The Endless Forest

The Endless Forest

Imagine a ‘social screensaver’ PC game where your only mission is to explore, play and discover. ‘The Endless Forest’ is a feat of conceptual gaming.

I have to admit: I’ve never been big on computer games (or games of any sort, truth be said), but occasionally something deep inside me tells me that if I don’t find some sort of cyber-reality to get immersed in, I’ll get even crazier than I already am. I usually stick to point and click adventure games since I’m no good at anything else. I’ve long dreamed of something that would satisfy my need for surreal, outlandish environments to explore, whilst not having to exert much intellectual effort. In other words, I’ve been longing for a game where you don’t have to play. You just sit back, relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Can you imagine my happiness when I became acquainted with a new, rather controversial and entirely alternative branch of PC gaming (and, indeed, beyond the PC): that of conceptual games. Now, as far as I can gather, conceptual gaming encompasses a range of games where you don’t play to win. They are based on the idea of “exploration”: exploration of cyber-environments, but also of ideas and stories. The team at Tale of Tales does precisely that: they design and develop games more like virtual mandalas than anything else. Some of their exquisite work includes The Path – “a horror game” in which modern-day Red Riding Hoods choose whether to stay on the path or stray off it. Fatale is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s play “Salome”. Tales of Tales also produce the quirky, Gothic-style The Graveyard – in which you play a dear old granny wandering through a cemetery.

But the game that I’m currently addicted to is also the most accessible of all on the Tale of Tales list. I’m talking about The Endless Forest, the “social screensaver” which Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (original designers and developers of all Tale of Tales projects) are still working on and constantly updating. The latest version of the game can be downloaded and played for free, anonymously or under a chosen moniker, as each user may prefer. The concept of The Endless Forest is captivating to say the least: each player starts out as a “faun” – a baby deer with an uncannily human face which in the space of a real-time month develops into a fully-grown human-faced deer – wandering through a seemingly infinite, repetitive forest. Each player may interact with other fauns – oops, I mean on-line users – but their communication is restricted to actions such as roaring, bowing to show respect, charging in anger, shaking one’s head in confusion, scratching the ground or even dancing, forest-style. Whilst this may not appear to promote communication between users, I find it, in fact, fascinating. For the first time in my history of on-line gaming (and I can at least boast of having attempted MUDs and on-line RPGs), I am challenged to communicate with fellow internauts in fresh and original ways that DO NOT require words or slang abbreviations.

The forest itself is mesmerising and tempts players to explore every further. It is not a monotonous expanse of wood. Landscapes vary from harmonious glades where butterflies flit over fields of poppies or hyacinths to layers of austere birches and sycamores. The background sounds and music are very soothing, and they also vary according to the part of the forest which you happen to be exploring. There are also several attraction sites, to be discovered and contemplated, which pose a whole new set of questions about the cyber-world of The Endless Forest (and its developers seem to hint that future versions might disclose some of the answers, too!). There’s the mysterious ruin of a castle or cathedral, surrounded by a dismal graveyard; then there’s the secretive pond whose waters attract hoards of fauns hoping to reveal its mysteries; the Old Oak Tree is the fauns’ favourite hideaway; then there’s “the playground”, where huge stone boulders present a good excuse for jumping around purposelessly, just for relaxation; and last, but by no means least, “De Drinkplaats” (meaning “the watering place”) is a magical fountain whose waters can produce unexpected effects on the unwitting faun.

A lot of the imagery reproduced in The Endless Forest draws on legends or paintings, thus making the game more of a 3D work of art than anything else, begging to be explored and experienced. Also, though not much happens from day to day, the forest provides plenty of entertainment, what with all the magic that goes around. By interacting with the forest – eating the flowers, rubbing against trees, or consuming the water – the fauns can transform (change the shape and colour of their antlers, faces or pelts, for instance) or cast spells on fellow fauns (thus making them transform in surprising, sometimes entirely unexpected ways).

An exciting feature of this “social screensaver” is that its inventors not only use (abuse?) their powers spontaneously, from time to time, to influence the otherwise serene space of the forest (they are known and play as the Twin Gods in the game), but also the fact that they occasionally organise true social events within The Endless Forest (to celebrate Halloween, for instance, or to set up a varying range of alt-style festivals).

The Endless Forest is certainly the most entertaining on-line based game I’ve ever played, and it sometimes keeps me in its thralls for hours on end, just through the sheer mesmerising atmosphere. More than just a game, it’s an experience to be lived and enjoyed, and I’ll heartily recommend it to any and all who fancy a break from the same old routine of traditional gaming.