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Developer Focus

Starting Small and Dreaming Big With We Happy Few’s Compulsion Games

For our third and final Developer Focus Edition of July, we switch our attention to Compulsion Games, an independent development studio based out of Saint-Henri, Montréal. Founded in 2009, Compulsion Games would release their first game – Contrast in 2013, before starting development on their latest exciting project – We Happy Few, a game that throws players into a dystopian England where every character is controlled by a personality altering pill called Joy.

Set to launch on Steam Early Access and Xbox One’s Preview Program next week (July 26th), We Happy Few promises to be one of the standout indie titles of 2016. We recently caught up with Compulsion Games businessman Sam Abbott to find out more about one of video game development’s rising stars as well as the team’s feelings ahead of We Happy Few’s long awaited launch next week.


Sam started by giving us a short overview of the company. “We’ve been steady around 20 (staff) for about 6 months now.  We started as one person, increased to 7 by the time we shipped Contrast in 2013, and have slowly increased since then,”  he says with a knowing smile.

A growing company is great as it eases into our favourite line of inquiry: convince us to work for you. Confidently, Sam responds. “I think we offer similar things to many independent developers – the ability to be more creatively engaged in your work, more control over what you do, and more input into the general creative process of the team.  But what (I hope) sets us apart is the quality of the work we do, and the atmosphere in which we do it.  We’re a relaxed, friendly and creative bunch, that want to make the highest quality art, gameplay and story that we can.


We Happy Few

As we’ve seen with many smaller studios, Compulsion Games does outsource some of the more specialised aspects of game development, although this time, through a third party. “We have a few long term partners that we work with – SignalSpace looks after our audio (including music, sound effects, and sourcing voice actors), we have friends that we work with on trailers and a few longer-term art/design contractors who work remotely.  The total team working on the project is maybe 26/27 full-time equivalent” people.”

Well, I hope so”, Sam offers smiling when asked if he thinks their focus on out of the box design makes Compulsion Games stand out in the crowd. “Ultimately we are just trying to create different things, and if people think we stand out because of that, that’s cool.  Generally, we don’t like to compare to others, we just like to do our own thing.”. A healthy attitude, in our opinion. Clearly focusing on their vision and not compromising in favour of a more “market-safe” approach is working out so far.

With We Happy Few coming out soon, yet another visually striking game after Contrast we felt we had to ask if…*ahem* there was any “chemical inspiration” involved. We like to overstep our bounds here at PressA2Join. Sam laughed and denied the whole deal. “Yes, completely natural.  No Joy, or vegetable based Joy supplements, are involved in the creation of this game.” Sure, man. Whatever you say.


We Happy Few’s NPC’s are beautifully crafted

We Happy Few has definitely gotten some media attention, being featured at E3 and is set to be released into Early Access and Xbox One’s Game Preview Program shortly. We asked for some short studio thoughts about this. “It’s a complicated question – rather than give an alpha/beta type response, I’d say that we’re hopefully 6/7 months away from release.  However, that will depend a lot on how successful the game is, and how much feedback we can incorporate in that time.“. So it appears that the game has a more flexible feature roadmap up to release which we look forward to seeing pan out.

Of course, we pretty much have to ask about VR at some point, as it could be either a passing fad or the next big cultural shift and we’re curious how studios approach it. Sam replies modestly and in a grounded manner: ”

We thought about it.  We think VR isn’t great as an adaptation technology (although we will be happy to be convinced otherwise!).  What I mean by that is that you really have to design for VR – and it changes the game. We would only consider it if we got really excited about a particular vision, or if VR tech evolves to such a point where integrating it into more traditional games is fairly straightforward.”

It can be fairly stressful to attend E3 and be featured as a small developer, but Compulsion held their own. We asked about their expectations and feelings going into the convention. “Not too high – but quietly hopeful.” Sam replies “We knew the introduction was pretty good, but you never know what everyone’s reaction to it will be.  We were very happy with the reception.”. As for Gamescom… ”

As for Gamescom… “Chances are we’ll be staying at home.  There may be WHF demos to try, but for us we’ll be backing off from the media a bit after launch, to enjoy some well-earned rest.”


Compulsion Games enjoying a recent team meeting

Common for a company the size of Compulsion, the employees don’t tend to enjoy a lot of amenities such as you’d see at a large corporation, but they do go out for drinks, dinners and Christmas parties. “usually if anyone is going to the pub, we’ll get a good turnout.  And we do have semi-regular Magic / Rocket League games on Friday nights.” Sam offers. Other than that, the company doesn’t do a lot of group play but they seem optimistic and forward-facing: “If we do well in Early Access, I’ll probably expand our games library a little bit.”

We’re getting pretty sick and tired of hearing the same answer to this but damn it, maybe Naughty Dog have earned it. What game studios inspire you, is the question we like to ask. “I think each one of us draws inspiration from a lot of sources – dev studios included.  I know we generally highly respect Naughty Dog, Arkane (Dishonored), and a few of the very big guys.  Likewise we respect crazy, small indie teams working on games that are charming, innovative or just plain interesting (many of whom are our friends in Montreal, or others we have met at shows or conferences).  I think it’s a good thing to support and encourage all forms of development.

We suppose all that’s left is looking forward, to the future of Compulsion Games, and we’ll let Sam send us off with his thoughts: “Hopefully a great Early Access period leading to a really great final game!  After that, we’ll see.  It’s a bit far away to talk about future plans… we have to make sure this game is great first.”

Sounds like a plan. A big thank you to Sam Abbott for taking the time to talk to us and we’ll see you on the next Developer Focus in August when we’ll be chatting with developers from both CD Projekt RED and Red Barrels.

We Happy Few is available July 26th on Steam Early Access and Xbox Preview Program on Xbox One.

Paul is mainly a PC Gamer with an affinity for interesting or unique gameplay styles or mechanics. He prefers a good story and engaging gameplay over polygons, and frame rates. He's also going to make a game one day, just you watch. Just as soon as he gets some time. Any day now.


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