Monday, 18 March 2013

Going Up Country: The Endless Forest

MMO is a term stretched so loosely these days it barely has any shape left at all. EA are taking flak from all directions already so riling up MMO fans by claiming the tag for Sim City is probably the least of their worries right now.

This isn't going to be a post about Sim City, though. I have no dog in that fight. I tried the original game long, long ago and let's just say for entertainment value I'd rate it right up there with getting an insurance quote. And wasn't there going to be an actual MMO based around city-building anyway, now I come to think of it? Cities XL.That went well.

No, this post is about something else entirely. Something about as far away from building cities as you can imagine and further still from the traditional MMO.

The Endless Forest started as an art project commissioned and funded by the Musee d'Art Moderne in Luxembourg a decade ago. The complex history of its development from then on is covered in a comprehensive Wikipedia entry and on the Tale of Tales website, where you can also download and play it for yourself.

The last couple of times I looked at The Endless Forest I didn't find much to see. I seem to remember having trouble getting it to run at all. That was years ago. This weekend, for no reason other than that I happened to notice it in my Bookmarks, I fired it up again and found something quite different, quite...strange.

The game, for want of a better word, now runs smoothly and looks stunning. Here's some video I took with Fraps and cobbled together with Movie Maker, just to give an impression. Obviously the compressed YouTube version does it no favors but you can see how gorgeous it is from the screenshots.



Everyone's a deer in The Endless Forest. There are full-grown deer and fawns. If you register you start as a fawn and grow into a deer over time. Otherwise you emerge fully-formed, with antlers and a really quite disturbing, humanoid face.





I saw other deer wearing masks, with candles on their antlers, even with exposed bones as though their hides had been torn away. I saw large crows and rabbits which I thought might be players but I wasn't sure. I couldn't ask because you don't speak in The Endless Forest. Not in words. There's no chat function of any kind.

That doesn't mean you can't express yourself, far from it. At the bottom of the screen you have a range of icons representing actions. Emotes, if you like. You can use these to communicate with other deer and if you happen to be in  part of the forest where other possibilities exist, magical possibilities perhaps, you will find the necessary abilities selected for you. What will happen when you use them? That you won't know until you try.

A year ago The Endless Forest lost its arts grant funding but it continues under a system of voluntary subscription. Donation might be a better description. How long it will survive, who knows? There were plenty of deer running, sleeping, drinking, praying, playing and just generally being deer while I was there, so I take that as a good sign.

Is it an MMO? Well, in some ways it's more like what I imagined an MMORPG to be before I ever played one. A place where magic happens while you pretend to be something you could never be, living an illusion shared by all around you. Most MMOs I've played didn't turn out to be much like that.

On the other hand, most of them did turn out to have a lot of hooks to hold my attention for months at a time. Whether running through a forest gathering flowers on my antlers and passing them to strangers could do the same, well I doubt it.

So, no logging in for Dailies in The Eternal Forest. Just waking up there on a whim, once in a while, I hope. And if not for eternity then for many years to come.





6 comments:

  1. I've heard of this thing and found the concept to just be plain wierd. Pity it lost its grant funding though but I'm surprised there are people who donate to play a non-violent deer game? :P

    Since in my head it sounds like it won't be around for long I'm gonna download it just to see it for myself (it probably has more depth than a few other mmo's out there anyway).

    Hey, since you are an MMO person - ever try out Wizardry Online? You and Mrs. Bhagpuss may enjoy it (or you may hate it). Personally I use the GW dailies to relax from each rather stressful session of Wizardry. Hehe :P

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    1. I've looked at Wizardry Online and I'd certainly give it a shot if I was short of MMOs to try, but I have the opposite problem at the moment. I haven't even gotten around to playing, for example, Age of Conan even though I've had the sealed box sitting in arm's reach of my PC for about three years.

      Too many MMOs, too little time.

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  2. I tried this but... I didn't see any deer! Yes, I was connected. I tried running EVERYWHERE but I didn't see another deer ANYWHERE!!! I don't mean to sound like the whiney noob that nobody helps but... please?

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    1. I just logged in to the Endless Forest to check and I saw a dozen or so deer just in a couple of minutes, so the "game" is up and running okay. I did a bit of googling and apparently there are several reasons you might not see other deer. Have a look at this thread

      No Deer

      Most likely causes seem to be either a poor internet connection or having the "See Other Players" setting too low. Hope that helps.

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