Feb 11, 2019
This week we're diving deep into game creation as Danny sits down to talk about design with Lucas Pope, the creator of Papers Please and Return of the Obra Dinn.
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- [Danny] Hello and welcome to Noclip, the podcast about people who play and make video games. Our guest this week is an independent developer responsible for 2013's political passport checker, Papers Please, and the recently released seafaring dither punk solve-'em-up Return of the Obra Dinn. Today he lives on the island nation of Japan which makes me even more grateful for his time today as it's currently 9:00 a.m. here in Maryland, which makes it around 11:00 p.m. in Tokyo. But if the conversation flows we should hopefully get him in bed before midnight. I'm delighted to be joined by Lucas Pope. Lucas, thank you so much for making the time today.
- [Lucas] Yeah, thanks Danny, I'm happy to be here.
- [Danny] Do you feel like you have sort of a less busy schedule these days? I mean, you finished up on Obra Dinn and then I'm guessing you then spent a lot of time sort of fixing bugs and what not, has it eased off a bit now?
- [Lucas] Yeah, definitely, it was exactly that basically, where I released the game and spent a long time fixing stuff that was broken, more or less. And then that's cooled off a lot now. I mean, the work stuff has cooled off but I was sort of holding off so many other things in my life with family stuff and everything else that once even that work stuff was done, there was a huge stack of things I needed to take care of after that so most of that also was sort of out of the way so now I'm finally able to kinda cool down a little bit and take it easy.
- [Danny] Now you're able to do your podcast backlog for the previous four and half years.
- [Lucas] More or less yes, actually exactly that.
- [Danny] How's the game backlog looking? Did you get much time to play stuff over the development of it or? It sounds like it's a lot of work making these games, especially on your own, so do you sort of like disconnect from mainstream game releases for awhile?
- [Lucas] A little bit, yeah. On the things that I would normally play, yes. I was still playing things like Mario games with my kids and Switch games and stuff like that but on the stuff that I should be checking on, most of that, yeah, was just stuck in a pile somewhere and I'm kind of going through that now very slowly.
- [Danny] Awesome, let's go back in time just a little bit before we sort of dive into the design of the two games that most people will know you from. I feel like if there was a Venn diagram of people we talk to on Noclip, the biggest one sort of section would be folks who worked on Quake mods and you apparently fall into that department as well.
- [Lucas] Yeah, represent.
- [Danny] Was that your first sort of foray into design, what did you work on?
- [Lucas] I wouldn't say that, it was my first foray into 3D design and also where you could put a tiny bit of effort in and then see it in 3D was just mind blowing. So I had done like small sort of C64 games or HyperCard games or basic type in kinda things before that but Quake was the one where you could just open up a texture in an editor and draw a few things and then you could play it in the game in 3D. It was like the kinda stuff you would dream about with SJI work station kinda things or when you see N64 and just blown away by the fact that it's 3D, Quake was where you could edit that stuff in 3D which was just kind of a revelation for me and a big change from what I was doing before, which was just kinda 2D simpler expected things in '96 or whatever, by that time most of the other kinds of games were pretty mature 2D stuff so Quake was yeah, kinda mind blowing. And again, it wasn't just the texture stuff, it was everything, you could make models, you could do animation, you could write code, it had this really nice Quake C system. So it was just really the perfect thing for me at that moment in time, just to be able to do that kind of stuff easily and then get it right into the game and actually play it.
- [Danny] What was the aspect of it that appealed to you back then because, you know, you seem to be the type of person who enjoys many facets of this type of work, was there an aspect of it that spoke to you in particular back then, was it programming or was it, did you just like, I don't know, making something that actually sort of existed as quickly as possible in that process.
- [Lucas] Yeah, probably that last one. I started doing textures which was the easiest thing, you could just take one of the textures and there were tools right away that would convert to the, you know, some PNG or BMB that you could edit and then it would convert back to the Quake format. So that's what I started doing. I guess at that time I fancied myself an artist, although it really wasn't very good. You could be not that great and it'd still look okay 'cause it was transforming so much to put in 3D. So I started with textures and I was at the time actually studying compute science so it was kind of a natural slide right into the Quake C stuff and programming some of the logic when maybe our programmer had too much stuff to do or something on a couple of the mods we were working on and I decided to just like slip in and write some system or fuck around with the code a little bit. And once I was kinda in that position of being comfortable doing art and then programming I, I mean, I kinda realized this before that time but it was I was very comfortable, basically, doing lots of different stuff and sort of not killing myself on any one thing. Kind of trying to decide where I should spend my energy and what would be important in this case, would it be better looking or better behavior or better sounding, I kinda like that engineering challenge of allocating resources and it worked out for me because, not that I could all those things very well but I was at least interested in doing all those different disciplines when making a game.
- [Danny] Right, and I can sort of appreciate how you ended up then working as an independent developer. What I'm kinda interested in then is what was it like working at Naughty Dog where I imagine you were probably pigeon holed into a specific type of work, right?
- [Lucas] Sort of, Naughty Dog was really nice because when I started there I was the GUI tools guy, which means making the graphical tool for the designers to use or the artists to use or things like that, and that was not a popular position.
- [Danny] Right.
- [Lucas] So, maybe I was pigeon holed but my hole was huge and on the other side of that was a huge space for me to play around in 'cause nobody else was directing me at all basically. I could decide, okay, the designers need this kinda tool and I'm gonna make and then they're happy with it, great, they need these features, I'll do those too, that sorta thing. So for me Naughty Dog was very liberating because I had all that space and no one else was really telling me what to do, but at the same time I was working alongside just brilliant programmers and amazing artists and it's kind of a dream position basically because I needed to integrate really well but kinda on my own terms and it just worked out perfectly for me 'cause I could make these tools and then the designers and the artists could use them and I could see the final result and when you have that caliber of artist or that caliber of designer they could use anything and it'll look good so, you know, maybe it wasn't even my tools that were any good but at least I got the satisfaction of seeing the awesome stuff they were making with my tools, so it was perfect.
- [Danny] When we talk to independent developers, sort of these days you're getting a lot more, I feel like graduates who are jumping straight into it but of a certain generation. Like for instance, I was just over with System Era in Seattle, they're working on Astroneer which is coming out this week, and a lot of that crew are ex-343 people. Do you think that having that sort of triple A experience is kind of like, was very important to your professional development or was it the type of thing that just, you know, even if you were learning independently you feel like you would've got to where you are now?
