There is something special about Vocabulary. At first glance, it doesn’t look like a video game at all, with handcrafted puppets climbing over exquisitely detailed sets, limbs as thin and flowing as those of Coraline or The nightmare before Christmas. However, the environments in Vocabulary a slightly different look from classic stop-motion movies – grainy and tactile, but static and matte. It’s hard to put into words, which is absolutely perfect.
Vocabulary is a cooperative stop-motion video game starring Karla, a young girl with long braids that stick out of the hood of her red raincoat, and Kurt, a boy with a poofy green jacket and wispy, linen hair. Both lack mouths. Where their lips should be, the flat skin extends from the cheeks to the cheeks.
It hasn’t always been that way. As Karla and Kurt are about to confess their true love feelings for each other, they find themselves mouthless and trapped in Vokabulantis, a vast and ravaged place. They are stuck in this moment and in this world, unable to express themselves verbally, until they can restore the language of the Vokabulantis.
The game comes from Felix the Reaper Kong Orange studio and Danish house in stop-motion Wired Fly Animations. It has been in development since 2018 and is nearing the end of a Kickstarter campaign this amount greatly exceeds its target of € 70,000.
Kong Orange founder and CEO Esben Kjær Ravn has been active on the Vocabulary The Kickstarter page, posting regular updates and answering questions from backers, and the campaign itself is packed with information on the history, mechanics, and process of puppet making. There is one detail, however, that Ravn left out.
“The third and least public mainstay of production besides Wired Fly Animations and my game development studio, Kong Orange, is poet and artist Morten Søndergaard,” Ravn said. “He has dealt and worked artistically with these themes for years and years.
Søndergaard has been a staple of the Danish art and poetry scene since the 1990s, and one of its most famous installations is called Ordapoteket or WordPharmacy. It consists of 10 boxes of medicine labeled with different parts of speech – such as a verb, preposition, or adjective – and containing instructions for their recommended uses. It’s a light commentary on consumption and language, and an incredibly effective image.
Vocabulary is part of visual poetry, stop-motion film and video games. His strange and indescribable world is the result of a spontaneous collaboration between Søndergaard, Wired Fly and Kong Orange.
“Eventually Morten bumped into Johan from Wired Fly Animations and they thought it would be a wonderful thing to do something that would have a more emotional impact in the traditional narrative sense, and set out to make a movie,” he said. Ravn said. “A love story between these two children, going on an adventure to Vokabulantis. Fortunately, they decided it should be a game at some point, because they wanted immersion and the ability to actually be inside the world…. Then they asked me to join the project. Woohoo, lucky me.
There is a reason Vocabulary does not look like other stop-motion projects. It’s handcrafted like traditional stop-motion films, with sets created from clay, fabric, thread, and paint, but these environments are then manipulated using photogrammetry. The developers take incredibly detailed photos of the items, then import them into Unity. There, the folks at Kong Orange can change the world to suit their needs while still retaining the ability to make small adjustments, a necessary aspect of building a platform game.
Here’s how Ravn explains it:
“Normally you shoot a character on a green screen or in a setting, and then the animation is locked under those circumstances. We, on the other hand, can continue to manipulate the sets and place the characters in them however we want, just like any other platform game would. The difference, however, is that it’s still actually stop-motion, we don’t imitate it in any way. Of course, that also makes it different from the traditional stop-motion, as we can scale our sets and therefore also build them to any scale we deem appropriate. And as a result, it doesn’t always look as miniature as a “real” stop motion game would. “
This explains the vague worry baked in Vocabulary, because it straddles the worlds of traditional stop-motion and software animation.
“We’re always working on balancing where we want to draw the golden line between the traditional approach and what we’re doing,” Ravn said. “We are fully aware that stop motion cinema has created very clear expectations among the audience or the player as to its appearance. We’re totally playing around with it to some extent, to be honest, and we have to find out if there are limits to what people will accept.
Obviously, many people don’t mind Kong Orange’s creative use of photogrammetry. Vocabulary is on track to unlock ambitious goals before the end of its Kickstarter campaign on Friday morning April 16. The game itself is slated for release in late 2024, Ravn said, and it’s aiming for at least a Steam launch.
the Vocabulary The team didn’t hire a PR team to run their Kickstarter page, and they didn’t even have a marketing budget to kick off the campaign. They simply put together a description of the game, a handful of GIFs, and a compelling making-of video, and were uploaded. Apparently, Vocabulary speaks for itself.
“To experience these many wonderful people joining the Kickstarter, and basically Vocabulary, has been beyond our wildest dreams, ”Ravn said. “No words for that, really.”