All posts by Michaël Samyn

The Endless Forest II beta 3

With any luck this will be the final closed beta version of the remake of The Endless Forest.

Some major networking errors were fixed in this release. Hopefully it all works well now. Because I really only half know what I’m doing or how Unreal Engine is supposed to do networking. So development is going through a bit of trial and error.

In this version a lot of small bugs were fixed, notably relating to some Abiogenesis features.

I also figured out what was making the previous build so huge: a completely unnecessary file over a Gigabyte in size! Each time I build the game, the process is different, even when I use the exact same version of the engine. The old way didn’t work anymore but the new way is fairly smooth, except for the hours that Visual Studio takes to compile things. I have to reserve the better part of a week just to make a build.

A download link has been sent to all backers. Thank you for your support!

Life & work in 2022

Even though it feels like I spent most of my time exploring my new faith in 2022, I also got a lot of other things done. I released software, wrote books, started a new online identity, studied music and languages, traveled, interacted with my family and improved my health.

My ongoing remake of Tale of Tales’ first game, The Endless Forest, saw three releases this year: an alpha and two beta’s. That’s right: the game is in beta stage now, which means that, after five years of work, the remake is complete, barring bugs and errors.

I also created a new virtual reality piece called The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration for our other ongoing project Cathedral-in-the-Clouds, the website of which I revamped for the occasion. And I launched my own personal website. I haven’t had a personal website since 1999, when Zuper! merged with Entropy8. New Twitter and Instagram accounts accompany this new online identity. Although I’m not very active on social media.

I made two books. Ex-Atheist is a series of confrontations of my thoughts on many subjects before and after my conversion to Catholicism. Some of these were published during advent. And Weekends in Gent is a book I made for my children with notes I had taken when they were young. I gave them a hard copy for Christmas.

In the beginning of 2022 I had serious doubts about playing music because I could not manage to free up the time required to reach the technical level I desired. But, also thanks to playing together with other people, I gradually accepted to just do what I can. This actually helped to improve my technique and culminated in a concert in January 2023. I also started studying a new instrument. Next to the viola da gamba, I’m trying to learn the cello. My guitars, however, have been a bit lonely this year.

I continued to study Italian, especially through online video conversations with two teachers. But I also read a bunch of Italian books. And I have started learning Latin too, to help me figure out what all those texts mean on buildings here in Rome and said during mass.

In total I spent almost three months alone this year as my partner traveled for work. On some of these occasions I visited my home country of Belgium to see my family. But we also traveled to Belgium together (for Christmas), and to Venice, Palermo, Firenze and even the nearby Eur, which we had never seen in person. All but one of these trips were made by train, which can be quite an adventure!

My daughter visited us in Rome in the beginning of the year. And we swapped houses with her mother in the summer. During an unexpected trip to Belgium because of a death in the family, I had the pleasant experience of reconnecting with several cousins. My son caught Covid on his birthday, my mother in summer and I soon after, in spite of three vaccinations. Hopefully that’s over now.

I continued Alexander technique lessons, this year finally without a face mask. Next to not smoking, not drinking alcohol and eating very little meat, this year I have stopped drinking coffee and quit watching pornography. I did manage to get a nasty cut in my thumb after it got caught between the front door and its frame. Going to bed early, getting up early and napping in the afternoon has been the perfect rhythm for me that I will continue in 2023.

Happiest year of my life

That two thousand and twenty-two might have been the happiest year of my life may not be saying much since for most of my life I had been a cynical latently depressed atheist like almost everybody I know.

But 2022 was my first complete year as a Christian. After accepting the Catholic faith last year, this year I regained access to the sacrament of holy communion through a general confession. In 2022 I have been consistently happy uninterrupted by anger or sadness. And I owe it all to faith.

Since we cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God, faith has been a matter of choice. And it’s a choice I continue to make as doubts attack me from all sides. One thing however is objectively true: my religious practice has made me a better person. And faith has been a necessary aspect of this practice.

A day with faith

Every day I get up, relatively early, often before sunrise, to read a hour or so during breakfast. This way I have read Augustine’s confessions, the catechism, the life of Saint Theresa of Avila and now John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. Then I go to my studio and pray the rosary on my knees in front of the window. Preferably during sunrise, or with the moon shining on my face. Praying the rosary is like taking a mental shower. It’s the basis of my day. After that I listen to something on the Hallow app. Then I’m ready for work.