- [Lucas] That's a good question, I think, I wouldn't generalize and say triple A but I would say specifically Naughty Dog taught me a lot about production and about kind of seeing what's important in your game as you're making it and using that to triage and to cut things and to really focus on what you have decided is important about your game, that was all critical. I think there's a slight danger in working in triple A, the quality of things that the artists and designers and sound guys and everybody and the programmers create is super super high and just the sort of production style in general is that you have very skilled people and you can give them difficult tasks and they will do a great job. And that, in my opinion, does not scale down to smaller studios, you kind of have to cut more corners, you have to rely more on your tools and your pipeline and you have to make more concessions to just produce the same amount of stuff and that's kind of, I mean, a snapshot of what I do is I try not to compete in that way. I consciously say, there's no way I can match the art skill of a Naughty Dog or a triple A studio so I'm gonna try to kinda leap, not leap frog, but I'm gonna just gonna go a completely different way and not compete on those same terms at all. So part of the challenge of making a game for me is finding that way to not compete and to make sure that the things that I create are not gonna be compared one for one against what a bigger, more resourceful studio can do. So I wouldn't say like working at Naughty Dog taught me that I can just do anything with the art, like the artists can make the most amazing things and the game is gonna be awesome for it. It was more about just the style of production that they had there taught me a lot about focus and real kind of, think about what the final result is gonna be, don't think about the components that make it up as much. I mean, the components are important but one problem I used to have as an engineer is that I would want the code to be perfect, I wanted the systems that I was designing to be elegant and to, if an engineer looked at them I wanted them to think, yeah man, that's pretty good code he's got there. But what I learned at Naughty Dog was none of that matters, what matters is what happens when the player puts the controller in their hand. And a lot of the times those two things are connected but a lot of times they're not and it's a difficult lesson to learn if you're strictly an engineer all the time, to sort of back off on your number one OCD skill.
- [Danny] Right.
- [Lucas] Actually, what's more important is that, even if this is kind of shitty code here, it works pretty much, I can predict how it works and I know that the end result will sorta be like this and that feels really good to the player so that was a good lesson too.
- [Danny] Right, yeah, we'll get into the sort of, the economy of independent development in a second 'cause I'm very interested in talking to you about that, especially somebody who sort of works from home, myself as well. But first of all I guess, that initial leap to go your own way, to leave the collaborative workspace of Naughty Dog, where did that come from?
- [Lucas] Well, it started before Naughty Dog actually because in college I was working on Quake mods with a couple of friends, international friends, we decided to start a company in Virginia, not far from you actually.
- [Danny] Yeah, was it Richmond where you grew up, in that area?
- Yeah, yeah, in Richmond.
- Yeah, cool
- [Lucas] We decided to start a company together and we were small, you know, four or five guys, and we were workin' on weird games, different games that we thought could sell. So that didn't work out in the end and I ended up going to LA to get real work where somebody could just pay me but in the back of my mind, even working at Naughty Dog or working in serious games, I had always kinda felt not out of place, but man I really wish I could be working on my own stuff. And when it came time for Uncharted 3 I basically thought, well, I have a bunch of ideas that I want to do, small games, experimental stuff that I can do by myself or with my wife, who's also a game programmer so I'm just gonna try to do that now instead of staying around for the next sequel or whatever, I'm gonna try to do that instead. So it wasn't so much that I was rejecting anything about Naughty Dog, it was just I was kind of pining for the old times when I had less responsibility but also not a small piece of a big picture but kind of the only piece of a very small picture.
- [Danny] At that stage was there projects that you had sort of on the horizon, like on your mind's horizon that you wanted to do or is it more a case of just having that sort of process where you could, you know, set your own destination and work on things the way you wanted to?
- [Lucas] Well at Naughty Dog on Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2 was pretty crazy, it was a lot of work so I didn't have a lot of time to think about other stuff. I was totally occupied with those games while I was working on them but there was a time when we had shipped, I don't remember the date exactly, but there was a time when I had some free time, basically we had just shipped something or we were about to ship something, some big milestone had finished, and I wrote a game called Mightier with my wife and it was experimental kind of puzzle platformer game. That was a lot of fun and just working on that was kind of the culmination of an idea I had been thinking about for awhile and we made it and it was a lot of fun and we got nominated for the IGF and that kind of put a little seed, you know, planted a little seed that maybe I should start thinking about these sorts of games more. And that's kinda just what happened over the next year or whatever when I was still working at Naughty Dog, thinking, you know, I gotta couple ideas here and there but actually none of that was a reason to leave, it was more just that Uncharted 2 had shipped and if I'm gonna leave now is really the best time. I don't wanna start working on a new project and leave in the middle of that, if there's gonna be a sever it's gonna be now so. We hadn't really figured out what we're gonna do when we left our jobs until we left, we left and we kinda just played around with a bunch of ideas and then came up with Helsing's Fire. It wasn't, you know, oh man, I really wanna make a Helsing's Fire, I gotta leave Naughty Dog to do it, it was more, okay now what are we gonna do with it, we've left and we decided to try this independent games thing, let's try this, a couple different ideas, and okay let's do this one sort of thing.
- [Danny] It's been fun diving back into your design history, especially on your website, you have a bunch of games on there, sort of Flash games that people can go play right now. And it's been fun I guess backwards charting maybe some design influence that came from those early projects too, but the game that most people sort of know you from, even now perhaps, is Papers Please, which is interesting because it's a game that's sort of the elevator pitch for, not necessarily something maybe that you'd imagine people would get very excited about but obviously, as game playing experience, it's incredibly compelling. What do you think it is about Papers Please that actually sort of cemented its place within the gaming zeitgeist when it came out in 2013?
- [Lucas] Good question, if I knew I could sell it in a packet. I mean, I think, you know, if you ask me I would say it's very different from the other games that are available so if you in the off chance want a game about checking passports you gotta come to me, basically and that was kinda my theory about me making games alone is my only chance is really to make something you can't get somewhere else easily. So Papers Please was kind of that and it was, I didn't have visions of grandeur with that game, I was sort of making the game that I would wanna play as a kind of analytical kind of OCD-ish kind of details oriented person. And I tried to capture good gameplay and weave it with a narrative just kind of, you know, as I would want to be in a game I play so I didn't kind of think, I'm aiming for a zeitgeist here, I was thinking, okay, I need to make something different and these mechanics I have work pretty well for this kind of story and if I can put them together in an interesting way then I would like the way it turned out in the end and yeah, it's a little bit of luck I think as well. The timing kind of worked out with the explosion of streaming games or YouTube let's plays and sort of things where Papers Please I think works pretty well in that format because you can role play as the inspector and, you know, somebody who's playing that game can be funny and can be fun to watch when they play it and I think that lined up pretty well with just the timing of when I released the game, which is pure luck, you know, that's not something I had planned. Marketing wise I didn't do anything for that game that you would actually consider marketing so, you know, there wasn't a whole lot of clever planning on my part for that, I was really just trying to make a game that I thought I would enjoy and everything else sort of, you know, fell into place.
- [Danny] You say that that wasn't a lot of sort of marketing done around it, but it did have a very strong trailer, like I still remember the music, you know, maybe it's just 'cause I'm a video guy or whatever but I remember it was very well cut to the music and compelling, did you work on that as well yourself?
- [Lucas] Yeah, I made that too. So, one of the things about picking game ideas for me, when I sit down I collect, as I'm doing anything I'm always thinking, okay, that might make a cool game, and I'll just write down a quick note about it. And I sort of collect those over time and then the ones that stick in my mind the most I sort of focus on those more. So something like Papers Please or even Obra Dinn, when I'm even thinking about the idea I'm thinking, how could I express this in a trailer? If it can't imagine right now a cool trailer for this then it's probably not worth pursuing. And it's kind of part of the decision I think about making games is at the very beginning like that. So it's not the idea that I like this other game and I wanna make a game like that, only better, it's that I wanna make this game and I can sort of see all the way through how it's gonna be, how I can market it, in air quotes, or how I can talk about it or how I can think about it for, you know, a year or four and half years or whatever it will take to get it done. So the initial idea is very important to me. So something like Papers Please where it's a game about checking passports, I can already kind of imagine that it, you can have a trailer just showing the guy denying passports the whole time and it can be interesting, basically.
