A couple of weeks ago, I read in one of the gaming blog about a game that piqued my interest, a game about being an immigration officer. The game is called Papers, Please. At first glance, Papers, Please seems like your standard average and so-so game that doesn’t pack a punch, but I can tell you for sure, this game, though not great in graphics, will make you ponders about what makes you a human being.
In Papers, Please, you play as an immigration officer, whose job is to check the required documents and passport to determine whether someone will be granted or denied entry to the country. It is set in the border of the fictitious Eastern Bloc country of Arstotzka during the Cold War. Having just finished a 6-year war with its neighbour Kolechia, Arstotzka finally opens up its border to let people cross over.
Apparently you are lucky enough to have been selected by the lottery, and as a consequence you now have to work as the immigration officer. Over the course of the game, you will find various types of people. There are people who operates a prostitution ring, and also people who will keep bugging you until you let them in (hello, Jorji). Then there are people who simply wants to be reunited with their family, even though they do not have the appropriate documentation.
Of course, as a government officer, you have the responsibility to ensure that each and everyone is verified before you grant them an entry. The problem is, things aren’t always clear cut. You still have your family to be taken care of (your wife, your son, your mother-in-law, and your uncle), you still have bills to pay for, and you still have to buy food to feed your family.
Your salary is based on how many people you processed in a day, with a rate of 5 (five) credits for every person you processed before 6PM. To put things into perspective, I already finished the game and I can only do a maximum of 12 people in a full day. And sometimes the day ends early due to terrorist attack, or someone suddenly decides to jumps over the border.
No contraband allowed. Deny.
Suddenly, you’re contemplating of taking a bribe from someone, just because your son is sick, and you need money to buy medicine. At other times, you might feel sorry for the person who has to undergo a surgery for a life-threatening condition that can be treated only in Arstotzka. The government keeps putting more and more work without salary increase, and you’re probably thinking that you’re better off taking bribes.
You see, these are the things that truly make this game shine. This game puts you and your moral compass to the test, and literally opens up your mind to think that the world doesn’t operate in a black-and-white manner, and that things will go against you.
Okay, I’ll be honest with you. The gameplay is boring. It is boring as heck. But oddly enough, the game IS designed to be boring, because that is the point of the whole game. Are you doing your job as a robot, or are you still a human that can empathise to others?
As an immigration officer, you are given a limited space to work with. You have to drag the documents here and there to check whether a person is verified to enter Arstotzka. And as governments always do, they change rules at their will and give you a ton of additional things to check. As you progress in the game, you will have to check more and more documents. At one point in the game you have to check:
- Valid passport issuance
- Valid passport expiry date
- Valid entry permit, this includes checking the official government seal
- Valid work permit, this includes checking the official government seal
- Valid vaccination certificate, this includes checking whether the person has the correct vaccination for the virus
- Valid ID supplement, this includes checking the physical appearance, height and weight
And those are on top of:
- Cross-referencing each document to the official rule book, and the statement that the person give
- Checking whether the person is on the wanted list or not
- Checking whether there are other regulations not listed in the rule book, such as confiscating passport from certain countries
- Checking whether there are other people asking you favours, such as letting in their significant other
- And finally stamping the passport with either grant or deny (in which case, you will have to provide reason for denial)
If that sounds overwhelming, it is. A typical process will go along the line: a person come to the booth, handing you the papers. You check the validity of the passport, while taking statement from the person. Then you proceed to check the entry permit that the person has, cross-referencing it with the passport details, person’s statement, as well as the rule book.
You then match the physical description of the person and the ID supplement. If at any point there is a discrepancy, you will have to either ask for fingerprint, x-ray search, or detain the person. And after you’ve made the decision to grant or deny, here comes the next person.
Wait, did I let him in yesterday?
The game does provide a couple of upgrade option, to simplify the process and making it “easier”. However it is still a hard thing to do. Suddenly your day-to-day job becomes a habit and you can instantly recognise a false document without cross-referencing the rule book. Or suddenly, you find it odd that one person has it all in proper order, hoping that you didn’t get a warning from the ministry.
The game itself provides you with multiple endings. In total there are 20 (yes, twenty) different endings that you can try. It also provides you with a very useful way of “branching” your decisions, as your game is saved at the start of every day, just like most of the Japanese visual novel games. And yes, the game, although boring, is quite addictive.
In the graphics department, Papers, Please uses what we call an 8-bit graphics, or pixel-art type graphics. The colours are somewhat washed out and looks grim, and it’s very pixelated. Obviously this goes with the overall theme that the game is set in post-war era (their war with Kolechia), and even the colour palette will instantly reminds you that you’re working for an authoritative and communist government.
