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Weekly Journal - A Man’s Home is his Castle
In this week’s retrospective, we are taking a look at some of the houses in We Happy Few. As most of you know, the game takes place in the south west of England and more specifically a set of fictional islands called Wellington Wells.
During the pre-production stage of the project, we settled on 1960s England as the setting for the game, and began research on architecture, music and artistic inspiration, and recent English history (as it would have been at the time). Our Art Director Whitney is particularly interested in architecture and atmosphere, and how it contributes to creating a unique and interesting experience. She spent a great deal of time researching architecture (even spending some of her vacation time in a trip to the UK, to understand how the game should feel).
Architecture is an important facet of We Happy Few, but it’s a pretty big topic! So in this weekly, we will only touch on the subject of houses, as along with the Wellies and their masks, creating houses was the first step towards building our world.
Inspirations and early concept
When creating the first concept, Whitney looked in a great deal of detail at the concept of “contrast”, if you’ll pardon the reference, as it was a major theme in 1960s England. It was a time of great social change, where the traditional past clashed with optimism about the future, young culture vs old, etc. We took this symbolism and exaggerated it to fantastical levels all throughout We Happy Few.
We wanted a contrast between different houses, but also between their interior and exterior. Our Village houses reflect the symbolism of rejecting history for an idealistic view of the future, and our Garden District houses contrast with the Village by showing the other side of the coin (it’s not like England was always pretty and mod - only parts of the world were that happy idealistic reality).
The exterior of the Village houses were inspired by two styles, the Tudor houses from The Shambles, York and the stone houses from Haworth. The outside is old, crumbling, historic, and reflects real history. The inside is clean, modern, overly cheery, blissfully rejecting history and looking towards the future. The inside has inspiration from minimalist, mid century designers such as Robin Day and Arne Jacobsen. To maintain consistency, the Garden District houses have similar exteriors, but would have older interiors.
A little note about the stone - it's stained dark grey from the soot, back when england was heated by coal.
Believe it or not, but a world like We Happy Few doesn’t start out very pretty. The first buildings we put into the game were shells designed to test metrics - something our level designers could look through and figure out concrete things like “how much space to we need to move around, how will the AI walk through the areas with you” and then more esoteric things like “how should these spaces feel”. We started with these houses because in those days, we didn’t anticipate that we’d have anything bigger than a house.
Here is a picture of a very early prototype for the world, which we have never shown before! This is one of the first procedural prototypes.
Most of the houses are attempts to match the level design requirements with the artistic vision - how do we create the thin, terraced houses that we wanted for the art, but also have interesting gameplay areas?
You’ll also notice in the left hand pic the first two early art prototypes. The building on the corner was an interactive shop - the precursor to the Butcher today. The second building from the left is the first “filler” house - houses that we created to fill space, because we didn’t want every house to be interactive, so that the world would “feel” more like a city.
This was a gameplay decision we made because we wanted a sense of scale to the city, but if we made everything interactive, we’d have to make each individual house have much, much less loot (given that loot density is a function of size of the island, and the rough amounts of items we want you to be able to get). You’ll notice that other games do this - if you think of the Witcher 3, relatively few houses are enterable. This is a trick many games use to balance space, size, density and workload (because if we made every house enterable, we’d have to have many, many more variations) required to build a game.