Suspicion in a Procedural WorldComplications Ensue
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Thursday, June 04, 2015

Dateline: Monday, June 1.

We are gearing up to drop our Kickstarter for We Happy Few on June 4.

Getting ready for the Kickstarter is a little odd for me, because while we are talking a great deal about our gameplay, we are not revealing anything about our narrative. Well, almost nothing. I can show you three of our five playable characters, as painted by our amazing art director Whitney Clayton:

Each of them has their own story, which interweaves with the stories of some of the other characters. You start as the tall guy — I'm not even going to to tell you his name! — and if you play through his story you get to unlock two more.

As I think you can guess, they are not your usual videogame über heroes, not even the guy in combat boots. They are all reluctant heroes. None of them signed up for this. Each has his or her own secret, and that pushes them to do something urgent and difficult.

I can say that much, at least.

Also: you can play the whole game and ignore their stories. It is not necessary to play the story to complete the game. It might be a bit easier if you do, but if you don't like stories in your video games, well, you can take your coffee black.

Also: as planned, we will pass the Bechdel Test.

We have some fantastic voice actors. We had to go to England for some of them. Alas, when I say "go to England," do not imagine me staying at 11 Cadogan Gardens. I summon their voices from a studio in Montreal's Old Port, and they're in a studio in London.

Don't forget to take your Joy this morning!
However, the fabulous Julian Casey, our Uncle Jack, is a Montrealer, so I get to work with him in person. He's terrific. I've directed him on another, unannounced project.

But the Kickstarter is not about the narrative. We are talking about the world, and the gameplay, and the procedural generation of the world map, and most of all we are talking about our social blending game mechanic. But we are going to hold back the narrative until it's all done. The idea is that we will refine the gameplay over the course of development, in full view of our public ("open development"), and then pull the drapery off the narrative when we officially release the game.

"Social blending?" you ask? Why yes. In We Happy Few, we're trying to create a city that has its own odd rules. The main one is: act happy all the time. Take your Joy pills, and everything will be right as rain. Doing things you'd do in Witcher 3 upsets people. Running or crouching makes people suspicious. Brandishing a weapon alarms people. Breaking into houses to steal food is a sure sign that you are a Downer (off your meds). The Wellies will cheerfully beat you senseless and make you take your Joy, and then game over. (We Happy Few is a roguelike with permadeath, so you have to go back to Day 1, with an entirely new map.)

However, if you don't break into houses to steal food, you will starve to death. Heh.

So you have to figure out how to "pass" as one of the decent, happy, drug-bemused citizens of Wellington Wells, while rarely actually taking your happy pills. (You can take your happy pills — the Wellies love you when you're high! — but if you keep it up you'll overdose.) We haven't finished designing the whole social engineering dynamic yet. So far we've focused on building passive social blending. But active social engineering could go from simply saying "Lovely day for it" to people on the street, to wearing the right clothes for certain areas, to something like framing someone for murder.

It won't involve a great deal of contingent dialog; on an indie budget, that way lies madness. We're going to have to be terribly clever and inventive so people feel they're actively shaping the responses of the people around them, without being able to chat them up. One reason we're going for a Kickstarter is so we can spend the time and resources to deliver the goods on the concept.

If you want to know more about the game, here's our Kickstarter page. Come and join the fun!


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