I only work on the morning. The afternoon is reserved for music, language learning, bible study, exercise, naps, walks, chores and occasionally adoration, vespers, mass, and so on. Before going to bed I listen to the gospel of the day and say some evening prayers. Every Sunday and feast day I attend mass. And every Tuesday the weekly catechesis hour at my church. Every month or so I talk to the priest, lately combined with confession. And in Rome, where I live, there’s many opportunities for special masses, for example on the feast day of the saint to which one of the hundreds of churches here is dedicated. I enjoy immersing myself in the crowd that attends such festivities. I have also participated in several processions.

This faith routine forms the foundation of my joyful mood. I feel weird and somehow not really alive without it. I have had to unlearn working intensely for long hours because the concentration away from God makes me cranky and annoyed. But I have also experienced the strange paradox that if I devote sufficient time to faith, everything else I want to do gets done as well. Without having to watch the clock or schedule.

Out of the closet

This year I stopped hiding my faith. I hung a rosary visibly in my studio, and a crucifix on the wall. I got jewels and t-shirts with Christian iconography. And most importantly, I confessed my faith to my family. I was raised an atheist and I raised my children atheist. So I was a bit anxious about this but they responded much better than I feared. Especially after the interview with Sim D’Hertefelt that was published, in Dutch, our mother tongue, on Kerknet to very positive reactions from parents: they were pleasantly surprised to learn things about me that I had not managed to tell them in person.

The launch of the first work of art I made as a Christian, The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration, was accompanied by declarations of my faith, including a blog post and a novena towards the feast of Saint John Paul II when the project was released. For advent I published a selection from my little book Ex-Atheist in which I confront my ideas about certain topics before and after my conversion. And I revived an old Instagram account to dedicate it to my life with faith.

Christian YouTube

It surprised me that, even here in the very center of Catholicism, while the reduction in the number of active believers is often lamented, it is in fact not easy to learn about the faith. Even once I had decided to be Christian and attended mass, I didn’t really know where to go with my questions. I read books to educate myself (Abigail Favale’s Into the Deep has been crucial). But the thing that probably helped most was the very active presence of Christians on YouTube. Even hardcore protestants like Jackie Hill Perry, John Piper and Tim Mackie, general Christian channels like Premier Unbelievable? and atheists like John Vervaeke have helped me on my way. But most important were of course Catholic channels such as Journey Home, Pints with Aquinas, Bishop Robert Barron, Ascension Presents, Daughters of St. Paul and That Black Catholic Chick. Most of these are American. In Italy I appreciate Bella, prof!, Francesca Parisi, 5pani2pesci, Robert Cheaib, Anita Baldisserotto, Un corpo mi hai dato, Francesco Maria Marino and Achille Boccia‘s strangely obscure liturgy of the hours.

Work and life

For several years I had written down everything I would otherwise have posted on Twitter in a separate file and published all those “tweets” in a little book at the end of the year. This activity has now morphed into writing about the faith, except that I write five times as much. I have no idea if I will ever do anything with all that material.

I took lent, the 40 day period in which Christians fast and pray to prepare for the feast of the resurrection on Easter, very seriously this year. I canceled everything but work and devoted a lot more time to prayer, including walking a Via Crucis every week and climbing the Scala Santa, the stairs on which Christ walked to be condemned by Pontius Pilate, on my knees, as is the tradition. Later, assisted by the Hallow app, I consacrated myself to the Holy Virgin Mary in the Capella del Santissimo Sacramento in Saint-Peter’s Basilica.

A huge part of this year’s wonder has been growing even closer to the person I have already shared 23 years of my life with, thanks to the faith, both hers and mine, and embracing the concept of chastity which has put us on an adventure trail towards a Christian marriage.

The key to unlocking the joy and peace that I experienced this year has been humility. Perhaps an unintuitive concept in today’s culture, I believe humility is the source of happiness, with or without faith. I myself have been so arrogant and prideful that God was the only one for whom I would kneel. And I’m so glad I did! It hasn’t been easy. Ridding oneself of pride is a process. Especially because pride is often hard to recognize in oneself. I still have a lot of work to do. So chances are 2023 will be even more spectacular!

