Interview: Endnight Games On The Forest, A Lost-Inspired Beauty With Cannibals
I love indie, and I’m always scouting around looking for up and coming developers that have something truly special. Of course I love to help out the rest as well where possible, but what I mean is that now and again there comes a game that you look at and you just know there is something special here. It took me one minute of looking at The Forest from Endnight Games to know that this is the game for me. I immediately got in touch with the team for an interview, and now I’m bringing that to you, because I almost guarantee you that if you take the time to see what this game is about and watch some footage, you will be blown away. Check out our interview conducted with creative director Ben Falcone.
EGMR: Thank you Endnight Games for taking the time to do this interview. I always love getting to know indie developers, so please introduce yourselves. What previous projects have you worked on?
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Ben: My name is Ben Falcone and I’m the creative director. My background is mostly Visual Effects where I’ve worked for over ten years as a lighting and look development artist on films such as ‘Tron: Legacy’ ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘300’. More recently I’ve been involved in independent videogames, and in 2012 I created an iPad title named ‘End Night’ – a small open world horror game, made as a solo effort, the game’s development got me very excited about open world horror possibilities and once it was finished decided to do something much bigger and this time with a small team involved.
EGMR: Congratulations on getting Greenlit! I found The Forest recently after seeing a picture of the game in a Tweet. Since I’m a massive fan of horror, I was instantly excited. Tell me, what is The Forest all about?
Ben: The forest drops you in a world that’s at first mysterious and beautiful, but which soon becomes a nightmare as you realise you are not alone.
EGMR: This is my favourite question: what, would you say, is the biggest reason to play The Forest?
Ben: Our main aim in designing the game is building a simulation, a world players can really get lost in. Everything reacts to what the players does, every plant can be cut, every tree chopped down. We feel this level of freedom makes the game very exciting, it’s fun and engaging to just exist in the world. Conversely, a reason to not play the game lives deep in the caves.
EGMR: Tell us, how did your game first come to life? What was your initial vision for it?
Ben: The initial idea was a game set in a forest, I had some ideas on how I could generate a procedural game world and had always felt the world from something like ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ or ‘Zombi’ would make a great game world.
EGMR: I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for Lost (a favourite TV series of mine) after watching the two trailers for your game. Were you inspired by it by any chance? What else helped to give you ideas for the game?
Ben: Definitely, we’re big fans of Lost here. We even did the lost tour in Oahu! Also early on in development we went on a real life cave trip which provided inspiration for our underground cave sections and changed the look and feel of our cave art and layout drastically.
EGMR: Before getting into gameplay, I have to say that my mind was blown away by the incredible graphical quality of your game. Which engine is your team using, and how much emphasis did your team place on the visual aspect of the game during development?
Ben: The engine is Unity 4. My background is as an artist and lighter for film and tv and so visuals are always something we think about. We try and find ways the visuals and gameplay can work together, especially when it comes to lighting the game world. One thing we keep adjusting is just how dark night time is lit, and how dark the caves are. It’s about finding the right mix between filmic lighting, realism and gameplay.
EGMR: The initial trailer reveals the player character crash-landing on a mysterious island. Is survival the main objective, or is there a main story and mystery to unravel?
Ben: There’s a whole forest to discover and learn about, but survival is the main and first goal of many players. We don’t have a traditional story, instead we prefer to drop players into this situation and let them figure out how to survive
EGMR: Building on from that what are your core gameplay objectives?
Ben: We don’t have traditional objectives. Players can try to survive however they want. Eating is important to keep your energy up. If you hope to survive against the enemy threat it’s important to start planning what to do. We let players make all of these decisions, some players will want to stay in the plane and try and live there as long as they can, others will build a raft and escape to one of the nearby small islands during the night, only returning in the morning when it’s (hopefully) safe. Instead of any kind of traditional missions or objectives we give players a world and lots of options in how they survive in it.
EGMR: Your feature list references a living breathing forest with “changing weather patterns” and “plants that grow and die” to name a few. Are these solely to improve immersion, or do they affect gameplay? My assumption was that if survival is key, plants could be a source of food or medicine – and it wouldn’t be too good for you if they died.
Ben: The changing tide is a good example, at low tide certain caves become inaccessible, and if you’re not out of there in time you can get flooded and trapped inside. Plants and herbs can be used to make medicine, and though these are finite in the world, you can also grow your own garden to make healing plants at your base.
EGMR: In the day time you are meant to gather resources and set up your defenses. However what caught my attention was that at night you don’t just have to survive, as you can take the fight to your enemies. That sounds seriously awesome. Tell me, how does this element of choosing to fight back or hide work? What incentives do you have to hunt your enemies down for instance?
