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A Blog Post for the New Year

Production Update from Sam 

Happy new year everyone!
I hope 2016 is treating you all well. It’s an unusually warm winter in Montreal this year, and the team is back to work, rested and excited about the year ahead.

As it’s the start of a new year, I wanted to write a bit of a recap of last year, and let you know our plans for the year ahead. It’s quite a lengthy post, so if you want to skip to what you’re interested in, here’s a brief table of contents:

  • 2015 In Review  
  • New Team Members
  • We Happy Few update - Plans for 2016
  • Kickstarter Rewards and Other Backer Info

2015 In Review

You probably won’t believe me, but we only decided on the title for We Happy Few the day before we released our announcement trailer. We had been wracking our brains for months, trying to come up with a name that might introduce the game in just a few words. Alex, I believe, came up with We Happy Few - an excerpt from the Saint Crispin’s Day Speech from Shakespeare’s Henry V - and we all agreed it was substantially better than the complete rubbish we had previously. You can tell an idea has something going for it when our team of substantially different people all think, “Shit, you know, that’s not bad. I don’t hate it. You know, I might even like it. I don’t like you, Sam, but I do like that title!”

So we announced We Happy Few on 26 February, after a little over a year working on conception and pre-production. Our plan was cunning: set up a new company website (that we could actually update from time to time…), then launch the wehappyfewgame.com site and trailer and see how interested we could get people two weeks before we went to PAX East. We were really surprised at how well the trailer did - we got more views on that trailer than we had on all our previous Contrast videos combined. We were 12 people by then, double the size we were a year previously.

Guillaume being interviewed by PCGamer

We went to PAX East, in Boston, and were surprised at just how many people came by and said “we saw your trailer!”. We met some great new friends, including some of our earliest and most consistent community members (you know who you are), by showing a very, very, VERY early version of the game. We got some great feedback on what worked, and what didn’t. And we had a lot of fun, watching people try over and over again to beat the demo.

I want to reiterate here that it was a very early demo - that was really the full game, as we knew it, no holds barred. We’ve done this since the beginning, and we’re really grateful for both the players at PAX, and our pre-alpha backers on Kickstarter, for all the fantastic feedback. The game has improved immensely as a result.

However, during this time, we realised one very important thing. From the launch of the trailer, and all the feedback at PAX, one major comment shone through: this game looks like Bioshock! Awesome! I can’t wait to get my Bioshock fix.

This is something people said about Contrast as well, and we think it’s mostly about the recent-history, dystopian setting and similar stylization. But there’s a problem with making that comparison - Bioshock Infinite was a $200 million project, if you include marketing and production budgets. We were approximately 1/100th of that. While we have a lot of people defending us and saying “they’re a much smaller team”, people’s expectations appeared to be through the roof for this game. This has worried us quite a bit since then. It’s definitely a good thing to be compared to something as high quality as Bioshock (and a bit humbling), but it meant that we needed to make a few changes.

(Also - just to set the record straight, people keep saying that we’re ex-Irrational employees. We’re not - no one at the studio has worked at Irrational. If you’d like to check out what some ex-Bioshock people are doing, take a look at The Flame in the Flood or Perception.)

The most important change we needed to make was that we needed to make a better game than we were making at the time. We can probably never deliver Bioshock - not without the kind of money we need to sell our souls for - but maybe we could make an admirable attempt. We looked at the game we were making, and the budget we had to do it in, and we decided it wasn’t going to cut it. We needed funding - and this is where Kickstarter came in.

No touching!

The first key to the funding question was to go to Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a fantastic funding method for game companies - if you do a great job on your campaign, you are able to access development funding on really great terms, you can easily keep in touch with a great new community, and most importantly you have validation that your game is interesting to people. It’s one of the best ways of knowing that yes, we should invest more in this game.

We had a great time creating our campaign. We made something unique: a video of Uncle Jack interviewing Guillaume. Just because I’m feeling quite candid tonight, it may interest you to know that Aladeen (the video director who has helped us on our trailers since Contrast-time) and I lost a lot of sleep making that video, because we just couldn’t get it to work until the day before we were due to go live. When it finally all came together… well, we were very happy with it. We hope you guys enjoyed it.

