NOTE: This site is still under construction. Please have mercy on my gentle soul.
Smash guitars. Rule the world.
One Night Only is a performance art game, where to play the game you must physically destroy it — not just the code at the end of the “set” (to use musical performance language) but also the actual physical controller. Combining elements of live theater, improvisational comedy, and alternative controls, One Night Only is a destructive game that could (and was) only playable once. What started as 16 guitars in a Kentucky office ended as a pile of shattered wood and copper tape in a Chicago auditorium.
Players were brought onto an auditorium stage, outfitted in costuming, and given a customized, painted guitar which they were then encouraged to play a rhythm game. At the end of their song they were prompted onscreen to “smash” – a physical event wherein the player will smash their guitar on a metal plate on the floor, triggering an event in game that destroys the opponent NPC.
At the end of the set, the rest of the physical control mechanisms were destroyed on stage and the code was itself deleted. The game was designed to be an ephemeral creation — enjoyed once, then gone forever. The only thing that remains is documentation.
So, let’s take you through One Night Only.
At GDC 2019 there was a party. There are often a lot of parties, and to be fair I attended neither GDC nor this party. But the idea was that at the end of the event, the designers would destroy their game code. Which is…interesting. But somehow not enough. As an alternative controls designer, I immediately latched onto the idea that not only would you destroy the CODE for the game, but the GAME itself. A game that would be playable only once, for people who happened to show up, and then would cease to exist. This is the seed that formed One Night Only. The easy part was figuring out what the controller was. What do you smash? Guitars of course.
The first people I thought of were Bit Bash. The only people I really thought of were Bit Bash. Midway into a night at a fancy cocktail bar, I fired off a quick tweet: would you be interested in a special one night event where we smash guitars? Their answer was immediate: YES. The key to good art is having enthusiastic collaborators.
I was already on the hook for another project, a large scale balloon installation, so we basically started working on the game about a month and a half before the August show. A month and a half to make a one-of-a-kind flash-in-the-pan experience. That’s probably enough.
We didn’t just want this game to be an alternative controller (both my and my partners specialty) but rather a piece of performance art that allowed the player to experience something they would otherwise never be able to do: feel like a rockstar. Everything we designed towards was for two main goals: 1) it had to make the user/player feel awesome and 2) it had to be destroyed at the end of the performance. Total destruction — not just a question of “oh did this get a bit dinged up” but we wanted the remaining audience to have no question that the game was dead.
As Matt told Kotaku later on:
“We’ve seen [games] that delete their own executable,” said Amanda’s partner Matt Hudgins, “but I think you’ll be surprised to find out how far we’re willing to go.”
Killing the game became an essential part of the project. Everything was picked with an eye towards destruction.
I’m accustomed to building for stability. My alternative controller work is something I tend to leave unattended at childrens galleries for months on end, and it usually does fine. You don’t need to babysit a board with 100 buttons in it, if you’ve done the legwork to make sure it’s a stable board and that the buttons are in alright. This project was an experiment in disposable design. Things I would never really consider using due to their frailty or ease of destruction were fair game. Copper tape? We used rolls of it. A smash pad on the floor? In my designs I tend to avoid the floor because people will stand on anything you put on the floor. But for a one night, 90 minute show? This is perfect.
The specific guitars were chosen based on their Amazon reviews (I wrote my own here after it was taken down) some of which declared that the guitars were barely fit for firewood. We didn’t want to be taking a guitar out of the hand of a kid who needed it, so in addition to destroying guitars we also put together an on-stage tip jar: give money to Little Kids Rock, a charity that brings musical education back to classrooms. We wanted to practice ethical destruction.
I did some research beforehand, watching video after video of guitar destructions, from real bands to late night shows to YouTube prank channels. We knew we had somewhere between 1-3 good hits before the controller became more of a splintered flail.
BEAUTY IS EPHEMERAL
Though this piece involves the destruction of quite a bit of guitars, we didn’t want that to be it’s primary result. The guitars themselves were picked due to their cheapness and overall bad reviews, which was a part of that process. In addition we raised $183 for Little Kids Rock, a charity that helps put real guitars into the hands of real kids, which seemed like a great resource.
When all 16 guitars were out of their case, we also used this as an opportunity to record some one-of-a-kind audio which was captured by a good friend of mine Matt “2 Mello” Hopkins, to be used in future recordings for his own artistic work. We also made sure to properly license out all of the music, so the money raised went to actual bands making music. In this we hoped to sort of even out the karmic load.
There’s something cathartic about destruction for the sake of destruction, but we needed to find that just-the-right level of damage.
HAVING THE RIGHT PEOPLE ON YOUR SIDE
I said it earlier, but I will say it a thousand times more: this piece could not have existed without the enthusiastic support of Bit Bash, specifically its organizing crew. What was a throwaway idea presented at a cocktail bar became something way way more and that could not, would not, have happened without Bit Bash.
Bit Bash is the first show to have me come out, to feature my work alongside the folks that I thought were unattainable and for them to help me make this happen? It’s impossible to express how lovely that feeling is.
The full soundtrack can be found here on Spotify, one of the last surviving remnants of One Night Only.