Books read in 2022

I’m always thinking that I don’t read enough but I was pleasantly surprised after lining up all the books that I have read this year. Granted some of them I had started in the previous year and others I haven’t finished yet, but still I’m pleased with myself.

Since 2022 was my first full year as a Christian, it comes as no surprise that the large majority of these books are related to religion. I even read some bibles in comic strip form to see if they might be suitable to share the story with less enthusiastic readers. But of course I read in the regular Bible too. Preceded by The Bare Bones Bible Handbook which gave me an overview. Then I combined a recent Dutch translation (my mother tongue) with extended commentaries, with the Italian translation, reading backwards starting at Apocalypse in order to read the Old Testament with the New in mind. But that will be for next year. I also read quite a bit of the Catholic Catechism, and commentaries, also in Italian.

After reading Jackie Hill Perry’s autobiographic conversion story in Gay Girl Good God, I read her Holier Than Thou, which really helped me understand our relationship with God and sort of forced me on my knees in front of His majesty. But it was Abigail Favale’s conversion story and especially her theologic reflections in Into the Deep that made me appreciate the profound beauty of the Catholic concept of Christianity, especially in the way in which it provides answers to many issues in contemporary secular culture.

After attending Tridentine Mass I started investigating what the mass was all about. And I even began learning Latin because it frustrated me that I couldn’t understand the gospel readings. And I read up on Vatican II to learn what some American schismatic fantasies were all about.

I “read” C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity by listening to the excellent CSLewisDoodle on YouTube and Chesterton’s Orthodoxy in a similar way. And I listened to the Daughters of Saint Paul podcast which lead met to their bundle Millennial Nuns about how a very diverse bunch of women decided to devote their lives to Christ. I also used the Hallow app a lot, for instance to listen to the autobiography of Thérèse de Lisieux read by the beautifully moving voice of sister Orianne Petra Rene.

I realize now that I my old preference for female authors doesn’t seem to have changed. Next to the writers mentioned above, I also read Therese of Avila’s Vita and many different things by Hildegard von Bingen. I also read the first book by a very young author from my new home country, Rosa Evangelista, whose youthful enthusiasm for the catholic faith is infectious and at time hilarious. Even the text book for my new instrument, the cello, was written by a woman. And I read the first chapters of Giorgia Meloni’s autobiography to understand a little better where our new prime minister is coming from.

But I’ve been charmed by male authors too. The new bishop of my former home town of Ghent had a lot of interesting things to say about lent. Ages ago I had read a book by Willem Jan Otten about pornography and it turns out that he has converted to Catholicism, not an obvious choice for a Dutchman. I enjoyed his book about not attending mass during the Covid lockdowns. And then of course there’s the great Tom Holland. After watching hours of him talking about how even atheist Westerners are essentially Christian, I started reading his history of Christianity called Dominion.

The most important discovery for me this year has been the writings of Pope John Paul II. Since before my conversion I had lead a life filled with porn and fornication and now I wanted to marry for the church, I felt a great need to educate myself on love and sex. John Paul’s Theology of the Body is giving me wonderful insights in the centrality of the body in Catholicism and the sacredness of love.

I tried to read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins to see if he could offer any good arguments why I should not live this beautiful Christian life that brings me so much joy. But I didn’t get far into the book because it started with attacks on people and their ideas rather than sharing his own convictions.

The Unreal Forest: step 23 – beta 2

I spent all week on creating a build of the second beta version of the remake of The Endless Forest. It’s a complicated process because Unreal Engine only allows the building of a dedicated server program through a custom version of the engine built from source downloaded from a GitHub repository and a C++ based project, rather then one based on Blueprints, the visual programming language that is the main reason why I use this technology at all. The new version 5.0 of Unreal Engine seems to have made this process even more complicated and unpredictable. Following the directions failed but through trial-and-error juggling with many gigabytes of data I finally ended up with a software package that works. The resulting program is twice the size of the previous release built in Unreal version 4 (and 10 times the size of the original game which is exactly the same) and requires an up-to-date graphics driver and a recent version of Visual C++ runtime (included with the download).

Welcome to the future!

Anyway, I’m extremely pleased with this build. We’re getting very close to a final release. Fingers crossed!

