neizod's speculation

insufficient data for meaningful answer

Animal Crossing New Horizons' Bizarre Sundial

Sunday, April 12, 2020, 09:47 PM

Shadow casting is not an easy task to compute. A very realistic shadow rendering in 3D modeling program require intense resources and a lot of computation time. So it is unsurprising that even the very popular games from just 2 decades ago, such as Half-Life and The Sims, does not have shadow rendering in their game.

The same goes with preior titles in Animal Crossing series too. Despite difficulties and limitations, developers wriggle around with various techniques to capture feeling of shadow, such as showing a static simple circle under an object as a fake shadow.

When New Horizons’ trailer launch, fans (or just me?) goes wild just by seeing not only a detailed shadow, but also a changeable in size and direction too (3:37-3:45 in above video).

So I start tracing shadow during times of the day, hoping to make in-game sundial that is familiar to real life, turn out to discover a weird phenomenon behind the scene!

My prototype sundial in Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

As can be seen from my picture above, the weird thing is that the sun move super fast around midday, contradicting real life sundial where each interval is almost the same size (example from Wikipedia).

So shadow casting from the sun in this game is unrealistic. However, I think this is not a technical issue, but the developer intend to make it this way! Because the gimmick of Animal Crossing series is to experience the game with the same clock in real life! So if we play it in the morning, the sun is on the right of screen; if we come back later after dinner, then its night time in game too.

The gimmick is great, but might pose threat to office workers!? Imagine that we are a 9-to-5 person, what time are we free to play this game? I can see it as 4 portions:

  1. Morning: not right out of the bed, but when going to work.
  2. Noon: eat lunch and make a quick check on our island.
  3. Evening: another short play while commute back home.
  4. Night: long play before we hit the hay.

Commute-play in the morning and evening is not a problem since play time is limited by the trip. And we can play almost limitless at night until we get drowsy anyway. So the most interesting portion is around noon. Take a look at 11:30 to 12:30 interval, if the game treats shadow casting from the sun realistically, we might not obviously feel the shift of shadow from east to west. Since we hardly observe changes, we might not feel accomplishment playing at noon, or worse that we stick to the game for too long we go back to work late.

So the game exaggerates this interval, makes the shadow shift real quick around noon. So it is easier that we can feel and aware of time change… Well, that’s my guess, I don’t know if I get it right or not, but overall I think this is a nice touch.

My custom design for April’s sundial.

For anyone interesting to install this sundial, grab my custom design at MA-0191-5786-4622 and place them on the ground like this.

(-2,+3) (-1,+3) (0,+3) (+1,+3) (+2,+3)
(-2,+2) blank blank blank (+2,+2)
(-2,+1) blank blank blank (+2,+1)
blank blank blank blank blank

Be caution that the sundial with this design need to be adjusted monthly.

Originally published on: Twitter