Category Archives: The Endless Forest

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.

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 Unreal Forest: step 13 – it’s Easter!

In this step we implemented a major feature on our way to a full remake of The Endless Forest: database connectivity. And we have released a new pre-alpha build of the remake that includes the appearance perks for the backers of the crowdsourcing campaigns, including the new Tin Deer set. All backers should have received an email with a download link. If you haven’t, please email us.

Oddly, Unreal Engine does not come with a straightforward way to access web-based data. But through a plugin called LE Http Request we could access the Endless Forest database in the same way as we do in the current game. So we started building the options menu of the game with the Network section to log in with username and password. When a login is successful, a code is received from the database that represents the deer name, or pictogram. In Unreal we created a shader to convert this code to a unique pictogram for each player.

Another code received from the database represents the appearance of the deer: antlers, mask, pelt and body. So we added logic to parse this code so that the avatar looks the way it did when its appearance was last saved. Since the new and the old game share the same database, an appearance saved in one can be loaded in the other. So to flaunt your well deserved perks in the current game, you need to acquire the mask, antlers and pelt you would like in the new pre-alpha build of the remake and save your appearance to the database in the Network menu. Then when you log into the current game, your deer should look the same. But first contact us to let us know the account name to which the perks should be applied. Otherwise it won’t work.

Everybody loves the Tin Deer! On Instagram it became our best like post ever.
Everybody loves the Tin Deer! On Instagram it became our best liked post ever.

The Tin Deer was created to celebrate the ten year anniversary of The Endless Forest. Only Indiegogo backers of 10 Euros or more can get the new antlers, mask and pelt. Forest Lovers of 100 Euros or more get access to the Valentine set and Forest Believers of 300 or more can get the Golden Pelt for their deer. The latter two are still available via the fundraising campaign. When saved in the remake, they will show up in the current game too, including the new Tin Deer set.

To facilitate playing together we have also added the display of the pictograms in the border of the game, so you can find each other easily.

The game also saves your login information to disk and logs you in automatically on startup. And we have added a way to shut down the game which also saves your login data before quitting.

We tweaked the color of the ground a bit. There’s no way we can make the game look the same in Unreal as in Quest3D, the old engine. But we want it to look good in and of itself.

And of course there were a million other things that happened. Some tiny things that take days to figure out. Others huge finished in a few minutes.

We have been working hard on the remake of The Endless Forest over the past months. But as you may know, the estimated time budgeted for producing has been exceeded quite a bit. This means that we are funding the remainder of the remake ourselves. Every contribution to the ongoing fundraiser helps, but sadly it’s not enough. So regrettably we need to take a break now and work on some other projects before we can continue remaking The Endless Forest. But don’t worry. We’re getting there!

We hope you enjoy the new “Easter build” of the remake-in-progress. It’s still a bit early for actual bug reporting. So please ignore the many little errors. Just restarting the game solves most issues. If you would run into a serious problem, please send us an email with the steps to take to replicate the issue (we deeply appreciate the time you would put into this).

Thank you all for your support, encouragement and patience.

See you in the Forest!

—Michaël & Auriea.

The Unreal Forest: step 12

The focus of this step has been changing the weather and the time of day in the forest.

To trigger these changes in the forest, the building of the interface for Abiogenesis has begun. Changing the time of day involves changing the color of the lights but also some materials. In the original game the color of almost all materials is changed but in Unreal only a few are needed to achieve the desired effect. Some other things change as well when the time of day changes: instead of butterflies, fireflies appear above flower beds and instead of doves, swarms of bats fly overhead. The sound changes too when night falls, both the general atmosphere and specific sounds of nature are different. All the sound files of the old game were reused.

Changing the colors for the time of day worked out okay with Unreal’s standard atmosphere system. But to approximate the subtlety (and complexity) of the original game when changing the weather, a new system needed to be built that allowed the reuse of specific colors and numbers in the old game. With the colors of sky and lights in place, it was relatively straightforward to implement the particles systems for rain, snow and mist, using the original textures (although the resolution of snow was increased). And to replicate how the sound is affected by weather changes.

When comparing screenshots of the old and new game, it became clear that our camera setup still didn’t match the original game. As it turns out, the field of view in The Endless Forest is exceptionally narrow. I think we chose to do this to reduce perspective distortion of the tree trunks. A more narrow view also means that the camera needs to be further away. This change required all sorts other tweaks to sound, particles systems, and so on.

Implementing time of day and weather took a lot more effort that anticipated. But I’m glad it’s done. And I love how it looks.

Thank you for your support!

— Michaël Samyn.

The Unreal Forest: step 11

January has been a month of steady progress in tiny steps. In preparation of the expansion of the forest, I have fixed a number of bugs, tweaked a few features and added some pleasant details.

