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Return of the Obra Dinn

Tramboi

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It was a good game but could have been better with UX improvements.
1) Taking notes associated with portraits (Chinese, smoke pipe, possible cook...)
2) Being able to revive a memory without walking to the body is the worst, it turns iterating the scenes into a chore, IMO
 

Tramboi

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Soooo... the Eurogamer review says "There's nothing quite like Obra Dinn, but if you're in the market for the next closest thing, it's probably 2000 to One: a Space Felony.".
Is it any good ?
All this bring good memories of mostly French games, Mortville Manor, Maupity Island, and the lesser-known Cobrasoft Murder... series. I'd play a (good) new sleuth game with pleasure.
 
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MajorMace

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Discovered it just yesterday.
One of the most elegant games I've ever played. Both in terms of art direction and in terms of puzzles/systems.
I strongly recommend it, especially considering its cheap price (17€ on steam).
 

Jaedar

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Project: Eternity Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 Pathfinder: Kingmaker
Played this over the last few days.

It is good, but not quite as good as papers please. The core puzzle mechanic is quite neato, and it did tickle my brain.

However, some of the puzzles were too obscure for me. Even when I looked up the solution to the chinese topmen online, I had to resort to some trial and error to get it right(the topmen in general were a nightmare). In a way it is good that the game keeps you on the correct path by validating your guesses fairly quickly (but not instantly), but I am not sure I deserved some of them (had a really hard time figuring out which of two options flat-hat guy was and only "won" due to game telling me which was right).

The final chapter that is unlocked after you beat the game also didn't explain enough for my tastes.
See below for my takes on the story, massive spoilers.
The formosans are carrying a magic box with a seashell in it, which one of the crewmen tries to steal. But doesn't? Then some other crewmen make off with the magic box and the formosans as hostages (why?). At that point they get attacked by mermaids which they only fend off by deploying magic plasma beam from the box. Somehow only one guy makes it back alive, and he even has some captured mermaids.

The seafolk don't like this and launch a crabman attack which fails to recover the bodies/shells. Then the mermaids(?) summon a kraken. The captain goes into the hold and starts killing them to make them withdraw it, which I guess works (but honestly isn't any more satisfying than the previous explanation of "oh it just left when the storm passed"). Then some crewmen stab the captain in the back and free the last mermaid by giving it the shell that was inside the magic soup in the magic box (that the insane swede put his hand into for some reason?). But it still kills one of them, who in his death throes asks that at least the ship be returned.

Then half the remaining crew GTFOs, the other half dies in attempted mutiny.

And then mermaid magic tows the ship to shore.

Maybe I missed stuff, but none of these events really flow from one another.
 
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MajorMace

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From what I understood :

- The guys who attempted to sail off with the formosans - and who did it only after one of the two formosan bodyguards got killed - were interested in selling the shell and ransoming the couple as they had no idea who they really were, but realized that their special treatment on board (they had their own space, covered from sight, guarded by their own men while they were complete strangers who apparently didn't even speak english) revealed some money could be made. They got immediatly ambushed by the sea people who wanted to claim back their precious artefact, and as the only dude alive was the coward one (we see him hide and do absolutely nothing during the fight), he doesn't find anything else to do than to go back to the ship and go like "hey I caught some fish ahah yo let me in" before he instantly gets street-justice'd by the remaining men of the formosan close guard who shot him on sight.

- The swede had no idea that the shell was deadly on touch, which we only know via the old formosan dude and his noble sacrifice or something. From his standpoint, it's just a shell.

- I don't remember the captain being stabbed by those who escaped. I think he even shouted at his crew to let them get away on the last boat. From what I've gathered, he started to murder the sea people one after the other to force them to give up, when the surgeon made him understand that they should give the shell back, which they do. Then the surgeon and other passengers or people of the upper class leave on the last boat : some serious madness starts here.

=> People get killed on deck (a matter of last remaining escape boat leaving the ship), while the captain is shouting around. Then people get killed below deck (a matter of mutiny talk between some austrian dude and some lieutenant, who immediatly regrets talking with this austrian dude as he saw him stab the young and stupid apprentice, who then killed the austrian dude in return and got killed by one of the sailors who didn't understand jack shit about what the fuck happened. From the standpoint of the second-in-command and the two last sailors who join him on his mutiny : The captain was nowhere to be seen while the kraken was slaughtering everybody - including his wife who's the second-in-command's sister -, people are killing each other everywhere without him reacting in any meaningful way and the shell had suddenly disappeared. Again, for most of the people aboard, the shell is but a jewel of great value or something like that, so they suspect the captain to be a piece of shit who's been hiding to save his life and who decided to keep the "loot" for himself. => All these deaths had nothing to do with the shell or the unfortunate curse or whatever that surrounded it. It's just the usual insanity that gains everyone who's been assaulted by motherfucking monsters for hours or days.

