Noclip Podcast #07 – Lucas Pope (Papers Please / Return of the Obra Dinn)
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Noclip Podcast #07 – Lucas Pope (Papers Please / Return of the Obra Dinn)

(relaxing music) – [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. (laughs) – [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, 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 or 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.
– (laughs) 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. 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. (laughs) – [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. – Right.
– 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? – Yeah.
– 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. (laughs) 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 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 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, 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. (relaxing music)


  • Gil Nussbaum

    Been waiting for this podcast!
    amazing, thank you guys!

    Been working on a podcast myself(even did an episode about stuff like ablegamers before you did it 😉 ) but it's in Hebrew
    still, I take a lot of inspiration from what you do, keep these things running :)!

  • the breadnought

    my favourite part in the obra dinn was when the gunners were getting attacked by a tentacle in the gun deck and the cannon was accidentally pointed at two characters but in the next scene when the cannon blasted, you could only see one person's upper body vaporized. Where did the other guy go? listen to the audio again and you'll hear a scream that becomes faint pretty quickly then I realized, a person without a head can't scream.

  • Facundo Sosa

    First podcast I've listened to, and is an interview to Lucas Pope.

    When I first played Obra Dinn, I thought the voice acting was AMAZING. I'm Argentinian, studying to become an English teacher, so I must attend to phonetics and phonology classes, and we study different English accents from different locations, and I remember saying (more than once) "This can't be someone important, he's a shipman, he's got such a cockney accent".

    Great interview, I loved it.

  • WelshyBloke

    Danny I understand why you have a separate podcast channel but I really do think your views would increase dramatically if you posted these on your main channel. They're great pieces of work and it saddens me they're going unnoticed by a lot of people that would like to hear them.

  • drgeppo

    Ok, so…I am very much looking forward this game (when it will make its way to either PS4 or linux) but now I'm very worried that I'll have big problems figuring out who is who, since English is not my mother tongue. Opinions?

  • BackwardsCombatable

    I didn't know this podcast existed until stumbling upon it from a twitter post, Danny. Please put it on the main channel.

  • Will Ko

    This was amazing. Please do more designer interviews! (suggestion: would love to hear from the Camp Santo crew, Chris Avellone or Jason Rohrer)

  • Black Marvel

    I love it when I think of a question and the interviewer asks it. Great interview. Can't wait for Pope's next game.

  • JISA

    When I finished (Return of the Obra Dinn) I checked the credits to see how many people did it. When I saw that one person did everything including graphics, soundtracks and programming, I was shocked.
    Did lucas literally created everything or he hired some technical people to do his game and then payed them ?

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