Preview: We Happy Few

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Disclosure: An Xbox One Game Preview code was provided by the publisher for this article. We Happy Few is currently unfinished and has been released as part of the Xbox One Game Preview programme. As such, the game is not eligible for a scored review, and this article is a general overview of the game's current state. A full review will be available once a final build of the game is released.

At E3 2016, the We Happy Few demonstration during the Xbox press conference was one of the highlights. 1960s Britain has become a Huxleyan nightmare where everyone habitually takes a drug called Joy? It's a fantastic pitch, and I couldn't help but be disappointed when it was pointed out that the gameplay side of We Happy Few was a procedurally generated survival game. My gut reaction that anything other than a narrative-focused game would waste the world's potential and that a procedurally generated game could never deliver that. However, Compulsion Games did a great job with Contrast, their previous release, so I hoped that these fears were misplaced. Sadly, now that the game has received an alpha release, it seems that they were not.

The game opens with the same prologue as the E3 demo, shown in the video above. This section of the game is fantastic - opening on a machine called the "Redactor" instantly sets the tone of the world, and hints at the nature of the world. The player's first choice happens almost immediately: Take Joy? That the player can choose to take the drug, remain blissfully ignorant, and have the game end there is a really smart piece of story telling. Wandering around this prologue area hints at the true problems with the world, and there is a really good use of FMV showing a 'reassuring' video projected onto the side of the building.

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It may be short, but this prologue is extremely well-crafted and is an effective introduction to the world of We Happy Few. It sets the mind racing with questions about the nature of what is going on: why am I redacting old newspapers?, who's in charge?, why is not taking Joy so bad?, why rely on an oral drug instead of a more reliable delivery method?, what happened to make the world like this?, what are we trying to censor and forget? are all questions that flooded into my mind during this segment. There's a multitude of ways that the story could unfold, and I could easily see the We Happy Few universe spanning multiple games. Moreover, the art style is extremely striking, and manages to maintain the vaguely unsettling vibe without falling into the uncanny valley.

However, once this introduction is over, the player is dropped into the wider world (the lack of explanation for this is acceptable given the early state of the game) and the real gameplay is introduced. For me, it can be summed up in one word: tedious. It's the some of survival game that has been all too common in recent years - scavenge scrap from the world, unlock crafting recipes, and manage food/thirst/sleep etc. meters. It's reminiscent of the looting and crafting mechanics in Fallout 4, but only after the combat and story have been stripped to the bare minimum.

The transition from the fairly tightly scripted prologue to a open world that feels very empty is extremely jarring. I'm certainly curious to see how it evolves into the final product, but as of now the prologue and the rest of the game feel completely disconnected, almost as if the prologue is from a different game altogether. For clarity's sake, I'll point out that I'm not accusing Compulsion Games of being misleading - they have been upfront from the start that this is a survival game through and through - but the clash between the two is undeniable in its present state.

Perhaps my biggest complaint with the current gameplay is how 'needy' the character seems. At times, it feel like I could barely take two paces before being faced with a "You are tired/hungry/thirsty" notification. To their credit, Compulsion Games have recognised this issue, and have stated that survival needs will be toned down. This will go a long way towards making the game more enjoyable, but it does not address the core issue I have with the design of We Happy Few: the gameplay and the narrative actively work against each other.

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For example, to progress through the game, I needed to cross a certain bridge and to do so I needed to find a power cell. A map marker was added to my map, but an exhaustive search of that area reveal no leads. At that point, I'm basically at the mercy of the random generation - Did it spawn a power cell somewhere in this world? Can I find it? And perhaps more importantly, can I find it before the rest of the game becomes completely boring? The problem is that I want to see the story beats, but the survival gameplay between them is completely unremarkable. The crafting system is nothing new, and the combat feels terrible. I can block or I can strike... and that seems to be about it. Again, the game is extremely early, so it's likely this will improve as time goes on (and I certainly intend to revisit the game on its full release), but in its current state it feels very much like a prototype.

The one twist of the gameplay may be the use of the Joy drug. It can be found in the world, and taking it adds a new meter to the interface and the character states "that feels way too good". However, the game never really made it clear what that could be used for; I tried it multiple times, and only really noticed subtle changes to how the world looks. In the situations I used it, it never seemed to change the gameplay, nor did the game hint at where/when it should be taken.

I don't want to make too big of a issue out of this (it's to be expected in alpha software), but the technical side of the game isn't perfect. The FOV slider is a welcome addition on console, but increasing it tanks the frame rate and breaks some animations. There is a delay before item descriptions appear in the inventory, making it tedious to discover what an item is for. The subtitles are tiny, and were pretty much unreadable on my display. These sort of issues are not unusual in unfinished games, but at the end of the day this is a paid release, and the purchaser must decide if these issues are acceptable. Personally, I think the 'early access' concept has produced some great games, but We Happy Few may be just a little too early.

