The Average Gamer

Indie Rock: Return of the Obra Dinn

Return of the Obra Dinn - Dev Build title
Forget the planned statement of objective in Obra Dinn. You’re not boarding a rediscovered ship attempting to piece together the explanation for its disappearance and the fate of the crew.

No. You’re there to watch the animation of your character’s hand touching door handles. Reaching toward door handles. Backing away from door handles it might have thought about touching but decided against for fear their relationship may be irrevocably altered. The plot is incidental. The reason you should download the early demo for Return of the Obra Dinn today is because the hand animation is incredible and you have to see this in proper motion instead of my garbled key-mashing.

When you approach a door, the character’s hand extends toward it. Grabbing the handle in stages as you get even closer. Functionally it’s a less-intrusive manner of letting you know that a door can be opened than a “Press E to Open” or somesuch, a way of describing your ability to interact with something in a manner that feels natural. It’s a greater method of personal immersion and connection with the avatar you’re inhabiting. Hands shown on-screen aren’t a new thing, but this kind of tactile interaction with objects sure goddang is.

In theory you’re seeing the hand, noting that as permission to continue, performing the intended interaction then moving on.

In practice every time the hand comes out I’ve fiddled around with my position in relation to what it’s grasping. Stepping closer and watching the fingers curl around. Stepping away and watching them retract. Moving vision around and seeing the hand inch closer or withdraw. It was clear that this was a decision designer Lucas Pope made knowing that players were going to care about it, given his production and release of the initial development process. Thanks Lucas.

Return of the Obra Dinn - Dev Build HandBut alright, fine, let’s talk about other things in the video game (in between yawns). The titular Obra Dinn is littered with skeletons. You’ve the power to travel back to the moment of their death, hearing the conversations and moving around a snapshot of the time period. It aids you in your investigation of the events regarding the boat’s disappearance. It’s a neat mechanic. I wanna see more of it, but, like, in the full game because I don’t want to play too much more of this early demo and fill my belly before the waiter brings over the main. I’ve ordered the lasagna and I’m still stuffing my face with bread.

Clear out your other award categories for this year and rank games based solely on hands touching door handles. Obra Dinn does a fucking grand slam. Lucas Pope storms the stage of the VGAs and thanks his many supporters, before grabbing the award he halts and angles himself around a little, moving back and forth, whirling his head around.