All posts by Michaël Samyn

The Unreal Forest: step 19 – alpha!

The remake of the Endless Forest has reached the alpha stage! With the completion of Phase Three, I feel confident enough to declare the new release Alpha 1. A link to download the new build has been sent to the backers. The new server is already up and running and replaces the previous pre-alpha build.

Software is released in three stages: alpha, beta and final. For me, an alpha release is like an introduction: it gives a good idea of what the final program will be but several features are lacking and there’s many bugs and errors. The stage after this is the beta release which presents the full program with all features implemented but still many bugs and errors unresolved. It is in this stage that testers are invited to report on errors that the developers might have missed. After all beta stage problems have been addressed, the program can be released in its final state.

The work on this step took place over a period of two months: August and September 2020.
It started with the creation of special effects to simulate the streaming water on the Drinkplaats area, a major feature of the Phase Three forest, inspired by a painting by the Flemish baroque artist Roelant Savery we showed The Endless Forest with in a museum exhibition.

Less natural effecs were also added to the area to illustrate its magic. Upon entering the mushroom circle that surrounds the watering hole, the deer avatars lose all their special attire and return to their natural state. This feature was implemented making sure that the painstakingly acquired looks of the deer would be restored when leaving the area.

The real magic of the Drinkplaats happens on the watery rock: when a deer drinks from the water it shapeshifts into another animal: a bat, a rabbit, a frog, etc, of varying size. This was implemented as well as the animals that come to witness this strange spectacle. When many deer are gathered in this magical place, more and more forest dwellers show up and strange events occur ever more frequently. Stars fall from above, rainbows appear, circles of doves flutter away, fireworks of flowers explode in the air, and so on. These are all effects well known to the visitors of ye olde Abiogenesis festivals and have now been implemented in the remake. It was quite a massive task to analyze the Quest3D logic that drives these effects in order to recreate them in the Unreal Engine. The implementation of Abiogenesis effects on the Drinkplaats was the final big feature to be completed. A fittingly festive finale of the pre-alpha stage of the remake.

Of course, along the way, many bugs and errors were discovered. The most severe were fixed but a lot remains to be done. Thanks to the attention of several players, some errors were discovered in the animations of the deer. These were corrected. And the deer’s autonomous idle behavior was toned down a bit as well.

Perusing the old Endless Forest project, I find myself stumped every day at how much we were able to create in such a short amount of time, with far less experience than we have now. We must have worked like maniacs! Fighting against extreme budget limitations and driven by an enormous enthusiasm for the medium of videogames. Fifteen years later, just recreating the game without even needing to worry about design, will probably take two or three times as long. But it’s a rewarding process, seeing the old program regain new life and energy in contemporary technology, thwarting the death sentence of planned software obsolescence and re-opening the gates towards further expansion of our deer Forest and getting back to the live events we all used to love until everybody’s computer crashed under the pressure of our frantically dancing hooves.

I hope the players who supported this enormous project enjoy the first release of a complete remake of The Endless Forest. And it’s not too late to join them! Since development time has far exceeded our naively optimistic scheduling, the funding of the remake relies entirely on our own finances and the very welcome additional donations. If you like The Endless Forest and you want to see it continue its long life, and you want to hurry up the remake already, please consider contributing to the fundraising. We have some nice perks for you!

—Michael & Auriea.

The Unreal Forest: step 18

In this step detail was added to the Phase Three area, and some to Phase Two as well.

The daytime look of the grassland and birch forest area were tweaked to resemble the original game better. And the nighttime look was tweaked as well. The soundscape was adjusted to match the serene atmosphere.

Interaction with the Playground area was implemented. And the little birds were added, flying all over the place and landing on the deer’s antlers. While creating artificial life forms, we added the beautiful koi to the pond as well.

Phase three is almost finished. Only the Drinkplaats area remains to be done. Over the past month we haven’t been able to spend as much time on the remake as we wanted because another project demanded our attention. So a new build will have to wait until next month, when Phase Three is ready for you. This other project, by the way, is Endless Forest related and very very exciting! But, sadly, it need to remain a secret for now.

We hope all deer in the Northern hemisphere are finding ways to enjoy the summer time despite of the very strange things that are happening in the human world.

Thank you for your support!


—Michael & Auriea.

