A small team of enthusiasts creates a major video game, rivalling those of the biggest international studios in the industry. How did they do it? We met the Creative Director Guillaume Provost of Compulsion Games studios in Montreal, to talk about the genesis of their latest creation: We Happy Few.
Character design (Photo by Compulsion Games)
From George Orwell’s 1984, to Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, dystopian and agonizing universes have always fascinated the public. For almost five years, the Compulsion Games team has been working very hard to develop its own version of a parallel world that is both terrifying and captivating. This story will soon be available to fans of the genre, not in the form of a novel, movie or television series but rather in the form of a video game: We Happy Few.
Creative Meeting (Photo by Clara Pougeard)
The game takes place in an dystopian England in the 1960s, where the population is kept in a state of artificial happiness by a drug called Joy. Similar to the universe created in other dystopian novels such as We by Yevgueni Zamiatine and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, the dictatorship in place controls the people by suppressing their individual freedom and giving them an illusion of perpetual happiness. As Guillaume Provost explains: "It's an action and an adventure game with elements of survival. The main character starts the game by being part of the system in place, but he quickly picks up on drugs, understands what is happening and wants to flee. As the player goes through the first character’s stories, he discovers the different groups of the population, the elements that make up his environment, the history of the world in which he is and why England is different. We quickly see how Joy makes them forget the violence, the hunger and the harshness of reality.”
The Compulsion Games team (Photo by Clara Pougeard)
The concept alone is enough to generate interest. Indeed, We Happy Few is already successful among the community of gamers who are impatiently waiting its official release date on Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC, scheduled for August 10th. But how did Guillaume Provost and his team manage to create such a craze around an idea before it even materialized?
After launching Contrast, their first project inspired by American film noirs, the small team at Compulsion Games came together to create a new game. Guillaume Provost, along with Artistic Director Whitney Clayton and Narrative Director Alex Epstein, took a few months to shape their dystopian world and to think about the technology needed to create it. The project quickly took off, as Guillaume explains: “We presented the concept at the PAX Exhibition dedicated to video games and the public was immediately hooked. People loved the universe we had created. They wanted to explore it and find out more about the story and the characters.” A pleasant problem for the team, since the craze was obviously present; however, developing a narrative framework for a game requires a lot of resources. "The audience was excited about our game’s story, but we neither had the budget or the team to develop it.”
A programmer at work (Photo by Clara Pougeard)
To test the idea and improve it, an early access to the game was available at the beginning of the development process. This way of going about the work allowed the interested players to give their opinion and thus contribute to shaping the gaming experience. The Creative Director explains: "We worked with a community of more than 200,000 gamers, who got a version of the game in early access and with whom we worked for a year and a half. It provided us with large-scale study tools which a small business like ours does not usually have access to." The testers’ comments, along with a successful crowdfunding campaign, allowed the project to evolve significantly. "People got involved and showed that they were interested. In addition to the creative side, we had to recognize that the game had a real potential for success and to prepare everything to support its launch. This summer, when We Happy Few launches, our budget will be almost ten times higher than when we started. At the beginning, we were six. Today, we are forty.”
An artist in action (Photo by Clara Pougeard)
The excitement did not stop there. During the crowdfunding campaign, Microsoft showed interest in offering support for the game’s release on the XBox console. By then, in 2016, the Compulsion Games team intended to return to the PAX show in Boston and blow everyone's mind. "We did not have a lot of money for marketing, but we decided to get ourselves a huge, well-decorated booth to present our game and its story. Our booth was six times larger than the standard ones.” At the same time, the Microsoft team offered outstanding visibility to Compulsion Games at E3, the Electronic Entertainment Expo. "Each year, one of the biggest conferences in the world in the field is Microsoft’s at E3. Millions of people follow the event. Microsoft gave us five minutes on stage to present We Happy Few. That year, we were the only independent studio to have a stage presentation. And from that moment on, everything changed.” Indeed, the popularity of the game continued to grow along with Guillaume's team. And in June 2018, Compulsion Games officially joined the ranks of Microsoft Studios, which will enable them to produce even more elaborate games in the future.
Guillaume Provost, CEO and Creative Director (Photo by Matthew Cope)
Thanks to the vision, ambition and work of a passionate team, what was originally a small game idea became a major project in the Canadian and global gaming industry. Guillaume Provost and his team can continue to celebrate their success. After all, unlike the characters in their game, their joy is real.