Huh, that's surprising! I thought that the lo-fi graphics were a conscious effort that you specifically aimed for, not a budget choice. It is an interesting mix, though, between the voice acting and blocky visuals. This may be a question you've got before, but have you ever considered using edited photographs for graphics, at least for locations and profile pictures, if not for character animation? At least in the Shivah, all of the locations and people are (of course) able to be found in NYC without too much effort. Might not work well for walking and other animations, though.
It's actually something I'm considering for a game next fall (can't resist a plug for GDIAC at http://gdiac.cis.cornell.edu
). I don't want the game to be too dependent on art output, so I'm wondering if I can utilize photos as a main part of graphics to reduce the art load. I'm interested in what you think, Mr. Gilbert, because of all the games I've ever played, The Shivah surprisingly came closest to what I'd like to achieve in my own future designs: non-fantasy stories with a deeper theme than just beating the game. I think Manifesto Games' review said it best:
"Rabbi Stone Has a Crisis of Faith
Before we go any farther, please notice the headline. When was the last time you heard a game described in remotely similar terms?
Is there any merit in the idea of using photographs for visuals to enhance a more realistic storyline, or would it probably just come off as tacky?