The Unreal Forest: step 17

With the completion of the entire area of The Endless Forest, the end of the project seems to become in sight. There’s still a million things to do but we’re getting there.

In this step all the forest assets of Phase Three (ground, features such as the Drinkplaats and the Playground, trees, rocks and bushes) have been implemented. This time it was a lot easier to find all the 3D models and textures in our archives. Apparently by 2007, when Phase Three was originally released we had started being more organized about our game production. And I have also developed a useful system for analyzing the implementation of all these assets in the old Quest3D engine in order to approximate the look of the original forest.

While massively encouraging, this is really just the raw 3D assets. There’s still many features that remain to be implemented (the birds, the Drinkplaats activity, actually being able to jump on the rocks of the Playground, the soundscape, and so on) and a lot of tweaking to be done in terms of aesthetics (lighting, color palette, etc). As advanced as Unreal Engine may be, it really has trouble rendering transparency. And there’s a lot of transparent grass textures in this area! So working around technology limitations is still a major part of the job in 2020.

Next to Phase Three, we also fixed some bugs, added WASD navigation and an interface for switching window size and mode.

This work has been done over the course of the past month (*). If the current rhythm continues, I’m hopeful that we may be able to release a first real alpha version of the remake by the end of next month. Meaning a build of the game that gives a good idea of the finished product but lacks features and contains bugs.

Step by step.

Thank you for your interest and support!


—Michael & Auriea.

(*) This month has been entirely sponsored by generous donations of the players! Thank you all, in the name of the community!

The Unreal Forest: step 16 – Phase Two!

In step 16 of the remake we have implemented Phase Two of The Endless Forest, originally released in April 2006. In this Phase the forest doubles in size to include a new area that features the Pond, the Crying Idol, the Twin Gods statue and the Old Oak and new activities such as swimming/bathing and worshiping.

To celebrate this joyous occasion we have released a new pre-alpha build of the game. If you have backed the remake via Indiegogo or Paypal you should have received an email with a link to the new game.

Apart from implementing the final aspects of Phase Two we have also corrected a few errors. This by no means means that this build is error free. We will continue to implement features and keep things working but the actual bug fixing is pushed back until the remake is complete. So there’s no need to notify us of any bugs just yet, unless the game completely refuses to function.

Generous Forest Believers who opted for the secret perk will be glad to hear that Black and Red pelts are enabled in this release.

We hope you will enjoy this update and remain endlessly grateful for your continued material and spiritual support.

— Michael & Auriea.

The Unreal Forest: step 15

First update of the year. Hopefully 2020 is the year in which the remake of The Endless Forest will see the light of day! We can’t make any promises other than we will do our very best. Because our lives are complicated and remaking this game is a surprisingly complex task (finding assets, figuring out programming logic, finding alternative methods, tweaking aesthetics, and so on). I can’t wait until it’s done so we can start working on additions and expansions! We’re getting so many ideas while working on this remake.

In this step we have added two fun activities to the “Phase Two” area of the game: falling into the pond and worshiping the Twin Gods.
When you fall, or run, into the water of the pond, your avatar changes into a frog and you can swim. When you get out of the water, you change back into a deer but lose any decorations (special antlers, masks or pelt): you are clean, reborn!
When you are near the Twin Gods, a special button appears that allows your deer to kneel before them. After worshiping like this for a while the deer turns white and is considered “devout”. After a while, the effect wears off. Next I will implement the ability to “convert” other deer.

I have also added small features like the dragonflies, the rings that appear on the water when you step in and the frogs that scurry away when you run around the pond area. Also implemented were the sounds of aquatic nature (water, ducks, frogs) and the Old Oak drone.

When adding the tiny symbols in the border for locating the Phase Two features (Pond, Twin Gods en The Old Oak Tree) I discovered and fixed an error in their display.

There’s hundreds of small features and fixes that need to be taken care of. But instead of fixing all of them before proceeding I have decided to go ahead and implement the main features first in order to arrive at an alpha stage of the complete game as quickly as possible. Then we would be able to release a playable build of the game and simply update it with bug fixes and additions of minor elements.

But we’re not there yet. A few more elements need to be added to Phase Two and then there is the entire Phase Three forest and its features to add.

If you would like to support this gargantuan project, you can do so here.

Thank you for your support.

—Michael & Auriea.

Another year, another book

In 2019 I again kept my thoughts on art, music, politics, media, etc, offline and unshared until now. You can read my seconded “untweeted” book here or buy a printed copy here.