- [Danny] Last week had Marijam Didzgalvyte on who works for Game Workers Unite and we were talking about politics and games and political games and we talked about Papers Please 'cause it was actually something she wrote an article about years ago. Sort of, she's Lithuanian and she was quite critical of it because she felt like wasn't political in the way that she was maybe expecting. Were you trying to make a political game or were you literally trying to make a game about checking passports and the sort of, the wider theme that's very well presented in the game sort of came from that, like what was the impetus of this? Was it meant to be political or was it something that you were just compelled with that sort of, you know, that OCD nature of checking passports at border sections?
- [Lucas] Yeah, I never set out to make a political game and I think for me personally, I couldn't start with the message and then make a good game out of it. If you gave me an assignment and said make a game that projects this message I probably couldn't do it very well. It was really the core mechanics that I had that I felt, first I can make a fun game out of it, for me, I can make it where you're just checking, you're correlating information, that could be fun, the mechanics of that could be fun. And then I started working on the narrative and I wanted that kind of complexity of that lack of clarity 'cause a lot of politics is about lack of clarity in my opinion so I wanted to express sort of how, not both sides are equal but both sides believe in their cause fairly strongly and it's hard to present that in a movie or a book but when you have an interactive medium like games it becomes a lot more possible to put the player in the position where suddenly it's not so clear cut what they would do in the situation. And it wasn't until I had the mechanics and some idea about the narrative that that became important to me to express that. And I didn't wanna make it very clearly for one side or the other because, I don't know, to me the game is a lot more powerful when the player's kinda stuck in the middle there and they're not, they don't have enough information really to even decide who are the good guys and who are the really bad guys so to me that's like life, you don't ever really know the whole story of anything and you still have to make decisions, you still have to live and work that way. So, yeah, I did not start out with a message and an idea that I wanted to teach the player something, it was more, with the tools I had I recognized there was an interesting way to construct an interactive narrative here that the player could enjoy.
- [Danny] And then obviously the game went onto great critical and commercial success as well, and I believe the only other time we've ever talked actually was I believe you received, was it the Seumas McNally Grand Prize at the IGF that year?
- [Lucas] Yeah.
- [Danny] Gamespot had me backstage interviewing everyone coming off and we talked for probably about 30 seconds but obviously you know, then you know, you were well known within the industry and within the independent industry but then you became sort of infamous within the wider game player community. So what was it like then trying to make a second game? Because suddenly, you know, you've got a lot of eyes on you and there have been many creators who have created a game that has been very successful and then the pressures of having that follow up prove to be too much, how did you sort of deal with it and how did the concept for Obra Dinn sort of come out of that?
- [Lucas] That whole follow up thing, sophomore effort, you know, it's not my sophomore game, I've made a lot of games so there wasn't as much pressure in that sense, the can I even do it, or can I even make a game, that was fine, there was a lot of pressure of about how to follow up with Papers Please. I spent a couple years worrying about that, and that's, you know, one of the reasons why Obra Dinn took so long, it took me a long time to get tired of worrying about that, more or less, which is what happened. You know, I stressed out about it for two or three years and then finally said, I just gotta finish this game. Not, fuck it, but very close to, fuck it, I gotta finish this game, more like, damn it, I've gotta finish this game.
- [Danny] You got kids, you know, you gotta be careful.
- [Lucas] Yeah well, that's a good point, I got kids and they're growing in front of my eyes and if I don't just finish this game then I can't sort of focus on them again. I wanted to put the game away and focus on the kids more so that was a good incentive. And that's enough, you know, having kids was actually really important for me because even if Obra Dinn sucked and was a huge failure my kids don't care, they don't even know about any of that stuff and so that support was always there, whether Obra Dinn was good or not, so that helped a lot and that took a couple years to even see because of just kind of Papers Please was a whirlwind for me and it wasn't until things cooled off and I'd been working on Obra Dinn for a long time that I realized that like, even if it sucks I'm just gonna finish it and release it. But the other thing is kind of the way I make games is I try to get a lot of pieces together that I think will make a good game without actually knowing exactly how the game is gonna turn out in the end and changing things along the way, maybe the way I envisioned the game originally is not how it ends up but what I envisioned was made of these parts and then I just reshuffled them along the way and added a few things and took away a few things and then I released the game. And Papers Please was like that, and Obra Dinn was like that too. So from very early I had pretty good confidence in the pieces I had for Obra Dinn. I wasn't confident that I could actually make a good game out of it but I thought the individual pieces, there's probably a good game here, maybe I can't find it but I feel like these elements could come together and could make a good game so it's worth working on the elements sort of independently without seeing exactly how they're gonna work together, just having kind of a little bit of faith that they're gonna go together okay. And that pulled me through, you know, a couple down periods over the years as well.
- [Danny] I've read before about how Papers Please sort of came from, you know, your travels and going to border guards and having that experience and, you know, that the idea sort of springs from that. How about the Return of the Obra Dinn, where did you come up with the sort of overall concept? There's one game actually that's on your website dukope.com, the Sea Has No Claim which I've really enjoyed playing, which has some sort of both graphical and sort of thematic connections to Obra Dinn, is there any connective tissue there or where did the idea for Obra Dinn sort of stem from originally?
- [Lucas] I mean, the project itself started with, I wanna make a one bit 3D game. So I didn't have the idea of the ship or anything, the murder mystery, the watch, the flashbacks, none of that, it was really, let me sit down and try to make a one bit 3D game. And once I started doing that I had a couple different ideas I could do with it, one of them was set in Egypt, one of them would be on a ship, one of them was somewhere else, a power plant, and just sort of thinking about having to do everything I thought, well the easiest thing is gonna be a ship 'cause it's a contained space so I kinda just decided, okay, it's gonna be a ship and then I started researching. And at the same time I was getting my chops down with Maya again, I'd used Maya a long time ago but I hadn't done a lot of 3D stuff recently so a lot of learning was happening on the tool side which meant less focus on what am I actually gonna do with this so by the time I realized the ship was gonna be a huge pain in the ass and a ton of work it was too late, I was already committed to it. So that kinda gave me the ship idea, and you're right that there's kind of vapors of Obra Dinn in my other games, there's another game called Six Degrees of Sabotage which is kind of where you're recognizing connections between groups of people, which also is thematically similar to Obra Dinn. I thought about this a little bit when I was giving, somebody asked me for some advice about their game and my advice kinda boiled down to add a lot more people to your game and so when that happened I realized that the way I think about narratives I guess and gameplay really falls back on just having lots of people, something about having a lot of people and characters and interactions, to me is mechanically provides a lot of opportunity and also gives me kinda motivation for building an interesting narrative. So Obra Dinn is just a ton of people, and like I said, I didn't know exactly how they were all gonna fit together but I kinda felt, if you gave me 60 people there's gotta be something I can do with that, there's gotta be some way I can put this together. It's kind of like establishing the problem space and then recognizing not the solution, but that okay, I seen the shape of that problem before and it looks really interesting, I wanna try to solve that.
