Total Mayhem Games on the evolution of Games with Gold success story, We Were Here

By Tom West,
We Were Here Forever has just been given a release window of Q2 2022, along with more information about the series' return to Castle Rock in this fourth instalment. Total Mayhem Games' co-founder and managing director, Lucia de Visser, and producer, Geoff van den Ouden, took the time to answer some of our burning questions about the mystery-filled co-op puzzle games — inspiration, achievements, walkie-talkies, and more await...

The first game in the series, We Were Here, initially launched onto PC in 2017, followed by We Were Here Too in 2018. In September 2019, Total Mayhem Games decided it was time to bring We Were Here to the Xbox platform. "We Were Here is a unique game series and practically a genre on its own. We really loved bringing the series to Xbox, but we also knew that because of its uniqueness we should make an effort to offer people a glimpse or taste of what the series is about," says the duo. "Fortunately, Xbox felt the same way and we came up with a joint strategy to get the Xbox community acquainted with We Were Here." The collaboration between the companies saw We Were Here enter as a Games with Gold title. "Within the first week, over a million people had downloaded We Were Here and players who had never heard of our franchise before, suddenly found this really fun co-op series to play with a friend. So yeah, it was really great to offer We Were Here to the community through Xbox Games with Gold."

The popularity of the series is due to the unique gameplay it offers, and just like any great game, inspiration was key in laying the foundations for things to come. "We’ve always loved games like Myst, Portal 2, and Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. However, the thing that really got us on track to create an asymmetric puzzle game was some user tests we did with actually locking people up in a room with puzzles." This was the lightbulb moment that would later spawn the walkie-talkie mechanic for which the series is known, and the reason that players are split up when attempting to solve puzzles. "During these tests, we noticed that the experience was even more intense when the players weren’t physically in the same room and had to describe things to each other in order to help their partner progress or escape. That became the basic principle of the We Were Here series."

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Co-op is the core system behind the We Were Here series, which puts players in the shoes of Antarctic explorers and tasks them with working together in an attempt to unlock the mysteries of Castle Rock. The current trilogy has shifted more than five million copies to date, which has helped Total Mayhem Games expand its teams, ready for We Were Here Forever. "We started out as a really small team that made a game in a very short time with the original We Were Here," the pair say. "But by now, the team has expanded — it’s the team we have always wished for, with more experts onboard for areas like character design, animation, visual effects, and story." This expansion has given the team a chance to create the version of Castle Rock they've always envisioned. "We finally have a team in place to create a version of We Were Here that we have always wanted to create. We really want to show Castle Rock in its most glorious and darkest form to our players."

"At Total Mayhem Games we love the mystery around We Were Here, and we love that we have a fanbase that is actively trying to figure out what is going on in this castle," they say. "Our audience deserves more clarity on the narrative and what goes on in this creepy place." Those of you with a keen interest in the series might have worked out that the Jester in the trailer is a direct reference to We Were Here and We Were Here Too. You would be correct in that assumption, as We Were Here Forever tells the story of the explorers left behind in the first two games — the return to Castle Rock doesn't mean there isn't plenty of mysterious goodies to uncover. "In We Were Here Forever, every player will get a far better idea of what is going on in Castle Rock," says the pair, also teasing "a special treat for the troopers that try to explore and retrieve all of the lore."

we were here forever deep dive release

The mysteries of Castle Rock will be uncovered throughout your journey by overcoming a multitude of puzzling obstacles, which will force you and your partner to work as a team due to their asymmetrical nature. "We try to come up with really original puzzle concepts in every single area in every single game. It is kind of like we are designing 20 new puzzle games, for every new instalment in the franchise," says the duo. "It’s really tough, and even more so when you imagine that a lot of the puzzle concepts that we initially design don’t even make it into the game." The puzzles are intricately designed to make it a challenge for you both to solve from different rooms, since most of the time you're separated from each other throughout the series. Fans of We Were Here have seen game length increase as the series has progressed, but it comes as no easy task for the development team. "Ever since the first game, we have had players asking for more and more, and it is something that we quite literally stick on the wall over at our game design team," they tell us. It sounds like the team has really looked to fill this next title with even more content for you to play around with. "We Were Here Forever will have more gameplay time, and surely will feel like a much larger game. Never before have you travelled so much or done so many different things in this franchise as in We Were Here Forever."

The walkie-talkie mechanic is a staple in the We Were Here series. It's the number-one most important feature that ensures you and your partner can communicate when solving puzzles. You can of course use Xbox Live Party Chat to easily chat to your partner, but that's no fun — the walkie-talkie offers the most realised experience for the game, plus you get to say 'over' at the end of every sentence. "Once we had decided to make an asymmetric co-op puzzle game, we had two challenges: People had to communicate with each other while they weren’t in the same space, and we wanted to add a bit of tension and difficulty to the whole talking mechanism," they say. "It really gives you the feeling that you are an explorer trapped in a creepy castle with the walkie-talkie being your last resort, instead of you just playing some video game with a buddy from the comfort of your own home."

we were here forever deep dive release

"During development of a game like We Were Here Forever, we have a few personas in mind that represent our player base. On the highest level, you could divide them into two categories — the 'Just having fun with a friend' player and the 'I want to explore and do it all' player." Total Mayhem looks to implement achievements that cater to both types of players, and build on the explorative nature of the games. "For the more casual players, you want to have a sense of progress with unlocking achievements. That’s why we believe it’s important to confirm to you that you have actually completed a whole area, via an achievement. Of course, we want to intrigue this group that there is more to the game than just completing it once, but we don’t expect them to."

While the team creates achievements for the more casual players, it's important to them to create a list that caters to fine folks like yourselves that often want to unlock everything. "The 'I want to explore and do it all' player is the more interesting one to create achievements for. We love to reward them for all the extra effort they put into the game, but also, we don’t want to make it too easy." When looking at the completion times here on TA for the three currently available games, you can see that Total Mayhem has consistently worked to add extra value with each title. We Were Here kicked off the series with a one-to-two-hour completion time, followed by We Were Here Too's two-to-three-hour estimate, and ending with We Were Here Together, which jumps right up to around six-to-eight hours. "We actually have a few speedrunners and achievement hunters in our beta crew who help us determine what would be the best pace to earn certain achievements. On top of that, we love to tease you to understand more of the mystery of Castle Rock in order to really get to 100% completion."

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If you're interested in getting involved in the beta for We Were Here Forever and have access to a PC, head over to the Total Mayhem Games website and register for the Explorer Post for a chance at getting an invite.

We Were Here Forever is set to launch sometime during Q2 2022, and you can be sure that we'll let you know when we have a solid date for it. Have you enjoyed the series so far? Excited for the next chapter? Let us know!
Tom West
Written by Tom West
Tom has been playing video games since he was old enough to hold a controller, experimenting with systems like the Nintendo 64 and Playstation until he eventually fell in love with the Xbox 360. With a passion for the platform, he decided to make a career out of it, and now happily spends his days writing about that which he loves. If he’s not achievement hunting, you’ll likely find him somewhere in The Elder Scrolls Online.