The development team behind Contrast and We Happy Few talk about their bumpy start and what vision they have for their indie studio.
Video transcripts available below
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Maya LT was used for the development of Contrast and We Happy Few. Stay tuned for more interviews with Compulsion Games.
Video Transcript - The Studio
GUILLAUME PROVOST: I'm Guillaume Provost. I'm the founder and a creative director at Compulsion Games. We're based in Montreal. So about the founding of Compulsion Games. It's a bit of a strange story, actually. I was approached by this Taiwanese conglomerate that wanted to start a studio in Montreal. Two months before we were set to move, the financial crisis happened. The money evaporated overnight on the deal. We just basically said, "Fuck it. Let's just do it anyways with no money." So that's a little bit how the studio started in the beginning.
WHITNEY CLAYTON: My name is Whitney Clayton and I'm an art director at Compulsion Games. After university, I started applying to studios, and Guillaume contacted me. I had applied thinking it was a studio, because there was a website, but it was actually Guillaume in his house, and he did have a company, but it was very new, and he needed someone to help him with the art direction for Contrast. Him and I had just started working together.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: Contrast is a 1920 film noir game where you play the imaginary friend of a little girl and you have superpowers. Your superpower is that you can walk around and at any point in time become your shadow and walk on shadow.
WHITNEY CLAYTON: The fact that we were using shadows was the driving inspiration for the influences which were like German expressionism, film noir, these kind of settings that were very influenced by shadows.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: Our narrative director Alex and I when we were working together on the script, he liked to tell stories that are a little bit closer to everyday emotional concepts.
ALEX EPSTEIN: I'm Alex Epstein. I am the narrative director and writer for Compulsion Games, which means if there is something narrative in the game, I wrote it. The narrative is about, why do I do it? Why do I care? How am I going to feel if I failed? How am I going to feel if I succeed? We get emotions from story.
SAM ABBOTT: So I'm Sam Abbott. I am the chief operating officer at Compulsion Games, which basically means I look after all the stuff that you don't hear about publicly. So I joined compulsion in September 2012. We have more of an evolving vision when it comes to understanding what our company culture is. We look at what works really, really well, and what creates great art and great work and then hopefully a great game, and then we say, "how do we make that better?" So we don't have a goal in five years we want to have X million people. It's not really like that. It's more saying, "Okay, how can we analyze what's working, what's not, and make this place better?”
GUILLAUME PROVOST: The vision's always been pretty simple. Just I want to work with great people, who know what they're doing and who trust each other. I think to me that's kind of the magic pudding that makes the team work or not.
ALEX EPSTEIN: If I have to describe Compulsion Games in one word, I would say "passionate". I think everybody here is passionate about what they do. It's a place where we can have intense arguments that our ego free.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: There are a lot of different individuals on the team, a lot of different nationalities. We have a good balance of gender, creative ambitions and creative taste on the team as well. But most of all, everyone that is here loves the games that we work on.
Video Transcript - The Community
GUILLAUME PROVOST: When I started the studio originally, I had this vision in my head: I wanted to build a team which was first and foremost accountable to the team. A lot of that comes into having a lot of transparency about the work that's being done and encouraging the team to share.
SAM ABBOTT: We knew fairly early on that if we didn't have the game in the hands of players, if we didn't get that feedback, it wasn't going to be as good as it could have been. So for the last 18 months or so we have been working with whatever community we can find to help us make the game. And that started at PAX East in 2015, we've gone to Kickstarter, and now we're in the early access.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: So what is the player community to us? To me it's my entire company. The people who love the games that we make are the people who are going to help support us for every project we're going to do in the future.
SAM ABBOTT: The goal with community-driven development is to look and understand how people are playing as a game evolves with the idea that you can respond to that.
NAILA HADJAS: I read all the feedback we get, whether it's on Steam, on our forums, on Facebook, on Twitter, and all the emails. We even get phone calls sometimes telling us about what they think about the game or they find a bug. And then I send this to the team, basically.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: We devised a multi-step process by which we were going to engage in larger and larger audience at every stage.
SAM ABBOTT: The Kickstarter campaign was really about communicating the general vision for the game and what we wanted to build and figuring out if people were interested in playing it.
NAILA HADJAS: We really want to keep the story a surprise for the players because when you go in early access, you don't want people to get burdened by the game, you want them to come back for when the game is really ready, for the full release. So if you tell them the story, everything, there's no reason really to go back. Once we released to Kickstarter, once we launched it, we did quite a splash, so a lot of media picked it up and we continued. And then E3 happened and then we were about four days before the end of the campaign and were not sure if we're going to make it but then the community came forward and we were able to make our funding.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: We started growing all of our first-tier backers, the $60 backers, we started sharing keys with them right away. So after our Kickstarter, we had a pool of 2,500 people playing the game early, iterating the game early, and giving us feedback early. And eventually they would be the people who would become the biggest investors and the biggest champions of the game.
NAILA HADJAS: We've been getting a lot of feedback. Some is harsher than the others, but it's exactly what we needed. We need people to not be afraid to tell us exactly what they like and don't like. We want the game to be hard and we want the game to have a learning curve, so if people die over and over, that's kind of how we wanted the game to be.
GUILLAUME PROVOST: When we went on Kickstarter we started to create these newsletters that we would send to the community. And so part of the screenshots and movies from the animators that week gets distributed every week, on the dot, on Fridays to the rest of the community.
As much as suddenly... It was first about sharing and almost became about celebrating what we do. I know this sounds a bit corny, but about celebrating what the team does every week because now we have a 150,000 people who are playing the game and who are seeing the work that the team does every week. And it just brings a lot of good positive creative energy to see week after week a whole community of people being excited about what each individual person is doing on the team. We're extremely grateful. At each stage where we saw success, we were able to leverage that success into something bigger as a next step. We can do a lot of work to try to make a lot of noise, but we're never going to compete with the community itself making noise.