- [Danny] When you look back at that, you know, the manifest of all those names, those 60 people, is there any ones that stand out to you, that became like little favorites of yours?
- [Lucas] Well, an interesting element of the game is that I did not attach the names to those characters until kind of late. I modeled them randomly, I just created a bunch of random characters, dressed them randomly as well and then named them randomly at the end, or near the end at least. But what I tried to do is I tried to make a lot of people kind of human, so not black or white or not clearly evil or clearly good, maybe there's one or two fully evil guys there but you know, they have motivations that maybe could be justified in some way. So one thing that surprised me is that when I created the characters and I kind of assigned their stories and wrote all the scripts and things like that, I was thinking very mechanically at the low level, so I need to sprinkle enough clues around that the player can figure out who they are, and also at the high level of what do these characters mean to each other and how are they interacting and who generally is on this side or on that side. And I wanted to show that on these ships that it's, first off, they're very dangerous, people die all the time, and so your survival depends on, to some extent, getting along with people. And you know, you spend a very long time in a very small space with these people and it just by the nature of it, you have to get along. If you don't get along then someone gets hurt or someone dies or they get off at the next stop or something like that so I wanted to express that in the game, I'd read a lot of literature about these ships before designing the story and the characters and things, and some of the characters, when the player meets them initially they look like bad guys and I wanted to sort of set that up where your first impression is that this guy is a murdering asshole but as you see them more and more you realize that they're human and they have friends who were killed or they were put in these difficult situations that sort of flipped the switch in them or just made them worry more about their survival than everyone else's survival or things like that so one of the good examples of that is this guy Brennan, Henry Brennan, who when you first meet him seems basically just like a tough guy who's bloodthirsty and wants to kill people but if you think about in the context of a ship and what people's duties are, he's not doing half bad, you know, maybe he's a little bit aggressive but you kinda need somebody like that on a ship or you need people to do that sort of thing in these situations when there's, I can't say these kinds of disasters 'cause it's pretty fantastic, but when there's that kind of trial, you know, these guys are not necessarily bad guys, they're just the ones who have a clear vision of what to do and if some people get hurt in the acts then kind of that's something they also calculated. So Brennan was one of those guys and what surprised me actually is my wife was the first person to play the game all the way through and the whole game didn't come together until maybe two months before release, to be actually be able to play from beginning to end. And she really liked Brennan which was kind of an indication that the kind of set up that I was going for worked because he, yeah, he's pretty, he kills a lot of people, basically.
- [Danny] His face kind of keeps appearing.
- [Lucas] Yeah, he's a pretty aggressive dude but he has qualities enough that my wife was, liked him, basically.
- [Danny] That's awesome, yeah. You know, I encourage anyone who's played the game to Google Henry Brennan and once the face pops up you'll know exactly who we're talking about. One of the things that stood out to me as well as an Irish person who, you know, I lived in London for a number of years too, was the voice cast for this game was tremendous. And, you know, even outside of that I felt like I sort of had an unfair advantage in that, you know, accents were very cleverly delivered. There was one actual accent that was from the north of Ireland that I thought, oh, that must be somebody from Ireland, there's a character called Patrick O'Hagan in the game, I actually went to school with somebody called Patrick O'Hagan so, can you talk about the, I guess, the work in getting all of those voices? How much did you know about different voices in the British Isles and Europe I guess as well, and also abroad, there's quite a complex number of languages being used as well. How much work went into that and did it come easily to you or was it the type of thing that took a lot more work than you were expecting?
- [Lucas] That's a good question, actually it's one of my favorite questions about Obra Dinn and it's good to talk to you about it 'cause you know these accents. I do not know any of these accents but I knew that they were important and one of things I like about making games is to pick something like that that is normally not important and make it important. So, normally when you hire a voice actor they can do lots of different accents and it would've been very easy for me to hire a few Americans to do all those accents and just call it a day, but I knew that, first off, I would be torn up in the UK because they would know they were all bad.
- [Danny] Absolutely.
- [Lucas] I personally have heard people, foreigners do bad southern US accents so I know that feeling when it's wrong and I didn't want anybody to have that feeling but I had made this sort of critical importance on the accents. And it's the same thing with the audio in the game, I wanted to make a game where, it's not just that I wanted a game with great audio, I wanted a game where the quality of the audio was actually critical to the, I mean, it's kind of making it hard for me but the quality of the audio is important to the actual mechanics of the game. So in this case the accents of the characters was important to the mechanics of the game. So I basically had to just find native voice actors for every case and because I don't know those accents myself I have friends who were there at least who could help me decide if they're, you know, if it's not somebody, if it's somebody doing a Welsh accent for instance, it's actually kinda tricky to find good Welsh actors easily. One of the things I didn't do was I didn't hire a casting agent to go out and do this for me, I basically just went to Voices.com or Voice123.com and talked with their casting people and they would do it but all of those actors there kinda skew for a certain region so some roles were hard to cast and like I said earlier, a lot of different people can do a lot of different accents so it's not that when you say you have an Irish character you may get lots of people who are not Irish auditioning for that. And in some cases I would use those guys if I could play that there audition for a native speaker and they could tell me, that dude sounds Irish, then okay, he's good. What was most important to me was the performance. If their performance sounded convincing I wanted to hire them for the role. Then I would send it to somebody who could recognize that accent and they would say it's good or it's bad. Hopefully they would say it's good and I could use that performance and that actor. Sometimes they would say it's bad and I would say, well, okay, I'm sorry, I have to find somebody else. In one case, it was bad, or it was not the accent that I wanted for the region that I wanted but the performance was so good that I changed the character to be a different region, basically. So he was supposed to be Welsh but he had a straight up English accent, RP maybe, and so I decided this guy is, for the purpose of this character, I need the performance to be very good and his performance was excellent so it's more important to get that than it is that his location is correct so I changed his location in the game.
- [Danny] Yeah, and I guess then sort of how that reacts to the mechanics of the game in that, you know, I felt like I had an unfair advantage 'cause I could pick out a Welsh accent and a Scottish accent as opposed to say, a north English accent. But then also, there's a lot of sort of classism going on on a ship, right, so you have second mates and the captain and all them, you know, and the bosun sort of had a, they're a certain strata of English society, well I guess in the case of the bosun he's Austrian, but you know, you're talking sort of well to do private educated English people but then you also have like you know, all of the midshipmen who were from sort of more working class parts of England. So, like, how did you account for the fact that people in the British Isles would probably have basically more information to solve these clues than, you know, people who weren't from there?
- [Lucas] Well, it's a good point about that, and what's interesting to me is that I didn't know all that stuff, really. I didn't know that most of the people in the UK can pick out, within 100 kilometer radius, where somebody is from based on their accent.
- [Danny] Totally.
