It's not that there are too many indie games; it's that there aren't enough hours in a day to play all of them. The Joystiq Indie Pitch curates the best indies to play now and watch out for in the future.
What's your game called and what's it about?
The game is called Papers, Please and it follows the daily grind of an immigration inspector working in a fictional communist country in the early 1980s. The gameplay is based around detecting discrepancies in the documents provided by entrants. Using the limited resources provided by the Ministry of Admission, you have to sort spies, terrorists, smugglers and criminals from the flow of hopeful immigrants.
What inspired you to make Papers, Please?
I was inspired originally by my trips through airport immigration in the last few years. In general I try to keep an eye out for new game ideas and figured that whatever rigamarole the immigration inspector was doing behind their desk might be fun. Once that idea started to grow, I noticed other aspects of the concept that could be fun. Instead of playing the cool spy protagonist that slips through a checkpoint unsuspected, you can be the hard-ass inspector that casts their skeptical eye at every grandmother trodding through. That sort of role reversal sounded fun to me and I thought others might like it, too.
What's the coolest aspect of Papers, Please?
I personally enjoy the core mechanic of comparing documents. It sounds kinda lame when describing it, but the need to quickly correlate all the little pieces of information given to you for each immigrant fulfills some weird complex of mine.
Is there a message you want players to walk away with after playing Papers, Please?
The game makes a point that being an immigration inspector is hard. Balancing your job with your moral responsibilities and your family's needs can be difficult, even for the good guy. That provides a nice basis for the story but my goal isn't to impart a deep message. As long as people enjoy the game I'm happy.
How was it dealing with Steam and Greenlight? Pretty smooth, it seems?
Greenlight went unexpectedly well for Papers, Please. In my post-hoc analysis, I think the credit goes to how the game can be roleplayed. You start denying people with a fake Russian accent and suddenly it's pretty fun. The big vote spikes on Greenlight correlate almost exactly with when some popular YouTuber did a funny preview/let's play of the beta.
Is Cart Life an inspiration for Papers, Please at all?
There's been a lot of comparisons between the two but I'm slightly ashamed to say that I haven't played Cart Life yet. One of the downsides of making a game by yourself is the amount of work required. I've missed out on a lot of great games in the last year that I'm hoping to catch up on when this project finishes.
Let's hear some more about this Endless Mode – what is it and why did you add it to Papers, Please?
My original vision for the game was much more randomized than how it ended up. At some point I decided I wanted tighter control over the progression and story elements. A fully randomized mode works better once the story stuff is taken care of and players are sure that they want more. Endless mode is my attempt to provide that. Story mode will have multiple endings and one of those will unlock endless mode. Sort of a "keep doing this job forever" thing.
Why develop independently, rather than work for an established company?
The biggest advantage for me is that I can work on my own projects. I've enjoyed my time at big, established companies, but there just isn't the same satisfaction from making other people's games. It also helps that I enjoy doing the design, art, programming, music and sound. At a bigger company there's way less opportunity to handle that many tasks. For smaller, more personal games it means that when I get tired of coding I can switch over to the art or music and get a break while still making progress.
Do you see yourself as part of a larger indie movement?
For me, online distribution and the resources available to small developers makes it less of an indie movement and more of a "how games are made and sold these days." Back in the early 80s there were also lots of small one- or two-person teams creating great games with limited resources, so in that sense I don't think much has changed. There were a few years in the 90s when you had to be huge to succeed, but that's mostly behind us now.
Sell Papers, Please in one sentence:
Papers, Please: A Dystopian Document Thriller.
Ask me again in six months.
Papers, Please got the Greenlight from Steam for PC and Mac, and while there's no official release date yet, the bribes just might add up in time for a summer launch.