Overall the story has a ton of plot holes. I still have no idea why these formosan were on board, or what the mission of the Obra Dinn was to begin with. From their course and the formosan's special treatment, it seems reasonable to consider that they were escorting them back to Taiwan.
But I don't think it's a bad thing actually. As these plotholes matter little either for the game experience or the narration. I would even argue that it makes the unfolding of the events even more interesting, as not every bit of information is clearly narrated or displayed.

If I had to summarise : the trip starts in a rather light mood (hence the first sketch of the artist "Life aboard" or something) with some venerable passengers on board (hence the fact they were sketched by the artist on their own, I suspect they were dignitaries or smthg).
Then some trouble start to appear, in the form of accidents and sea people appearances (like the dude who dies by fall in the stairs) which will eventually make the swede go like "this shit these formosans are carrying is cursed ffs".
Some sailors - helped by one of the lieutenants - try to discover the nature of this mysterious box the formosans carry around the world = this is when the dude knocks out one of the formosan guard, and ends up assassinating whoever passed by - as he would have compromised their little operation. He killed two birds with one stone as he framed the formosan who got executed (third sketch). I imagine the other formosan guard was quarantined to their little compartiment (as it's from here that he shot the fucker who sailed back to the ship), which is when these dudes decide to act - they capture the formosan dignitaries along with their precious stuff and attempt to make it to africa, in order to sell the shell. The formosan being on board as caution and/or ransom (I have no fucking clue). It fails, they come back, the shell is back on the ship and in a matter of hours they get stormed by sea people, sea people soldiers and sea people kraken, until they finally give back the shell.

Then, an unfortunate misinterpretation of what happened - by the captain as well since he discovered his wife's death only when he came back on deck - ends up in all these survivors killing each other, when they were actually saved and sailing back towards England.

There's only one guy for whom I had no idea how I was supposed to know his identity : the tattooe'd dude.
Beside the fact he was obviously a topman - I guess I was supposed to consider his tattoos as a marker of nationality or something.
There are a few sailors whose identity was subject to toying with the options in order to make the system finally click. The russians come to mind, as if I'm not mistaken, the only info about them is that they're russians (?).
Overall, most of the crew had clear (albeit, subtile and sometimes circonvoluted) hints about their identity, and I enjoyed scrutinizing the dialogs, scenes, chains of event immensely. Although the problems you note are indeed there, I didn't feel them as annoying as you perceived.
 
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Darth Roxor

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Great game, though p. short and the ~actual ending~ doesn't reveal that much.

I was honestly completely amazed by the attention to detail in all the scenes, and the way how much they all tell you what's going on, even down to the smallest bits, with using only the barest minimum of words, and with no ongoing action. The Doom is full of such things, for example - like when the gunpowder on the top deck is exploded, you can see the gunner's mate running up the stairs with rifles, losing his balance. Then later you see his throwing a gun to the bosun. In the crabman attack there's the coward barricaded in his office. All the shit like that.

Also some of the still scenes are honestly spectacular visually, and the way they make use of the ship's layout and particularies (which is also reproduced with really high fidelity and detail) is nothing short of impressive.

The entire setup also hit close to home with me, which is another reason why I found the game so great, because I love everything naval, whether it's age of sail or uboots. And then there's the other side of the game, which I dare say was hella fucking Lovecraftian in the proper way - you have the weird-ass ominous artifact, you have the multi-cult dramatis personae and the progressing insanity and despair, which are all actually in the spotlight and important to the story, not the ~things from the depths~, which, so to speak, are the tool, not the focus.

Also, everyone who says they had great pains in identifying some of the crew members, all I can say is they haven't looked close enough.

IMO the most useful tool for telling seamen apart is the scene with the sick hindus. You have a shitton of bunks there with numbers and hanging arms/legs that give you lots of info regarding crewmen. You can also compare that with the beginning of the Doom, where there's only a couple bunks left, so you can start scratching out and comparing those who are no longer alive at this point.

For example, the three Russians - one of them is very easy because he's the only topman and can be consistently found on the rigging. For the two others, one of them has a pipe sticking out of his bag when the three are playing cards, so you can ID him that way.

Four chinks - only one of them is still alive by the start of the Doom, and he's right under his bunk. Ez. The other three you can identify by their footwear - one has fabulous striped socks, the other two have no socks but one has flip-flops whereas the other has shoes.