- [Lucas] And not only that, but their class within that region, they know where they are on that scale of, you know, working class or well to do. I had an idea about that but not really how specific it was, how powerful that skill is in most British people so, luckily, when you hire native voice actors and you tell them about the character they know, so they know how to read, they know how to perform, the actors know this stuff so on that side the authenticity was okay because I didn't know but the actors knew, that's one reason you know you hire good actors. On the gameplay side I didn't know any of these things. So for me, I can assume those clues are there but I can't rely on them, personally. So I had to supplement all those places where this guy's identity is revealed by his Scottish accent, I had to supplement that with some other clues somewhere else, for me personally but also for anybody else who's not from the Isles. So that was just kind of naturally baked in to the way the game was made by an American who doesn't know these things as well as a British person would. So I knew it had to be accurate but I also knew that I wouldn't be able to tell and it wouldn't help me personally so kind of a tricky thing to think about but it basically meant that I had to be okay with people in the UK would play the game and would have more clues than other people who didn't know those accents, which was, you know, I think a small sacrifice in my opinion because I didn't know how useful those clues were I couldn't really consider them as something really that I should worry about.
- [Danny] Yeah, and I mean, as you've said, you know, having sort of accents in games are so often the opposite, they're kind of misleading, you have to kind of read the intention of the author in a way where as, I can definitely say that from my perspective, it added a richness to the experience that I really appreciated. So too did the just general sound effects of the game. A lot of this game involves, you know, sort of stepping, you know, not using your eyes at all and just kind of going into your minds eye and imaging the scene before it's eventually sort of presented to you at the end of the sound clip. Can you talk about the process of doing that because, you know, the production value on those is very, very high but also there's lots of clues. Like, you're telling clues in audio which we're not really used to in games.
- [Lucas] Yeah, that was, like I said earlier, that was kind of a thing I recognized I could do and I really wanted to try it, basically. It was a really interesting challenge for me, is to make the audio mechanically important. I have done sound effects in a lot of games for myself over the years so it's something I enjoy doing. When starting this project I didn't realize the challenge really, the full scope of the challenge, it was extremely difficult and one thing that made it harder was I didn't record much of it myself. I recorded a few full effects here and there but most of it was sourced from sound libraries. So what I would mostly do is just spend a long time, a long time, searching sound libraries for just the right sound effect. And a lot of times not finding it and deciding to rewrite things or change things a little bit so that I could express what I wanted, something useful or some kind of clue or something. And I wrote the whole game so instead of, like you can imagine if it was a team of multiple people with the sound guys here and the story guys and design guys separately, it would be a lot harder I think, but for me, because I wrote the whole game I had every scene in my head, I can close my eyes and see the whole thing, in movement and where they are and what the ship is doing and everything else, it's all just in my head. So pulling out from that what's important sound wise was a little bit tricky. Sound is about focus, if you actually stick a mic in one of those situations you would be overwhelmed with the amount of things that you would hear. So part of the challenge there was figuring out exactly what I need to be playing for it to give the information to the player but also enough sounds that you feel like you're there. So it's not just the key sounds that you would need to figure out what's going on, but also to make you feel like you're on a ship in this place during a storm or whatever. And then balancing all those things together, yeah, it was a pain in the ass. And it was the kind of thing where I normally when I work on a game I jump around from here to there, so I work on some art and then okay, get tired of working in Photoshop so let me do some programming, let me do some sound, I do some music. For the audio sound effect stuff I had to sit down for a month and a half basically and just work on it straight. So yeah, it was hard and it required a lot of focus over a long period of time which I wasn't used to at that point so it was kind of a production wrinkle for me but in the end it was a lot of fun, it was a lot of fun and I, the thing I like most about it is that it's, it's like I said earlier, I wasn't just trying to make it sound good, I had a gameplay core mechanic goal with the sound that I tried to execute.
- [Danny] You talked about how the ship, the idea of the location for the ship was sort of born from an earlier process and then you sort of went into that, the story telling process to try and flesh that out, one of the interesting things you said, like sort of making something that's not important important, one of those things in this game is I guess the language of seafaring. Like, I feel like everyone, once they've completed this game they sort of get boats in a way that maybe they didn't when they started. Was that an advantage maybe of, you know, from like a world building perspective or even from a puzzle perspective, that fact that like people don't know what a bosun is maybe or a midshipmen or topman.
- [Lucas] When I started, when I decided I'm gonna make a game about an East Indian trade ship that has this problem I researched a lot about it and when I was building the ship itself I had to do a lot of research about how those ships are constructed, and that is a deep, deep.
-Yeah, I bet.
- [Lucas] Deep rabbit hole, let me tell you. People have been making model ships for hundreds and hundreds of years and those guys are crazy, full on 100% nuts. So every single piece of a ship has a specific name and they're all weird and funny and they're usually like, it was heard in Italian and then repeated by the Portuguese and then British started using it kinda thing. So that to me was super interesting, just how deep, how both wide and deep the custom knowledge is for sailing ships. And I didn't even begin to scratch the surface of that with the game because I knew that I couldn't, there was just too much crazy shit in there that I could've referenced that I didn't. I basically wanted just enough to add the flavor, like you say, but without confusing the player too much, or at least in cases where it wasn't that important. And what's funny is there's a glossary in the game that defines a couple of these terms, that was like in the last two weeks of the game I added that glossary.
- Oh, really?
- [Lucas] That wasn't in there, yeah. I had this idea that people would go search for it on Google or something, which, you know, what a terrible idea.
- [Danny] I think I did, I think, yeah, I remembered looking at the glossary maybe 40 minutes in and I was like, all right, you know what, fuck this, I need to like learn about this sorta stuff. But I had Googled on my phone I think what something was, like a midshipmen maybe or.
- [Lucas] Yeah, all the terms, nobody else uses them so you just gotta use a few of them and suddenly you feel like you're there kinda thing. So I recognized that very early, that the potential was there and I really wanted to do that. And, again, that's the kinda thing where there's not a lot of games that are gonna reference these terms as if they're important. They may throw them around just for some flavor but in this case you actually need to know what a topman is or what a midshipmen is so I also like that aspect of it, and I tried to pick words like that where they weren't totally abandoned words, they were kind of maybe, someone might've heard them recently if they read like a Patrick O'Brian novel or something like that, they would get the references.
- [Danny] I could see that, yeah, there sort of evocative of what they are as well, some of them, you know, other ones maybe not so much. I've got a million questions for you about Return of the Obra Dinn but I feel like I should throw in a couple of Patron ones, seeing as they're the ones funding all this, is that okay?
- [Lucas] Yeah, absolutely.
- [Danny] Thanks so much to all of our Patron to help make our work ad free and they all get this show a day early, but of course, like all of our stuff, it's all free for everyone. Patreon.com/Noclip if you're interested in helping us out. The first one comes from Brett G, says, what do you consider the cannon monitor choice for Obra Dinn, Macintosh for the win. The art style of the game, very unique, I can sort of, I'm reading into what you're talking about, it's maybe a way for you to do a lot of art on your own in a 3D space without going absolutely insane. But yeah, what's the cannon monitor choice for you, which way do you play?
