By Quentin H. / June 24th, 2016
During Microsoft’s Press Conference at E3 2016 one of the best-received titles announced for the Xbox One was We Happy Few. In the trailer for We Happy Few we met Arthur Hastings, a man who makes a living erasing the past from history in newspaper clippings while simultaneously taking pills called ‘Joy’. A ‘Joy’ pill literally makes the user happy, helps the user to forget the past, and makes the world look like a better place than how it really is to the user. While doing his job one day Arthur sees a newspaper article that sparks a memory inside of him, and he subsequently rejects taking anymore ‘Joy’. The trailer then followed Arthur through his escape from his workplace when his former co-workers realize that he is no longer one of them.
On the E3 showroom floor I caught up with Sam Abbott, COO and developer for Compulsion Games, the developer for We Happy Few. We discussed the game, its influences, its release plans, and exactly what is ‘Joy’.
You can already read my hands-on impression of We Happy Few here.
By: Quentin H.
OR: Hello, my name is Quentin H. with Operation Rainfall, and I am here today with?
Sam Abbott: Sam Abbott [COO and developer] from Compulsion Games, the developer of We Happy Few.
OR: Now we saw We Happy Few being demoed at the  E3 Microsoft Press Conference. How has the reception been to it so far?
SA: Its been fantastic. Overwhelming is the word I use from time to time. I’m struggling to keep up with people and say thank you. Its been great.
OR: What is [We Happy Few] about?
SA: It’s a game about surviving and escaping from a dystopian 1960’s English society that’s obsessed with happiness. It’s a society where everybody does everything they can to be happy. Something happened in their past – that I’m not ready to reveal yet – so they created a drug called ‘Joy’ that makes you super happy all the time and really forgetful. But it also makes you a bit psychotic. They have these creepy masks that they wear. These masks force you into a smile and make you feel happier. So it’s a society that’s so obsessed that anytime they see something that doesn’t make them happy, they get pretty violent and they really don’t like it.
So it’s a game about learning the rules, figuring out how to survive in a place where you should be able to be just fine but instead everybody is crazy.
“‘Joy’ is a drug that makes you forget.”
OR: What influences did you draw upon for [We Happy Few]?
SA: I think in terms of main pop culture references, we’re looking at films like Brazil and Hot Fuzz. The idea of a pretty English town that hides a secret [underneath]. There are books like Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451. Then there are game references, which are more along the lines of gameplay. So you have FTL, X-COM, Don’t Starve. And [there’s] melee combat such as Dead Island and things like that. So we take a bunch of game references and take a look at game lore and pop culture and figure out what we can draw upon.
OR: Your ‘Joy’ pills make you happy. Was that [element] inspired by ‘Soma’ from Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World?
SA: No, actually it wasn’t. So Brave New World – we kinda of realized later on that it was a great reference. But we had already come up with the concept of ‘Joy’ at the time. So in the end, we need to make sure that it’s not too similar to Brave New World. But it’s pretty different.
OR: How do ‘Joy’ pills function in [the] game?
SA: Basically, they are an item you can use. All they do is that make you high on joy, and joy makes the world beautiful. It makes it pretty, the sky blue, rainbows everywhere, [there] are birds flying around. It’s a wonderful time. Its got a great soundtrack and everything is good.
However. While you’re on that drug, [society] thinks you’re one of them. So you can do what they do. As soon as you crash, they’ll notice. They’ll become aware and they’ll come down on you like a ton of bricks. Likewise, when you’re crashing from the drug, there are some long-term side effects. You run out of food and water much faster. [OR Note: In We Happy Few, you must consume food, drink beverages, and sleep in order to keep your character functioning.]
It’s an item you can use, but it’s not without its own specific danger. And you can overdose as well.
OR: What do you mean by overdose?
SA: ‘Joy’ is a drug that makes you forget. So you’ll wake up, you’ll have lost some of your possessions, and maybe you will not know where you are.
“…We figured out just what’s the best way to start the game – it’s after remembering something and saying ‘I don’t want to forget who you are.’”
OR: So you mentioned earlier [OR: before the interview] about procedurally-generated levels in [We Happy Few]. What do you mean by that?
SA: So the game is narratively driven. But it’s set in a procedural world. So what we do is we create that procedural environment. Roads, streets, houses. We then pepper that with narrative elements. They can be small scripted encounters, like where you have to then go somewhere else – something like that – to the much bigger narrative scenes that have gameplay and cutscenes- things like the introduction. And you go through the procedural world from narrative point to narrative point.
OR: In the demo on the [E3 2016] show floor, there is crafting. How does crafting work within [We Happy Few]?
SA: Crafting is an essential part of the game. The first thing you need to do is get out of your shelter. You cannot get out without crafting. [OR Note: This occurred fairly early on in the demo.] So the vast majority of your tools will need to be crafted. You will find a couple of neat awesome things, but you’ll need to figure out which resources you need to use for what thing [and] what’s going to help my perfect play style.
OR: There is stealthiness in this game as well. Could you elaborate on that?
SA: There’s three ways of resolving conflict. [There’s] ‘combat’ – you punch people in the face. There’s ‘stealth’, which is more about hiding and doing things at night. Obviously there are different dangers that you need to address. There’s also ‘social conformity’. That’s really about blending in and figuring out ‘how do I behave like them?’
OR: How many characters are you able to play as?
SA: There are three characters. We’ve only started talking about one of them, which is Arthur Hastings – this guy you play [in the demo]. And each of them have their own story.
“Take this answer with a grain of salt…We’d like at the least the minimum time to get through all the gameplay content [to be] fifteen-to-twenty hours.”
OR: When we first see Arthur Hastings in the beginning, he is working in a government office and he erases the past. What inspired that in particular?
SA: That particular area is straight out of [things like] Brazil and things like The Prisoner. The idea that somebody deciding ‘I don’t want to be a part of this society anymore’ [and] ‘I don’t want to deal with this anymore.’
So really, we figured out just what’s the best way to start the game – it’s after remembering something and saying ‘I don’t want to forget who you are.’
OR: So what platforms are you planning on releasing this on?
SA: Xbox One and Steam Early Access. It’s on Game Preview Program and Early Access on July 26th.
OR: Is this a downloadable-only [title] or will it be released in retail?
SA: It’ll be downloadable for at least the beginning, we don’t know about retail yet. It’s too early to tell.
OR: About how long do you anticipate the game to be?
SA: We don’t know. So take this answer with a grain of salt. We’d like at the least the minimum time to get through all the gameplay content [to be] fifteen-to-twenty hours.
OR: Will you want to play through each character again?
SA: Yes, that twenty hours will involve all three characters. So it’ll be highly replayable. But we’re cagey [about the length] because we don’t know ourselves yet, and it’s procedurally-generated. We can flip a switch and make it thirty hours. But we want to make sure that the content is suitably interesting so we won’t know.
OR: Is there any last words you’d like to say about We Happy Few?
SA: No, just thanks to our Kickstarter backers. And if you’re interested in helping us making the game better you can do that on Game Preview and [Steam] Early Access.
OR: Thank you very much.
All images were courtesy of Compulsion Games.
Did you catch the trailer at Microsoft’s E3 Press Conference? What do you think of the game and of the world in We Happy Few? Let us know in the comments below!
compulsion gamesE3E3 2016JoySam AbbottWe Happy FewXboxXbox One