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Interview: The Advantages Of Having One Single Life

In FreshTone Games' iOS title One Single Life, when you're dead, you're dead. Lead designer Anthony O'Dempsey tells Gamasutra how that approach provides "tension, drama, exhilaration, and adrenaline. "
At a time when accessibility is king, and death and failure are merely inconveniences, Australia's FreshTone Games is among the few developers trying to set itself apart with its latest iOS release, One Single Life. FreshTone Games is using the single life concept also found in indie flash games like You Only Live Once and One Chance. For One Single Life, when you plummet to your death after you fail to make a jump from rooftop to rooftop, your one life is gone (unless you cheat death and delete and reinstall the game, that is). In this Gamasutra interview, lead designer Anthony O'Dempsey chats about the single life concept, the game’s visual style, the use of audio to help get inside the player’s head, and reasons behind the game's free-to-play business model. Your website talks about your inspiration behind the single life concept, but how did you decide what form One Single Life would take? I first came up with the idea sitting in a conference. I was listening to a speaker talk about the fact that games should be easier, and that we need to provide more respawns, let the player enjoy every part of your game, and get them to the end and so on. I remember agreeing with a lot of those points, but then thinking that the converse is also good, and I rarely feel the stronger emotions associated with tension, drama, exhilaration, and adrenaline. I thought platformers are a common genre, and I wondered why jumping in games is rarely very dangerous. And while there are many ways you could do a single life, there's something dangerous that we can all relate to in having the player stand at the top of a very tall building. We all know that's inherently really dangerous and very risky. How did you decide to put in the [pre-jump] practice simulator? It was a pretty easy decision to make actually. Everyone was behind the single life concept, but then we questioned what would happen if the player dies on the first level. Not because they were rubbish, but because they didn't know what the rules of the game were, or they didn't know the controls. We didn't want to break the immersion, or the storytelling aspect, so we didn’t want pop-ups all over the screen to teach people the controls, you see that all the time and it can be a little bit too in your face. So we had to think of how to get the player into an environment where they can at least get used to the controls, that's how we came across the simulator idea. To be honest it's been one of the most praised features in the game. People think it's an excellent teacher because at some point you've still got to commit to the jump. We got lots of feedback and comments saying things like "I practiced level eight 15 times and I felt good, then all of a sudden I tensed up and became nervous with sweaty hands on the real jump," which is exactly the sort of experience we wanted to give players. I noticed the buildings had windows in practice, which allowed me to tell how fast my distance from the edge of the building, whereas in the real jumps the whole building was black, so when you come to the edge, it's big surprise and I found I jumped too late. Why not put the windows in the proper jumps? We really wanted a strong, simple and artistic silhouette style game, so you've got to be careful. We did toy around with that, but by putting in too many objects on or around the building, we felt it actually detracts style we were going for. We tried placing things like pipes, or air-conditioning vents as measurement markers on top of the building, but the reality is that it can get quite distracting. We figured there was enough going on with the player running across the building, getting faster and faster that just placing a couple of objects on the top of the building actually made it more difficult because it was so distracting at that speed. We didn’t want to sacrifice or drop down to a lesser level of style just to cater for a possible gameplay element, so it was just one of those compromises you make. Where did the art style come from? I've had this vision for the silhouette art style for a long time. I know games like Limbo came out during our development and if anything that strengthened my original vision. Ours is simpler than that, they’ve got a lot of gradient shades of grey, light and fog and so on, but we've reduced that even further. I guess we just wanted something a bit classy and different, and we didn't want to have to rely on photorealism or overly-detailed art assets to make what's essentially a game focussed on the gameplay and the drama. We wanted to be able to focus more on the psychology and less on the degree of realistic art. The game makes great use of sound; tell me about some of the sound design choices? We didn't want to over complicate it, so again we were trying to focus on the psychology. We had to figure out how to create that mood and tension using sound in concert with the silhouette art style. So we fill in the player’s imagination on a couple levels having a jumbo fly past, and you’re on top of the building, with the wind blowing, the sound of the city beneath you, then the heartbeat getting quicker as you come up to the jump. Plus Level 10 is the only one to have tense, driving music. We thought that was a good way to ramp it up again for players who made it to level 10. With One Single Life being a free game, I was curious what your business model is? In the end we made it free because I felt that perma-death is an incredibly risky topic. I wanted as many people to play this game as possible. I didn't want just 10 people to play it because they were put off the price tag. It was about getting what we felt was a unique, indie game experience into as many people's hands as possible. We knew from testing feedback, and from forums and when I went to GDC that a certain percentage of people just wouldn't pay for it because they knew that they would die, and therefore waste their money. Now that's OK, but I was still keen to get it out to as many fans and players as we possibly could. While that’s the case we were also confident in our sequel and in future upgrades to the game. We’re confident that true fans will come back and be happy to make some sort of purchase. So this game’s for free, as many people as possible to play it. We’re not concerned by revenue for now, we just want maximum installs, maximum people having fun. And we know that enough of those fans and our customers will say I really like the first one, I like what they’re doing with the second, and I’m happy to pay for that. It sounds like a different take on the freemium model. Yeah, it is similar but different, it’s not the lite version, or we’re giving you two levels then you pay for the extra eight. It was never about that for us, we wanted a quality game where people enjoy the full experience for what it was. Have you found your last game, iProton received a bit of a sales bump thanks to the success and publicity of One Single Life? Unfortunately it’s been hardly noticeable at all. I mean, we just ran out of time. We were so focussed on the quality of this product, and the fact that we needed to get it out onto the store to meet our deadlines. Actually we always had intentions to put a billboard in One Single Life that had advertising for iProton for instance, which we’re considering putting into a future update.

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