- [Lucas] Definitely Macintosh, he's right, of course. That was the first color, that was the first and only color I had for a long time until somebody asked me, or a couple people asked me for RGB sliders--
- Oh, really?
- [Lucas] For the black and white colors and I'm not a guy who's gonna put RBG sliders in because there's too many ones that look terrible, basically.
- [Danny] You literally made GUI tools, like that should be right down your alley.
- [Lucas] Yeah, my solution would be to give like the nine colors that looked good basically and not give those sliders to make the bad colors. And that's kinda what I did and I, so the Mac colors are the ones that for me, I developed a whole game on the Mac. And then when I was sort of playing through the game and testing it a lot I would try one of the other colors and the one I like the most, after the Mac, 'cause there's an IBM sort of brownish brown and white one that I like as well, I can't remember the name of it but it's not the green IBM one, it's the other one. It is a nice soothing color as well.
- [Danny] Next question comes in from Chris Petter, says, did you draw inspiration from other detective games when designing Obra Dinn? If so, were there any aspects in how that genre has been tackled in past games that you wanted to rectify on your own? I was watching a live stream you did on the GDC channel recently and I was interested to hear that lots of the games that have come out over the past couple of years are first person detective games like the Vanishing of Ethan Carter, you actually hadn't played. Yeah, was there any games that did sort of inspire you with Obra Dinn?
- [Lucas] I don't think so, not with the detective aspect anyways. I was visually inspired by the Macintosh games I played as a kid but design wise, no, I was trying to do something different and then games like Ethan Carter or Edith Finch or some of the Sherlock Holmes games, people would tell me that they're kinda similar to the old demo I had or they would suggest to me, check them out. But I kinda just, I felt like if I look a those games I'm either gonna change what I'm doing or try to do something different. I figured like the best thing to do was just not play those games until I'm done with.
- What I'm working on here. Yeah, and Obra Dinn, like I said, I had the pieces of what I felt could make a good game but I didn't have the whole thing together in one piece until very late. So you could kinda say I didn't know what I was doing for a long time, which meant, if I'm inspired then I kinda would put them together in a certain way but I was putting them together in lots of different ways trying to figure out the best way to to do it, yeah, on the one hand I'm trying to make a different game so I don't want to take too much inspiration from anything. But on the other hand I don't really know what I'm doing so I'm even not together enough to be inspired properly I guess.
- [Danny] Ben Visnes asked, when I played Obra Dinn I was struck by how consistent everything was. I didn't notice any information that would be misleading or a red herring, so my questions are, what was the writing process like, did you write every crew members story up front?
- [Lucas] No, definitely not, and it's a good point he makes because I intentionally avoided red herrings. There were a lot of places where I had the opportunity to fool the player into thinking one thing but then revealing another. And I actually do it in I think, there's one death where the means of death is not totally clear and I did that intentionally there but for identities I tried very hard to make your first sort of supposition the right one. So not trying to fool the player, just because there's 60 people, it's just too much. When you start trying to put red herrings in and kind of tricking the player I felt like that was just way too much. I was really worried the whole game that I'm asking way too much from the player and the book itself is kind of my solution to that to help the player understand what is going on, who is who, to let them traverse the web a little easier. So I was very worried that the game is just way way way too hard the whole time I was working on it. So I consciously avoided red herrings like that. That doesn't mean there aren't any in the game, actually, there is an unintentional one, a pretty big one near the beginning of the game where I didn't realize it but there's some dialogue about a character that's referring to one character but actually if you play the game and you're not me who doesn't know everything you would think it's referring to a different character and you would be confused about that for a long time, and that's, yeah, I regret that that slipped through. My wife didn't catch it, I didn't catch it, it's only later on when people started talking about the game they thought, oh, this guy was that guy for the longest time and I, you know, kinda just sighed and regret that a little bit. So I really didn't want that to happen, I wanted it to be not tricking the player just because, not that I love the player but I was sure that it was just way too difficult and I shouldn't be fucking around like that.
- [Danny] I mean, how did you even play test this? If you're saying your wife is the first person to play the game from start to finish, were you still like sending it to other people and having them give you feedback? 'Cause like I just can't imagine how you would possibly be able to put your self in the position of a new player when you know how everything works, you're the puppet master.
- [Lucas] Yeah, this is another question I like. I didn't play test this game very much at all, I play tested and old build without the book and that's when I realized I need the book. But my solution was tools, lots and lots of tools. So one of the things I do when I try to solve a problem is I need to visualize the problem. So in the case of this game, there are ways you can build tools that let you visualize that there are enough clues everywhere for this character, for example. So you don't need to play through, you just can see, okay, there's a clue for this guy here, here, and here, that's enough. This person's identity is revealed at this point and then he, once you know his identity you can figure out this other guy's and this other guy's identity. And you can, without playing the game you can graph that on a directed acyclic graph, you can graph when identities are revealed. And that hooks into my kind of heavy dependence on tools to make this happen, is that I can write a tool that generates that graph, then I can just look at the graph and I can see, there's a problem here, this guy, you're not gonna know who this guys is in order to figure out who this guy is so okay, I need to add more clues in the scene. So basically figuring out sort of the problem space and then the way to visualize it for me was the solution instead of building something and having somebody test it, building it again and having somebody play it, that sort of loop of play testing I didn't need for this particular thing because I could express it and visualize it in a way that allowed me to just check it instantly, basically.
- [Danny] Wow. The book is obviously a massive part of the design of this game which solves a lot of problems I'm sure for you, but I can't imagine how difficult it was to sort of figure out how to use it. It's almost like a diegetic interface in a way and also the ability for you to, I guess travel on the pages at least between the different death scenes. I remember hearing a bunch of people getting frustrated that they couldn't just, you know, bounce between, you know, teleport almost between the different death scenes after a certain point, but can you just kinda speak to the design philosophy of the book, was it really important that people, you know, got familiar with the boat and walking around it and that the death scenes themselves were sort of more isolated little pockets that they couldn't get too lost in?
