When Papers Please was released on Steam, it quickly built a following of fans impressed with the surprisingly intense gameplay that brought moral qualms onto players struggling to feed their in-game families. Lucas Pope, the solo developer of the game, has been relatively quiet concerning his future projects – until today, when he made a very early build of his next game, Return of the Obra Dinn, available to everyone.
The game takes place in the year 1808, when a ship known as the Obra Dinn – thought to have been lost at sea some six years beforehand – floats back in to port. The ship had been set for the Orient loaded with 200 tons of trade, but never made it to the rendezvous point and was assumed lost at sea. Now returned with damaged sails and no visible crew, it’s up to the player, apparently hired as an insurance adjustor by the East India Trading Company, to uncover the myseteries of what happened to the crew of the Obra Dinn.
The game’s unique graphics were inspired by developer Lucas Pope’s nostalgia for his old Mac Plus. The 1-bit graphic architecture was common in those days, and it’s a style Pope aims to bring back in a first-person real-time environment. After testing out the demo, it strikes a fine balance for portraying details without cluttering up the screen with noise.
I plan to push it grittier and less cartoon-like than those old [Mac] games; the hard part will be keeping everything legible without it becoming an unreadable mess of dithered pixels. One interesting problem with 1-bit rendering is that it doesn’t scale well for images and it compresses to video like [uh, feces] – so YouTube stuff may look really poor. We’ll see how it goes.
So far the Return of the Obra Dinn looks artistically sound, though the demo doesn’t actually contain too much content. Still, it gives interested players a set of objectives to achieve, and some of the crew members’ fates can be determined within the demo before it finishes. There’s no way to save progress right now, which is a testament to how much of an early build this is. Likely, Pope is testing audience reactions to see if there’d be an interest in the game. So far, that answer is a resounding yes.
You can check out the demo here. It’s available for both Windows and Mac platforms, just like Papers Please. Despite the shortness of the demo itself, it’s a neat experience to see the environment of the game, which Pope will be hoping lands another indie hit at his shores.
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