Two brothers - if one of them dies in the very first chapter, you can easily identify the one who's alive by checking his bunk number in the second chapter.

And the list goes on.

I gotta say there's one thing I don't quite get about the story though.

The shell is quite obviously ~cursed~, but its functionality kind of eludes me, or rather the details as to how it makes trouble appear. When it's stowed away in the locker on the ship, everything's okay. But then when it's abducted (still in the locker), it makes mermaids come to dinner. Then when it's stowed away again on the ship, it makes crabriders and kraken come to dinner - although I guess it could be the mermaids that do it in that case.

And also the whole spontaneous combustion shtick. Why doesn't it explode when the second mate opens the locker in the murder scene, but does twice when chink and swede do so? Maybe the top shelf is trapped? But then someone would have to put it into that top shelf by opening it...
mystery.png


I think it's the only real "plot hole" or inconsistency that I can name, because everything else seems p. coherent, and whatever implicit parts are there can be easily filled in by yourself, or they don't really matter (like who are the chink passengers and how they got there - I'm p. sure they could have just paid the Company for a ferry back home).
 
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MajorMace

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and the ~actual ending~ doesn't reveal that much.
Depends on what the player's expectations are in terms of revelation at this point.
It surely doesn't explain much about the reason why things got as insane as they got, ie. your story spoiler.
But it does link the previous and next chapter pretty clearly, and as far as i'm concerned in a satisfying manner : why was the captain assaulted at the beginning of the game/end of the story ?
Because in the end, when you don't complete the investigation 100%, you're left with this interrogation (among others, obv).

I think the deliberate choice to focus on the characters instead of the other elements of the plot - even the most essential one - makes the experience as poetic as it is. It really puts the 60 people of the Obra Dinn at the center of the narration (quite obviously, yeah). I like the sharp contrast between pieces of shit and actual goddamn heroes, confronted to the same situation. I like how some get the death they deserve, some don't, and some clearly deserved worse than what they got.
There was, for me, an instant empathy for several characters, and it retrospectively turned the very first chapter we visit (The End i think it's called) - which was already very well presented and immediatly hooked me - into an even more strongly emotional moment.

Farewell Captain Witterel :salute:

This goddamn pipe... I knew there was something with it, it took me more than half an hour of exploring the below deck scenes to figure it out...
Some of the things you bring up completely eluded me, and I resorted to toying with the names to resolve some of these. I guess every single character had at least one clear indication - even by deduction - which gave his identity away. Hats off to the author for that, that's 60 goddamn people.

Have you noticed how the 4th mate's steward is represented completely differently on the sketch compared to the actual scene of the formosan execution ? I liked this detail very much. I don't think it even has anything to do with the investigation, I think it's just there to characterize the dude in the most simple and effective way.
 

Darth Roxor

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Have you noticed how the 4th mate's steward is represented completely differently on the sketch compared to the actual scene of the formosan execution ?

Yep, it did catch my eye as well :thumbsup:
 

Belegarsson

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Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag.
So I just finished the game and found some insurance judgements kinda odd, like the one where
the captain's estate's got forfeited although he dealt with mutineers in a clear attempt at self defence

then I wikipedia'd and learnt that

suicide was considered to be criminal offence in England and Wales until 1961

I know the insurance company might not give a shit about moral judgment but I'd like to think that's some grade A+++ details :5/5:
 
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Shadorwun: Hong Kong
I especially like...

The good-guy Frenchman who was helpful in near every scene you see him, being fined for 'MURDER' when he shot through the monster he was fighting, which pierced the wall and accidentally killed a guy he couldn't have known was there. Not only zero recognition for being loyal crew, but punished on the most ridiculous technicality they could throw at him.

Great-game.
 

Alpan

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Grab the Codex by the pussy Pathfinder: Wrath
It is very hard to find bad things to say about this game, and really impressive that nearly every member of the 60-person crew was significant in some way. I was initially extremely overwhelmed by the photo sketch (I'm really bad with faces), the list of crew etc. but the game does such a fantastic job easing you in. My only nitpick is that the game became somewhat easy to brute force once you're about 2/3rds in. This is partially because of the clustering of some crew members: If there are three Russians and you figure out one, it's going to be quite easy to just trial-and-error the other two. Same with the Chinese, the women etc. And in some scenes I had trouble identifying the cause of death as some images were somewhat crowded when combined with the art style.

Speaking of the art style, it probably serves a secondary function -- many scenes are gory enough that one wouldn't exactly prefer to see them in full fidelity and color.

Also, the Soldiers of the Sea themes are glorious.
 