Overall We Happy Few is a hard game to recommend in its current state. I'm certainly interested to watch its development, and it could turn into a solid game, but the current build does it no favours. Fans of survival games may see it differently (these sort of games rarely hold my attention for long), but Compulsion Games have designed a fascinating world, and I'm sadden to see it coupled with such lacklustre gameplay. I hope they pull it off, and that the final game becomes one of the few survival games to grab me, but it's very much a case of wait and see at this point. I really do wonder if the game would have been better served by waiting until the gameplay was more polished before releasing it to the public.

NPC quote: "Where does the fog come from? That's the answer to everything I bet" Just wait until midnight...

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E3 2016: Predictions or: How I learned to stop worrying and love being wrong

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E3 is upon us! Just time for some predictions based on absolutely nothing.

This list spun out of an Xbox subreddit comment from a few weeks ago, so is A) biased towards Microsoft, and B) probably already out of date.

Microsoft:

  • Hardware redesign and/or specification bump
  • Halo Wars 2 - Hopefully gameplay, but at least a new trailer
  • Age of Empires IV - Combine that and Halo Wars 2, and it'd be a great time to add Keyboard/Mouse support to the Xbox One
  • Double down on backwards-compatibility - More games (long shot - other consoles e.g. original Xbox, Dreamcast). Probably be an EA Access tie in (more 360 games in the Vault)
  • ID@Xbox roundup - Could be just about anything, but I'm hoping to see more Cupheard
  • Battlefield 1 - Trailer and early maps for Xbox One
  • Forza Horizon 3
  • Crackdown 3 / Recore / Scalebound - Probably mentioned; level of detail will depend on if/when they have been delayed (possibly held for Gamescom)
  • Sea of Thieves - Gameplay and trailer
  • Gears 4 - Gameplay demo
  • (Possibly at E3; may or may not be at MS) Bioshock Remastered
  • Possibly too soon, but Alan Wake 2?
  • Halo 6 - possible, but likely only a teaser trailer or part of the Halo Wars 2 block. Maybe also a Halo 3 Anniversary as MCC DLC (long shot)
  • Long shots - Phantom Dust / Banjo 3 / new Conker
  • Very long shot - Xbox One is a PC / can boot into Windows 10
  • Nintendo Xbox

Sony:

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - Trailer and early maps for PS4
  • Persona 5 - Trailer
  • The Last Guardian - Trailer and release date
  • Final Fantasy VII - Trailer and release window
  • Big block of VR games
  • Horizon Zero Dawn - gameplay demo.
  • Long shot - Steins;Gate 0 trailer
  • Long shot - New IP from Kojima Productions
  • Very long shot - Sleeping Dogs 2 teaser

Bethesda:

  • Red Dead 3 and/or Red Dead Redemption Remastered
  • Skyrim re-release on PS4/Xbox One
  • Dishonored 2 - trailer and release date
  • Fallout 4 - Additional DLC details (with 'out today' or a very close release date)
  • Prey 2

EA:

  • Pele's Story Time 2
  • Mass Effect Andromeda - Trailer
  • Mobile games block
  • Titanfall 2 - gameplay trailer
  • Skate 4 - 'out today'

Ubisoft:

  • Watch_Dogs 2 - gameplay trailer
  • New IP teaser
  • New Splinter Cell
  • Let's Dance and Live Performance
  • ENGAGE
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Persona 5 launches 2016-September-15 in Japan

Atlus have released further information regarding the release of Persona 5 in their recent live stream. The main information (along with some pretty great stuff from the OST, and an more extended look at the gameplay) is the release details (presumably for Japan only at this time). According to figures shown on the niconico player, approximately 220,000 people were watching live towards the end of the broadcast.

I believe the next P5 related event / information will be at E3. Persona 5 will be available for pre-order starting 2016-May-06.

Persona 5 for PS3/PS4 - Releases 2016-September-15 for 8,800 yen.

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Persona 5 20th Anniversary Edition - Releases 2016-September-15 for 13,800 yen.

