|Release date(s)||Windows, OS X
August 8, 2013
February 12, 2014
December 12, 2014
Papers, Please is a puzzle video game developed by indie game developer Lucas Pope. It focuses on the emotional toll of working as an immigration officer, deciding whom to let in and whom to exclude from entering the fictional dystopian country of Arstotzka. The game was released on August 8, 2013, for Microsoft Windows and OS X,[dead link] for Linux on February 12, 2014, and for the iPad on December 12, 2014. A port for the PlayStation Vita was announced in August 2014.
The gameplay of Papers, Please focuses on the work life of an immigration inspector at a border checkpoint for the fictitious country of Arstotzka in the year 1982. The player inspects arrivals' documents and uses an array of tools to determine whether the papers are in order, for the purpose of keeping unwanted individuals, such as terrorists, wanted criminals, or smugglers, out of the country. When discrepancies are discovered, the player may interrogate the applicant about the discrepancy, and possibly demand further information, such as fingerprints or a full body scan. There are opportunities for the player to have the applicant arrested and the applicant may, at times, attempt to bribe the inspector. The player ultimately must stamp the individual's papers to accept or deny entry and then call for the next person in line; only at this point is the player told of any mistakes they may have made by way of a warning slip. Generally the player can make two mistakes without penalty, but subsequent mistakes will cost the player as a monetary demerit from their day's salaries. The player has a limited amount of real time, representing a full day shift at the checkpoint, to process as many arrivals as possible.
At the end of each in-game day, the player earns money based on how many people have been processed (5 credits for each individual processed) and bribes collected, less any penalties for mistakes, and then must decide on a simple budget to spend that money on rent, food, heat, and other necessities in low-class housing for themselves and their family. As relations between Arstotzka and nearby countries deteriorate, sometimes due to terrorist attacks, new sets of rules are gradually added, based on the game's story, such as denying citizens of specific countries or demanding current documentation from citizens. The player may be challenged with moral dilemmas as the game progresses; such as allowing the supposed spouse of an immigrant through despite lacking complete papers, at the risk of accepting a terrorist into the country. The game uses a mix of randomly generated entrants and special encounters. Randomly generated entrants are created using templates.
A mysterious anti-government organization known as EZIC also appears, with several of its members appearing at the checkpoint, giving the inspector orders to help bring down the government and establish a new one; the player can choose whether to help this organization or not.
Papers, Please was developed by Lucas Pope, a former developer for Naughty Dog, opting to leave the company after working on their Uncharted series to become an independent developer. Work on the game began in November 2012, using the Haxe programming language and the NME framework, both open-source. Originally planned as a six month project, the concept became larger than Pope initially anticipated, with the game completed in about nine months.
As an American living in Japan, Pope dealt with immigration in his international travels and thought the experience, which he describes as "tense", could be made into a fun game. Before release, Pope had set up a name submission form for the public, where people could submit their own names to be randomly assigned to scripted characters in the game. Papers, Please was submitted to Steam Greenlight on April 11, 2013, and was greenlit on May 1.
Pope has stated intentions to port the game to the iPad, and is considering a port to the PlayStation Vita though noted that with the handheld, there are several challenges related to the game's user interface that may have to be revamped. The Vita version was formally announced at the 2014 Gamescom convention in August 2014. With the iOS release, Apple required Pope to censor the full body scanner feature from the game, considering the aspect to be pornographic content. However Apple later commented that the rejection was due to a "misunderstanding" and will allow Pope to resubmit the uncensored game by including a "nudity option".
Papers, Please has been praised for the sense of immersion provided by the game mechanics, and the intense emotional reaction. CBC News' Jonathan Ore called Papers, Please a "nerve-racking sleuthing game with relentless pacing and dozens of compelling characters – all from a desk job". Simon Parkin writing for The New Yorker blog declared Papers, Please the top video game of 2013. He wrote: "Grim yet affecting, it’s a game that may change your attitude the next time you’re in line at the airport."
Some critics however reacted against the paperwork gameplay. Stephanie Bendixsen from the ABC's game review show Good Game found the game "tedious", commenting "while I found the issues that arose from the decisions you are forced to make quite interesting, I was just so bored that I just struggled to go from one day to the next. I was torn between wanting to find out more, and just wanting it all to stop."
Papers, Please won both the Seumas McNally Grand Prize, "Excellence in Narrative", and "Excellence in Design" awards at the 2014 Independent Games Festival Awards and nominated for the Nuovo Award. The title also won the "Innovation Award" and "Best Downloadable Game" at the 2014 Game Developers Choice Awards. The game won "Best Simulation Game" and nominated in the categories of "Best Game", "Game Design", and "Game Innovation" at the 2014 BAFTA Video Games Awards. As of March 2014, at the time of the BAFTA awards, Pope stated that the game has sold 500,000 copies.
- Beta testers of the game got the opportunity to have their names included in the final game as the names of people attempting to enter the country.
- There is an anachronism in the game. Some vaccine records include a record of an HPV vaccine even though the game takes place in 1982 and that vaccine wasn't developed until later.
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