What if there was no such thing as freedom of the press? What would you do if your family was held hostage by a man called “The Great and Honorable Leader” (a dictator who is anything but), and to keep them alive, you had to spread propaganda as widely as possible? The Republia Times emulates these scenarios — all you need to do is play to find out what happens next.
The Republia Times is a simply designed Flash game that showcases the warped nature of media in a dictator-led society. At the start of the game you are named editor-in-chief of Republia’s most important newspaper, and are under orders from “The Great and Honorable Leader” to only publish articles representing the government and Republia in a positive light. The government holds your family hostage “as a precaution against influence,” and uses your family’s well-being as incentive to do as they say.
Players start as oppressed journalists forced to publish propaganda, progress through the game’s exciting twist, and are finally forced into accepting an inevitable fate. We were fortunate to get in touch with independent game developer Lucas Pope, who created the game in under 48 hours at the Ludum Dare game-making competition, to find out more about what went into the creation of The Republia Times.
What motivates you to make games for social impact?
Honestly, I don’t really set out to make a social impact with my games. The subject matter is something that interests me and I find it easier to construct a narrative using those building blocks. For Republia Times in particular, the rigid nature of a communist bureaucracy lends itself well to the game mechanics.
What tools were used to make The Republia Times?
I used Photoshop for art, Audacity and a Motif synth for sound, and TextMate for programming. The game is built on Flixel, a popular Flash library for low-resolution games.
What’s your background in making games?
I’ve been making games for most of my life. I started professionally in 1998 when a group of friends and I created a small game company in Virginia. Since then I’ve worked at a few larger studios. I enjoyed my time at big companies but working on other people’s games doesn’t give me the same satisfaction. I’m currently working independently.
What were the challenges of making this game in just 48 hours in Ludum Dare?
The biggest challenge was getting enough food and sleep. I really enjoyed the pressure but it takes a lot of concentration. I’ve only made two 48-hour games and I’d say I got lucky both times. The key for me was finding a solid, simple concept quickly. My basic strategy for any game is to have nearly the entire thing mapped out in my head very early. If I can get to that point quickly then the actual execution is a lot of fun and goes quickly.
The Republia Times was a little tricky because even after I had the concept worked out, I needed to write a lot of topical, fictional headline text. Being creative with newspaper copy under severe time pressure is a skill I hadn’t exercised.
Were there things that had to be cut, or more features you wanted to implement?
I had originally envisioned many more stats for the player’s performance. The final game has only Readership and Loyalty but I started with a few more that I can’t even remember now. I got a little ways into implementing more stats but soon realized that it would require more descriptive article text. It’s hard to encode multiple discrete topics clearly in just a few lines of text. I cut it down to just specifying Loyal/Disloyal and Interesting/Uninteresting for each article. That made it a lot clearer with the nice side-effect of removing any conscious concept of stats.
There’s also a few typos in the text that I regret not catching.
Papers Please and The Republia Times both take place in the same universe and have similar Orwellian themes/tones. Where do you draw inspiration for the style and worlds created in these games?
I enjoyed 1984 when I read it so I’d say that’s been a pretty big influence. As mentioned a few answers up, the setting just happens to work well with the kinds of game mechanics that I enjoy. Strict rules, external pressure, and oppressive bureaucracy all have direct effects on both what the player is doing from moment to moment and what their overall goals are.
Is there a game for social impact you want to design? What is it and why?
My mind is completely occupied by my current project, so I’d say no, not at the moment.
What do you think of the current state of games for social impact?
Game development is more accessible than ever and I’m happy to see gaming grow as a medium. Games are a pretty critical way to communicate with people these days so it’s the perfect place to deliver a social message.
Edited by Noalee Harel, Games For Change intern.