Pixelated graphics somehow made a prominent comeback in the last few years, especially in gaming. There are times where you’d think that they’re using these kind of graphics as a sign of lazyness, but there are also games that uses pixel-art graphics and it actually blends well with the game, just like Papers, Please.
And even though the graphics are pixelated, they’ve done a pretty damn good job of pixelating almost everything, yet still making every person that comes into your booth different. There are some characters who are instantly recognisable, and it is useful because at one point in the game you’ll need to check whether that person is on the wanted list or not. There’s also pixel-art nudity and violence involved in the game. You can turn off the nudity, but you can’t turn off the violence.
The theme music for the game is just perfect. First time you play the game, you’re greeted by somewhat grand-yet-dark theme, which by the way, will make you realise this game is going to be set in one of dictatorial countries. There aren’t a lot of music when you’re doing your daily job though, most of the time you’ll hear people muttering and nothing much, just like a real immigration officer.
There are games that provide you with a highly-addictive and fun mechanics. There are also games that give you a good memorable experience, just like Journey. Well, Papers, Please seems to mix them both and reinvent them. I think it is safe to say that this is the only boring game that is worth playing. It totally redefines what the term “boring game” is, and it gives you a sad-but-real memorable experience.
That’s the beauty of the game. You don’t instantly realise it, but the moment you stop playing it, sit back, and think of it, it makes you wonder how much our life actually is being played exactly like this very game. Glory to Arstotzka.
Papers, Please is available for PC and Mac through Steam, GOG, or Humble Store.
|Good Stuffs||Bad Things|
Images courtesy of Papers, Please Wikia
Over the last couple of weeks (months, you might say) there are a lot of things happening in the gaming ecosystem. Nintendo recently released Wii U, Sony will announce the next PlayStation, and Microsoft will follow suit with the next Xbox soon enough. As a gamer, there’s only one thing in my mind: console wars is about to start again.
Couple of years ago, those three major players in the gaming industry, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, released their then-latest generation consoles, Wii, PlayStation 3, and Xbox, respectively, and the console wars began. Fast forward to now, the same thing could be said again. And although there are some changes in their overall ecosystem, I personally feel that they’re actually messing around with us. Nintendo released Wii U with a very crippled online account capabilities, Sony and Microsoft, at the moment of this writing, are rumored to release consoles that tied the game into the consoles themselves, meaning no used games. That’s not to mention region locking that I believe will be included for your convenience at no cost.
The issue, however, is much more deeper than simply releasing consoles with these kinds of dumb moves. I’m not here to defend them, I still think what they have done (or will do) is extremely stupid, to say the least, however, I am trying to understand the reason why instead of going into nerd rage:
With Nintendo, they released a console with a locked account, meaning your account cannot be transferred to another Wii U in case your console stuff up and you have to buy another or replace it (technically, you can, however it’s a pain in the ass and not working as you would expect).
I believe this is implemented because simply, Nintendo wasn’t (and still not) in the front of online capabilities. They needed a system where people cannot simply login to another Wii U and redownload all titles they have, and then logout. Certainly not a well-thought solution, but it works for them and the publishers.
With the rumor on the next PlayStation Orbis and Xbox Durango, they supposedly will be released with more online sharing capabilities and games locked to their first consoles (they even had a patent for it), not to mention an always-on internet connection (they said for sharing, but piracy and control are more like it). Locking games to the first console they’re played means that you no longer have the ability to resell your games, nor you can simply borrow or lend one to one of your friends or family.
I believe this is implemented because of middleman distributors such as GameStop or EBGames actually sell pre-owned games (and consoles), which I loathe simply because the money will not go towards the publisher of the game, but to their very own pockets. Console game locking is indeed a dick move (GameStop is also against it because of gamers, but we know better), but hey, it works for them and the publishers as well.
The reason I despise their attempt (despite owning a Wii U myself) is that, like what my lecturer once said, it only addresses the symptoms, not the underlying issue on gaming as a whole. Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft have been working (and I suspect they will always do) with publishers to create games that are less and less about the gamers, and more and more about the publishers (and their money), and I think it’ll get worse year by year. The real issue is not gamers sharing or reselling games, that’s simply a consequence of the actual problem itself: pricing, availability, and replayability.
The price of games are too damn high
Let’s take on the first issue: pricing. Nowadays, new console games usually range from somewhere between $40 for the usual ones and up to more than $100 for the so-called limited or enthusiast editions. Of course over the years the price for said games will go down, but new games will always linger at that price, and that doesn’t include “Australian tax” that somehow makes a $40 game into a $70 game.