- [Lucas] I think so, yeah. That decision is kinda rooted in the original concept of the game where you didn't have the book so how are you gonna fast travel if you don't have the book? The book seems obvious in retrospect but I was pulling my hair out for a long time about how to structure and arrange the events on the ship for a long time in a way that the player could reference and understand easily. And actually if you look in the book there's a deck map which shows all the flashbacks, the location of the body of each flashback and there's like this, once you've finished them all there's like this really crazy system of arrows that connects them all and if you look at it it's just a jumble of spaghetti arrows and Xs and shit. That was originally my solution to letting the player understand, there was no book, it was just that map with arrows everywhere on it. So you can see, it took me a long time to get from that to a full book with a page for each flashback, divided into chapters with referencing and bookmarks and all that stuff. But once I had the book I realized how useful it was and how it contextualized almost everything in the game and the metaphor is so easy to understand that I got a lot of things for free basically by doing the book. And, you know, even having like a death on each page wasn't obvious from the beginning, I had tried a lot of things for how to arrange the structure of the book and sorta ended up with this one. So in my mind the book was always a supplement to helping you understand the story, it wasn't a way to navigate. And I have this long term problem with the Obra Dinn that there is frankly way too much magic going on. There was a real conflict for me between the watch and the, spoiler, the mermaids. And, you know, let's be real, if you had that watch you would get right back on that rowboat, go straight back to the mainland and just rule the world, basically. So I had a lot of really cool ideas about things to do with the watch and I cut them all. I decided, the watch cannot be the star here because if the watch is the star here then nothing else about this story is important at all. So I tried to downplay the watch a little bit, and likewise, the book, to me, being able to fast travel with the book is just too video gamey, too magical. Now, that's kinda dumb because it's a video game and there's a lot of stuff about this that's very video gamey and I personally usually lean towards being more video gamey when it's convenient to the player. But for some reason, maybe because of the way that the book came about and the way the game was developed, I just could not give up the player having to walk around the boat to go to different areas. To me, that way of showing the player's intent was just too good. To say like, you don't flip to a page and click a button to say you wanna see this thing again, you put the book away and you walk to it on the ship. And yeah, it was a really tough call for me because it is inconvenient for the player so it wasn't easy for me to say you're not gonna use the book but it just, to me I couldn't have you skip right to the flashback. I felt like, one of the problems is like, you skip right to the flashback let's say, through the book, and then you're, the way you're playing the game is by skipping around, so you would wanna skip out of the flashback too. But I've got this system where you walk through a door to get out of a flashback, so I could satisfy the first one and say you can travel to the thing. But then I've also gotta satisfy the fact that you can get out of it quickly. That kind of slippery slope to me was just, especially at the point where I finished this game, I was beyond done with this thing. I was so exhausted from working on this, and I made so many very big design changes near the end that it was basically like, I don't care if this game gets like a 0% because you can't fast travel, I can't deal with the design changes that that's gonna inject into this game. So, you know, I could justify it now and say that I don't want the player traveling around but really one of the really important parts of that decision is that it would've changed so many things so late at that point in the game that I just couldn't manage it.
- [Danny] Another sort of, I feel like, aspect of the game that gives the player a little bit of help is the verbs. Am I right in saying that there are some deaths that you can sort of say stabbed or speared or there's a little bit of wiggle room there?
- [Lucas] Yeah, there's a lot of wiggle room, actually more than I anticipated at the beginning. It's funny, when I first had the idea for the design of this game it was mostly about figuring out how people died, it was the means of death that was the important thing. It wasn't until I had a lot more of the game together that I realized, I mean, you can see how he dies, there's no challenge there, that's not fun, and so that whole idea of constructing a sentence became kind of perfunctory, I don't know, became kind of unimportant. The identity's important but how he died, maybe we don't really care how, not that we don't care, but you can see it, it's like okay, he died this way, maybe the book can just tell me, I don't need to answer it. But for me, always, the act of building a sentence as fun. This is one of those kind of like really carnal sort of low level joys, is just selecting those verbs and those nouns and those subjects from a list and then having a sentence at the end that you could read was fun, that very low level thing was fun for me. So I never wanted to give it up, I wanted you to have to select. But I didn't want you to get hung up on it, and that was a real, real big problem actually because I didn't, when I designed, there were too many things pushing on this games design basically. So when I designed the way people died, it was on context of how to make it interesting for the player to see and how to make it fit within the story of the events of what's happening. And it was not at all how to make a sentence, how to make it easily describable with a sentence. So there are a lot of cases where, yeah, he's getting hit by something thing, what is that, is that a spear, is that a spike, what is that? And I didn't want the player to get hung up on that so what I did is I made it you could say either speared or spiked. Now the problem with that is that actually doesn't help you get hung up on it or not, you still get hung up on it, you still need to select one of those, they're both right, but you don't know that when you're worrying about which one to put in, so that is kind of a failure but I still really like just the act of building grammatical sentences with the kinda cheesy book interface, I like that. And it became I liked it so much I put a lot of work into keeping it, so doing the things where multiple fates are possible or rewriting the fate system multiple times to support localization, which was a huge can of worms.
- [Danny] Got it, yeah, I can imagine, especially with the subtleties involved in those words. You know, I'm not sure if I've picked the right one but you said there was one character where their death was maybe a little bit difficult to deduce, 'cause it could've been a few things, was that by any chance Charles the midshipmen?
- [Lucas] No, but he's another good one. Actually, that was a case where he died in a very cool way which is little bit undescribable in the very simple sentences that I had. So yeah, I just had to kind of put a lot of options in for that one.
- [Danny] Oh is there multiple options for how Charles dies that you'll get?
- I was wondering, 'cause like at the point of his death he's like being burned and spiked and is just like.
- [Lucas] Yeah, what's kinda cool about that one is that one made me realize, and I implemented this ina few other deaths, but this one kind of opened it up a little bit, he's getting spiked, he's getting burned, and he's also getting potentially stabbed by a crewmate. So I realized that your selection says a lot about how you interpret this situation in the scene and the guilt of people. So if you think he's being stabbed by, say you don't like this character who is maybe stabbing him, then you would put in, he's being stabbed by this guy and that would be in the record, and noted by the crown or whatever. And that kinda opened up a nice extra aspect of the game that I didn't originally intend. And so I went through and I kind of tried to grow that a little bit in a few more of the deaths. But the one I'm talking about that I intentionally made ambiguous it's somebody who's dying who you think is bleeding out but actually at the moment he dies something happens that is hard to notice. And his original death was, he is bleeding out. I wrote the whole thing that way, the scenes written like that, the voice actors recorded it that way, and it wasn't until very late that I realized the potential for a small subversion in what the player expected here. Which actually ended up working better because I had this kind of, I had this problem that I needed to kill people in lots of different and interesting ways, which is a weird problem to have. And some people die in really cool ways, really quickly, you know, an explosion or their head's cut off or what not, and some people bleed out. And I gotta tell you, bleeding out is kind of an uninteresting way to die. So the cases where I had people bleeding out I realized maybe I could do something cooler there. And this is one of those cases where the player thinks he's bleeding out, I thought he's bleeding out, but actually something else is happening.
- [Danny] Was there a couple of red herrings in that book as well for the verbs for death, was there a few that weren't used?
- [Lucas] Yeah, that's another thing, what I liked about it that, in games in general I try to get the player thinking about how big this world is or how big the set of things that they're doing is without actually going that big. And those verbs, I really wanted the players mind to go crazy with that stuff. You know, that's one of the main reasons also I wanted to keep this verb sentence structure system is just looking at those things if fun to think about how this guy committed suicide by cannon or whatever, or you know, just putting together those different combinations in their head they think, what the fuck happened on this boat? Even if they're not used at all, even if no body eats anybody else, that's still the option to be a cannibal is there and you can already start thinking cool things when you see that verb.
- [Danny] And I wanted to keep this question til the absolute last for anyone who has not played just in case, it's been light spoilers a bit so far but just step out of the room for two minutes here 'cause I feel like, what the fuck happened on this boat? That could've been the name of this game, actually, and it would've described it pretty well. I gotta ask you about the various beasts, I feel like every new chapter I got into my eyes got wider and wider, like I wasn't expecting any of that shit. And by the end it's just, you know, it's just fuckin' madness. Did you come up with, like where did you pull inspirations for these, you know, giant crabs and obviously there's a kraken in there, but the style of mermaid, where did you, is this stuff that you found in your research or did you sort of take them from your own twisted brain wrongs?
