We spoke to Compulsion Games while going hands-on with We Happy Few.
At PAX East we had the chance to speak to Sam Abbott, COO of Compulsion Games, the developer of Contrast. We Happy Few, still in pre-alpha, is best described as a dystopian story-driven survival game; if you enjoy games like Don't Starve, you'll really dig this title.
"With the game, we wanted to try and look at what we did really well with Contrast, and what we could have done better. For We Happy Few, what we felt we did really well with Contrast was atmosphere and story, so we wanted to make sure that we did well with that again.
"And we wanted to do a couple of things that were a bit more different this time around in terms of developing the game. We wanted to involve community early on, which is why we're showing this way earlier than we did with Contrast."
We Happy Few is a systemic game that follows a linear storyline. Sam likens the art style to that of BioShock. The game is played in first-person view inside a procedurally generated world. It has an estimated 2-3 hours of gameplay, but with good replayability.
You awaken in a bunker and can tune in to a morning broadcast from a man called "Uncle Jack". He kindly reminds everyone to take their Joy—a drug that is keeping the colorful, 1960s-stylized "drug-fueled, crazy, alternative-English" town of Wellington Wells blissfully content, pretty darn forgetful, as well as "a bit touchy... and psychotic." Though we don't know the full story behind what happened to the town, Sam did tell us that some event drove the people to "put on your happy face!" (a reference to the masks) and lose themselves in Joy, so as to remain unaware of a past that evidently haunts them.
"We quite like dark storylines. We try to make things reasonably interesting. Not like the terrible, typical darkness, you know... not like 'everyone's dying and it's all bad!'... but more sinister. I think that's more interesting."
Your main goal is to survive while not taking the drug, which makes you what is called a "downer", and manage to blend in with those around you. The townspeople catch on fairly quick to your soberness if they get a good look at your eyes. They'll become suspicious and soon gang up on you, leaving you to either fight, flee or duck into a red phone booth.
Sam: "The game is built around a suspicion loop... the idea is that we're going to have lots of ways that you can figure out how to get away. So if you just want to go and hit somebody in the face..."
ZAM: "You actually want me to go hit somebody in the face? With my nightstick?"
Sam: "Yup! You can spawn with a whole bunch of [weapons] right now... my favorite's the frying pan. Oh dear..."
ZAM: "Oh.. what was that?!"
Sam: "Someone threw a grenade at you. Now go run into that red booth.. and it's a Joy dispenser!"
Since you'll occasionally be under the influence of Joy to try and blend in, there's a noticeable difference in how the world looks. Everything becomes intense and kind of hazy as you suffer from withdrawal. However, the drug will quickly wear off and your normally-sober self will crash pretty hard from the use.
While wandering the town, you can break into people's homes via doors or windows, and try to raid whatever food, drink or other useful bits they have laying around. Because I'm terrible at survival games (never made it past three days on Don't Starve or one day on The Long Dark), I frequently tipped off a house owner that I had broken in, and soon enough they were laying a beatdown on me.
"Most of the time, the thing that you need to learn to survive is going to kill you once or twice."
A huge part of the challenge with We Happy Few is to figure out what works best to prolong your survival. Craft items (such as bandages or purified water) in your bunker with things you've found around town. Avoid bumping into the townspeople—they're a bloodthirsty bunch. Don't be a fool like me and trip every alarm possible in people's homes.
Nearing the end of my hands-on, I noticed a short person walking down the street. "Oh, is that a kid?!" I inquired, running to catch up and see how children looked in the game. "It's a little old lady," Sam explained as I finally got a good look. I commented on the fact that I had yet to see a single child in the game, and Sam left me with something to muse over: "Isn't that an interesting question! I don't know if I'm able to talk about it yet. Your intuition... might be good... might be interesting, let's just say."
We Happy Few is currently being developed for the PC first and is expected to hit Kickstarter sometime in the next couple months. You can sign up for Compulsion's newsletter to get the latest news on the game.
ZAM: "It's really difficult!"
Sam: "Yup, that's the point! We're going to tune it to hardcore players first."
...and don't forget to take your Joy!
Thanks to Sam Abbott for taking the time to chat with me at PAX East!
Ann "Cyliena" Hosler, Managing Editor