“History belongs to everyone.”
April 17, 2019 10:39 AM   Subscribe

Heaven’s Vault review: an archaeology video game actually about archaeology [Polygon] “Diving into a game is akin to learning a new language. In each game, we first learn the basics: how to navigate the map, to attack enemies, to uncover new details in this world. With languages, we start with vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. In both, we slowly master individual components, entwining them to convey complex ideas. Heaven’s Vault, the latest game from Inkle, challenges its players to master a game and a language at the same time. [...] The adventure is meticulous and thoughtful, standing in stark contrast with most games that have put me in an archaeologist’s boots. In Heaven’s Vault, I’m not slaughtering hordes of enemies with a bloody pickax, or sniping at sentries with a makeshift bow. I’m performing the actual job.” [YouTube][Game Trailer]

• Heaven’s Vault, an archaeology-based narrative adventure [Kotaku]
““Stories don’t have tidy beginnings,” says the main character of Heaven’s Vault, outer space archaeologist Aliya Elasra, at the beginning of the game. “The past is always present.” I was immediately enthralled. I often see people hyper-simplifying history in bad faith and weaponizing it as propaganda, so I was excited to play a game that would expose history’s untidiness and get down in the muck with the ways people uncover, interpret, and rewrite history. [...] The world of Heaven’s Vault is as intricate as any of those old Grecian urns that all the kids have been known to write odes to. It’s a ramshackle society reliant on ancient technology that has been stacked on top of a ruin stacked on top of countless older ruins stacked on top of a wellspring of intrigue.”
• Heaven’s Vault Is a Refreshingly Cerebral Take on Navigating History [Slant Magazine]
“Archaeology in video games is descended almost exclusively from the Indiana Jones School of Marauding, where puzzles help players raid tombs or pilfer uncharted temples in competition with gun-toting rivals. Heaven’s Vault, however, has no such trappings of the violent colonialist adventure. Your primary engagement with the game is through language, as you must decipher the hieroglyphs of a fallen ancestral empire, making for a refreshingly cerebral take on navigating the remnants of history.”
• How Inkle developed its own ancient language for Heaven's Vault [Gamasutra]
““We start from a process of wanting the player to feel like they're translating something rather than wanting to create a language with all of its subtleties and complexities and richnesses,” Ingold explains. Ancient is, instead, what Joseph Humfrey, inkle’s art and code director, dubs the “Guitar Hero of linguistics”. Much like Guitar Hero is more of an analogue to becoming a guitar prodigy, Heaven’s Vault mimics the process of learning a language, presenting players with easy to parse chunks of symbols and providing words in English that could serve as potential translations. Taking another page from Guitar Hero's design ,the team opted to err on the side of simplicity when it came to adding a linguistic layer to Heaven’s Vault’s puzzles.”
• Heaven’s Vault is a game about translating an ancient alien language [The Verge]
“The language itself has around 1,000 words, and the team describes it as being “logically constructed.” The idea is that the symbols aren’t random; each has a meaning, and that meaning is always the same. The language is inspired in part by other image-heavy languages like Cantonese and German, where many smaller words are often combined to create a larger concept. “As you find different words that use the same glyphs, you might get the idea of related concepts,” Inkle’s other co-founder, Joseph Humfrey, explains. “But we don’t ever tell you exactly what the glyphs mean. Sometimes you’ll come across an inscription that is literally impossible for you to solve.” [...] While the language itself is real, the team admits that, in order to make it work for the purposes of the game, it’s not exactly the most functional language. “It’s complete in the sense that it’s fully logical, but it’s also not a super useful language,” Humfrey explains.”
• Heaven's Vault - Come Sail Away [Gamespot]
“Across the game's somewhat excessive running time, I lost track of what the actual advantage of all this translation was to my progression, as correct translations tend to prompt conversation options rather than key clues for where to go next. But it's still an interesting and exciting mechanic, as so much of the pleasure of Heaven's Vault is about uncovering the lore of the world you're in and the characters who occupy it. You're dropped in largely unaware, and while the game builds an exhaustive timeline of events, stretching right back to ancient times, it's mostly on you to figure out the nuances of the occasionally abstract game world. Heaven's Vault opens near its own ending--the very first scene tells you where your adventure will end, which is a curious structural choice for a game that is so contingent on player choice. It's meant to indicate, perhaps, that your story is always going to end up the same way, although how you reach that ending will differ dramatically between players.”
posted by Fizz (17 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
This line in the Kotaku review: "I never would’ve thought one of my favorite gaming moments of the year would be realizing that a particular symbol denoted the past tense, but here I am."

Ok, I'm invested. I'll play this game.
posted by mhoye at 11:04 AM on April 17, 2019 [8 favorites]

Linguistic puzzle game? Complex shifting dialogue? Inkle? Yeah, I’m sold.
posted by tau_ceti at 11:07 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I intend to pick this up based solely on the developers' previous work, 80 Days - my personal all-time favorite mobile game.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:12 AM on April 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm playing it right now, lost in it's atmosphere. It feels somewhat Egyptian with lost civilisations, fallen empires and Islamic art influences drifting through it. The animation is very dreamy, with occasional still frame lingering like moments of history.

