While writing the article for Rags to Riches and CHANGE, I contacted Delve Interactive and, a few weeks later, here I am having a chat with Danny Hayes, game designer. I was curious to ask him what was the inspiration – both personal and from a game design standpoint – for CHANGE, everything that happened with his previous game, PONCHO, and social messages in modern indie gaming.
How did the idea to make a game about homelessness come about? Did it come from a personal place or was it conceived as a way to make people more aware of the issues behind it?
The inspiration for CHANGE started after our first game, PONCHO was released and subsequently failed. Personally I quit my job, took out loans, all things you shouldn’t do a with a first game. The result was being 5 figures in debt and facing eviction without a job, but I was lucky and had the support of friends and family to help me couch surf for while until I got back on my feet. I wrote a postmortem that has more details on that part of the journey (highly recommended reading for anyone – ed’s note). It made me realise how easy it was to fall into homelessness, and it can happen so damn fast to anyone. That, along with the rise of homelessness and tabloids slurring the homeless, as well as games like Bum simulator and similar games existing, filled me with a need to create a positive voice. It didn’t have to be a game, but it’s just my best way to communicate a message to a wide audience who otherwise might not encounter the details of what it’s like on the streets any other way.
Were there any games that inspired your approach in making CHANGE? As you know, while writing the article I referred a lot to Rags to Riches on the C64, but I’m aware that might be pure coincidence!
In terms of inspiration, I’d say there’s definitely a touch of Papers Please in there. But otherwise I tried to draw inspiration from reality and let the game design flow out of it as naturally as possible. I‘d never actually heard of Rags to Riches until one of our players told us about it over a year ago and they also thought it was a spiritual successor of sorts. I was really surprised how similar the game was! But, I suppose that’s because it’s inspired from the same material, as well as the fact that we went with a retro side scrolling style that was chosen to make the experience more accessible.
Since you’ve mentioned Papers, Please as an inspiration, what is your opinion about games with a strong political message? Would you especially like your games to challenge social issues?
I think it’s important to recognise that games are now a pillar of modern culture. When you contribute to that culture, you inevitably shape minds and opinions. Game designers have a responsibility to be mindful of this, but it doesn’t seem like most are aware of how big a deal that is. Since games are uniquely suited to putting someone in another’s shoes, evoking feelings of pride or guilt, it makes sense for sociopolitical statements to be made through games. I love seeing unique games with a strong message, but there is still the view of games being an immature art form that shouldn’t be talking about these kinds of issues. If more political games were to come out, maybe that sentiment will die down eventually. As for me, this kind of project really took a lot, both emotionally and mentally so I think I will at least need to do a “happier” game in between these darker, more political titles.
How was your experience with Change as an early access title and the feedback from the players? Also, what is your planned release date?
The early access experience has been great for us. It’s a tough subject to swallow, and it’s really important to us that we get this right, so having players to constantly interact with while we develop has been super useful. It’s also been a factor in keeping us going, the stories that people share about being inspired to help someone in their area, or just some kind words for us are all boons that help when developing a very, very depressing game for years. There’s even been messages from the formerly or currently homeless who’ve played and given their thoughts, which is amazing. The one caveat of early access is that it makes feature creep a lot worse when you have an audience that you want to please as much as possible, but it makes for a better game I guess if you can keep your vision strong. As for a release date, it’s gonna be at the end of February! The precise date will be announced soon with a new trailer.
What are your future plans for the game? Is there anything you’d still like to add to the game, like an “overarching narrative” that would change with the different characters?
For content still to come, here’s a list we’re still working on and should be released in the next patch:
- We have a lot more story and interactions with the other homeless, as well as many new night events.
- The base story chosen at the start of the game will also have more impact on the narrative.
- Gender selection, and narratives around female homelessness that is gonna tackle some seriously heavy subject matter.
- A fully animated and scored ending cutscene.
Since CHANGE is finally close to being completed, do you have any future plans?
Our next title is gonna be an epic fantasy rpg unlike anything seen before… I’ve been designing it for a very long time and it feels good to know I can actually start working on it soon! We’ll announce that sometime in a year or two, probably…
Would you like CHANGE to also have a physical release in the future?
I don’t think a physical release is really necessary these days. Digital games are cheaper to produce, sell and buy (usually) (not that usual, I’m afraid, here’s looking at you Google Stadia… ed’s note), and I think CHANGE does a lot better in that kind of space. But who knows, maybe we’ll do something one day, like physical release of a collection of our games.
I read what you guys went through with Poncho and I was driven to tears, if I may be honest. So I wanted to ask, Danny, do you get more satisfaction from an hypothetical financially successful title or from one that gets really appreciated by the public/fans?
It’s kind of half and half for me, though I really only care about the finances because that dictates what kinds of games I can make. I’m used to spending everything I have on development, so really it’s about being able to continue to connect with other people and touch their hearts that interests me.
Thanks to Danny for his time and patience.