Pope at the 2019 Game Developers Choice Awards
|Occupation||Video game developer|
Return of the Obra Dinn
Lucas Pope is an American-born video game developer, currently residing in Saitama, Japan. He is best known for independent, experimental games, notably for his 2013 game Papers, Please and his 2018 game Return of the Obra Dinn, both of which won the Seumas McNally Grand Prize as part of the Independent Games Festival, among other awards.
Pope grew up in Virginia. His father was a handyman which gave Pope access to a well-stocked array of parts and tools to mess about with, giving him interest in mechanical engineering. When he got to high school, he met a friend who was interested in robotics, and the two of them would take retail robot kits, take them apart, and reconnect them to their own computers to see how they could control this. Inspired to continue into the mechanical and robotics field, Pope attended Virginia Tech to study mechanical engineering. He found that the reality of what constituted the field was less desirable than what he wanted, but did take strong interest in the computer programming side of his coursework. During this period, he got involved with the Quake community and helped to develop mods for Quake and other games, principally working on the art used for the characters in the mods.
Video game development
Pope collaborated with other video game modders, including working on an officially-sanctioned mod by Sony Pictures to promote Anaconda. Pope and another set of modders decided to form their own studio, Ratloop, releasing the total Quake conversion mod Malice in 1997. Ratloop struggled with distribution through retail channels. While Walmart would help distribute their game, the chain required Ratloop to have 5,000 copies ready to ship within 24 hours at any time, requiring Ratloop to secure a publisher to help. After a first failed 3D game, Ratloop decided to develop a car repair game, Gearhead Garage. It was successful enough to be picked up by Activision for retail distribution, and gave Ratloop sufficient funds to try a number of experimental games, something which had interested Pope. But none of these were published, and facing competition from other studios, particularly from Eastern Europe, that could make games at substantially lower prices, Ratloop became dormant.
Pope left Ratloop and joined Realtime Associates in 2003. While at Ratloop, he was part of the team that developed the game Re-mission, a 2006 shooter whose goal was to encourage children with cancer to take their chemotherapy medication. Pope moved to Santa Monica and got a job with Naughty Dog in 2007. While Pope did not have a strong programming background, he felt that Naughty Dog had hired him because of his interest in developing the tools and interfaces needed to help in programming their games. Pope's strength in developing GUI tools augmented Naughty Dog's weakness at that time, with Pope stating that at the time of his hiring, "[t]here w[ere] no full-time GUI tools guy at all...Just command-line, back-end tools people." Pope had been hired about halfway through the development of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, and continued to work on the sequel Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. He credited the director of the sequel Bruce Straley for teaching him how to focus a game's design around core concepts to make the game fun, even if this meant sacrificing work that had already been completed. Former Naughty Dog President Christophe Balestra said of Pope's work on their design tools: "We were desperate to find a good tools programmer. He was part of the people who saved the day." Specifically, Pope developed GUI tools for the games' menus systems, save systems, level layout to assist level designers, and a system to organize sound and text files for various languages.
After Uncharted 2 had shipped in 2009, Naughty Dog was set to continue onto the next sequel, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, but Pope wanted to spend more time on his love of experimental games. In the interim between games, he and his wife Keiko Ishizaka spent two weeks to develop Mightier, a small game based around creating 3D levels from camera scans of a 2D drawing, and its title a play on the phrase "The pen is mightier than the sword". They submitted Mightier to the Independent Games Festival (IGF) where it was nominated for one of the awards, and which led to Valve Corporation contacting Pope about putting Mightier up on Steam as a free game. Both Pope and Ishizaka decided to quit their current jobs in 2010 and moved to Saitama, Japan, in close proximity to Ishizaka's family, and continue to pursue small independent game development.
Over the next few years, Pope and Ishizaka worked on a number of experimental games. One of their first was a mobile game called Hellsing's Fire, which won the 2011 IGF for Best Mobile Game. Another title was The Republia Times in 2012 which he had come up with originally as part of a Ludum Dare game jam. He helped to port Rocketbirds: Hardboiled Chicken, a game developed by members of Ratloop, to the PlayStation 3. This work required him and Ishizaka to temporarily live in Singapore for about a year with frequent trips to the United States. During these travels, Pope came upon an idea for a game involving a passport inspector, which served as the inspiration for Pope's breakout game, Papers, Please, released first in 2013. Papers, Please was critically praised, winning several awards including several Game Developers Choice and IGF awards, as well as a British Academy (BAFTA) Games Award for Best Simulation Game. For Pope and his wife, Papers, Please was financially successful; the game had sold about 1.8 million copies by August 2016, and through 2018, still sold enough that Pope was not worried about his financial security as he was developing his next game, Return of the Obra Dinn.
Obra Dinn's development had started shortly after Pope had completed all the work on Papers, Please, and took about four and a half years, principally due to Pope's expanded narrative. On its release in 2018, it received similar high praise as Papers, Please, and has been nominated and won for several awards from the Game Developers Choice, IGF, Peabody, and D.I.C.E. Awards, as well as named as one of the top games of 2018.
Pope states he plans to still develop games but wants to keep these at a small size; Obra Dinn was meant to be a small-scale game but ballooned out larger than he anticipated, and wants his next title to stay small in scope.
Pope and his wife Keiko Ishizaka live in Saitama, Japan with two children. Both had met while working at Realtime and continued their relationship while Pope was at Naughty Dog while she was at nearby 2K Games.
- Machkovech, Sam (January 12, 2019). "From Uncharted to Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope dishes on his illustrious game-dev career". arstechnica.com. Retrieved January 14, 2019.
- Wood, Austin (November 2, 2017). "Lucas Pope on life after Papers, Please". Eurogamer. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Cullen, Johnny (March 5, 2014). "Lucas Pope: "I'm kind of sick to death of Papers, Please"". VG247. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Edge Staff (January 20, 2014). "The Making Of: Papers, Please". Edge. Archived from the original on January 22, 2014.
- Lee, Dave (March 12, 2014). "Papers, Please: The 'boring' game that became a smash hit". BBC. Retrieved October 19, 2018.
- Pope, Eric (August 8, 2016). "Papers, Please at 3 Years". Twitter. Retrieved August 8, 2016.