they'd do if they were given these choices in real life, or whether they're not taking the "one shot" concept seriously, I don't know. But I definitely get a lot of messages asking how to replay the game because they've let their whole family die. That's also pretty much what I expected. I mean, given six days left on Earth, who wants to go to work everyday?
RPS: There's a distressing subset of gamers who tend to accuse an interactive title that eschews game convention in favour of artistic experimentation of being "pretentious", and unfortunately One Chance didn't avoid that. Where do you stand on that? Are you happy to call this a game, and for it to be posted alongside stuff about shooting zombies and punching orks?
Dean Moynihan: People like to throw the 'P' word around increasingly more willy-nilly. It seems anything with slightly depressing content or anything vaguely experimental is at some point going to be accused of it simply because it isn't completely generic. This is even more apparent in gaming. An example would be Playdead's Limbo. From before it was even released it was branded as pretentious just for existing the way it did, despite being smart platformer with little-to-no story. Like Mario. The great thing about anything creative is that people can read into things and take deeper meaning from them. But apparently now that is the new definition of pretentiousness.
Maybe I'm biased, but I don't think of One Chance as pretentious. Sure it's a little melodramatic, and sure it's depressing, but it isn't trying to impose it's self as some self-righteous, life lesson-giving, holier than thou commentary on life. It's a game about the end of the world. What's more mainstream than that?
The truth is that without the 'no replays' idea the game wouldn't have even gotten half the attention it's got. But ironically, to make it appeal to more people and by adding a replay button, it wouldn't have done as well. I didn't predict that either. I've been accused of using the permanency idea as a way of just scoring attention, but I firmly stand by the choices I made from a creative point of view. Despite how many death threats I get.
RPS: Every Day The Same Dream's been mentioned in reference to One Chance quite a bit - was it an inspiration?
Dean Moynihan: It was definitely the biggest inspiration I used. Suspiciously so. I mean, I certainly didn't set out thinking: "Right, I like that game. I'll take it". It just stuck with me. There's a line between paying homage, or being inspired by and while I tried to sneakily tip toe across it, I wouldn't be surprised in the slightest for being called a rip off. That being said, the games are completely different. Not only in look or in tone, but at the core. 'Every Day...' is about the monotony of life and work, while 'Once Chance' is about a bearded doctor trying to save his family. I guess the morning routine of people going to work is just a good way to identify with people.
RPS: What next, basically? What are your longer-term plans for game making?
Dean Moynihan: What's next will no doubt be a neurotic mess of underwhelming nonsense. Lets just say there's actually a lot of pressure on me for my next game. I've gone from having a very relaxed, prone to procrastination work ethic to an intense, angry, perfectionist one. The biggest problem I'm having is actually doing all this alone, not because of a big work load, but I'm basically crap at everything. I can't draw, make music or animate well at all. So for that reason I've practically recruited my house mates.
While there are no long term plans for Awkward Silence, I do at least intend on trying to deliver something that will make people think for 10 minutes a day. Or ideally, argue.