Tag Archives: unreal

The Unreal Forest: step 22 – beta 1

More than five years after the crowdsourcing campaign we’re happy to announce that the remake of The Endless Forest is finally complete! It has taken us a lot longer than expected to recreate in its entirety the multiplayer game in Unreal Engine. But the first beta release is ready for all backers to be downloaded and tested. And we’re already looking forward to continue expanding the forest -after the necessary bug fixing, of course.

If you have backed the project and you have not received an email with a download link, please let us know!

If still you want to support the project, play the beta and acquire some of the perks, please do so now because the campaign will be closed soon. The donation page is here.

The work on the remake began in earnest early 2017. The Endless Forest had been the first game we released, in 2005. At that time we had not fully developed a system for archiving data. On top of that, the old engine, Quest3D, used file formats for 3D models and textures that had become obsolete. And to make matters worse, the file server on which most files were stored had crashed and we had to painstakingly restore the files hidden on it.

Both Unreal Engine and Quest3D have visual interfaces to programming. This is essential for us, visual artists, to be creative with expressing logic. The paradigms of both engines, however, are extremely different. So more than translating the logic into another language, a lot of it had to be rethought within the new framework.

Since The Endless Forest is a multiplayer game, one of the first things we had to figure out was how to program networking in the new engine. Unreal Engine is set up quite well for match-based networked play with a limited amount of players of whom one acts as the server. This model, however, is unsuitable for a massively multiplayer game like The Endless Forest. We needed a server to be available at all times and no limitation the the amount of players that could log on. Sadly, the process of creating such a thing, is quite cumbersome in Unreal Engine and not very well documented. After a lot of trial and error that involved compiling Unreal from source code and converting our game to C++ we figured out how to do it. But it remains a complicated task, each time we want to release an update. Add to this the limited ways in which networking logic can be tested within the editor, requiring that this tedious compilation process must be followed simply for testing and debugging many network-related issues.

That being said, Unreal’s visual programming system, called Blueprints, is a joy to work with. And the editor contains wonderful tools, paradigms and interfaces to make many tasks easier to do, once one figures out how to use them.

In this early stage, we also implemented the endlessness of The Endless Forest, which means that the game world wraps around itself. This is quite tricky, especially in a multiplayer context. Unable to re-use the logic from the old game, we came up with a new system that works quite well.

Next we implemented controls so we could actually play the game. That was encouraging. Followed by new activities and animations of the avatar.

The Endless Forest, while extremely important, was not the only thing that we did in our artistic lives. We were also invited for art residencies in Poland and Rome, during which we worked on other projects. This of course slowed down the work on the remake.

But by the end of 2017 we did manage to add Forest Magic to the remake, a major feature by which players can change each other’s avatars’ appearance. This feature was finished when we came back home in early 2018

In 2018, work was interrupted several times by an invitation to present at the Freeplay festival in Melbourne, by participation in the Videogames exhibition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, by the presentation of our VR theater Cricoterie in Warsaw, by an award at Indiecade in Paris and a panel presentation about The Endless Forest in Dundee.

Nevertheless, in the summer we made a spectacular step forward simply by adding the floor model and textures of the first phase of the game. Suddenly the remake started looking a lot more like The Endless Forest! So far we had been working on flat floors with symbolic colors. It was nice to feel that forest atmosphere a little.

By the end of 2018 (in October, November and December) we had implemented the buttons and animations for emotions and activities such as dancing, the trees and bushes and flowers of Phase One and the elements that make up the area of the ruin. And as a crowning achievement, we managed to compile a server for the game so that we were able to release a first playable version of the remake as a Christmas gift to all backers.

In January 2019, we finished the first phase of the Endless Forest, the area around the ruin and in February we implemented weather changes. In March, then, the new game was connected to the database of the old game which allowed players to login with their own accounts. Thanks to this, we were able to hand out the first perks to the backers in an Easter release that included a whole new outfit to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the game that triggered the crowdsourcing campaign for a Second Decade of the game.

After this, work gets interrupted again by presentations of Cricoterie in the Foksal gallery in Warsaw (our first solo gallery show!), the Tinguely Museum in Basel and the Game Happens festival in Genova. Simultaneously, we also organized our move from Belgium to Italy, which was accompanied by a lot of hard work and stress.

Once settled in a little in Rome, at the end of 2019, we added the second phase of The Endless Forest, the area with the pond, which we continue working on in the beginning of 2020. In February, after finishing Phase Two, we release another playable build for the backers.

After this I started working on a completely new project, a VR piece called Compassie, that I had been fortunate enough to get funding for in Belgium. By this time, the money from the crowdsourcing campaign had completely run out and we needed other sources of income.

The work on this new project was interrupted for adding the third phase of the forest environment and many of the elements that bring it to life. After adding the Drinkplaats, we felt that the remake was sufficiently complete to release a first alpha build to our backers in October 2020.

I then returned to Compassie and continued to work on it until its release in April 2021.

After this break, I dove back into the Forest, so that in the summer of 2021 we were able to release a second alpha build of the remake that includes the fawn character for beginning players and lots of interface additions.