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Jaedar

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Project: Eternity Shadorwun: Hong Kong Divinity: Original Sin 2 Pathfinder: Kingmaker
So I just finished the game and found some insurance judgements kinda odd, like the one where
the captain's estate's got forfeited although he dealt with mutineers in a clear attempt at self defence

then I wikipedia'd and learnt that

suicide was considered to be criminal offence in England and Wales until 1961

I know the insurance company might not give a shit about moral judgment but I'd like to think that's some grade A+++ details :5/5:
It's also not unreasonable that he is held responsible for you know, literally everyone on the ship being dead or missing.

Also, the Soldiers of the Sea themes are glorious.
:discohitler:
 

Darth Roxor

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many scenes are gory enough that one wouldn't exactly prefer to see them in full fidelity and color.

Number one in this regard for me is probably the tattooed guy who first gets torn apart by the kraken and then is dragged across the deck by one of the sailors with his guts dangling out.
 

The_Mask

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Strap Yourselves In Codex Year of the Donut Steve gets a Kidney but I don't even get a tag. Pathfinder: Wrath I helped put crap in Monomyth
If you're an adult that likes to speak with his wallet, and you would like to inform the gaming industry that this is the type of games that you would like them to produce more often, then buy the game full price. It is worth it.

If you're a young adult struggling through superior education institutions, then wait for a sale, I guess.
 

Unkillable Cat

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Codex 2014 Make the Codex Great Again! Grab the Codex by the pussy
Nominated at the BAFTA Games Awards 2019 for:

# Best Game
# Artistic Achievement
# Game Design
# Game Innovation
# Narrative
# Original Property

It won:

# Artistic Achievement
# Game Design

Not bad for a one-colored whodunnit.
 

oneself

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Great game, but fuck the Russians and the Chinese. I have no idea what is the non-guessing solution for those. Always boiled down to a 50 50.

The French also took me a long time because.. for some reason I thought he must've been the Polish dude.
 

Boleskine

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https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019...and-what-almost-sunk-return-of-the-obra-dinn/

War Stories: Lucas Pope and what almost sunk Return of the Obra Dinn
Retro-themed murder mystery's full-sentence UI nearly foundered during localization.
Lee Hutchinson - 5/21/2019, 11:15 AM


Video shot and edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

Lucas Pope is an important name in modern gaming—not only did he help bring us Uncharted and Uncharted 2, but he's also responsible for the indie smash hit Papers, Please, which managed to pack a surprising amount of storytelling and emotion into what is effectively a document stamping simulator.

But we're particularly fond of Pope's 2018 murder mystery Return of the Obra Dinn, where players must figure out what happened to all 60 souls aboard a ship that has turned up in port bereft of life (think sort of a mash-up of Clue and Event Horizon). The game's low-fi monochrome graphical style is meant to evoke 80s- and 90s-era Macintosh adventure games, and it works stunningly well—the stark polygonal shapes and 1-bit stipple-shading are instantly evocative of the era. (For me, firing up Obra Dinn triggers powerful memories of hours spent at my high school computer lab, eschewing real work to play a seemingly endless pile of HyperCard adventures. Though I fought on the side of the IBMs in the Great BBS Platform Wars of the early 90s, I just couldn't keep my paws off of those damn Macs.)

In Obra Dinn, players use a small device on or near each of the ship's 60 bodies to show them a brief moment in time where that person died, and the player must then make sure that the means of that person's death is properly recorded in a logbook. It's a mechanism that mixes together elements of logic puzzles and text adventures, and while Pope put a lot of time and thought into the pick-a-word sentence builder and the various semantic structures players might use to frame their murder-theories ("Tom knifed Bob" and "Tom stabbed Bob" and "Tom cut Bob" all have to be interpreted by the game as holding the same underlying meaning), there was one monster he wasn't prepared to face: localization.

Words are hard

Because the logbook-and-sentences gameplay element was crucial to the type of experience Pop wanted in the game, Pope had polished the mechanism so that it worked exactly how he wanted it to work—in English. But because colloquialisms and even basic grammatical structures vary wildly between different languages, Pope had to spend an enormous amount of time and effort re-working this particular input system and its lists of verbs and subjects so that they were compatible with non-English languages, with gendered nouns and verb forms that change in different ways.

The effort was successful, but Pope has some words of wisdom about spending a lot of time and effort on designing a text-based input scheme without thinking about localization from the beginning—and in a word, his advice is "don't."

(If you'd like to know a bit more about Lucas, our intrepid reporter Sam Machkovech sat down with Pope earlier this year and talked at length about a long career spent creating games.)
 

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