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Prerelease:Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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This page details prerelease information and/or media for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

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  • Cite sources for early builds being created in 2018.
  • Add sections for the Nintendo Direct footage and E3 2019 gameplay.
  • Fix grammatical or spelling errors.

While Animal Crossing: New Horizons was released in 2020, work had actually started shortly after the release of Animal Crossing: New Leaf in 2012.[1]

Timeline

2012-17

  • Conception and early development.

2018

  • Unknown - Early builds for the Switch are created.
  • September 13 - A new Animal Crossing game for the Switch is confirmed to be in development.[2]

2019

  • June 11 - Trailer and gameplay footage are released at E3 2019.
  • June-December - New features and content are revealed through Nintendo Directs.

2020

  • January-March - New features and content continue to be revealed through Nintendo Directs.
  • March 20 - Animal Crossing: New Horizons is released.

Pre-E3 2019

During the CEDEC 2020 conference in Japan, some early screenshots were revealed of the game at a much earlier point in development.

A very early development screenshot showing completely different textures and detailed grass.

The first screenshot includes the player in the center with a very similar appearance to the custom avatar from the final game. Bob is seen walking in the background wearing a purple shirt. Interestingly, what looks like an NPC's shadow somewhat resembling a cat's silhouette can be seen to the very right along with what looks like a purple tail, similar to Bob's. It's possible that there were multiple Bobs roaming the island while NPCs were still being tested, however, this is not confirmed.

The ground is very different than that of the final, the most notable difference being highly detailed growing grass which was scrapped because it made seeing weeds more difficult. The dirt has a different texture than any which is seen in the final, being a color between the regular dirt path and dark dirt paths in the final. Additionally, the paths don't seem to be laid out in an organized way, so this may have been before grass deterioration and natural dirt patches were removed.

There are two identical buildings partially visible in front of the player. These may have been early villager houses, the model being a placeholder until the final houses for each villager were created. A very early Town Hall or Resident Services building can be seen in the upper-left corner, and a player's house is in the distance with a green mum wreath on the door, looking similar to the final player houses. In front of the building in the upper-left corner are some stone paths similar to those seen in New Leaf, again looking more natural. These paths can also be seen along the left side of the screen.

One interesting feature of the photo is the apparent white vignette around the screen. The screenshot may have been edited upon its release to include this, however. It gives the screenshot a sort of dream-like feel to it, and in fact, this was later included in dreams when the Dream Suite was added, appearing for the first few seconds of being in a dream. If this was a feature of the build, it may indicate that the game once had a much different art style that was changed upon release. Other features from more screenshots here may indicate that as well.

This screenshot has furniture along with the scrapped white fencing, a river and cliffs.

In this screenshot, the same ground features are present along with the white vignette around the screen. It appears to be from the same build or one made close to the time of the other screenshot. One interesting feature is the inclusion of a HUD, which was not present in the previous screenshot. It shows the time and date on the lower-left corner, with a different layout more reminiscent of the clock in Doubutsu no Mori e+ (as opposed to the final game's basic white font with no background). In the lower-right corner, a very early map can be seen detailing the island layout. It mostly looks normal, however, a very large portion is yellow indicating it is the beach. If this is the beach, it was clearly a very early version with a rectangular shape extending outward on the right, and a large portion of sea in the lower-left corner.

The river is now also visible, with water looking more similar to that from the rivers in New Leaf. The edge of the ground above the water has a more rock-like texture. A body of water also peaks out at the left edge of the screen. Next to the river, a tree with an Orange fruit peeks out, indicating that Oranges are in this build.

Flowers can be seen, with Cosmos that look almost identical to the final version. Next to the flowers at the bottom, weeds are shown demonstrating how difficult it was to see them with the realistic grass of these builds. At the top we see some white fencing, with the same shape as the plain wooden fencing from the final but white, and also having a more detailed texture mimicking that of the trees and tree stumps. This fencing also appears later. A player house is behind the fences, with furniture placed around it including a bike and a trash can. It seems that the ability to place furniture outside and freely build fencing was decided early on. Over the horizon, a rooftop and chimney peak out with the chimney blowing smoke. The red roofing indicates this may be another player house, though this is not confirmed.

