L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game <em>Papers, Please</em>; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope’s 2018 game <em>Return of the Obra Dinn</em>.”></p>
<p style=Enlarge / L-R: One of the hundreds of characters in the 2013 video game Papers, Please; game developer Lucas Pope, standing in his hometown of Saitama, Japan; the captain of a cursed pirate ship fom Pope’s 2018 game Return of the Obra Dinn. (credit: Sam Machkovech / Aurich Lawson)

SAITAMA, Japan—Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest video game from designer, programmer, artist, writer, and musician Lucas Pope, revolves around a massive cast of characters. Of course, there is one minor detail—they’re all presumed dead.

In the game, players must sort through the histories and fates of dozens of men, women, and children by working as an insurance adjuster. There’s a cursed cargo ship and magic, yes, but also a giant log book, a glossary, and a massive list of names to account for and cross-reference.

If you didn’t know Pope’s pedigree—as one of the best independent game makers in the world, and the one-man shop responsible for Ars Technica’s 2013 Game of the Year Papers, Please—you might think that premise sounds humdrum. But as in his other games, Pope somehow turns the humdrum into something incredible. Upon first boot, the goal can feel intimidating. Every crew member fills the pages of your virtual book, and the task of keeping them straight is enough to set an anxious player on edge.

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