Discussing First-Person Investigative Thriller Game The Occupation with White Paper Games

Alessio Palumbo

For some reason, the 'thriller' genre has been historically way less successful in games than in movies or TV series, particularly when we consider the triple-A market.

Luckily independent developers have been trying to fill this void in recent years, and a new game called The Occupation is about to be released by UK studio White Paper Games.

In The Occupation, you'll play as a British journalist in the 1980s who's rushing (there's a fixed time and events happen in real time) to gather evidence and potentially unravel a conspiracy. With the game's launch date set for March 5th on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, we chatted with the folks at  White Paper Games to learn more of this promising title.

Why did you set on that particular period of time for The Occupation?

Pete Bottomley (Co-Founder and Designer): There was no larger reason other than we like focusing our narrative beats around specific periods of time and in relatable places. Our previous game (Ether One), was based in a 1940’s fictional Cornwall called Pinwheel on May Day. The Occupation is 1987 in the fictional Manchester/Liverpool-based city of Turing on October 24th. The UK around that period had really great chunky technology, pop music and large architectural buildings. Once you figure out your setting, you can build your gameplay and narrative around that central pillar. We believe it helps ground the story and make the world feel like a believable choice. We definitely start with world and themes first then design gameplay around that. It’s, of course, an iterative, back and forth process, but that approach seems to work best for us.

Can you describe the structure of the game? As far as I understand, there's a ticking clock of four real-time hours on the protagonist as she investigates the matter. Does that mean the game lasts four hours for one playthrough and afterward relies on a strong replayability factor?

Pete: The Occupation is designed to be a real-time investigative thriller however we’re not necessarily designing for a replayability factor. There’s lots of content in the game and if you’re the type of player that likes to re-visit environments and pull apart all the different narrative threads, that content is definitely there for you. I’m personally the type of player that plays through a narrative-driven experience once and I get that specific story. It’s completely up to your play style. The game is structured so that it provides 4 hours of real-time play whilst you’re fighting the clock to find evidence, but there are also none timed environments there to either break the pace of gameplay a little or for tutorialisation reasons. Whilst we’re playing through the game as a team, it’s generally taking us around 6.5 hours.

The Occupation is a game that's highly driven by the AI. How did you manage to create a convincing AI system, which is something that so many games (even triple-A ones) struggle with to this day?

Kaylee Ellen Urwin (AI Systems Programmer) - The AI in The Occupation are designed to be governed by their own needs and desires. This means that their behaviour will differ according to how tired, stressed, thirsty or even suspicious they are. In order to preserve the integrity of these behaviours, we allow their encounters in the world to affect their mood and decision making. We believe that this creates something that looks and feels very organic. Some systems are in place to ensure that there are opportunities for player encounters, but these systems are only activated when certain criteria are met. We hope that players have interesting encounters with our main characters while being given ample opportunity to complete their objectives. Our aim is to make the world feel alive, tense and even funny at times!

How many endings will be in the final game? Will they be radically different or just small variations?

Pete: The game’s outcome is a reflection of the steps the player took through the game. I think when playing games, you always want the outcomes to reflect your approach and we’re massively inspired by how games such as Dishonored can tackle that. Our hope is that the ending you experience feels like it reflects their approach and actions.

Will there be any sort of DLC post-launch?

Pete: We’d love to continue to support The Occupation as there’s loads we can do with the world and the different narrative threads. We’ve spent quite a lot of time building up the game's systems and frameworks and we have the opportunity to make some interesting content. I think we need to see how The Occupation is received and if people want more content, we’d love to deliver it!

The game is listed on the Xbox One X Enhanced page as featuring 4K HDR. Can you confirm the technical specifications of this release (rendering resolution, frame rate, graphics settings etc.)?

Dave: The game will output at 4K, and some areas may have a higher frame rate than the base game. You might be poking through people’s emails in The Occupation, and the higher resolution output is especially useful when you’re looking at things like text on the screen, trying to piece together what is happening in the world.

On a similar note, can you share the technical details of the PS4 Pro enhancements planned?

Dave: Like the Xbox One X, the PS4 Pro version will output at 4K resolution.

As developers, have you looked into new technologies such as NVIDIA's implementation of real-time raytracing (RTX) and their deep learning super-sampling (DLSS)? What do you think of them?

James Henry Burton (Environment Artist): We’re always keeping up with the latest technology and trying to figure out ways in which we can implement them in our projects, and recent developments with DLSS and RTX are super exciting. We’ll certainly be looking at them for future projects, especially as they become more accessible with Unreal Engine.

Given that you're using Unreal Engine technology, are you considering a port for the Nintendo Switch?

Pete: We’d love to release The Occupation on Switch. Lots of people have been asking for it and a lot of our developer friends have experienced success on the platform so it would be great fun to do.

What do you think about the recent debut of the Epic Games Store? Any chance of The Occupation making it over there, given that there would be no royalty fee on the EGS?

Pete: Maybe! 🙂

Would you like to expand your studio a bit in the future, if this game is successful enough?

Pete: Absolutely! We have big ambitions for the studio and we invest heavily in skills development and innovation. The good thing about being a small team is that we don’t need as large scale successes as the larger studios. That being said, we live or die on game sales so a bad game is hard to come back from. We believe that we’re creating interesting experiences that will resonate with people. We put everything we have into our games and we are designing for a specific type of player in mind. Our games aren’t for everyone, but people dive deep into the worlds we create and it’s incredible to share players’ experiences.

Thank you for your time.

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