To support ourselves further, I accepted a commission from an old client for an interactive museum exhibit. This project dominated the second half of 2021.

In early 2022, I implemented a lot of the Abiogenesis systems that we use for doing live performances in the game. And even though the results of this are not immediately visible to the players, we did release a third alpha build, in order to test these features on the network.

I dedicated the lent period of 2022 to the remake of The Endless Forest. In an effort to release a first beta version of the game (meaning the game is complete except for bugs) by Easter, the day of the Resurrection, I removed all other activities from my agenda. So in the meditative atmosphere of a life of fasting, with no Italian lessons nor playing music, I managed to stick to the schedule almost perfectly. Backers can now download and play the first beta of the remake of The Endless Forest! While this is a major milestone, it doesn’t mean that the project is finished. There’s lots of known bugs that still need to be fixed and undoubtedly many new problems will come up during this testing phase. But the finish is in sight!

Thank you for your support and patience!

Michael Samyn.

The Unreal Forest: step 21 – alpha 3

In the third alpha release of the remake of The Endless Forest we have concentrated on a number of special features such as the seasonal environment changes and Abiogenesis technology. So these may not be immediately visible unless you catch us testing. The idea is to evaluate these features before we proceed with the next step. And as mentioned with the previous alpha, testing server-client interaction is not fully possible in the Unreal Editor.

If all goes well enough, this will be the the final alpha release. The next release should be a beta version. So this version is still incomplete. But we’re getting there.

Work on this release was interrupted for a while by a client commission the proceeds of which were invested into The Endless Forest. And by a long overdue trip to my homeland Belgium. I had not seen my parents and brother in two years because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Some time was also lost by attempting to upgrade to a newer version of Unreal Engine but failing to compile the editor from its source code. So we’re still using version 4.25.1 at the moment.

The remake of The Endless Forest is taking a lot longer than expected. So we’re happy to see that the current game is still running and that the player community is as enthusiastic as ever. We’re grateful for all the moral and financial support and are looking forward to seeing you in The Forest!

Thank you all and see you soon!

Michael Samyn.

PS: If you backed the game on Indiegogo or via PayPal and you have not received an email with a link to download the alpha 3 build of the game, please email us!

The Unreal Forest: step 20 – alpha 2

A second alpha build of The Endless Forest Second Decade has just been released. Backers should have received a download link. It contains almost all features of the original game. The biggest chunk missing now is the Abiogenesis effects. But there’s also a lot of bugs remaining. I wish I could fix them already but I have to interrupt the work for another project now. We are compensating for our hopeless underestimation of the budget collected through crowd sourcing with income generated by such other projects. This delays things a little more but we are getting closer!

Lots of things have been implemented since the first alpha release of October.

The loading of saved data (for the avatar’s appearance, among others) was restructured. This is particularly complicated because we’re combining local saving and online saving.

Bug detection in online features is particularly complicated in this project because one cannot run an online game in the Unreal Editor and it takes an entire day to build a new server package. And Unreal requires perfect compatibility between servers and clients.

The Action Bar display was tweaked a little and a slider was added to the menu to change the size of the buttons. Many other items were added to the menu to the point where it can be considered complete for the remake. Several things from the old game were omitted because they are not relevant anymore. And new options were and will be added.

An option was added to invert camera zoom and to change camera rotation speed and direction. And a switch was added to put the camera behind the avatar

Joystick control of the avatar and of the Action Bar was added as well.

A system for localization of the menu language was implemented, starting with English to Flemish. But it doesn’t seem to work in the build yet.

The screensaver feature was also added: now the camera turns around the sleeping deer. And the option to observe other players in this rest mode was added as well.

Our beloved fawn is back!

A big feature is the implementation of the fawn avatar that new players use in their initial month. It turned out to be impossible to import the original files used in the current game correctly. But thanks to Blender we managed to put the fawn back together and even succeeded in having the adult deer and the fawn share animations. Then all the fawn’s textures and antler meshes where excavated from our less than perfect archives. And finally all the ways in which the fawn logic differs from the adult deer were implemented (magic that times out, for instance).

The game menu was further expanded with toggles for pictograms visibility, morphing (used for blinking and roaring), Abiogenesis performance camera and sound. Volume sliders were added for ambient sound, sound effects and music. The credits were added to the menu, including the names of the backers of the crowdsourcing campaign.

An exciting new feature was added too: a slider to increase the density of the forest, which may now be feasible on fast computers.

A lot of research was done in the Abiogenesis system, especially with respect to initializing semi-permanent changes (such as time of day, weather, huge crocuses, confetti, etc.). Different approaches were implemented in this alpha to test which work best. So that we can finalize the system in the next phase of development and add all the Abiogenesis content. After which the remake should be complete and ready for a beta release.

This project is taking a lot more time than expected. We are grateful for the patience of the players and also for the fact that, against our fears, the current game is still running, despite of the ongoing evolution of technology. Hopefully it will continue to do so until the remake is done. Soon!

A big thanks to all the backers for their support!

Michael 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!