We made a few mistakes with the campaign - eg launching it around the same time as E3 - but overall we were funded to the tune of $334,754 CAD! We learned a lot during the campaign, and I hope we’ve been doing a good job on keeping you all updated since then.

For those of you reading who backed us on Kickstarter, thank you. I have a section below talking about rewards etc, but I want you to know that your contribution has been an essential part of making We Happy Few significantly better quality than it would have been otherwise.

At E3 2015, Microsoft announced something big - they were opening up their version of early access, a program called the Xbox One Game Preview program. Developers have been asking about this for years - for all the discussion about early access as a concept, it’s a really great tool to make better games, and to involve you guys in the process of making them. Microsoft’s version is different in that it is a highly curated program, with games like Elite: Dangerous, The Long Dark and Ark: Survival Evolved.

When we met with Microsoft, tentatively asking about releasing some day on Xbox One, their enthusiasm for We Happy Few took us by surprise. They were extremely positive, and offered us their support to help bring We Happy Few to the Game Preview program. We thought about this, and after saying we were interested, they said “well, we’ll need a new trailer in about… oh, 2 weeks or so”.

So we (and poor, long suffering Aladeen) busted our asses again, and created this. Microsoft showed this at the GamesCom press briefing, and suddenly we had even more exposure. “Holy shit this looks like Bioshock!” Thanks, Xbox One user! Now we can disappoint you too.

Just kidding. And so the cycle continued. At this point, with the success of the Kickstarter and Microsoft’s support, we had a solid plan for building the best game we could.

It wasn’t all easy going. In August last year, our game/level designer, Josh, was offered a position he couldn’t refuse at Ubisoft Montreal. I’m happy to say that he’s really, really excited about his new project, and has been enjoying every minute of it. At the same time, Vince, our remaining level designer, went on parental leave to supervise the creation of the second member of his little army of minions.

So, we were left short handed on the design side. We were also faced with this whole “have to make a bigger/better game” thing, which meant that we were not going to be able to launch on Early Access / Xbox Game Preview as early as we’d hoped. Whoever said “this holiday season” was being terribly optimistic.

In Contrast news, we launched on the NVIDIA Shield Android TV, which was a fairly incredible technical accomplishment. Contrast was a very demanding game, performance-wise, and the NVIDIA people are magicians to get it to run so well on the Android TV. We’re still getting emails from people telling us how much they enjoyed the game. This is still just lovely to hear, so thank you for telling us.

New Team Members

However, just as one door closed, another door opened, and a few cliches jumped out. In August, an old friend contacted us saying that he was coming free from his current project, and we jumped at the chance to bring him on board.

I’m very excited to announce that David Sears, a creative director/game designer with 25 years in the industry, including at Ubisoft Montreal, Sony and a host of other studios, has joined our team as design director. David served as a creative director at Ubi, working with the Rainbow Six and Assassin’s Creed teams, and was the creator of the original SOCOM. He was one of the first people we went to for advice on the concept behind We Happy Few, and has been advising us on and off since before we launched Contrast. We’ve finally convinced him to join us, and convinced the immigration authorities to let him into the country, and we’re really excited about .

To help make this game as great as we can make it, we’ve also brought on some new very talented team members in the past 9 months. They are, in order of appearance:

  • Vince (level designer, mentioned above, slowly creating an army of children to take over the world)
  • Marc-André (environment artist, also known as la chèvre)
  • Mike (level designer, musician and beard enthusiast)
  • Vincent (note the “nt”, animator, joining us from France with an English vocabulary consisting almost solely of Monty Python quotes)
  • Antoine (level designer, and itinerant Montreal-Vancouver inhabitant)
  • Stephanie (quality assurance, and lead “you done fucked up” adviser)
  • Hayden (level designer, and Louisianan cooking expert),
  • Warren (3D artist, hugely experienced artist formerly from Epic Games), 
  • Shawn (3D artist, recovering Call of Duty artist and Very Attractive Man(™) - Naila’s opinion, although I won’t lie, he is attractive),
  • Sarah (2D artist and Dad joke enthusiast), and
  • Valentino (sound designer extraordinaire, who comes from Italy and speaks all the languages). 

