We Happy Few has been in the works for some time now. It’s a game which tells the tale of a dystopian English town full of mask-wearing happy-go-lucky townsfolk all hopped up on a drug called Joy. The game has been in Early Access since July 2016 and now it’s finally set for release this August, but likely not as we or players who have played the game before, know it.
When We Happy Few launched in 2016 in Early Access for some it wasn’t quite the game they had expected. Its fairly bare-bones release showed an open-world sandbox where players needed to piece together what was in the game at that point. It had potential, but there was something missing. Fortunately, the developers have been taking player feedback on board and what’s coming this August might be a largely different game.
At E3 2018, Microsoft showed We Happy Few at their media briefing on June 10 and announced the news that they’d actually acquired Compulsion Games, the studio behind the game. n3rdabl3’s Dale caught up with Sam Abbot, Producer on We Happy Few, to see what’s in store for players when the game launches in a few months.
We Happy Few tells a very unique story of a drug-fulled dystopia full of lollypops and rainbows, but beneath the forced smiles and the mime-like masks, there’s a dark tale of struggle and pushing problems aside. It’s a story that comes from various influences, explained Abbot, some of which are connected to today’s cultures, such as Facebook.
“there’s always a pill for something to solve your problems”
“So the inspiration for the whole game was kind of, I guess thematically one of the things we were really interested in was looking at a society that was sort of obsessed with happiness and denial. We had these sort of ideas early on about Facebook culture, right? Where you put on a beautiful profile pic, and that’s not really you, right? But that’s the face you give out to the world.
“We had elements of that we had elements of drug culture and the idea of ‘there’s always a pill for something to solve your problems’, I don’t mean necessarily illicit drugs, you know? Like if your kids are acting up, ‘well they’ve clearly got ADHD let’s medicate them’, that kind of society as opposed to one where we actually confront and address out problems.
“So those were some of the early introductions to some of our setting and story and it all sort of came together as we were working on the setting and the art and gameplay mechanics. And they all sort of coalesced into a fairly unified presentation.
“In terms of specific kind of comparison, we loved Hot Fuzz so y’know the idea of like a picture-perfect village, and underneath they’ve all got guns, quite surprisingly, it’s really about that idea of what’s hiding beneath the surface, and that’s all about We Happy Few and all of the characters ultimately go through their own story about that too.”
All of this however is masked by a colourful dystopia. The game is made up of bright and cheerful colours across the board. There are also aspects of humour, too, all thanks to this pill called Joy. But there are definitely dark undertones which shine through the deeper you get into the game.
Compulsion Games are very familiar with this type of storytelling however, like with their previous game Contrast, as Abbot explains.
“It’s easy to look at the art and the sort of vibrant colour, that sort of thing, in the game and think ‘oh, this is nice and funny and happy’ and you take Joy and it makes it beautiful, it really does, you didn’t see that in the demo, but you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you play it. But the reality is that it’s grim, it’s a horrible story, and yeah that’s the direction we went.
“We did the same thing with Contrast. Everyone was like ‘oh this is a nice little story about a little girl and her imaginary friend.’ And I’m like ‘What’s nice about it!? There’s this twelve-year-old girl wandering the red light district of an imaginary Paris-based city in the middle of the night because her parents have abandoned her’ I mean like, that’s not a nice story!”
Aside from the theme of the actual story, we wondered what other influences, from movies, TV, and literature, the developers had for We Happy Few. Aside from the previous mention of Hot Fuzz, it seems they’re quite into British humour.
“We draw from a really wide-range of media typically, we start visual inspirations that are typically from film, so we look at things like, I feel like Brazil remains the best comparison for the game, Terry Guilliam’s film. And we had some references to A Clockwork Orange and TV, things like The Prisoner and Keeping Up Appearances, there’s a wide-range of British movies that we draw inspiration from. But then we also have mechanics and game references, we have books, Brave New World was sort of a big one, obviously 1984.”
“crafting is necessary in the game, but how far you want to go into it kind of depends on you”
After getting hands-on with the game, Dale noticed that the game had some pretty in-depth crafting in the game. While this was present in the Early Access version, it’s become much more involved in the later version of the game, something Abbot says has become a necessary part of the game.
“Yeah, so the crafting is necessary in the game, but how far you want to go into it kind of depends on you. You could run around with the basic things picked up off the ground and sort of fight your way through everything if you really want to, but what we wanted to do was give you access to a wide range of tools to basically have fun with. You’ve got a wide range of items that depend on, different suits that give you different abilities, more powerful interesting crafted weapons, so all of the crafted weapons – for example, are typically stronger than in the areas you find them, last longer, so that you think that it’s absolutely worth crafting a good weapon. Then you have distraction devices, bombs, grenades, y’know. The distraction devices are more thematically interesting.”
While the game has changed a lot over the almost two years its been in Early Access, one thing still remains, and that’s the games open-world blended with narrative-driven sections. This gives a level of freedom for players to explore and learn about the story at their own pace, something the team behind We Happy Few have been careful to retain in the game.
“There are two elements to [the freedom], first there’s the world itself is a very unique combination of hand-crafted areas and open world procedural game. You can think of it in a sense that you typically go from hand crafted narrative gameplay space, through procedural world, to another one. But it’s all open, so you can pretty much go wherever you want, we do segment it so you’ve got islands and you need to progress through challenges to get to the other islands, pretty standard stuff, but then inside each of those areas you do have a variety of ways in dealing with problems and progressing the game.
“So we try to provide options in each of the gameplay areas, so for example, you can almost always run through and beat everyone up if you want to, but you can always probably sneak past enemies. So you can either do that with stealth or you can do that with our Social Conformity system, so wearing the right clothing, saying ‘hello’ and doing things, so yeah we basically try to give people the choice of how they want to go through the game.”
Another element of We Happy Few is the game’s music, something that was present in their previous title, Contrast. Abbot tells us that they even have the composer from that game in We Happy Few as well as some interesting surprises which they plan to reveal in the coming weeks.
“So we have some music that I can’t talk about yet, that I am extremely excited about, and we’ll be talking about it very soon, I think it’ll be within about a month or so, but basically on top of that we also have all of the sort of ambient music in the game and cutscene moments and all of the hand-crafted experiences there, and that’s all through our audio partner and team at Signal Space. And most of the music, the mass majority of it is being composed by Nick Marquee who’s the composer for Contrast as well, so we have sort of kept the same people loosely related to most of the games.”
With the game launching on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on August 10, there’s on console which isn’t listed, so we thought we’d ask the question which the developer has probably heard a million times before, will the game be on Nintendo Switch?
“That would be lovely, wouldn’t it,” said Abbot. “Due to its nature it’s quite a demanding game, so right now we’re really focusing to getting it working on lower-end PC’s, then after that we’ll take a look and it’s possible that we’d be able to build a Switch version, I think that’d be pretty cool.”
As for some final words, Abbot explained that we can expect a very different game.
“I think it’s a very different experience, the game that’s coming, compared to the one that people have seen in the past in Early Access. I think it will be one of the biggest pivots and changes in Early Access history, I think, so that’ll be something I think people will enjoy.”