Ben: The enemy returns to it’s caves during the day to sleep, it’s there that they’re at their most vulnerable. Our enemies are also finite, so it’s possible to (eventually) wipe them all out, we don’t think this will be the goal of all players but some will definitely want to attempt this.
EGMR: Are you in any danger during the day? Perhaps from wild animals, starvation or sickness?
Ben: Players will have to decide how they spend their days, from going down into the tunnels to try and kill the sleeping mutants, or exploring the world to try and find a way out, or taking a more defensive position and building shelters traps and walls and building an impenetrable fortress.
EGMR: It says that you will face “genetic mutant enemies that have beliefs, families and morals”. That sounds extremely interesting to me. What does this mean for the game? Does it affect gameplay? For example would killing your enemies make them more hateful/aggressive towards you?
Ben: We’re trying to make the world and especially the a.i. dynamic and reactive to everything you do. The mutants travel in groups and these little family structures that can be broken up by you murdering some of them. We get some really interesting emergent gameplay with this when you kill the leader of one family, and how the other family members react to this changes depending on a variety of factors leaving you sometimes in a really dangerous predicament.
EGMR: How does player death work in the game? Are there checkpoints, or do you have one chance to get as far as you can, and dying means restarting from scratch?
Ben: We do have a permanent death mode, however in our main game mode we also allow players to save the game. Currently players can save anywhere, however for gameplay reasons we might switch this to only at certain locations, such as a shelter or fire.
EGMR: What are some of the things you can build to fortify or defend yourself?
Ben: You can build simple structures as seen in the first and second trailers, such as cabins and walls, or you can snap together doors, floors and ceilings and make pretty much any type of structure you can imagine. For defense there are a variety of traps you can make, a big inspiration for the game are those survival type films, where characters use everyday items to fight an enemy, we also try and capture that with our enemy combat. Fighting enemies head on isn’t often a great idea, instead to survive, setting traps, making molotov cocktails, covering yourself in mud to be less visible are all great ways to get the upper hand
EGMR: Your enemies appear to be very agile based on the trailers. What can you tell us about how they will function in the game? For example, are you able to outrun them if spotted? Are they relentless in chasing you down? Do they hunt you and can they find you in hiding places?
Ben: You can try to outrun them, although hiding in the bushes, or underwater in a lake is probably a better idea. We give these creatures lots of routines, they live life in the forest, they hunt food, create cannibal art (out of body parts) and sleep during the day. They are pretty relentless and a major focus of the game is surviving against this cannibal threat.
EGMR: What you most proud of with The Forest?
Ben: It’s really amazing to see the entire thing take shape, from initial concept to where we are now. Seeing an a.i. flee from you, jump on a near by tree, then jump tree to tree stalking you is always really satisfying.
EGMR: I was pleased to see that this will be a single-player experience, as it ensures a clear focus and direction. But the concept does seem to have multiplayer potential as well. Did the thought cross your mind at any point?
Ben: We always thought of it as a single player only experience, but over the course of development it’s become clear just how much an additional human in the experience could add. We plan to keep multiplayer as an additional mode, and have a lot of idea’s how this could play differently than other survival games.
EGMR: The game is currently set for PC and Oculus Rift. I understand those are your focus right now, but would you be keen to bring the game to PlayStation 4 and/or Xbox One if things are looking up?
Ben: Yes, we’re really excited about both platforms and would love to bring the game to consoles. Our main focus and passion however is PC gaming and so that’s our current focus.
EGMR: Where is your team with development right now? Your Steam page says an alpha was initially planned for the end of 2013, but was delayed to early 2014. I’m happy for the extra effort put in! What can we expect from the alpha, and how can gamers get in on it? Any word on a final release date?
Ben: We’re aiming for early this year for the alpha. Originally the end of 2013 was planned, however after the enormous response to the first trailer and seeing how excited people were for a game like this we decided to dedicate extra time to development to improve the game as much as possible before the public alpha release.
EGMR: Does Endnight Games believe that genetic mutant cannibals are people too, and should be accepted by society? If so, what would your team do if you were trapped on the Island inside your own game?
Ben: Of course, we’d still fight to survive against them though. When I watch movies like Dawn of the Dead or 28 days later I always imagine how I would survive in those situations, and it’s what we’ve tried to capture in this game. Throw people into a survival situation with lots of different options and then let people try to figure out how to survive.
That brings my interview with Ben Falcone and Endnight Games to a close. I hope you took the time to watch the trailers and take in all this information, because this absolutely looks like one of the most exciting indie games of the year. It has enormous potential, and I can’t wait to get my hands on it. We’ll definitely keep an eye out for this one. Of course, I’d like to voice my thanks to Endnight Games for taking the time to do this interview with us, and wish them all the best with this spectacular project.
Hopefully we’ll have more coverage soon. But admit it. You want The Forest.