We Happy Few has had a long road to get to where it is now. After showing off its iconic art style, people were excited, but its launch into early access left people surprised and concerned at the prevalence of survival mechanics. After it was removed from early access, changed, and updated, we're now at the point where the game is fully released, realising the vision that Compulsion Games had all along.
What's more is that DLC has also started arriving for the game, with Roger and James showing up in the most recent content drop called They Came from Below. This gave Compulsion a chance to go down a different avenue with the game and explore a new direction, and we talked to narrative director Alex Epstein and art director Whitney Clayton about where the game has been, and where it's going.
"We thought the main game would be an urban roguelike with permadeath and learning by dying. We thought a playthrough would take 3-4 hours, and we'd get replayability through systems," they said when reflecting on the original concept. "Based on feedback from our players during Early Access, what we made was a fairly linear story with a collection of scripted encounters with crazy characters in a dysfunctional world. "
"Transitioning from one to the other was quite a challenge, and many of the imperfections of the game we released last August come from building one game on the base of a quite different game."
A key component of We Happy Few's identity ever since the early stages has been the Britishness of the world, clearly influenced by stereotypes and 1960s culture. This was created "by stealing liberally from the Beatles, Monty Python, The Pirates of Penzance, The Avengers, The Prisoner, Shakespeare, and A Clockwork Orange, among others," as we were told. "Also, yards and yards of reference photos, and a research trip that absolutely was not a family vacation."
We Happy Few's style may be a key component in its identity, but at the core of the experience are the characters that Compulsion has created, which have to be fleshed out by a convincing range of actors.
"The game has a hallucinatory visual style, but I think to make players really care, they have to feel that the characters are real. So we needed voice actors who convince you that they're really experiencing these fictional circumstances," they explained.
"We spend a lot of time casting, more I think than most studios. I started with 200 submissions for each role. I winnowed those down to about 15 actors I wanted to hear undirected auditions from. They sent in self-taped auditions based on a script. Then I did callbacks with maybe five actors per role. What I look for is emotional truth plus charisma. The first comes from training; the second comes from who knows where."