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The 20th Anniversary Edition features the following (screenshots are the end of this post):

  • Persona 5 Artbook
  • 5CD ALL TIME BEST ALBUM
    • Disk 1: Persona
    • Disk 2: Persona 2 IS/EP
    • Disk 3: Perosna 3 / Persona 3 FES
    • Disk 4: Persona 4 / Persona 4 the Golden
    • Disk 5: Persona 5
  • DLC Persona - Thanatos (P3&P5 versions) and Izanagi (P4&P5 versions)
  • DLC Costume + Battle BGM pack from P3, featuring the Gekkoukan High uniform

  • DLC Costume + Battle BGM pack from P4, featuring the Yasogami High uniform
  • Custom theme (not entirely sure on this)
  • "Art Treasure Box" (AKA it comes in a box)

Atlus have also uploaded PV04 (shown in the live broadcast) to YouTube. Thanks to @mattyftm for pointing this out:

Artbook for Persona 5
Artbook for Persona 5
20th Anniversary Album Set
20th Anniversary Album Set
Thanatos and Izanagi DLC Persona
Thanatos and Izanagi DLC Persona
Gekkoukan High uniform DLC
Gekkoukan High uniform DLC
Yasogami High uniform DLC
Yasogami High uniform DLC
Theme?
Theme?
Art Treasure Box
Art Treasure Box

Persona 5 the Animation will also air in September 2016.

There will be an orchestral Persona concert (associated with the 20th Anniversary) on 2016-August-13, and some sort of anniversary edition in December 2016 (not sure what - my Japanese was nowhere near good enough to follow that bit).

More details from the show to follow.

Please note that my Japanese is near non-existent, so there may be minor translation issues with this blog (I believe it to be accurate)

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Giant Bomb HD Remix - Endurance Run: Persona 4 - Behind the Scenes

You can watch the currently released epsiodes in this YouTube playlist. Parts 1-10 are out now; more coming soon!

Background

Earlier this year, I finished setting up my new PC, monitor, and capture card. I had a couple of things I wanted to test - PS2 emulation performance, VitaTV capture settings, and Adobe Premiere - which lead me to revisit a really bad idea I had during the last time I watched the Persona 4 Endurance Run - what would these videos look like if remastered using footage from the Vita re-release of the game?

I spend a couple of hours messing around capturing footage, and edited together a fairly rough version of the first episode and posted it to the GB subreddit. At that point, I hadn't really thought about continuing the insanity - it was just an amusing way of testing my new gear - but the positive response it received, plus the fact it was an enjoyable way to learn Adobe Premiere, led me to continuing with the series.

Even two episodes into this, I'm feeling a lot more comfortable with Adobe Premiere and have learnt a lot of new techniques, so this isn't a complete waste of time :p

Overview

Most of the footage for this series is being pulled from the Vita re-release of the game (Persona 4: The Golden), captured on a VitaTV. A few scenes / menus are taken from the original PS2 release (captured using the PCSX2 emulator) where necessary.

To make editing as easy as possible, I need the captured Vita footage to match up with the Endurance Run footage as close as possible. The way I'm doing that have the ER playing in VLC, and the capture application open alongside it. Doing that (plus having watched the ER a little too much...) means that I can usually get them pretty close, with the main differences coming from The Golden additions (see below) or load time differences (Vita loads about twice as fast as the PS2 version).

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Fortunately, characters don't move very much during most of these story sections, or repeat the same animation on a loop. This makes cutting out some sections of the video, repeating a segment of the video, or changing playback speed to sync the new footage to the old audio relativity straight-forward (It'd be much easier if I had separate commentary/game-audio tracks, but I've no idea if they even exist).

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Why not just upscale the PS2 version in an emulator?

A few people have asked why I chose to use the Vita re-release of the game, rather than running the PS2 version far beyond its native resolution in an emulator. It would certainly be easier (the changes made in The Golden can be a pain to edit around), and the 3D stuff would probably look better, but overall I think that The Golden gives a better result for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, and probably the strongest reason, is that whilst character models look a lot better in an emulator (raising the resolution to 1600x1200 or so will do that!), a lot of the background textures scale poorly, making the whole thing look a little weird. It's pretty subjective, but I think that The Golden gives a more consistent, thus pleasing, look.

Example of the sort of bugs running at the PS2 version in widescreen can introduction (from Part 06)
Example of the sort of bugs running at the PS2 version in widescreen can introduction (from Part 06)

Secondly, the idea of doing a HD Remix of the Endurance Run but keeping the 4:3 resolution didn't seem like the right thing to do. I played around with forcing widescreen in the emulation (and use that footage where necessary - see below), but the widescreen hacks I used introduced some weird bugs that stood out too much. The funniest one I saw was during one of the early classroom scenes - Chie is supposed to walk in from off the left of the screen part way through a conversation. The widescreen hack caused her to be visible for the entire scene, but was just walking in place at the left edge until the "enter scene" trigger was hit. It looked pretty dumb.