Granted, $40 is not that much. It’s roughly 4 to 5 times eating out (at least in Melbourne), and in developed countries, most people will have income far beyond that amount. However when you take into account the quality of the game itself, it becomes stupid. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mind paying for a good quality game, however they are very hard to come by these days. And paid reviews on most game sites do not help at all.
Then you realise that you can buy the so-called limited collector’s edition for $100+, where in fact these so-called collector’s edition is actually the same game, but with steroids such as giving you early access to super weapons and whatnot, basically throwing off the balance of the game. And then there’s the so-called DLC, monthly subscriptions on PSN and Xbox, and suddenly your actual cost of actually playing a game shoots up to $150+.
And that’s only for a single gamer playing a single game, not mentioning the quality of the game or replayability values. How do gamers recoup with these? One of the solutions are to resell the game they no longer play, be it for in-store credit, or via eBay. The other solution is to buy used games at a much cheaper price than a new one. Or simply borrow from one of your friend.
The publisher has not made this game available in your country
And we come across the second issue: availability, and the consequence of it, region locking. I believe most of us gamers can relate to this one. Region locking was cool in 2000, was not cool in 2006, and is very stupid in 2013. Seriously, with the world literally all connected through the internet, you still expect us to believe that we’re unable to play a US game simply because we live in UK?
Availability has always been the issue for gaming industry as a whole. There are an awful lot of incredible games released in Japan (Final Fantasy Type-0, Bravely Default, Professor Layton vs Ace Attorney, Tales of Vesperia PS3, Super Robot Wars, the newest Suikoden side-series, and the list goes on) but never, or will never set foot in the western world, simply because some publishers think that they won’t be profitable. Even big publishers (who definitely have some money to spare) like Square Enix chickened out.
Some gamers do import games from Japan. But if region locking will be enforced to the console itself, like what Wii or 3DS did, then I reckon we will probably have a set of consoles from Japan, one for US, and one for Europe. Or we simply won’t buy the console at all.
On a side note, kudos to XSEED that vows to bring lesser known titles and hidden gems from Japan to US (and hopefully Europe market as well).
Estimated time to finish this game: 10 hours
There is a reason why people are quite
hostile vocal about used games: replayability. If a game has been played and finished, there are no more reason to go back to play the game except for nostalgia. This is why games nowadays have a huge freaking list of in-game collectibles to collect, or a thousand sidequests. I’m not complaining against multiple sidequests, but again, once you are done, 100% done with everything, you don’t have any reason to play the game again. And of course you won’t replay the game from the start simply to do it all over again.
Hence over the last 2 or 3 years, publishers have been adding more and more content to provide a replayability value for their gamers, to entice their gamers to play the game again (and providing more money to them, I guess). Sadly though, they are now realising that this strategy works really well that most of the games nowadays can be finished in under 40 hours of play.
One of the best games of my times, Suikoden 2, took roughly 60 hours to finish the game. There were no post-game content, there were no DLC, graphics were okay, and it’s not a perfect game (bugs and typos). And yet, I found myself replaying that game for 3 or 4 times, and people ARE still searching for it. There are also games such as sports or dance games that doesn’t have any story in it (or even silly story), but has a lot of replayability value without having to have additional content.
You see publishers, you either make a game so good it’s worth replaying for, make a game that focuses on replayability, both of which will benefit you in the long run in terms of marketing, or you can create a so-so games with a lot of useless DLC, and milk the series as much as you can, which will rake you money but smear your name (looking at you Ubisoft and Square Enix).
DLC: A double-edged solution
After all that rant, what is the solution then? Well, one of the solution is right in front of their face, to be completely honest. Downloadable content. As much as I don’t like DLC, I realise that it is actually one of the ways to solve this console-region-game-locking-thing problem.
DLC, when done right will actually made the whole gaming industry better. For starters, the actual pricing of the game can be toned down if the DLC development is actually included during the development of the game itself. DLC is downloadable, making it available will be simpler compared to organising the entire supply chain. And of course DLC will add replayability value.
The issue with the current state of DLC is that, publishers are using it as a way to milk the customer out of their money. DLCs are being made at the intention for limiting the actual game content, and forcing the gamers to spend more money to unlock contents. And don’t get me started on on-disc DLC. Many game publishers are missing out the benefits (not profits, mind you) of having DLC as a way to communicate and provide better experience for their gamers. There are of course DLCs that have been done right (GTA IV comes to mind), but it’s quite rare.
Or they could simply come back to making great games.