I Miss The Days When Video Games Looked Like This

The more you follow the development of the Return of the Obra Dinn, the more fascinating it gets.

It’s still in the very early stages, but damn Return of the Obra Dinn is looking neat. Made by the creator of Papers, Please, the game surprised people by showing up at PAX Australia, and Lucas Pope has quietly been working on the project ever since.

If you want to follow the game’s development, Pope posts an update every now and again on the TIG developer forums. There’s nothing concrete like release dates, pricing and all that jazz: it’s more a window into how a game like this comes together from the ground up.

Part of that process involved hiring professional artists to create sketches and renders, which would provide a foundation for the graphics you later see in-game. And good God are those sketches something else.

Image: Lucas Pope

The above is part of a style guide sketch that Pope provided to three professional artists: Ahmed Omar, Carl Frank and Paul McClintock. The three were asked to sketch a small scene with four characters, with the direction of “make this render look like an old-timey sketch” and instructions on the setting of Obra Dinn, constraints around presentation, and a request for something modelling the pen and ink artwork of the period.

Here’s what one of the artists produced, overlaid with how the artwork transferred in-game:

Image: Carl Frank/Lucas Pope

In the end Ahmed Omar’s work was chosen, with Pope preferring it for the use of actual pen and paper and the fact that it matched the time period perfectly.

And Christ, just look at it. The quality is really something else.

Images: Ahmed Omar/Lucas Pope

Pope then used the concept work to create a final scene, a painstaking process that took weeks of work. He also uploaded a timelapse manifest sketch to YouTube, all of which was created on an iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil and ProCreate.

I wish I could just have giant prints of this stuff on my wall.

If you want to follow the rest of Obra Dinn’s development, there’s a 36-page thread on TIGSource that outlines the whole process from the first announcement. It’s a great read – but please don’t join up and start hassling Pope for release dates and what not. Hand-crafted 1-bit graphics take aeons to produce, but it’s worth it.

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