Lucas Pope has released a very early development build of his latest project, Return of the Obra Dinn. While the website warns that there’s “not much content”, the build does a great job of conveying the game’s wonderful atmosphere and introducing a few of the key concepts behind the title. Obra Dinn is the name of the merchant ship on which your adventure takes place. Lost on route to the Orient in 1802, the ship has returned to port four years later, and you’ve been sent to investigate as an insurance adjustor for the East India Company’s London Office. Figuring out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn appears to be the central premise for the game, but how you accomplish that task is anything but ordinary.
Pope was the creator of the surprise hit Papers, Please, which made the seemingly mundane job of immigration inspector feel exciting and personal. It’s great to see him take that unique outlook into his next game, but with such wildly different themes, mechanics, and audiovisuals (which he describes in great detail in his fantastic TIGForums DevLog). Can’t wait for more.
Set on the border of the fictional communist country of Arstotzka, Papers, Please puts you in the shoes of an Arstotzkan immigration inspector, approving and denying entry to a long line of hapless travelers each day. This entails shuffling documents around with your mouse and highlighting discrepancies in them, such as mismatched passport information or photo identification. With each passing day, your time limit remains more or less set, but the number of possible discrepancies you need to be aware of increases, ramping up the challenge.
This is a lot more exciting than it sounds, since your entire family is counting on your paycheck and a good day on the job will barely allow you to cover the necessities of living. Even when you’re 99% sure that someone has the right papers, it’s always a tense moment as they walk out the door and you listen for the familiar click-clack of a costly citation paper being printed out. But what elevates Papers, Please above a game jam novelty (far above) is that there’s a lot more going on than what takes place in your cramped inspector’s booth – politics, violence, moral ambiguities, and even humor pass through along with the people, and as you keep playing you start to realize how much power you have in your little role. It’s not long before your decisions begin to extend beyond your family’s sustenance (although that remains paramount).
It’s a bizarre premise for a video game, but it works very well, thanks to some great design on the part of creator Lucas Pope. The myriad details and keen audiovisuals bring the small booth of the immigration inspector to life, and from behind the dull counter top I felt more like a spy than in most of the spy-themed action titles I’ve played. Glory to Arstotzka(?)!