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