The latest project from Lucas Pope, indie creator of the acclaimed Papers, Please, will be trading in Eastern European paperwork for salty sea air, creaking decks and nautical mystery in the upcoming Return of the Obra Dinn.
The Obra Dinn is a merchant sailing ship that set out from London in 1802, bound for the Orient and carrying a cargo of trade goods. When it failed to arrive at the Cape of Good Hope six months later it was declared lost at sea, thought to be just one of all too many casualties the East India Company suffered at the hands of pirates or rough seas. Until, that is, on the 14th of October 1808, it finally drifted into port, battered and apparently abandoned, the remains of its crew still lying where they fell. The player, as the East India Company's investigator, has to board the ship and uncover what happened.
It might sound like just another spooky abandoned locale, but the game is shaping up to be a good bit more than that. For one thing, it uses an intriguing core mechanic: a pocket watch that can take you back in time to the very moment of a person's death. Just that exact moment, mind you, and not for long, but long enough to help you start putting together the pieces of the Obra Dinn's fate. Pope promises that it won’t follow the “collect items and look for clues structure," and indeed the brief demo available looks to be anything but typical. Flitting from moment to moment, inspecting frozen tableaux that aren't always what they seem, there's a powerful sense of something dark and evil. Your leisurely perusal of them clearly belies the frantic struggle that played out in the ship's last moments.
Flamboyantly atypical, too, are the graphics. Pope has a soft spot for the Mac Plus and its 1-bit graphics, so despite being in free-roaming 3D, the visuals are both low-res and monochrome. No colours, no shades of grey, just black and white. There's a certain amount of stippling to indicate shading, but otherwise it's reminiscent of very early 3D games, such as the original Elite or Driller. It also feels a little like an animated pen-and-ink drawing (albeit one drawn by an artist with an obsession for straight lines), which is appropriate to the setting. The production is rounded off with silent movie-style interstitial cards subtitling the limited dialogue and sparsely-used but stirring orchestral music.
Return of the Obra Dinn will be available for Windows, Mac and possibly Linux, but there's no word yet on a release date. In the meantime, you can check out the 15-minute demo first hand.