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During 2010 I was busy failing my first year of higher education at the University of Central Lancashire. The good news is that I was apparently funnelling my productivity elsewhere, as during this period I was able to complete three projects. These were my first foray into video game development and pretty much set me off on the path I’m on today.
The first game was called ‘Tree of Knowledege’ and was a short experimental thing ostensibly about choices. The second was ‘Still’ - a very unofficial, barely interactive music video for a Volcano Choir song.
In December of 2010, just before heading home for Christmas, I released the largest and most developed of the trio called ‘One Chance’. A game also about choices and more importantly - dealing with their consequences. If I’m lucky, you might remember it as ‘the game you can only play once’.
By the time 2010 was over, One Chance had been played nearly 2 Million times on Newgrounds alone. There were dozens of reviews and articles written about the game and IndieGamesBlog had crowned it Top Freeware Experimental Game Of The Year. It was a crazy few months and an experience I’ll be insanely lucky to have again.
For the majority who won’t know the game: One Chance was Flash game about a scientist named John and his family. While creating a for cancer, he and his team unintentionally released an airborne plague that begins to cause humanity's extinction by targeting human cells.
The player has six days to create an antibiotic after which point, one of the several endings may be achieved depending on the choices made.
Once the six days are up, you’re unable to restart the game and you’re left with the consequences of the decisions you’ve made.
One last thing about 2010: I might have the timing off, but this all occurred just before the YouTube - Let’s Play phenomena. Minecraft was still in early alpha.
I didn’t do a single second of marketing for the game. Aside from an interview with RPS two weeks after release, I simply posted the game to Newgrounds and it took off. I didn’t even have a Twitter account.
One Chance blew up thanks to word of mouth on IndieDev blogs and sites like Reddit and Digg - without the help of Streamers or YouTubers. It was a different world.
With that being said, it was lucky enough to have a small resurgence between 2013 - 2015 after some big names did Let’s Play it. Oddly enough, this is the time period most people appear to remember the game from.
I developed One Chance on a pirated version of Adobe Flash in my student bedroom, during hours that I either should have been asleep or in a lecture hall. I didn’t have a table or chair, so I plopped my monitor on my tower and worked sat on my bed.
Aside from releasing One Chance, my most vivid memories from these days are:
- Being so cold that I had to sleep fully dressed (in occasionally 2 layers)
- £1 Jeager bombs
- Being disappointed with The Walking Dead pilot
- Playing Minecraft in alpha with my housemates
- ‘Pieces’ by Dinosaur Jr.
Sadly, due to a HDD being wiped, all of the original files for One Chance are now destroyed. This included: the original FLA file, all the game’s sprites and music, concept art and 2 unfinished endings. Because of this, I’m also unable to confirm any hard dates (aside from the release date).
From memory, One Chance took around 4 months to complete - not including a month break in the middle of development due to project fatigue.
The scope was originally much larger, included way more endings and a couple of ways to actually be able to reset the game. In particular, I recall a Back To The Future sequence in which you’d be able to return to day 1 and make even more changes to the story.
Influences for the design of One Chance are far and wide, but the most obvious are 'Everyday The Same Dream' by Mollenindustria and 'Babies Dream of Dead Worlds' by Gregory Weir. In particular Everyday the same dream heavily influenced the basic game loop and format of One Chance - and this is pretty fucking clear to see. Looking back, the lines between homage, influence and straight-up plagiarism are a bit blurred here, but my intentions were never the latter.
One Chance also fit snugly into a category of games that were a bit of a subculture at the time: Art Games.
For the uninitiated, Art games were basically independent games that focussed a little bit more on telling a story or creating an atmosphere than gameplay. These days, they’re usually called Walking Simulators (mostly disparagingly.)
What Went Right
The game attained a small, but significant (for me) bout of virality. The nature of the game’s one life with multiple endings appeared to cause a bit of discussion which really helped with the word of mouth. This aspect of the game was highlighted on a few gaming sites - and one magazine (I’m told.)
The game was also made - and then probably played - with low expectations. I thought that the aforementioned month-long hiatus during development was going to be the death of it. I ended up only completing the game for the sake of the gimmick.
It also looks like crap, right? I don’t believe anyone was playing the game because it was fun or looked good. I think it mostly got by on reputation.
Finally, I was extremely surprised at the reaction. I received hundreds of messages, comments or emails from players expressing a broad range of emotions - from anger to happiness to depression. It’s something I hadn’t experienced before, and something I hadn’t really considered I’d enjoy.
Still now, I get messages from players who have discovered the game.
There’s now fan art, articles, Let’s Plays and even some fanmade movies based on the game.
The reaction is something I’m still super proud of.
What Went Wrong
Literally everything else.
For a start, there was zero testing. I was the only person to play the game before release day. This is something that no developer on the planet would recommend.
For the first few days, there were a handful of bugs, one or two game breakers, that sat there while I scrambled to reproduce them.
There wasn’t a particularly quick way to travel through all of the branching plotlines, so I had played the game dozens of times to get to the right ‘timeline’ and figure out a bug.
I haven’t played the game again fully since that day.
There was a system on Newgrounds that didn’t allow a developer to alter the .SWF file all too quickly if the game was featured on the front page, for obvious security/PR reasons. However, I contacted Tom Fulp directly and he was awesome enough to allow me to upload patch builds as quickly as possible.
There are still some builds out there on the internet that include dead ends or impressive spelling mistakes.
Another aspect I think I botched, and something I wish I had capitalised on at the time, was the momentum it should have given me. I still haven’t really released a completed project since then (not for want of trying).
Finally, it’s worth noting that all-in-all, over the last seven years, One Chance has made around £2,000 using in-game ads.
I don’t know whether this is good or bad for a flash game, but considering the game has been played ~7 Million times, I suspect I could have been a lot more effective at monetizing the game at the time - but it really wasn’t something I was interested in.
I don’t know.
I am currently working a project that I plan on fully releasing at some point in the future. The idea is to maintain the weird, experimental, depressing tone of my previous projects, but actually ship something that is fun to play too.
And ideally something you can play more than once.