White Paper Games is a developer that won't shy away from discomforting topics. Their first title, Ether One
, tells the story of a 69-year-old patient's struggle with dementia. Players who wanted to focus purely on the story without the hindrance of puzzles could do just that, but players who took the time to solve the game's various challenges were tasked with restoring the memories of the patient's important life-changing events in an attempt to help her to validate her life. All of the gameplay mechanics were designed around the symptoms of dementia and it's a subject with which every member of the six-person development team had experience, turning the title into a deeply personal affair.
For their second title, things have taken a political turn. The Occupation
is an adventure title that puts players in the role of a whistleblowing journalist in 1980's north-west England. A terrorist attack has killed 23 people. The result of this is the creation of the controversial and oppressive The Union Act. The date is October 24th, 1987, the day that the Act is due to be ratified. The player-character journalist has four hours to interview officials at a company that goes by the name of Bowman Carson, as well as to make his own investigations into the Act. The results of this will determine the outcome of the act and, potentially, the future of Britain.
The Manchester-based team wanted to draw on their personal experiences once again for The Occupation
. Alongside the likely influence of current political events, 1980s Manchester had its own issues that are evident in the game's setting. Under the influence of Thatcher, the city's industries and the economy went into decline, unemployment was rife and many buildings were closed to the public. The setting for this title is one such building. As players enter the building they're met with a gallery of paintings with disused coin-fed machines aimed at tourists. In another room is a full library of books, but they're not for public consumption either. Instead, the government has converted the building into offices and storage facilities for the Act.
The events of the game are fictional but have real-life references. The Union Act, for example, is based on the USA PATRIOT Act that enhanced the abilities of America's domestic security services to prevent future acts of terrorism. The act has become shrouded in controversy since it was passed in 2001, mainly due to people being unlawfully detained and unrestricted monitoring of America's citizens. At the start of the game, the actual contents and purpose of The Union Act is unknown. Not only can the journalist seek out those details and leak them to the British public, he has the ability to tear apart the Act itself if the player disagrees with its contents. Alternatively, he can do nothing and leave the Act unaltered.
Like Ether One
, players can choose to experience as much of the title as they please. The events of the game are dictated by the player's actions in real time. After passing through security, the journalist is signed into the building and assigned a security key card that only allows access to certain parts of the building. He's also given an itinerary of all of his appointments. Players can choose to toe the line, attend all of those meetings as scheduled and finish the game that way. Alternatively, they can attempt to gain access to other areas of the building to gather evidence to unsettle those officials. They might choose not to attend the meetings at all. I guess if they really wanted to do so, they could also just stare at the gallery's paintings for four hours and do absolutely nothing.
Minor interactions, those that may not even be immediately obvious, also promise to have hidden impacts. Players can use coins to buy packets of cigarettes or cups of coffee from a vending machine. Windows can be opened and closed to alter the temperature of a room. Fuses can be turned on or off in different parts of the building. While the effect of some of these actions wasn't immediately apparent, in others they provided distractions for the patrolling security guards, or allowed access to some areas of the building that had initially been blocked off. Something as simple as how you leave a room, in one case by a vent or by a maintenance ladder, affected where in the building you could access next.
How those interactions are performed also affects the story. When opening a door, you could push the door open, step in and swing the door shut behind you. This means a quick entry into a room but it's one that is loud and could attract the attention of security guards. Alternatively, you can grasp the door handle, slowly open the door a little, peek around it to check that the room's clear, enter the room and slowly close the door behind you. It's safer but nowhere near as quick.The Occupation
really does offer the player the chance to have as much or as little an impact as they wish. It's a story that will be told purely according to player action, meaning that no two people are likely to ever have the same experience. Right now, the title is only confirmed for PC but White Paper Games has expressed their desire to bring the game to consoles like Xbox One at a later date. Will you toe the line or will you blow the whistle?