There isn't really any 'game' mechanics as such, there aren't any failure states that I have seen. The translation of the ancient language becomes easy if you thoroughly search everything, and the sailing minigame is polite enough to put you back on course if you go the wrong way. There's so many choices to make though, so I'm often not sure what to do, or occasionally doing things by accident by picking the wrong dialogue choice.

My latest pickle is that I've gotten my friendly robot infected with the ghost of a dead empress, and I'm going, oh god what have I done...
posted by Eleven at 11:15 AM on April 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by Hermione Granger at 11:16 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have been waiting for this game for a long time, solely based on my love for Inkle's previous game 80 Days, but I need to wait for the end of the semester before I can carve out any time for it.
posted by pemberkins at 11:19 AM on April 17, 2019

LOVED 80 Days. Meg Jayanth's writing really made it stand out. Is she involved with this new game? I will have to give it a spin.
posted by jcruelty at 11:23 AM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've gotten my friendly robot infected with the ghost of a dead empress,

I mean, who among us hasn't done this...
posted by Fizz at 11:27 AM on April 17, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm SO into this. Waiting a bit to see an announcement for a Switch port, but I'll probably just break down and buy it on PC in a week or two anyway.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:45 PM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Wow. I haven't made time for computer games since ... well, decades ago (SimCity, specifically; never quite graduated to The Sims), but this sounds fascinating. Maybe this is the game that will lure me back.

Thanks for posting this, Fizz!
posted by kristi at 1:58 PM on April 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I should love this game, but from the reviews and the trailer I can see that I'll hate it. These things are probably just my idiosyncrasies, but for what it's worth, here are the things that would irritate me about it:

1) Long, slow transits between locations you need to visit many times;
2) Navigation errors make you repeat the transit ... again;
3) A herky-jerky animation style that literally makes me feel sick;
4) The voices just annoy me, although maybe I was primed to feel that way by the other elements I dislike;
5) "Mistress ... mistress ... you should turn right mistress ... I believe you may now be confident of your translation mistress."

Anyway, I really appreciate this FPP because there's a lot of benefit to knowing that you're not going to like something.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:02 PM on April 17, 2019

Yeah, there’s a lot about this that I think I would like, but 30 minute travel times, and if you miss your turn you have to do it again? No. I don’t have that kind of time.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 5:20 PM on April 17, 2019

>1) Long, slow transits between locations you need to visit many times;
>2) Navigation errors make you repeat the transit ... again;

Having played the game, I found that:

There is a fast travel mechanic that lets your robot pilot the ship once you've visited a location. There are some longer sailing bits but they are broken up by conversation.

When a navigation error happens (eg wrong path) you can immediately 'rewind' about five seconds so you turn the correct way. You don't have to repeat the whole thing.

(I agree the animation might not be your taste, and like any writing, it can't appeal to everyone.)

I loved the game, and it was wonderful to see something so different. There's little reliance on tropes or cliches. Every character feels fresh and interesting, especially the protagonist. It's genuinely fun to have a female lead who is critical and angry. None of her restless anger is cute or quirky, or softened to make her more appealing. She's furious with her world, and by the end I saw why and wanted to wash it all away, too.
posted by NoiselessPenguin at 1:12 AM on April 18, 2019 [3 favorites]

The game looks like it would be great for some people, just not for me. I'm glad I decided this before buying it.

As for the female lead, I find it interesting that the classic SF story about interpreting an alien language, Omnilingual, also has a female lead. There doesn't seem to be much connection otherwise, but I enjoy the thought that there might be.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:39 AM on April 18, 2019

I picked this up when I got home from work yesterday and put a few hours into it. I'm really enjoying it so far. I think the dialogue and characters are great, the world is fascinating, and I like the feeling of accomplishment at correctly translating a word. I appreciate that I have to put some thought into it, but not so much that it is taxing (like, say, Return of the Obra Dinn, which I adore but sometimes felt like too much work). I also appreciate that while there is a wealth of information, it is organized and categorized so that I don't need to keep too much of it in my head all at once. It's fascinating, relaxing, and thinky. I can't wait to leave work today and delve into it further.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 10:56 AM on April 18, 2019 [2 favorites]

Played this while sick the last couple days, I LOVE it, and my kids are super into it too!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:36 AM on April 20, 2019 [1 favorite]

So we finished the first playthrough a couple weeks ago -- me and Micro McGee (7) played through it together in about 3 days. He did all the flying between planets, and we had a TON of fun solving the inscriptions together and guessing what the glyphs might represent -- "Is that one like a mountain? So maybe ground?" "This one keeps turning up in time words." "That one looks like a plant."

But he was SUPER upset by the ambiguous ending -- being 7 (and my most sensitive child), I think he thought he was going to find a way to save everyone and restore peace and democracy and so on, and instead he cried and then was kinda mad at me about the whole thing.

But today after two weeks away he was like "Let's start again!" and has apparently come to terms with it and is ready to learn more of the lore and find out more about why the stuff happened that happens.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 PM on May 6, 2019 [1 favorite]

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