The next BioShock? – We Happy Few with Guillaume Provost
Comparisons to BioShock came in pretty fast for We Happy Few. Is it a comparison you welcome?
We hadn’t really foreseen it, but it’s a very flattering comparison, so of course it’s welcome! Gamers and press always compare games to other games, and BioShock is a revered franchise that we are also big fans of at the studio. I think that if fans see something in our game from a franchise they loved, we can only be thankful for the association.
A lot of the themes in Bioshock are present in We Happy Few: a dystopian society, alternative history and mid-century time-periods all contribute to creating a similar atmosphere, but we try and educate everyone to the fact that the game plays very differently.
We Happy Few is a rogue-like, and as such it is not a linear, story-driven campaign like Bioshock. Story is imparted through discovery and experimentation. It also takes place while the society is still functioning, rather than in its aftermath.
What would you say are the key themes you wanted to explore with We Happy Few?
Dystopia, Drugs and Denial are key recurrent themes in the game. Although we’re not trying to impart any kind of social agenda with the game’s world and story, it was important for us to craft a world and depict a society that we felt could have believably emerged given the right historical preconditions.
This brought us to touch base on several themes that are still current today, such as social inequality, consumerism, prescription drug-culture and social conformity, and try and define how and where we would treat them in our game.
Aesthetically, what were the key influences that helped you to settle on the look for the game? Both We Happy Few and Contrast are incredibly strong in terms of art design and Concepting being translated to game. Is that something very important to Compulsion as a team?
Our Art Director, Whitney Clayton, puts a lot of work and effort in researching the time periods and locations involved in the games that we make. There’s a visual signature to the environments that we create that I think is a real important component of our identity; which incorporates stylized forms and detailed material textures. We’ve had big inspirations from Tim Burton, Henri Selick, and Stop-Motion Film in general for the stylization of our games.
For We Happy Few, I originally introduced the context of a dystopian, Brave New World inspired society, and Whitney brought the idea of contextualizing it in 1960s England. She loved the architecture and the cultural changes associated with the time. We had a number of film influences while doing early research: The Prisoner, Monthy Python, Dr. Who, Brazil, and Clockwork Orange just to name a few. But we also looked at major trends in 1960s fashion, music and psychology. The period is a fascinating one, as it marks a desire to move on (from the war), a relentless optimism for the future, designs that favour form over function, and a fascination for technology and space; all of it shaping up as the perfect test-bed for our little dystopian world of denial.
Procedurally generated roguelikes don’t typically have as defined a world or as much story to them as you’re providing. How have you gone about balancing these things?
We’re definitely of two minds with it. The studio has a strong record for building story into our games with our last game, Contrast, and it’s a trait we wanted to keep moving forward with in We Happy Few. However – we also wanted to create something that was replay-able and systemic in its nature.
We did a few things to marry the two competing priorities in We Happy Few. First, we invested heavily into the world’s lore and history. Uncle Jack’s shows, the dialog of the citizens on the street, as well as various scenarios and encounters that help reveal the world’s history help develop the background of the world and provide a direct explanation for players on how the world became what it is.
Each of our playable characters also has different motivations and goals within the world, and we are distributing story agents and events that are specific in developing their personal story arcs. This helps us create a more cohesive play experience without tying us into a linear narrative experience.
You’ve chosen to go through Kickstarter for additional funding for the game. What do you feel it offers you that other means of funding and releasing the game would not?
Well – although we are at a stage of the game where it is playable – we didn’t want to just throw something on the store, and call it “Early Access”. It felt both impersonal and a bit disrespectful to our community to just throw the game on a store page. By going on Kick-Starter, we’re connecting more directly with our fans, but we’re also making it crystal clear to everyone that we’re early in the development process. We’re also in a better position to treat those early-backers with more attention and engage with them more directly.
We’re also lucky that we’ve had some money coming in from the sales of our previous game, Contrast, which has helped give us some stability and helped us maintain our creative independence throughout the project.
If this reminds you how much you like BioShock, our collection on Ken Levine may be worth a download