It’s been three years since the Five Nights at Freddy’s fangame Final Nights 4 has been released. It really doesn’t feel that long at all, really. I had turned sixteen the previous month and being able to present the game to the Internet with a group of friends who I worked with almost every day for a year to create the final chapter in the Final Nights series was one of the proudest moments of my life – and I thought, for those who found it cool that I played a part in making the game, I would take a look back at what lead me into becoming involved in writing for the game, some new and old information about the game’s development and my thoughts on the reception of the game and the game itself after release.
Around four years ago, I was approached by a good friend of mine, Liam Joly, to help him work on a project of his. We had known each other for about 3 years at this point, and I had spoken to him a few months prior about my frustration with writing stories within the Five Nights at Freddy’s community – specifically on the subreddit (known as Freddit).
I always felt like writers never got the attention that they deserved in the spotlight on Freddit. All these fantastic artists were getting upwards over 400 upvotes a pop, reddit gold, silver, tons of comments and community interaction. Of course, they deserved every bit of it! But, for all these massively successful posts made by artists, any stories or written pieces by writers sunk. At most, the short stories that I had written gained around 30 upvotes and 3 comments and at the lowest point, which made me completely give up writing on Freddit in the end, was 5 upvotes and no comments.
It’s hard to describe how dehumanising this felt to me, personally. I had always written these to entertain people in some capacity and the lack of engagement didn’t satisfy that to me at all. In the few times that I had gotten comments on my writing, they told me about how great it was to read. But when there’s a one-in-six chance of someone even commenting, let alone reading it, it didn’t feel rewarding – I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. Was my writing just bad? There was no way for me to tell, because the only form of criticism that I got was that it was a good read, not what could be improved. So, I sat there one day thinking: “What’s the point of this all?” – writing for at least 4 hours or more, publishing it to the Internet just to get insubstantial satisfaction from it. I always believed that my writing was average at best, but my school teachers kept telling me that I was something special, so I kept marching on.
Eventually, it got to the point where I was just experiencing severe burn-out and set aside writing on Freddit permanently, and I haven’t posted a story on there since. I was 14 years old at the time and I was thinking “what’s the point?” instead of having fun with my life. The mental torment I had gone through by not thinking my writing was good enough for an online forum was enough for me to stop writing for half a year and in that time I found myself slowly distancing from the Five Nights at Freddy’s community bubble once and for all.
I had expressed interest before my burnout to Liam that I would be interested in doing writing for him in any future games of his if he needed it, and that call to action came.
The first thing that I remember doing for the project was the outline of the story of the game. This was around August 2017, after the first announcement trailer had come out. The general idea was that this would be the last game in the series, and that Liam wanted to revisit the locations seen in previous entries of the series (which would end up being William Afton’s house and Hurricane Hospital). My first thought was that the game would be a prequel in some form – which was solidified by the existence of Fredbear and Springbonnie in the universe. One of the most important parts of the series was how each game in the series was from the perspective of a family member of William Afton. What was interesting to me was that because the story revolved around Afton, it didn’t necessarily mean you had to play as him.
Henry eventually became the person that you would play as in the game, with his death being caused by William replacing laughing gas in the pizzeria with gas that causes suicidal thoughts. These animatronics that were built had been made to automatically fulfill the request of any person in the building – including suicidal thoughts. Sure, this may seem like a really stupid idea at first but considering remnant was starting to exist within the official games, this wasn’t such an out-there idea, and we weren’t exactly going to do “William uses a knife to kill people” troupe that most fangames had been doing at this point, so we used the idea of not-so-futuristic technology and attempted to apply it here.
Unfortunately, Liam had completely forget about Henry’s story within the game, as we had put it on the back-burner to refine the other areas such as gameplay and phone call dialogue, this meant that Henry’s death is left ambiguous in the final game. However, the aforementioned ideas and concepts were included in the final game as point-and-click segments where notes written by Max Donovan (in my handwriting) shows his attempts to decipher the disappearance of Henry.
One of the things that had made Scott Cawthon’s games so easily accessible (Freddy’s, Chipper & Sons, Desolate Hope) were the simplistic point-and-click controls – something we wanted to pay homage to in some way aside from the main game itself.
At this point, Liam said that he wanted to incorporate a “paranormal investigator” aspect to the game to make it more personal to the player, and this ended up giving us the two settings: 1973 – with the nights played as Henry, who oversees his establishments in his final nights and 2017 – A paranormal investigator known as Max Donovan finally gets a lead (through a letter posted to him by the Brother, who became the Puppetmaster) on being able to solve the mystery of Freddy’s. Although I can’t recall this discussion ever being made during development, the comparisons from Max Donovan to Matthew Patrick of Game Theory was quite an interesting observation to see.
The original opening cutscene, where Max refers to himself as possibly being “the man who solved Freddy’s” originally had a small car sequence before it, but I don’t recall this being in the finished game. Not only this, but one idea for the cutscene was a radio report with police cars shown around Fredbear’s, detailing the disappearance of Henry Stillwater. Somehow this shifted into a voice-over reading by Donovan and then into the monologue in the final game.
While in development, we discussed the ideas of having newspaper articles between each night (instead of the loading screen tips) which would feature more lore information in the main story then random garble on the sides. One of these random stories would be about a basketball team, the Wisconsin Wankers blowing a 6-9 lead at their last game. These images were made, but have never seen the light of day.
One of the saddest things that never got added were the ending cutscenes I wrote for the Good and Bad endings, which had William mocking Henry’s death through a telephone call on his birthday and William giving a monologue to Max before they both burn to death. Due to communication errors near the end of the game’s development as well as rushing to polish and finish the game, we felt like we couldn’t delay the game a second time which meant that the end-of-year release date was set in stone, meaning that the cutscenes were eventually scrapped.
In December 2018, the game was finally released and the catharsis that I had desired for so long became a reality. Loads of people enjoyed the story of the game and called it one of the best fangames. Markiplier eventually played the game, and to see my own handwriting, and my name in the credits of the game in his video as well as his high praise for the game was truly something special to me. Seeing all these big content creators and just fans of the series enjoy the game as much as they did validated myself as a writer and for once, I truly felt my worth.
Of course, the game wasn’t perfect and some people were very vocal about it and they know who they are. I feel as though ragging on about a game, made by teenagers, as a passion project, who aren’t professional game developers is one of the most useless things someone can do. We don’t have years of industry experience, all we has is love for the franchise that brought us all together and we wanted to celebrate that and give back to the community as well as Scott for making Freddy’s what it was.
Retrospectively speaking, working on Final Nights 4 with people who were my friends and being able to expand on not only Liam’s alternative universe but to explore the storytelling potential of Five Nights at Freddy’s was one of the most fun (but occasionally stressful) experiences and projects I have had the privilege of working on. And the overwhelmingly positive response to the game gave me the hope that I needed, that I am a good writer, and that the burnout I faced beforehand is just an obstacle I had to overcome to become a better version of myself. I didn’t think that three years ago, right before release, I would be writing about the happiness being involved in this project would give me but I am glad I was able to leave my mark on the Five Nights at Freddy’s fandom in a small way as a writer, even if it means the spotlight was on my good friend Liam, who did a fantastic job directing the team and giving one last farewell to the community with Final Nights 4.