“‘Obra’ is pronounced like ‘Cobra’ without the C,” writes Lucas Pope, creator of Papers, Please. He’s detailing his new game, a first-person mystery set in 1808. You play an insurance adjustor for the East India Company and it’s on you to solve the mystery of the Obra Dinn, which “set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods” and wasn’t seen for six years. It’s just pulled into port and there’s not a soul on board.
We’re a long way from Arstotzka.
“In 1802, the merchant ship "Obra Dinn" set out from London for the Orient with over 200 tons of trade goods,” writes Pope. “Six months later it hadn't met its rendezvous point at the Cape of Good Hope and was declared lost at sea. Early this morning of October 14th, 1808, the Obra Dinn drifted into port with sails damaged and no visible crew. As insurance adjustor for the East India Company's London Office, find means to board the ship and recover the captain's logbook for assessment.”
The challenge Pope’s set himself for this game isn’t to create a variety of new game mechanics, as he did in Papers, Please, where players had inspect passports and travel documents, but instead to “experiment with the rendering, story, and a few technical features.”
He wants to create the game in 3D but also to give it the look of a 1-bit rendered game. “I've always had a nostalgia-softened spot in my heart for 1-bit graphics,” he explains. “I'd like to capture the detailed black & white look of old Mac games in a realtime 1st person game.” But it’ll be ”grittier and less cartoon-like than those old games,” he says. “The hard part will be keeping everything legible without it becoming an unreadable mess of dithered pixels.”
Story-wise, too, the challenge will be how to present it to players. “I'm hoping to capture a compelling mystery with suspense and twists in the limited space of an old merchant sailing ship. It won't be the typical "collect items and look for clues" structure.” He has a “cool gameplay hook” to help him with this but he’s not sharing details on that just yet.
He hopes to have Return of the Obra Dinn completed in the next six months.