- [Lucas] Probably the twisted brain wrongs thing. I had set up just the structure of the game meant that I needed to be killing a lot of people, and I didn't want them all shooting each other or fighting pirates or anything like that. I wanted some variety in the way they died. And I wanted it to kinda, yeah, keep surprising the player, keep showing them something new. So I had already set up kind of the need for lots of things like that, not exactly what it should be. And then I had the overall structure of the story, and this is a huge, maybe I won't say it actually 'cause it's too big of a spoiler, but I knew I needed a lot of sea creatures, the story I had in my mind was mermaids. I wanted something different actually, I wanted something wilder and crazier but at some point I realized this game is so scattered to the player, and this is before the book, way before the book, this game is so scattered, I need some kind of reference for them. I think if I choose mermaids it's gonna be a little bit more accessible. You know, I could do something crazier, but then it's just a little bit too far out there so I felt, okay, I'll just make 'em kinda weird ugly gross mermaids. And then I kinda figured, okay, I need something really fuckin' crazy to try to rescue the mermaids. I need some, you feel like, okay with the kraken, all right, kraken, that's crazy, that's wild, didn't expect that. But you know, I've seen krakens before. Mermaids, I mean, wow, mermaids, that's out of left field there, okay, but we've all seen mermaids. And then I wanted something that was just really bizarre, something you wouldn't expect at all and it's kind of something that you could say this game showed you for the first time and that was the crab rider guys basically. And this is funny, a lot of games, a lot of any media, when you've got a bad guy, it's a bipedal, and it looks like a dude in a suit, basically. So I had that same restriction where I needed, I only had one rig basically for all the characters in the game and I needed to make something, some wild creature that looked cool with that rig but also looked different. So that's the kelp men basically, I gave them a lot of kelp hanging off of them. And then I, living in Japan, you actually, those huge spider crabs are not that far from cultural zeitgeist in Japan, people know about those things here. So that was the kinda thing where that thing looks just fuckin' awesome in every way. When you see them in the aquarium, you know, you're walkin' along, you're lookin' at fish here and you're lookin' at some crabs and lobsters, that's cool, but when you see the spider crabs it's just like from another world totally. And the funny thing is those guys have no strength at all, you take 'em out of the water and they just like melt in your hand, but visually they are just absolutely striking and I thought, man I wanna ride one of those things. And so that's where these kinda kelp men crab riders guys came from, just that kind of limitations on the production side of what can I do with a character, I can make a biped, and what can I do to make him interesting, and then this crab thing, which was actually, making that crab rig was a lot of work 'cause its only used for two characters in the whole game and it was a totally different set up but they look so cool to me that it was worth it and the set up worked out well.
- [Danny] Yeah, and it's a certainly, you know, tweaked my arachnephobia instincts as well quite a bit, really wonderful character design there. Lucas, I could talk to you all day but I wanna make sure you get a good night's sleep so you can hang out with your family tomorrow. Last question, from my point of view, you know, you spend a lot of work on these games, you know, this one was four and half years, you obviously did everything from the, you know, the music, sound effects, the art, coding, the whole shebang, the marketing. It seems like after one of these is done it takes a lot out of you, what do you think your learnings are from Return of the Obra Dinn and from Papers Please when it goes into whatever your next project will be? Do you think just giving yourself the time to do it or from a production side maybe scaling it down a little bit, or do you like the work as it is, do you like having those, you know, moments of crunch' during the project because it's all sort of on your terms?
- [Lucas] I don't mind crunch that much, yeah, because it is on my terms. And not only that, I work because I love to work, I love to do all the things that I do when making games, it's my hobby and my passion. So I'm lucky enough that I can do that and not have to worry about getting the game out right away to make enough money to survive. And I do feel like I worked too long on Obra Dinn, four and a half years, I wanted to finish it in three to six months, if that gives you any idea of how badly I can answer this question for you. So I would, I would wanna do smaller projects and I would aim for smaller projects but when I did that last time it didn't quite work out. It's, you know, it's fortunate for me that it did work out in the end, the game is okay, and I didn't have to remortgage my house or anything when I was working on it. So I feel extremely fortunate for that. And as far as the future goes, yeah, it took a lot out of me to finish Obra Dinn and I'm sort of cooling off now, I'm getting my strength back now, like I said, but it's probably gonna be a while longer and it's probably gonna be that I'll try a much much much smaller stuff before I jump into another big project.
- [Danny] This might be a gauche question, so apologies in advance, but it seems like it's done really well from the commercial side, are you happy with how it's done and does that set you up to make your next game?
- [Lucas] Yeah, absolutely, it's been beyond my expectations. My expectations are already bad just across the board, for Papers Please and for Obra Dinn. I mean, I should probably know better by now but when you work on a game for that long and you're that close to it, anyone will tell you this, it's really hard to know what you've got, basically. And especially the way that I finish the game, I felt I got to, I had feedback sort of session with one of my close friends who's a designer as well, and it did not go well. So I reactively changed a lot of things about the sort of core game loop and then did not test it again, released the game basically. I did not have the level of, I wouldn't say confidence, but I wasn't sure that people would like the game, basically and that's totally common for games. So yeah I'm very happy with how well it's done and it's, I can't say it's a complete surprise because I, looking on it now I did enjoy the game at the end, I couldn't play it the way I could play Papers Please 'cause Papers Please had some procedural stuff that Obra Dinn doesn't have. But I always like the way that it looked. The one bit was something that I always liked from the beginning to the end. And I liked sort of just walking around on the ship and I could enjoy that all the way through the game. So those sorts of things I felt confident about that people could enjoy that part of it. But as far as like a whole package that people would enjoy the whole thing, I wasn't sure about that at all and so the way that it's been received has been a very nice result for me.
- [Danny] Awesome, and good for us too 'cause that means we get more Lucas Pope games in the future. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today, I really appreciate it.
- [Lucas] Yeah, thanks a lot, Danny.
- [Danny] And thanks to everyone listening as well, you can follow Lucas on the hell scape of Twitter @dukope, I also recommend, highly recommend you go to dukope.com and check out a bunch of the awesome games that we talked about earlier on the podcast as well, the Sea Has No Claim, Six Degrees of Sabotage, and a bunch of other cool stuff there. You can follow us @NoclipVideo on Twitter, I'm @dannyodwyer on Twitter, if you have any feedback on the show or ideas for guests, r/Noclip on Reddit and of course hit us up on Patreon.com/Noclip if you're interested in funding our work. The podcast is available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play, and a 1,000 other fuckin' things that I can't remember. We have our YouTube channel as well with the archive on it, we have a short URL for it now, YouTube.com/Noclippodcasts. Patrons get the show early for five bucks, thank you to all of our Patrons for funding our work and making it so we can do all of this stuff ad free. Thank you for your time and we'll see you next week.