Heaven’s Vault: Animation Style

While I’m still collecting data on the story and language, let’s describe the visual style of Heaven’s Vault a little. It’s peculiar. The environments are modeled in 3D, and a little stylized but reasonably detailed. Characters, however, are sprites. In other words, it’s basically like a Doom-era FPS, except a great deal more hi-res. And that’s strange. Sprites limit the number of different views you can have of a thing. Your basic Doom monster can be viewed from eight different angles. HV seems to have more angles than that — I counted ten for Aliya — but it’s still few enough to cause very noticeable pops. Similarly, walking around means moving smoothly through the world, but only shifting poses once per second or so.

Moreover, Aliya frequently leaves afterimages behind. You’ll just be walking around, and at a place where you paused or changed direction, you’ll get a spare image of her that slowly fades away. I don’t know what causes this. It may be linked to optional dialogue or something. Regardless, the effect is to emphasize that the rendering of characters isn’t meant to be realistic.

This whole approach seems less strange in conversations, where it reminds me of the static images commonly used in Visual Novels: typically one person on the left side of the screen, one on the right, each changing only to express emotion. The difference is that HV positions the characters in 3D space. It strikes me that much of the animation style is a result of trying to reconcile that VN-like or comic-like style, with its static shots of 2D characters, with free movement through a 3D world.

But such reconciliation only goes so far. There’s still a large visual contrast between the sprites and the world they live in. This may well be deliberate and thematic. It’s a subject/object distinction, for one thing. The people are part of your society, even the ones who hate and distrust you. The world is not. It’s far older than your society, and has its own distinct character that’s foreign enough to be an object of study.

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