This week we will talk about the evolution of the encounters and questing in We Happy Few!
We Happy Few began as a high difficulty roguelike survival game set in a urban city, with a story that could be found through small encounters. Like in Don’t Starve, if you died, it was game over. Every playthrough would teach the player something new to get further, and the game was meant to be replayed a lot, and so we planned to have a large number of small, systemic “encounters” that would teach the player about the world.
However, over time, we realised that players were more and more interested in the storytelling and lore of the world, so the encounters had to change into something more ambitious - something that much more resembles quests that you all know and love. This journal tells that story.
The first version of the game, that had anything resembling encounters, was the PAX 2015 demo. We created the first two encounters for the community to try and find, which if they completed would grant them a key to the game. These were the Odds and Ends shop and the Butcher shop. All the players had to do was to find keys to open locked doors, but they had to navigate a series of environmental challenges to do so. At the time, we thought these would be the largest type of encounter in the game - a single, normal sized, house.
However, this was really it. It was a sandbox demo, so other than surviving in a small procedural version of the Village, the player had no purpose, and there was no goal to the game yet.
Our Kickstarter in mid 2015 gave some backers direct access to the pre-alpha right after the campaign, so it was important that we gave them something to do. For this version, the game finally had a purpose: escape Wellington Wells. The player would start in a shelter and wake up to a prompt informing him that he was a Downer and had to survive long enough to find the hatch and escape the city. While this was just a pop up - a single message that said “get out” - this was the first glimpse of a quest system.
As discussed in previous journals, at this point the game still heavily revolved around a roguelike/survival experience. The exit hatch was located in the Parade District guarded by two Bobbies, and the player had to traverse the Garden District and the Village to get there. Along the way he could find the two encounters from PAX as well as some “points of interest”; smaller encounters that showcased unique situations in the world - think of something like encountering a space station in FTL, although in our world this might be a mad hatter’s tea party. This would give the player some items to help him survive longer, and a small bit of lore. Bridge encounters were also making their debut, to give players new challenges when crossing islands.
Apart from the initial prompt upon waking up, there was no other prompt or text. There was also no saves, so quitting the game or dying would restart the entire playthrough.
The Kickstarter feedback was pretty overwhelming - people gave a lot of feedback on survival, but also wanted to know more and more about why the world was the way it was. We realised quickly that we would need to up our encounter game. So, the Early Access launch in July 2016 saw a big change to encounters, as it contained the first encounters that could properly be called “quests”.
To begin, we started with Arthur’s real intro - we did this to help introduce players to the world, because Kickstarter feedback was “I don’t really know what I’m doing”. So, we added the intro, and then upon leaving the shelter, we added a new and fancy prompt indicating the player’s goals, which would then get tracked in their Quest screen. The Early Access “story” ended when Arthur made it to the hatch that would lead him to the Parade District - a temporary ending until the real one comes along.
Once you were in the world, the encounters were much more fleshed out: they all had a developed background story, larger and unique locations,and full on dialogue with truly unique NPCs, all animated. We added a compass, dig spots and dozen of points of interests. We had enough quests to rotate some of them from one playthrough to another, which means you might not have always gotten the same encounters two playthroughs in a row! We were confident that the game’s story and world was beginning to become what people wanted.
However, we hit a snag: a great deal of feedback from the early access launch came in the form of “I don’t get it, where is the story?” While some of that related to the main story not being present, we also realized that many players weren’t finding our encounters. A prompt would appear indicating a quest had been added to your journal but it wasn’t always very clear where it came from, and most players would just walk on by. For example, Eric “Crazy Legs” Liddel would just run away from the player, meaning Arthur would just talk to himself for a while if the player wasn’t paying attention. If you didn’t spot Eric, none of that would make any sense at all.
The game was becoming much bigger, the player was now able to save and we introduced the second wind option, moving slowly away from the roguelike gameplay we originally envisioned. So, we realised that we had to go back to the drawing board.
The Clockwork Update
The Clockwork update was a BIG one, that introduced a number of technical systems that improved the game on many levels (hence the name!). Due to the complexity of the game increasing, and the early access launch feedback, we had two goals: increase the reliability of our game systems, and increase the visibility of our quests.
To start, we completely reworked the quest and save systems (things that you don’t see in a playthrough, but which affect the stability of your game). This system changes quest tracking from a pure scripting-based system to a code based system, where the game knows at all times exactly where you are in any given quest. This made it much simpler for us to create encounters, because the systems and tools didn’t need to be recreated for each quest, and also much more reliable (because it wasn’t possible to introduce nearly as many scripting errors). We no longer needed to have complicated scripts tracking save/quest/item situations, and instead could focus more on gameplay and making cool things. While you guys couldn’t see any of it, this was a huge change that allowed us to create bigger, better, more complicated, and better realized encounters.
We also added a “puppet” system, which meant NPCs could have highly scripted behaviour, instead of their normal systemic behaviour. The puppet system allowed us to remove their systemic brains and give them specific actions to do, rather than having the two systems fight (which led to all manner of crazy shit). So, NPCs could now do normal game things, like patrol an area, rather than just wander off and do whatever the hell they wanted.
Finally, we introduced “conversation mode”, to address the visibility issue. Upon finding a new quest, conversation mode would now trigger, which means the player would enter a “cutscene” with the NPC in question. This led to a clearer understanding of the encounter as they would no longer just pop up on screen when passing near them (a pop up you would likely ignore). The system also allowed us to better match animation to the VO, and quest givers couldn’t be interrupted by other NPCs, or you, or even themselves. Aka, the game didn’t lose the plot as much anymore, and it was a much more cinematic.
These new systems required us to refactor all our old quests, but we did find time to add a couple of new ones. Throughout the rest of Early Access, these systems allowed us to build newer, bigger and better encounters, and really build out the weird and wonderful parts of our world. We could easily create little points of interest with the puppet show, we could create multi step quest chains with the quest state system, and tell a far better story with our (already delightful) VO and animation.
Today, the game contains the encounters you have seen, plus the story of our three characters (both the main story and new sidequests). We’re almost ready to talk about it - that’s coming very soon now. Hopefully you’ll enjoy what we have to say.
Thanks for tuning in!
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