Return of the Obra Dinn Commentary and Critique

The slow march of my video series on detective games continues with this, its fifth entry. For awhile I was afraid there was no reason to do this one, as I wouldn’t be able to top my students’ posts and videos on this game after I taught it last spring. In the end, I went with sheer length as my own particular angle.

Script below the jump.

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Rediscovering Mystery: How Return of the Obra Dinn’s aesthetic sends players back in time

by Tyler Araujo

Return of the Obra Dinn was the most fun I’ve had doing a “required reading” throughout my entire career as a student, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve returned to complete it since playing the portion I was able to complete before class. The game was released by independent game developer Lucas Pope in 2018, and went on to win Best Indie Game at the 2018 Titanium Awards. The game also received a well-deserved accolade for Best Art Direction at the 2018 game awards. In Return of the Obra Dinn, players are tasked with uncovering the mystery of a ship which came into port with all 60 people who set sail on it either dead or missing. Using a “Memento Mortem” which allows to view still scenes which preceded each crew member’s murder, your task is to explore the dense crime scenes past and discover exactly what became of every single person on the vessel.

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Atlantics as a Horror/Ghost Genre Film

by Zach Cogan, Dylan Kanaan, Gabriela Horwath, Shahrez Aziz, and Meagan Johnson

Though Atlantics sets itself up to be a more of  a mystery and a romance rather than a typical horror movie, its filmmaking styles, as well as its form, do include a lot of imagery, sounds, and tropes traditionally associated with the horror genre, which are broken down below.

The Ocean

One significant element of the film is the class struggle of the Sengelese people, a story of journeying to a foreign land to find menial labor. Prior to the young construction workers leaving for Italy, the audience is graced with a tender moment between Souleiman and Ada with the raging ocean in the background of the scene. The ocean does in fact play on the beauty and intimacy of the characters’ young love, but also create a sinister effect throughout the film. There is a numbness to the waves. The ocean is all-consuming, treacherous, and unpredictable–similar to the relationship between Ada and Souleiman. As seen below, the way the ocean is presented to us defines a lot of the tone in that section of the movie, with the ocean being at its darkest and most sinister in the middle portion of the movie, where the horror aspect is most prevalent. Yet, even when the film ventures into a commentary of class struggles, defining love, and fantasy, the ocean serves as a constant reminder of the mystery of one’s own existence Although we never see the wreck that claims so many lives, the churning waves seems to carry a mystical force or magical entity. This mood later serves the possession of the women, ultimately defining the film as a literal and metaphorical ghost story. 

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The Looking Theme in A Case of Identity and Return of the Obra Dinn

Group project video essay, created by leader Haoru Wang

I used walkthroughs and Let’s Play footage in this video essay, because I haven’t upgrade my Laptop, and it won’t allow me to use iMovie to edit the video. I had to use iPad for editing, and here’s my reference list:

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The Revolutionary Power of Clues in Return of the Obra Dinn

Group project video essay and summary blog post, created/written by co-leader Kellie Lu

Warning: contains spoilers.

Return of the Obra Dinn is a distillation of the mystery genre that manages to make a player a true detective while adding its own intimate flair. Unlike many detective games that give the player god-like powers or modes to highlight clues and select the correct choice from a pre-written plot, the player must investigate environments without hand-holding. And it does this well. Many players comment on the way that the game makes them feel empowered, and this is the key to which Obra Dinn revolutionizes the mystery game genre.

How does the game do this? Roger Caillois states that the pleasure of reading a mystery novel is “not that of listening to a story, but rather that of watching a “magic” trick which the magician immediately explains. The author has set everything up in advance. The story opens on a rigged set; we do not even see the main event, but only its disturbing consequences” (4).

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Get a Clue: Clues and Obra Dinn

Co-group leader and resident anxiety machine Albert Aboaf

“The contradiction? Elementary.” I say, before submitting every possible piece of evidence from the court record in a pathetic attempt to convince Ace Attorney I’ve been paying attention.

The difference between the puzzle of a traditional detective story, and the puzzle of a game floating loosely in that genre, is fundamentally set around the question of the audience’s relationship to the method of solution; the clue. In the traditional form of the puzzling story, the primary work expected of the audience is in interpretation. This is of course, because the story medium doesn’t allow the reader to discover things on their own. You can never truly see the scene of the crime as Holmes does.

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Tragedy in Last Day of June, Through Murray

Group project summary, by leader Joe Gill

The Last Day of June is a beautiful, heart-wrenching game that effectively utilizes Janet Murray’s constructions of Agency and Transformation in order to create an effective tragic video game. The game centers on Carl and June, a couple whom tragedy strikes. After a car accident takes the life of June, Carl gains the power to control his neighbors in the past, and through changing their actions the day of the crash, he hopes to ultimately change the fate of his wife. The tragedy of the game is brought to its full emotional power in part due to the effective construction of bounded player agency and creative character transformation.

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The Legacy of Der müde Tod in Last Day of June: Creating Tragedy in Games

Group project summary, by leader Leo Alvarez

Tragedy is hard to pull off in video games, a medium so driven by the player’s desire to accomplish tasks and achieve the goals set forth by the game designers. What’s more, joining the formerly separated roles of the viewer and the on-screen character into one presents unique challenges in terms of creating motivation and working with the newly bridged psychical distance to create an effective tragedy. With all of these obstacles in its way, how can a game like Last Day of June possibly hold a candle to a tragic film like Der müde Tod? In its use of an episodic structure, a “retry narrative” and a final sacrifice, Last Day of June carries and builds on the legacy of Fritz Lang’s silent film Der müde Tod, ushering the death-defying romantic tragedy template into the era of video-games, and exemplifying how tragedy can be possible in a game.

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