The 15th annual British Academy Games Awards took place on a rather drizzly Thursday evening at the Queen Elizabeth Hall of the Southbank Centre in London last week. With it came the best of the videogame industry to celebrate and praise the work of their colleagues, and get a little tipsy in the process. Whilst God of War was the big winner of the night, claiming five wins including Best Game, developer Lucas Pope’s nautical detective game Return of the Obra Dinn also bagged two awards for Best Game Design and Artistic Achievement. Wisely staying away from the red carpet and the rain but with limited time, I caught up with Lucas backstage at the BAFTAs following his triumphs to find out what the designer of not only Obra Dinn but also the highly acclaimed Papers, Please thinks makes a great game, and where he might be taking his next no doubt award-winning venture…
Laura Cress: Lucas, congrats on your two BAFTAs…although obviously nothing compares to your recent Aggie Award win?!
Lucas Pope: Oh thank you! I was actually very proud of that Aggies win. I didn’t design and create Obra Dinn as an adventure game – but when it was done I looked back and said, “oh, of course it’s an adventure game!” You know, I grew up playing those games, Indiana Jones and stuff like that, so it was a real honour, actually, to win.
Laura: It was quite an emotional acceptance speech you gave for your first BAFTA [Lucas referenced his late father, who didn’t live to see Obra Dinn’s release]. What does it mean to you to win these awards?
Lucas: Well, it’s a chance to get up on stage and give a speech, so that’s one thing! I’m just very happy. Making games is not something that’s easy to support somebody doing. And I generally make games for myself, but to have this kind of validation that what you’re doing is OK and is working out – it’s pretty fantastic, especially as a solo developer. I’m usually surrounded by people who really don’t care about my games so much, which is actually good for me – my family care about me, not necessarily my games. So, to win something like a BAFTA…well it’s pretty fucking awesome obviously – but also, that kind of validation…who’s going to complain about that?!
Laura: Were you worried after making Papers, Please about the amount of hype around it and how you were ever going to follow that up?
Lucas: Oh yeah, absolutely! And that’s one of the reasons why Obra Dinn took so long. It took me a long time to get to the point where I could say “OK, I like this game I’m making and I can follow up from Papers, Please.” But actually I got beyond that point, and because I had kids I realized, “well, this game doesn’t define me. Even if this game is terrible I can still enjoy my life with my kids and that there’s things about living that are not just all wrapped up in this one game.” And so then I got past that point…after maybe another year I should point out; not quite fast enough!
Laura: How long did it take you to get that iconic “three fates” sound down in Obra Dinn – did it happen straight away or were there different variations?
Lucas: I got it right away. It’s a variation on the main theme of the game and I just threw it right in there basically, and it ended up working really well. Papers, Please had this “printer feedback” when you failed which also ended up being very important for the flow of the game, and I wanted something like that again, and it kinda just came out easily.
Laura: Are there any games at the moment that you’ve been playing that you’re enjoying or that have inspired you?
Lucas: I play a lot of Mario Kart with my kids. I don’t know if it inspires me, but it’s a lot of fun! I had a huge stack of games that were building up over the years as I was making Obra Dinn, and when it finished I tried to buzz through all of them. I really enjoyed [What Remains of] Edith Finch. Actually the game that really stuck with me was SUPERHOT, which came out a long time ago and I never really got a chance to play it. When I finally played through it, I envisioned it as the kind of action game that I would want to make. There’s a lot of things about it that were really appealing to me so that’s one that sticks out to me.
Laura: You’ve won two awards here, so you’re obviously a bit of an expert now at all of this – what makes a great game in your mind?
Lucas: Oh Jesus…well that’s gonna cost ya! I first think about what kind of game I’d like to play. I know myself best so I like to think I can make a game that I would enjoy, so that’s where I start every time. https://www.youtube.com/embed/X1igyUzm6xg
Laura: Any inklings of your next game yet?
Lucas: No, I’m gonna take a bit of a rest, I think, and then figure out what I’m doing next. I have a lot of ideas but nothing is screaming out loud enough that I would give up my slight hiatus! If you look at Obra Dinn you’ll see flavours of Papers, Please in it, sort of a sense of that game, and if you look at my next game you’ll see a sense of Papers, Please and Obra Dinn in it.
Laura: Thank you for your time and congratulations again on your win!
Lucas: Thank you!