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Pa­pers, Please cre­ator Lu­cas Pope talks Re­turn Of The Obra Dinn

Poly­math Lu­cas Pope talks tools, leav­ing Naughty Dog be­hind, and Re­turn Of The Obra Dinn

He may have made his name with the lo-fi Pa­pers, Please, but back in 2006 Lu­cas Pope was ex­actly what Naughty Dog was look­ing for: a prodi­giously tal­ented pro­gram­mer who could ef­fec­tively build in­ter­nal toolsets. He joined the Santa Mon­ica stu­dio when it was ramp­ing up pre­pro­duc­tion on the first Un­charted. “I was un­der­qual­i­fied,” Pope tells us, “but they gave me a chance be­cause I was will­ing to do stuff that no one else wanted to do.”

Pope built the tools that would be used by Naughty Dog’s de­sign­ers and artists. Un­charted’s level edi­tor was his work, as was a pro­gram that or­gan­ised the dia­logue for faster lo­cal­i­sa­tion. It was en­joy­able – “I frig­gin’ love tools,” he says – but af­ter Un­charted 2, it was time to move on.

“That was a great time to be at Naughty Dog,” Pope says. “There was a real sense that you could pave the road this com­pany was go­ing on. Plus, I learned a lot – ev­ery­thing I know about pro­duc­ing games th­ese days, I got from Naughty Dog. But I wanted to do my own thing and work on small stuff that no­body else would do.”

Be­fore start­ing at Naughty Dog, Pope had met and mar­ried Keiko Ishizaka, and to­gether they made puzzler Might­ier, which was nom­i­nated for the In­no­va­tion Award at the 2009 In­de­pen­dent Games Fes­ti­val. That gave Pope the con­fi­dence to go into busi­ness for him­self.

The cou­ple moved to Ja­pan. Soon af­ter, the Ludum Dare game jam came around and, as a warm-up, Pope built The Repub­lia Times, a browser game in which you con­trol a state-run news­pa­per. For the jam it­self, Pope made Six De­grees Of Sab­o­tage, an­other game with a spy­fic­tion lilt. Both earned at­ten­tion, and Pope felt there was more in the theme.

“I’m a big fan of 1984,” he ex­plains, “and that kind of gov­ern­ment has al­ways been in­ter­est­ing to me. I wanted to keep mak­ing games with this kind of spy-thriller vibe. Plus, I have what you could call a doc­u­ment fetish. I love check­ing doc­u­ments. And I love the mo­ment of catch­ing a mis­take.”

Pope be­gan work on Pa­pers, Please in Novem­ber 2012. Bal­anc­ing the devel­op­ment with his home life was a chal­lenge. “I would eat break­fast with the fam­ily, spend time do­ing chores and er­rands, then get to work kind of late,” he ex­plains. “Af­ter six hours of pow­er­ing through, I’d eat din­ner, then try to do an­other six hours. It was sup­posed to be quick and ex­per­i­men­tal, but I got big ideas about this game, so I pan­icked and started crunch­ing, and this six­month game turned into a nine-month game. Keiko un­der­stood, be­cause she’s a game de­vel­oper as well. She stepped up to do the things I wasn’t able to.”

Af­ter its ex­tended devel­op­ment, Pa­pers, Please launched in Au­gust, 2013, and ac­cord­ing to Pope’s es­ti­mates has to date shipped about 1.2 mil­lion copies. A port for Vita is now in the works. Pope is also gear­ing up his next project, a puz­zle game called Re­turn Of The Obra Dinn, an early build of which can be down­loaded from his web­site.

“I wanted to do some­thing 3D, but all in black and white, and with that old pixel­lated vis­ual style,” he ex­plains. “Me­chan­i­cally, I wanted some­thing a bit like Gone Home, ex­cept with a very

“Me­chan­i­cally, I wanted some­thing a bit like Gone Home, ex­cept with a very clear game el­e­ment”

Pope is at work on a Vita ver­sion of Pa­pers, Please and macabre nau­ti­cal puzzler Re­turn OfTheObraDinn

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