If you just came here to play one of the cooler story mystery games in recent memory, head over to game developer Lucas Pope’s website ASAP to download the first public demo of his new game . Return of the Obra Dinnfree on Windows and OS X.
We’ve been eagerly anticipating a chance to try the game again after enjoying the 15-minute demo at last month’s Game Developers Conference. Pope’s reputation as a game maker advances him, thanks to his one-two punch with the touch screen masterpiece Helsing’s fire and Ars’ pick for the 2013 Game of the Year Papers, please. Still, we had no idea what to expect, especially from a new game that’s graphically so rudimentary it’s the lo-fi Papers, please resemble a piece of classical art by comparison.
“A lot of the work in making this game has been so that when a player sits down, they don’t immediately think, ‘Why is this game in one bit?'” Pope told Ars during a GDC interview. “‘I can’t fucking see a thing. Just give me more colors so I can see what’s going on. I don’t care about the stupid art style.'”
However, Pope pulled it off – and in stunning fashion. Obra DinnThe game’s demo begins with players pulling a rowboat to an abandoned ship, where they board and walk around in search of treasure. The only thing on the ship, it turns out, is a shabby old pocket watch, but before stepping off the ship, players realize the watch can be used to discover ghost skeletons – and re-enact the moment when each person died. a century earlier.
Each flashback vignette plays out a 30-second recorded conversation – usually involving a combination of telling information and a death implement, such as a gunshot – which is always followed by a frozen moment where players can walk around and see what happened on the moment of someone’s death. Since these 3D, first-person-walking scenes are rendered in a grim fashion, players must walk around and closely examine the people in these frozen scenes to make out details like faces, tattoos, clothing, and more.
The goal of the game becomes clear towards the end of the demo: to record exactly in a log how everyone connected to this ship died (or they managed to survive Obra Dinnmost climactic moments). You must keep an eye on all the clues that come up and connect details that stretch from one death vignette to the next. Names, relationships, sounds, and visual cues all play a part in answering the deaths of over 50 characters, and you’ll need to answer some of them specifically death questions to beat the game.
“I really wanted to make a one-bit game”
“The first idea of this game was the visual style,” Pope told Ars. “I really wanted to make a one-bit game. I didn’t know what to do with it. I’ve made other games where you have to pay attention, notice visual differences, and make logical jumps between small clues and bigger solutions. all to the core mechanics of this game.”
Pope has done an impressive job of dithering and texturing his tightly painted world, which is rendered using only white pixels and black pixels, to make the death scenes look not only bright but also emotionally charged. And the storytelling method reveals an approach that only a video game could deliver – one in which the plot must be discovered and chained together by viewers, while Pope really takes us into the heart of such tragedy and death with a stark, frozen image. scenes, along with a compelling script and solid voice acting for at least this first taste.
There’s no release date yet, and Pope says he still wants to come up with a cleaner system to help players connect plot details and clues in the later parts of the game, but for now, he says the game’s core system is intact, and it’s all been guided by his original lark to see if a one-bit game was possible. “[One-bit, low-resolution graphics] was a really nice challenge to the game,” Pope told Ars. “One of the things I’m happier with.”
Frame image by Lucas Pope