Unreal Engine is completely designed for multiplayer (match-based multiplayer, not the server-based multiplayer required for The Endless Forest, although there is a lot of overlap on the client side). As a result it is in fact a little tricky to make things happen only on the individual player’s computer. This is why in the current alpha, the dance music is such a jumble: every player starts a new iteration of the song. I think I have fixed this now, but I haven’t tested it in an online context (which is surprisingly hard to do in Unreal Engine). The video was recorded with two clients on a single computer (so the music still sounds messy).

In the same vein I have set up a system for local effects and added the floating particles to it. And I have implemented the falling leaves (with procedural animation rather than baked), the flying doves, and the scurrying squirrels. All of these happen only on the local player’s computer. For performance reasons and also because it would make quite a mess when many deer gather.

The motion of the deer avatar has been improved, especially when walking towards a destination such as another deer or a tree to rub. But this might need another pass. I have also removed the bug that would allow the deer to try to rub against grass and ferns next to trees. And two deer should find each other now when sniffing.

The flower antler spell casting has been fixed so that you don’t keep the flowers after giving them away. Some hard edges of tree trunks have been smoothed. And the initial camera view doesn’t end up in the floor anymore.

None of this is very spectacular but it all needs to be done. And better now than when the forest gets bigger, multiplying the problems. We will need to step up the pace a bit if we want to achieve our goal of finishing the remake in the fall. Hopefully that will be possible.

Thank you all for your support. Please spread the word about the fundraising. Since this is taking longer than we had estimated, we could use some extra support.

— Michaël Samyn.

The Unreal Forest: step 10 – it’s Christmas!

We have managed to create a dedicated server for the multiplayer functionality in The Endless Forest. A client to try this out is available to backers of the fundraising campaign (*).

The process of creating a server for a multiplayer game in Unreal Engine is severely complicated by the fact that this requires a C++ version of the project and a custom build from the source of the editor. Here’s the steps that I took to make it work (some arrived at through hours and days of trial and error).

  1. Do the following on a solid-state drive as many of the steps are long processes that involve much read and write activity.
  2. Download and install Microsoft Visual Studio 2015.
  3. Download the Unreal Editor source files from Github.
  4. Compile Unreal Editor in Visual Studio 2015.
  5. In game project’s Config folder, edit DefaultEngine.ini to set “r.PostProcessing.PropagateAlpha” to “0” as the default setting of “false” makes the build fail.
  6. Open a copy of the game project in the newly built Unreal Editor, package the game and resolve errors until the build succeeds.
  7. Apply the same fixes to the original project but don’t build it.
  8. Open the game project in the source editor and add a dummy C++ class of “None”. This will create a bunch of files and end with opening the game project in Visual Studio. Wait until Visual Studio is done parsing and scanning thousands of files.
  9. Close the Unreal Editor. Close Visual Studio.
  10. In the project’s new Source folder, create [game name]Server.Target.cs (**).
  11. Double click [game name].sln to open it in Visual Studio. Wait until it’s fully loaded and done scanning and parsing.
  12. Build the game client in Visual Studio. We will not use it. So maybe this step is redundant.
  13. Run Engine\Binaries\Win64\UnrealFrontend.exe and create and launch the project to create the game server. If UnrealFrontend does not exist, build it after loading UE4.sln in Visual Studio.
  14. Open Unreal Editor (built from source) and create a build package. Make sure all maps are included in the package settings array.
  15. Copy [project folder]/Binaries/Win64/[game name]Server.exe to [builds folder]/[game name]/Binaries/Win64
  16. Make a shortcut to the server and add “/Game/[mapname] -log” to its command line.
  17. Run the server and some clients to test if it all works.
  18. If the server complains about missing files, install the C++ runtime and copy any required DLL files to the server machine.
  19. After all this your 500 MB Blueprint project will have become a 16 GB C++ project. So have a lot of free disk space!

It took us two weeks to build a functioning dedicated server from a project with perfect multiplayer functionality in the regular Unreal Editor. Mostly because many of the operations take a long time and Unreal C++ project folders are huge and contain many files, making everything take long. Since testing within the editor is inconsistent, for each change one has to go through the entire cycle again. Here’s to Epic including server building in the Unreal Editor by the time we start beta-testing!

If you are a backer, thank you, and download and try out the game. We’re curious how it will fare when larger numbers of players use it.

Merry Christmas!
Happy New Year!

— Michaël Samyn.

(*) Send email to The.Endless.Forest at Tale-of-Tales if you are a backer but did not receive the download link. There’s still some major bugs (sometimes the client starts with the camera in the floor and when a player leaves, their deer body might fuse with another’s). Restarting the program usually fixes this. If automatic connection didn’t work or the connection is lost, you can try connecting again by pressing the Enter key.

(**) The text for [game name]Server.Target.cs is

using UnrealBuildTool;
using System.Collections.Generic;

[SupportedPlatforms(UnrealPlatformClass.Server)]
public class [game name]ServerTarget : TargetRules
{
       public [game name]ServerTarget(TargetInfo Target) : base(Target)
       {
        Type = TargetType.Server;
        ExtraModuleNames.Add("[game name]");
       }
}