When people think of the best games ever made, their minds will instantly go to titles like The Legend Of Zelda: The Ocarina Of Time or maybe Red Dead Redemption. It’s obviously not a hidden secret that there are teams of hundreds and thousands of hard working and dedicated people that bring games like that to life. Another commonality with many of the world’s top games is usually a focus on combat mechanics. Of course, The Legend Of Zelda and Mario games are usually more focused on either platforming or puzzle solving. But there’s always a boss to defeat at the end of every level and henchmen or creatures getting in your way.
One thing that isn’t quite as common is auteur gaming. This concerns games that are made clearly in the vision of its director. In film, you can tell when you’re watching a Wes Anderson or Christopher Nolan film from a set of tropes that you commonly associate with their projects. In gaming, this is very much the same, you can definitely tell when you’re playing a Hideo Kojima game for example. However, it’s no where near as common as in film. Most will probably be able to name a few film auteurs off the top of their head, but gaming ones are much harder to come by. This is most likely because games, especially those of the AAA variety, cost a lot more than films to produce. Making something completely in one person’s vision is a risk and has the possibility to alienate certain members of the audience or just put off new gamers buying your product.
Enter Lucas Pope. An auteur game director who’s made three games basically by himself. None of which feature any form of combat mechanic and yet are still massively enthralling, easy to play and filled with style and character.
Lucas Pope, a Virginian native, started his career in gaming at Naughty Dog. Here he helped to create Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, two games that are considered some of the best of the adventure genre. This is also where he met his wife, Keiko Ishizaka. He left before he could help toward Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, because he wanted to make something different. From then on he started development on his first game, The Republia Times.
The Republia Times is a game that places the player in the shoes of an editor of a newspaper in a totalitarian dictatorship. You have to make split second decisions on what to publish and on what page to put it. You’re scored on your ability to please the government and the people. There’s a moral element to it too. Should you sing the government’s praises whilst also lying to the people? Or should you tell the people the truth, but put your self under threat of arrest? It’s a very simple but effective game, which through this article you’ll notice applies to all of his games. It has a user friendly interface and is very welcoming to new players. What’s more is that it’s completely free to play right now on Lucas Pope’s site.
As Pope is married to a Japanese lady, he’s had to do a lot of travelling to see her family and to help her out with jobs. While also just taking in the sights of Asia. During his travels, he spent a lot of time going through passport checks. This got him thinking how interesting a job that would be, and he wanted to make a game out of it. Getting players to make decisions based on people’s papers, whether they should be allowed in to a country or not.
This idea is what spawned the game that basically put Pope on the map. Papers, Please is indeed a game where you are a border control officer and you check the papers of every person that comes in. Through development, Pope decided to connect this game with his previous title and have the game set in a neighbouring totalitarian dictatorship to Republia, Arstotzka. The setting gives the game story that extra edge. As not only do you have to decide who comes into the country and who doesn’t, you also have to make sure your family are well and looked after. Many big moral choices confront you. Do you take a bribe that could seriously help out your family? Or do you follow the rules and make sure your bosses don’t report you? The whole story is told through charming graphics along with fantastic sound design including an addictive theme tune.
Papers, Please deservedly won the BAFTA for best Strategy and Simulation game in 2014 along with several best game of the year awards. The game was a massive hit and is still available to play on Steam. Papers, Please made Lucas Pope a name to look out for. Usually this sort of pressure can make for quite a lacklustre follow up. But Pope once again struck gold with his next game.
Return Of The Obra Dinn is not only Lucas Pope’s best game, but it’s probably the best detective game ever. The detective genre isn’t one that is as filled with content as the first person shooter, but if you’re willing to look there’s a lot out there. Most will give the player a lot of choices on how to deduce a crime. It helps when they’ve searched for clues but they could quite easily guess.
The Wolf Among Us is a fantastic game by Telltale games. In it you plays as Bigby Wolf (the Big Bad Wolf) who’s trying to solve a murder in a part of New York populated by fairy tale characters. When making any form of decision, you’re given one of four choices to make. Contrast that to Return Of The Obra Dinn, where you’re an insurance agent investigating what happened on a ship that has mysteriously returned to port. You have to identify the names of every member of the crew and deduce how they died or met their fate through clues given to you in short vignettes depicting the last moments of corpses you select. The game will ask you who these people are and how they died. Your choices are every single person on the ship’s roster and basically every form of dying there is. It’s a lot harder to make a lucky guess.
Not only that but the game is beautifully designed and crafted. It looks fantastic, the soundtrack is one of the best in gaming and it’s very easy to get to grips with how to play. However, it’s not very easy to pick up information, making it all the more satisfying when you get things right. Of course, Return Of The Obra won Lucas Pope several awards including Best Art Direction from The Game Awards and Best Artistic Achievement and Best Game Design at the BAFTAs.
All of this praise and success makes you wonder what Lucas Pope could do if he had the thousands of people behind him like Rockstar and Activision have at their disposal. However, what makes Pope’s games so fantastic and unique is their simplicity and the ability to make something quite mundane like checking papers exciting. If he had complete creative control, there’s a chance he could make something akin to the Metal Gear franchise.
But what’s often the case when big money’s involved is a need for compromise and that could very well sour Pope’s vision. Lucas Pope is undeniably a genius and has done fantastically well so far on his own, he doesn’t really need the extra resources. He makes much more out of the little he has than the big companies do with their masses of wealth.
Lucas Pope is currently taking a break from game development, but rest assured that his next project will almost certainly take the gaming world by storm once again.
The Republia Times is available to play here
Papers, Please is available to buy on Steam
Return Of The Obra Dinn is available to buy on Steam, Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch.