The Forest by Endnight Games
Published: April 25. 2014
Nearly everything goes bump in the night in Endnight Games’ upcoming cannibal horror story, The Forest
“The initial idea came from the 70’s and 80’s horror films I grew up watching,” says Ben Falcone, creative force behind the upcoming indie horror title The Forest. “Movies like ‘The Hills Have Eyes’, as well as the Italian cannibal films from that era, such as ‘The Descent’ and ‘Cannibal Holocaust’. I thought it would be really interesting to take the world from one of those films and throw a player into it.” With the help of six other developers, scattered around the world—most of whom have a VFX background, and have worked together on various film and television projects—Endnight Games is now working hard to do just that.
Falcone developed his first game—an iPad title called ‘End Night’—using Unity back in 2012. “I had a really great experience developing with [Unity], and after it was completed I started to think about a follow-up game. I started experimenting with Unity’s terrain and tree tools, and not long after that the first rough version of ‘The Forest’ was born.” He put together a small team, and set sail. The first prototype took only a week or two to get to a playable stage, with a basic player character, the ability to chop down trees and some basic AI.
The Forest quickly started to take shape as an open-world horror game, which throws players into perilous situations and provides them with a number of choices to make. There are no missions or cut-scenes whatsoever. “I think we’re most proud of the amount of freedom players have in the gameworld,” says Falcone. “We really stuck to the initial idea of complete freedom. There are a few really cool open-world games, but none that also have such a strong horror element.” Indeed, the idea of taking a horror setting and giving players the freedom to construct defenses, build traps, weapons and take on an enemy threats in whatever way they choose is a rather unique reshaping of the genre.
The game’s aesthetics are also rather distinctive, and create an atmosphere that’s creepy without screaming from the top of a mountain that it’s a horror title. “We also have a visual identity that’s really unlike any other game,” says Falcone. “Our deep cave areas have been kept mostly secret so far, but we think when players see what's actually living down there, they’re going to be terrified.” The success didn’t come easy, however, as he emphasizes the fact that building a convincing looking and feeling world has been the most difficult part of the development process.
Falcone says that Unity’s Mecanim animation system has been particularly key to the project, in terms of adding realism and complexity to the movement of the characters in ‘The Forest’. “Being able to seamlessly and precisely blend between many different and complex actions has really helped us a lot,” he says. In addition, the team is using several shaders and plug-ins from the Unity Asset Store. “Our main lighting system uses the Sunshine asset as its base, with modifications to implement it into a full day/night cycle and light scatter solution,” he says. “Our plants come from a modified version of the advanced foliage shader.” The team is also using the Mega-Fiers mesh deformation system for its character morph targets, and has used and modified several other assets and shaders for the game. It has implemented Playmaker for creature AI, as well as Aron Granberg’s Astar Pathfinding project.
To maximize the potential of his small team, Falcone chose to use a somewhat unconventional approach to environmental design. “As a small team, it’s really hard to achieve a high level of art quality,” he says. “One thing we are doing for a lot of our assets is using 3D scan data. Our rocks, caves and cliffs are created in minutes instead of days, and have a level of realism that isn’t really possible to achieve using regular 3D modeling tools.” Still, that’s not to say that any of this doesn’t require an artist’s eye: “Finding the right people to help was definitely key, and we’ve been lucky enough to find some amazing artists to help us bring the vision to life.”
Somewhat surprisingly for Falcone, this very thing has proven to be one of the most challenging aspects of bringing his initial vision to life. “I always felt hiring on people would be a really easy part of the process, but it’s turned out to be one of the most challenging,” he says. “Everyone at Endnight Games works remotely, and finding people who can work in that way is a lot harder than you might think. It takes a certain type of person who can work with minimal supervision and still produce high-quality work in line with the vision we have for the game.” At the end of the day, though, Falcone says he’s extremely happy with the team he has now. “It’s incredibly motivating seeing all the great work being produced as development progresses,” he says.
Indeed, for this group of artists there’s been a fair amount of progress in culling together the necessary skills to make a game. “There’s constant learning amongst all members of the team,” says Falcone. “We all really enjoy the learning process, and constantly push ourselves to develop new things and ways of working. I’ve been slowing learning shader programming on this project, which is new to me and really exciting.”
When it ships in the coming months, ‘The Forest’ will include Oculus Rift support, which should make things pretty frightening. But even three-dimensional cannibals in a dark, moody forest can’t compare to the fear instilled by unexpected technical problems. “There was one time where our backup solution corrupted the entire project and its backup,” recalls Falcone. “It gave the entire team a solid two-day scare until we managed to find a workaround.”
Are You Experienced?
Prior to working on the aforementioned iPad title End Night in 2012 (which he created himself), Ben Falcone's only game development experience was working as an artist on a PlayStation 2 title over 10 years ago. In the years between, he was involved mostly in visual effects, on films such as 300 and Tron: Legacy. His animation and rigging team has experience both in games and on films, including the likes of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’
The Dreaded Name Game
“The title ‘The Forest’ carries a sense of mystery,” says Ben Falcone of his game’s rather bare-bones title. “You get the feeling of something lurking in there. Early on we had suggestions to switch the name to ‘The Woods’, but that felt too horror cliché to me. Capturing that sense of mystery and horror in a simple, memorable title was really important.”