CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience was released exclusively on PC in 2020, but I didn’t discover it until I caught up one-on-one with the game’s solo developer, Danny Hayes, just weeks ago. It took me no time at all to learn that I simply had to play CHANGE – it transcends being a game and becomes a learning experience; a brutally honest exposé of a universal issue that impacts millions of people worldwide, yet often gets pushed to the side.
In CHANGE, the player assumes control of someone recently made homeless and who now must survive on the streets, by any means possible. That’s a single line to explain what is a rather complex, multi-dimensional game. It’s so much deeper than that, and I quickly found out that my own conceptions of homelessness would be actively challenged with each new interaction.
‘Most of a Decade’
I caught up with Danny Hayes of Delve Interactive, grilling him about CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience and learning about his own story and why he’d ultimately decided to make CHANGE in the first place.
DH: ‘I was initially inspired to create CHANGE because of my own brush with homelessness after my first game failed and saw me thousands in debt and evicted. I wanted there to be a voice in games that took the subject of homelessness seriously. I just didn’t think it would end up taking most of a decade to get right – but my research eventually showed that it would. Games have a powerful ability to put you in someone else’s shoes more than any other medium, and we have a responsibility as game makers to respect that and use it wisely.‘
On that note, I wanted to learn more about Danny’s development journey. It’s never easy being a solo developer, but working on such an emotional project almost single-handed must have been a tough ask. It boasts procedural mechanics and roguelike elements, and it’s overall a very ambitious indie title.
DH: ‘There have been plenty of times I wished I was working on a nice, happy game, but as long as CHANGE felt unfinished in any way in representing some aspect of sleeping rough, and I had the goal of making this the game that people look to gain some understanding of homelessness and vulnerability in general, I knew it was going to take a lot of work. Initially, I thought it would be a 6-month art statement-type project, but as I did more research and talked to more homeless people, the content just kept blowing up until CHANGE became what it is today. I just underestimated how much of a toll it would take on my health, I’ve sacrificed everything to see this done. And if I could go back, I’d do the same again.‘
What’s The Point of CHANGE?
Since meeting with Danny, I’ve sunk a few hours into CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience, and I’ve marvelled at how well-built the game is. It’s authentic, it’s immersive, and above all else, it’s unwavering in its accuracy. From the moment I started out with my first character, cast onto the streets following an eviction, I struggled.
It doesn’t take long to understand the basic gameplay loop, but you’ll quickly come to realise that there are so many factors at play. It’s a game driven by choice and consequence, and a single interaction can bring your story crashing down around you. I became a beggar, scrounging from trash cans and crawling into a hostel every evening to keep myself off the streets.
I dodged police officers desperate to move me on, I soaked up derogatory comments from passers-by, and I quickly forfeited my dignity – and my sense of identity and feeling – as I pounded the pavement, looking for scrap to sell or a vendor selling a piece of food cheap enough for me to buy. There’s a remarkable perk system in CHANGE that’s made up of hundreds of possibilities, and every night, time passes and the player is presented with a different scenario every time.
It’s an emotional experience – you never know what’s coming next. I found myself jubilant when I found an unopened sandwich in the gutter, and heartbroken when the police moved me into a new area for begging openly on the streets, causing me to lose my residency in a hostel and half of my money.
There are so many obstacles and problems to navigate around in CHANGE, from crime and poverty to abuse and addiction. You’ll find yourself worrying about things you’d never given a thought to before.
And I’ve only just scratched the surface.
What’s Next For CHANGE?
I was eager to learn what’s coming next for CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience. It was a while ago that Danny released an expansion for the game on Steam, and since then, he’s kept the game plugging along with regular content updates and improvements.
DH: ‘I’m very proud of how well CHANGE has done – better than most indies. I think some of the reason I keep adding to the game is because I know it deserves more attention. I do have a couple of other projects I’m working on, more unique games with heart, but a happier theme this time. I’ve got a strategy game and an epic RPG magnum opus that I’ve designed, but it depends on how much budget I have.
For CHANGE, controller support is coming very soon, probably this Autumn, with mobile releases around the same time, and then console releases planned for Spring 2024. There’s also a French and Japanese translation in the works. I’ve got ideas for more content too, but I’m doing my best to draw the line. Never say never, though!‘
Before we signed off, Danny had one final message for prospective fans of CHANGE:
DH: ‘I would love for more people to buy the game obviously, but if it’s between that and making a donation to your local homeless charity then I’d prefer the latter. We donate 20% of profits anyway though! If you’re looking for an engaging, heartfelt experience in your games, then CHANGE: A Homeless Survival Experience might be what you’re looking for.
And if you’re looking to follow my work, you can follow me on Twitter @danhayesgamer.‘