Archive for the ‘return of the obra dinn’ Category

War Stories: Lucas Pope and what almost sunk Return of the Obra Dinn

May 21st, 2019

Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

Lucas Pope is an important name in modern gaming—not only did he help bring us Uncharted and Uncharted 2, but he's also responsible for the indie smash hit Papers, Please, which managed to pack a surprising amount of storytelling and emotion into what is effectively a document stamping simulator.

But we're particularly fond of Pope's 2018 murder mystery Return of the Obra Dinn, where players must figure out what happened to all 60 souls aboard a ship that has turned up in port bereft of life (think sort of a mash-up of Clue and Event Horizon). The game's low-fi monochrome graphical style is meant to evoke 80s- and 90s-era Macintosh adventure games, and it works stunningly well—the stark polygonal shapes and 1-bit stipple-shading are instantly evocative of the era. (For me, firing up Obra Dinn triggers powerful memories of hours spent at my high school computer lab, eschewing real work to play a seemingly endless pile of HyperCard adventures. Though I fought on the side of the IBMs in the Great BBS Platform Wars of the early 90s, I just couldn't keep my paws off of those damn Macs.)

In Obra Dinn, players use a small device on or near each of the ship's 60 bodies to show them a brief moment in time where that person died, and the player must then make sure that the means of that person's death is properly recorded in a logbook. It's a mechanism that mixes together elements of logic puzzles and text adventures, and while Pope put a lot of time and thought into the pick-a-word sentence builder and the various semantic structures players might use to frame their murder-theories ("Tom knifed Bob" and "Tom stabbed Bob" and "Tom cut Bob" all have to be interpreted by the game as holding the same underlying meaning), there was one monster he wasn't prepared to face: localization.

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From Uncharted to Obra Dinn: Lucas Pope dishes on his illustrious game-dev career

January 12th, 2019
L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game <em>Papers, Please</em>; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope's 2018 game <em>Return of the Obra Dinn</em>.

Enlarge / L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game Papers, Please; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope's 2018 game Return of the Obra Dinn. (credit: Sam Machkovech / Aurich Lawson)

SAITAMA, Japan—Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest video game from designer, programmer, artist, writer, and musician Lucas Pope, revolves around a massive cast of characters. Of course, there is one minor detail—they're all presumed dead.

In the game, players must sort through the histories and fates of dozens of men, women, and children by working as an insurance adjuster. There's a cursed cargo ship and magic, yes, but also a giant log book, a glossary, and a massive list of names to account for and cross-reference.

If you didn't know Pope's pedigree—as one of the best independent game makers in the world, and the one-man shop responsible for Ars Technica's 2013 Game of the Year Papers, Please—you might think that premise sounds humdrum. But as in his other games, Pope somehow turns the humdrum into something incredible. Upon first boot, the goal can feel intimidating. Every crew member fills the pages of your virtual book, and the task of keeping them straight is enough to set an anxious player on edge.

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