Next year I’m writing this in Italian. So that even fewer people will read it!

—Michaël Samyn.

The Unreal Forest: step 14

It has been a long time since we have reported on a step in the remake of The Endless Forest. We have been busy with another project but above all, we have moved to another country. After twenty years in Belgium, we decided to embed ourselves in a different context. We now live in the eternal city of Rome, Italy. Settling in is still an ongoing process that impacts our ability to work. But we have managed to implement almost all assets of Phase Two of The Endless Forest.

With Phase Two, originally released almost 13 years ago, we double the size of the forest and add an idyllic pond surrounded by reeds and weeping willows and covered with waterlily pads. Of course, Unreal Engine offers its own options of dealing with reflections on the water surface. Other notable features of the Phase Two area are the bridge, the crying idol and the statues of the Twin Gods. And we have also added the big Old Oak tree.

It’s a spectacular update that came with a number of interesting challenges. But implementing these visual assets is only one part of Phase Two. Next we will add all the simulation features (sound effects, frogs, fish, dragon flies, etc) and activities (falling in the pond, praying to the Twin Gods, walking through the idol, etc). We hope to be able to do that over the course of next month and release another pre-alpha client by Christmas. But there’s a lot of things on our schedule already so cross fingers and send positive rays!

As mentioned before, the remake of The Endless Forest is taking a lot more time than expected. As such the funds so graciously collected by the players need to be supplemented with our own resources, slowing things down even more. Any new contributions are still very welcome here!

Thank you for your support.
See you in The (old) Forest (for now)!

—Michael & Auriea.

The art of failure

Cricoterie is a Virtual Reality program that explores aesthetics of failure, of things not working as expected, of lack of control. This was not necessarily what we intended. But art tends to happen exactly where the artist failed, where they had to fake things, or where they ran into the limitations of their medium: in the simulation, in the pretense, in the imagination, in the discrepancy between the achieved and the desired.

In the thirty years that we have been using computers creatively, they have remained promises that never delivered. The hardware never became fast enough and the software never useful enough. In fact each and every technology we have used has destroyed itself before it could even be explored. From desktop publishing and CD Roms to the world wide web, from HTML web sites to Flash to executables, from desktops to laptops to mobile devices, from net.art to videogames and now VR.

Every technological invention seems to be destined to fail. Almost always for a single reason: profit. New technologies are created within the capitalist system. But they remain underdeveloped precisely because of the commercial context.

Cricoterie is the first project we finished after abandoning both the medium of videogames and the practice of commercial distribution, in favor of a more sincere and focused approach to artistic creation. We’re proud of Cricoterie like any parent would be. But we are also skeptical. It’s hard to not make games in an interactive medium. And it’s hard not to make contemporary art in general. We love Virtual Reality. But there will not be enough time to explore it before this one fails too.

There is nothing we can do but accept this. We have to accept that our work is in fact to a large extent about failure. Not just our own failure to live up to the artistic quality we aspire to. Not just the failure of technology and its capitalist context. But ultimately also about the fatal failure of humanity to avoid being the cause of the sixth extinction.

Working with technology becomes a very melancholic activity. We are creating beauty with things that are destined to crumble. Drawings in the sand. Only far less poetic and a million times more difficult. Never to be able to reach a goal. Always falling short. Always losing. It’s a humbling sort of work. And perhaps this humility is exactly what is needed. Maybe there is some beauty in this weakness, in this failure. Maybe there is love to be found, or at least sympathy when we can recognize that we are all massive failures, the few that win perhaps most of all.

So we connect back to the inspiration behind Cricoterie: the theater of death of the Polish artist Tadeusz Kantor with its themes of war, holocaust, suffering and death and its aesthetics of poverty and misery. We did not relate to his work when we first encountered it but when we started exploring it we began to see if not beauty, then at least some kind of honesty.

Our horribly destructive era does not deserve beautiful art, art that celebrates the human spirit, the beauty of nature or grand spiritual aspirations. We get the art we deserve. The best we can do is steer away from cynicism and to seek a sort of forgiveness through art, perhaps even redemption. A new form of praying.

Solving this problem is impossible. Solving problems has caused enough trouble already, anyway. Let’s just slow down and look this monster of our own creation in the eyes. And try to forgive each other.