The team - except Whitney, who abandoned us over the last two days for some field work studying recent developments in US pop tart supply

Counting full, part time, remote and temporary people, our team has now increased to between 21 and 24 people on any given day. As that’s almost twice as many as we were a year ago, we could no longer fit into our old, leaky office. In early November, we were given a choice: move on 1 December, or in February/March. As we were simply not actually going to fit into our current office for much longer, I spent a very, very intense 3 weeks designing and preparing our new office.

The advantage of moving was that we had a blank canvas to work from, so I was able to give the place a few Compulsion touches. We moved from this:

to this:

Our new office, Mike and Sam in the foreground

Our epic move, from one side of our building to the other, was completed in just under 24 hours, and we didn’t even miss a nightly build cycle. We landed next to our friends and neighbours Double Stallion Games (who just released their game Big Action Mega Fight on Steam), and we now get to see the sun during the day. Goodbye, dark cave where the dubious pipe heating sounds like a miniature dwarf is pounding on it with an iron hammer! Hello, air conditioning and a closet for our boots! And yellow pipes, because I was feeling whimsical.

We Happy Few Update

Looking ahead to 2016, we will be continuing with our weekly development updates and pre-alpha builds for another few months. We have a lot of content to build, and features and systems to master.

We still plan to launch on Xbox One Game Preview and Early Access on Steam at the same time. Thanks to the expansion to the game’s scope we discussed above, we are aiming for a mid year release. Once we have a firm date, we will let you all know.

We will very likely attend PAX East again, in Boston. We would love for those of you who met us last time to come and see us again, and we’d love to meet those of you who have joined us since. The showfloor is super hectic, so this year I’m thinking we should all go for a drink. We’ll pick a bar, and meet up there (or just drink alone, who knows?) to hang out in a more relaxed setting. Once we confirm we’re going, we’ll organise the meetup. We will likely also attend other shows, and will let you all know on the blog and on social media once we have firm plans.

And finally: the next pre-alpha update will be coming at the end of next week. We are attending the Montreal IGDA demo on Tuesday 26 January, and will show the next update there. Once we confirm it’s stable enough to release, we’ll push it out. I’ll try not to make too many bad jokes in the build notes.

Kickstarter Rewards

Alright! Rewards. This is going to be a little bit of a dry, organizational part of the post, so bear with me. Now that the BackerKit campaign has closed, we have enough surveys answered that we can start working on the rewards. For those of you who haven’t filled out your survey, please do so, because we won’t be able to send you your rewards until you do.

For pre-alpha copies of We Happy Few and the Collector’s Edition copies of Contrast, those have been available inside BackerKit since August. As always, we would love to get your feedback on the next build of the pre-alpha on the forum; look for that next Thursday/Friday.

For the non-pre-alpha version of the game, we will provide Steam codes on release of the Early Access version of the game. For those of you who chose DRM-free codes, this timing depends on a few things we have in the works, but I can’t talk about these yet.

T-shirts: we have everything we need to know, and are currently working with our distributor to get these manufactured and sent out to you.

The art book, soundtrack and collector’s boxes, both physical and digital, pose a bigger challenge. As we are still working on art and music for the game, and likely will be until quite close to release, we have to wait until then before we finalise these designs. So these physical items will be delayed beyond what we anticipated in the Kickstarter. I understand this is a disappointment, but we want to make sure that you get the best quality books and music that we can create.

In-game contributions: we’re just about at the stage where we will be asking for people’s contributions for the Vandal tier. We will email you guys privately to talk about how you’d like to contribute. We’ll then introduce you to one of our team members who will work with you to integrate your work into the game. This is going to be really exciting - we’re looking forward to what you come up with!

I hope I haven’t forgotten anything. As always, if you have any questions you can ask us on twitter, the forums, by email, or comment on our updates on Kickstarter. Honestly about the only thing you can’t do is just yell at us and expect us to hear it. Because we have headphones on.

Conclusion

In conclusion, your honour, I submit that this has to the longest blog post I have written in some time. I am sorry that I did not have time to make it shorter.

Thanks for reading, and here’s to an exciting 2016.

Sam and the rest of the team at Compulsion

 

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