Future Plans

I don't want to commit to this too strongly - if this starts driving me crazy (some may say crazier :p ), I'll take a break or stop - but I really want to re-make all of the story episodes. If it starts getting overwhelming, I might start skipping to important episodes (I definitely want to do episodes 50, 100, and the finale as a minimum).

A few people have cautioned against continuing if I'm not enjoying this (I appreciate the concern!), and not being forced to continue to satisfy the audience. I'm not really worried about that - I hope people enjoy these videos, but ultimately the main draw is Jeff and Vinny's playthrough which is already viewable. This is just a neat way to re-visit the series, and for me to learn Premiere.

Some of the episodes (the dungeon crawls and fusion-heavy episodes primarily) will be a nightmare to do due to the random nature of them. For now, I'll be skipping over them, and just focusing on the story. I'll need to do some battles (bosses mainly) - that'll probably be a case of multiple takes, ignoring minor differences if Vinny and Jeff don't comment on them, and some heavy editing.

The first battle (during the dream-like sequence in episode 2) wasn't too difficult to sync to the existing audio (though it is a simple, short fight), so hopefully the bosses won't be too bad if/when I get to them.

As you can see in Part 09, I skipped over both battle scenes (including the boss fight). Getting the new footage to line up with the commentary is extremely time-consuming (especially as mechanics slightly change in The Golden), and I figured time would be better spent moving forward with the story. If I manage to make it all the way through, I might give them another shot (I've split the video into three, so I can always re-add those segments to the playlist easy enough)

Changes in The Golden / Difficulties Encountered

Anyone who has played both the original game and the Vita version, or watched the Endurance Run and played the Vita game, will know that there are multiple changes between the two games, some minor (e.g. tweaked dialogue/menus) and some major (e.g. two new social links and a new character).

Weather mask from Part 04
Weather mask from Part 04

The toughest part (so far at least) was during the second episode - Vinny checks the TV, which in the original game shows the weather, and comments on it. In the Golden re-release, it doesn't show the weather - just says "A quiz show is on TV...". To fix that, I emulated the PS2 game in widescreen, and re-recorded that the section of footage. I had hoped I would just be able to substitute the footage, but it looked too different (model quality changed, curtains change colour etc.). I ended up over-laying the PS2 footage over the Vita footage, and keying out most of the image to reveal the Vita version. It looks a little off if you look closely (look at the edges of the textbox, and you'll see it blur slightly), but overall I'm pretty happy with the result.

Part 06 of the HD Remix: Persona 4 The Golden decides to mix things up a little. I had to fall back to an emulator for this classroom scene. On the plus side, it did give me a reason to work out how to colour-correct footage in Premiere so that it matches the Vita version a little better.
Part 06 of the HD Remix: Persona 4 The Golden decides to mix things up a little. I had to fall back to an emulator for this classroom scene. On the plus side, it did give me a reason to work out how to colour-correct footage in Premiere so that it matches the Vita version a little better.

Also, if you've played The Golden, you'll probably recall that a new character is introduced just after Charlie meets Dojima for the first time. Fortunately, Premiere has a built-in iris-out effect that looks pretty much identical to the Persona effect, so hiding it was fairly easy. Not sure how I'll handle that character going forward (she is visible in most future Velvet Room scenes) - probably need to re-use footage from introductory Velvet Room scene to hide her presence.

Now that I'm getting deeper into the game, the changes made in the re-release are starting to become more apparent. The very first S.Link (Yosuke) changes his new skill from "take a mortal blow for you" to "wake up a downed ally". To fix that up (obviously @jeff and @vinny comment on it), I had to pull footage from a later S.Link and merge the two videos. Personally, I think it came out pretty good.

Part 11, which I am currently working on, introduces a new character to the Velvet Room, visible in all future scenes. Editing her out is going to be rather challenging (I think I can do it by pulling earlier VR footage, and overlaying a segment of that over the new footage. Hopefully it'll be that easy...)

Marie making life easy
Marie making life easy

The biggest difficulty other than the changes is Vinny's tendency to cycle through all available menu options (example), and the game makes a noise every time you change which is highlighted. Most of those end up being made up of a bunch of tiny clips, cut down to match with Vinny's movements (the name entry at the start of the game is made of about 20, for example). Adjusting the playback speed of each clip individually lets me get the audio back in sync, without making it obvious that cuts have been added.

After uploading Part 06, it bumped it to something I hadn't really thought about - Atlus USA monetised the video following a content match (on one of the anime cutscenes). It doesn't really bother me, but mentioned in here in case anyone thinks I'm re-using GB content for personal monetary gain. None of the other parts (01-05) have triggered a content match, nor have they been monetised by myself.

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