‘Vokabulantis’ uses stop-motion animation to tell a stunning visual story in video game form

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'Vokabulantis' uses stop-motion animation to tell a stunning visual story in video game form
Image: Kong Orange

Few visual effects are as charming as stop motion animation. The timeless style isn’t as popular as it has been in the past. However, it is still an intriguing and engaging way to tell stories. Its use in movies is probably what most people are familiar with.

A video game studio called Kong Orange and a stop-motion animation company called Wired Fly Animations want to change that.

Their upcoming title, “Vokabulantis,” has already garnered significant support on Kickstarter—even without a dedicated marketing campaign. The co-op platform adventure challenges players to unravel mysteries, solve puzzles, and reunite two lovestruck main characters.

Of course, the most interesting part of the game is its visual design. The developers are using genuine stop-motion animation, not the computer-generated kind, to create a world of stunning views with an unmistakable style.

The Animation

Animating a world for a movie is an entirely different endeavor than doing so for a video game. That’s especially true when it comes to stop-motion. In a movie, the background is often static and serves as a backdrop for a few moving characters in the foreground. Movies also have the luxury of creating small sets and ignoring everything that might be happening outside the shot.

In a video game, things are constantly changing as players move their characters and interact with the world.

“Vokabulantis” solves this issue in a unique way. The development team first creates all the elements of the world and its characters by hand, just like all genuine stop-motion projects. The pieces are made with paints, wire, clay, fabric, foam, and everything else in-between.

During a typical production, animators then move these elements around as the scene progresses to bring them to life. For “Vokabulantis,” the animators diverge from the norm. Once the sets are completed, the team takes close-up photographs of each piece. These are then brought into Unity, a popular game development engine, where they can be manipulated.

This allows the developers to scale the world virtually while using the real-world pieces. In other words, to make a massive stack of crates, the artists wouldn’t need to make all of them by hand. They could make a smaller portion of crates and then multiply them in Unity.

The approach gives “Vokabulantis” a very unique feel. A trailer for the game on Kickstarter gives an idea of what the game looks like despite the fact that it is still in development.

On one hand, the animation looks like what you’d expect from a traditional stop-motion project. On the other, it feels a bit different than something like a Tim Burton movie. This ultimately results in a world that is both visually stunning and mind-bending.

The Story

As noted, the visual elements of “Vokabulantis” are what make this game so intriguing. However, don’t let that fool you. It also features a story that promises to take players on a heartfelt adventure as they explore the whimsical world.

The story centers on Karla and Kurt, two kids who were just prepared to confess their true love for one another before becoming trapped in Vokabulantis. Their appearance betrays the conflict of their story—an inability to talk. Both characters are missing a mouth and have to work to regain their words.

Along the way, the characters must to “save the world of language” or risk being stuck in a timeless moment forever if they cannot. Of course, the real reward is that they’ll finally be able to confess their feelings for each other if things go according to plan.

Game designer Esben Kjær Ravn says, “I got four kids and I want them to play ‘Vokabulantis.’ They should get scared, laugh, cry, concentrate, and be entertained out of their minds.”

The game’s Kickstarter page notes that it draws inspiration from similar co-op adventures like “Unravel,” “Inside,” and “Little Nightmares.”

While “Vokabulantis” stands out because of its stop-motion animation, the game will also need to play well for it to be a success. Should the team be able to create a compelling story to go with its unique visuals, “Vokabulantis” could be wildly successful in the platformer niche.

The Backing

Although it has recently started to gain support at a faster pace, “Vokabulantis” has been in development since 2018. As noted, the title is currently being funded with a Kickstarter campaign that has already surpassed its goal.

The development team set out to raise $83,306 (€70,000). At the time of this writing, the campaign has raised over $90,000 and received contributions from nearly 1,700 backers. It also received Kickstarter’s “Project We Love” badge. This gives it extra exposure and is a nice show of support from the platform.

The campaign for “Vokabulantis” is quickly drawing to a close and is scheduled to wrap up on April 16. Unfortunately for those itching to get their hands on the stop-motion adventure title, there will still be some waiting to do.

“Vokabulantis” isn’t expected to arrive until the end of 2024 at the latest. Since the studio behind it is small and the time required to create stop-motion projects is immense, the timeline is understandable. It seems that the wait will be worth it in the end.

Currently, the developers plan to launch the game on Steam, which means it should be accessible to most (if not all) PC players upon its arrival. On its Kickstarter page, the team also notes that it is targeting a launch on all major platforms. It isn’t hard to picture “Vokabulantis” on the Nintendo Switch.

Meanwhile, the success of titles like the aforementioned “Unravel” on both Xbox and PlayStation means that “Vokabulantis” could potentially find a home there as well.

The final game is expected to include between six and eight hours of gameplay for the main story. It will also have two to four hours of additional content for those that want to chase down every achievement and Easter egg.

Although 2024 is still a long way away, keep “Vokabulantis” on your radar. It should certainly be worth a play when it arrives.

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