Finally, in both upper corners are an early cliff design, looking similar to the cliffs from New Leaf. Interestingly, the cliff in the upper-left corner seems to be raised higher than they are in the final, though this may be due to the perspective.

E3 2019

A trailer was released at E3 2019, along with some gameplay footage. There are numerous differences between this build and the final, though most are aesthetic.

Trailer

This trailer is 1 minute and 46 seconds long and features gameplay footage along with in-engine clips, both from the various places, seasons, and times in the game.

Starting off the trailer, we see the player walking along the beach.

The beginning of the trailer, showing the player walking along the beach.

A few noticeable differences can be found. The first being the ocean, which has a much different look than what's seen in the final. It looks a bit more primitive and basic compared to the final and has a more cartoon-like aesthetic, but the wave's shapes are more or less the same.

The beach is different, with the sand looking a lot less detailed. Going towards the right of the screen we see a ledge that connects the beach and the grass. This does not seem much different from the final, only being a slightly different color.

A few seconds later we see the player setting up their tent and roaming the island. From the look of the weeds, this seems to be during the summer time. There are a few notable differences from the final. The grass is different, now having done away with the triangular blades scattered across the ground for a more traditional look. However, the texture on the grass seems to be different still, with the triangular pattern that's seen everywhere in the final now being much more toned down. The rest of the grass has a strange soft look to it, which doesn't make it look as much like grass.

Later on, we see the player decorating the beach in the morning. Strangely, the sand in this clip seems much more detailed with a wavy texture and light grains much like the final sand. This could be footage from a different build, though it's more likely that it looked different in the first clip because of the perspective and time of day.

Footage from later seasons is shown, as well as Winter. While the clip of Winter is brief and does not have many notable differences, one oddity can be seen as the player rolls a snowball.

This cliff is not seen, nor can it be created in the final game.

A cliff which appears to extend 2 tiles outward is seen. However, the cliff is curved on both sides in a way that is not possible in the final game. In the final, cliffs like this cannot be generated on an island map. Additionally, while terraforming, when the player tries to round the edge of a cliff corner that is connected to one other which is rounded, both cliffs are destroyed. The only way an outward extending cliff can be rounded is if there is at least one flat cliff piece connecting two rounded ones.

If that was confusing to you, essentially the game doesn't let you shape a cliff like this.

This detail shows that the ability to create a so-called "pointy cliff" was removed very late into the game's development. It was likely due to technical reasons. Cliffs already have many limitations on what shape they can and can't be, partially to make the game realistic (you can't place a cliff next to a tree because the cliff might bury the tree, for example) but also probably for technical reasons. Rounding edges of cliffs make it so you can't place furniture, plant flowers, or lay down paths on the corner tile. Adjusting rounded cliffs to support these things likely would have been time-consuming, challenging, or even impossible. These things limit the creativity of players but are ultimately necessary to make the game stable and keep the (already-delayed) release date. I guess you could say the developers really had to cut corners... (please don't ban me)

Finally, finishing up the trailer, we see what is probably the most infamous difference from the final game.

White fences, and colored fences in general, is a very popular requested feature from fans. The demand for it was pushed even further when white fences were seen in this clip from the E3 trailer.

White fences, similar to the ones from the screenshots from before E3, can be seen here. This time they don't have the wood-like texture from the earlier screenshots and look much more similar to the wood fences from the final game. What we don't know, however, is why these fences are white. It could be that wooden fences were always meant to be white, which is supported by the earlier screenshot. However, this could be a remnant from a scrapped feature in which you could change the color of the wood on these fences. The former is more likely, but as of the writing of this, there is no way to change the color of fences in the game.

The trailer ends with eight different players running to the beach and looking out into the sunset.

Post-release

April 26, 2021

Animal Crossing New Horizons-prerelease-2021-04-26 update post-removed screenshot.jpg

An update post published on April 26, 2021 had a screenshot featuring a house that didn't exist in any released version of the game. It was soon replaced with another screenshot, and on the Japanese version of the site, an apology was given.


(Source: Nintendo Life)