Interest has been building for “Papers, Please”, an independent game where the player is put in the role of an inspector who must diligently check immigration documents on the border of a war ravaged country. Can you keep your job, make enough to keep your family alive and prevent terrorists from getting into the country? Gather Your Party spoke to the developer, Lucas Pope, for the glory of Arstotzka!
MC: Hey Lucas thanks for making time for this interview. I know you’ve been busy working on Papers, Please. Before we talk about the game, though why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into making games.
LP: I’ve been making games for a long time. Probably over 15 years. I got a serious start with Quake mods back in the late 90′s. A few friends and I started a small game company called “Ratloop” in 1998. Back then, developers had to sell their games to publishers in order to get them distributed. That was pretty tough for a small inexperienced studio like ours. We struggled for a few years before going our separate ways. I ended up at a few game developers in LA, most recently Naughty Dog, where I worked on Uncharted 1 and 2. With the (relatively) recent rise of digital distribution, traditional publishers aren’t needed any more and it’s much easier to find an audience for small studios. That’s basically the thing that encouraged me to go back to making my own games.
MC: For those unfamiliar with Papers, Please, do you want to explain how the game plays?
LP: In one sentence, you’re tasked with inspecting documents at a border checkpoint in a communist-era Eastern-Bloc-style country. Actually it sounds really boring so the best way to explain it is take a few minutes and try one of the early online builds at dukope.com
MC: I read that Papers, Please was a concept built off your last few games. How exactly did you arrive at the idea to make what would seem like a boring job into a game?
LP: I’m often on the lookout for new game ideas and my experiences with immigration led me to think there were interesting mechanics in the process. I don’t really set out to take something boring and make it fun, I guess it’s just worked out that way for my last few games. For me, having the rigid structure of a bureaucratic system makes designing the mechanics easier. With those, I can try to make a fun game before adding story and theme bits on top.
MC: Is this the first time you’ve tried making a game to release for retail?
LP: No, definitely not. We released a few games at Ratloop, I shipped a few titles at other studios, some AAA games, some freeware PC games, and a few iOS apps and games with my wife, who’s also a programmer.
MC: Do you plan to release it anywhere else?
LP: I actually haven’t really worked that out yet. The game has gotten a response way beyond my expectations. My first goal was always “get it on Steam”, but I’m starting to see now that there are other options. I’m sorta looking into a few things, but given the work on beta tending and the final release, I’m completely swamped at the moment. I’ll take some time when things settle down to review my options.
MC: There’s been a fair bit of press for the game so far. Have you seen an increased support as a result on Steam Greenlight or in general? How has that all felt?
LP: Yeah, Greenlight has gone better than I ever expected. I had no idea people would like the game this much. It feels great but it’s all completely foreign to me. I’m used to tinkering away on something in private, then releasing it to scattered interest. Papers Please is the first game I’ve kept a public devlog and run a public alpha & beta for. And the first game that’s gotten such intense interest.
MC: I saw that you had a basic modding system in place too. Were there any mods that stood out to you or you particularly liked?
LP: Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the time to check out any mods. Just the fact that they existed was enough for me to consider adding the modding system. Since I got my start in Quake modding, I’m familiar with the effort that goes into making a mod and figured there were a few small things I could do to make it better.
MC: Is there anything that hasn’t been mentioned for the final version that players can look forward to?
LP: One of the common requests is to add an “endless” mode alongside the existing story mode. Something where you can basically play forever with randomly-generated days/rules/encounters/etc. I’ve been working through that in my head and have decided to finally commit to it for the final verison. Not sure if you’ll have to complete the story mode first to unlock it or if it’ll be available from the start.
MC: Thanks Lucas. That all sounds pretty exciting. Good luck with Papers, Please. I look forward to it.