If you are a backer, you should have received a download link. If not, please let me know.

23 Days

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is not the first of my projects to deal with Christianity. In fact, a long thread throughout my creative career connects various references to Christianity, culminating in the ongoing production of Cathedral-in-the-Clouds. When the fundraising for that project started, I made sure that people realized that I was not a believer but instead interested in Christianity from an aesthetic and cultural point of view. Seven years later I can no longer claim the same.

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is my first work of art as a Christian. Twenty three days after the release of Compassie, on Silent Saturday 2021, I heard God’s voice for the very first time and my life changed radically as a result.

Compassie was a piece about sadness. It’s the classic pietà scene in which the Holy Virgin holds the dead body of her executed son. In virtual reality, you take her place. In front of you there is an ocean of darkness. Behind you a luscious landscape that forms the backdrop of a cross floating in mid air held somewhat ridiculously by four cherubs. He has risen! We are saved! But you turn back around and stare into the dark. Your son is dead. You are inconsolable.

Compassie playthrough

I enjoyed how Compassie gave me a place where I could be sad. I remember enjoying how the VR goggles would hide my tears. I felt safe to let go in there, to silently endlessly cry about the sadness of life. I was certainly having personal problems at the time. But there was also the quite obviously desperate state of the world. Between the political polarization of society and the ecological crisis, I couldn’t see much hope.

Compassie was my tribute to this state of desperation. Christ became the symbol for the solution that everyone knows exists. But we killed Him, or we ignored Him and the promise made through His sacrifice. We know what a beautiful world looks like (just turn around!), we even know what it would take to get there (just turn around!). But somehow we find ourselves incapable of choosing that road and following it. We are stuck. Indulging in our misery. Too prideful to believe.

In hindsight, through the lens of my Christian faith, it is quite clear to see how Compassie was a subconscious “cry for help”. I was balancing on the edge of an abyss with nowhere to go that didn’t lead to destruction. I was ready for God. But I did not know that then. Until 23 days later.

Viriditas pseudo-playthrough

For me, The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration expresses quite well how my new found faith makes me feel. Astounded by a beauty that borders on the surreal but remains framed within a long tradition. I feel loved, I am grateful, I bow down in awe for the glory of God. It feel lightheaded with joy. I am becoming myself, the one He created for Himself. Like millions of others that have now become my kin. And then with all that splendor in my heart, the lights go out. And I find myself alone with Him. His body and blood, soul and divinity, embedded in a simple disk of bread, exposed on the altar. In the dark of my closed eyes I smell the incense, I feel His warm hands around my heart, the stubble on his cheeks catching the tears on mine as he embraces me and whispers His breath of life into all of me.

Novena to St. John Paul II

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is the first work of art that I have created as a Christian. I converted to Catholicism a year and a half ago. Until then, the many references to Christianity in my art were made solely out of cultural and artistic interest, given that I was an atheist.

I chose to release The Viriditas Chapel on the feast day of Saint John Paul II because my attitude towards his person illustrates an important transition. Like many of my secular leftist peers in the 1980s and 1990s, I hated this pope more than any other. Why? Well, that’s where the problem lies. Because I had vaguely heard something about him being very very conservative and forbidding the use of condoms while people where dying of AIDS. That, apart from his frequent appearances on tv, was the extent of my knowledge of this man.

This was not atypical. Most of my opinions as a progressive liberal where based on flimsy quotes overheard in cheerful conversations. Mind you, I did not see myself as shallow. It simply never occurred to me that I should investigate a little before judging along with my friends or agreeing with people who seemed sympathetic or smart.

The same applied to Christianity. Oddly so, because I have been interested in this topic for many years. And I read all sorts of things about Christian art and architecture, and in the Bible. I visited hundreds of churches all through Europe, even attending services as research. I had a lot of respect for believers to the point of being slightly invidious. But somehow it never occurred to me to investigate the core of Christianity: faith itself. The thought that I should maybe read one of the Church Fathers or watch a movie by Christians on YouTube never even briefly crossed my mind.

When I converted I started devouring information about the faith. It was all so fascinating! It felt like I was using my brain for the first time. And often I came across references to Pope John Paul II. Apparently the man I had hated with such indifference was a very important presence to my fellow Christians. People loved the guy! They even made him a saint. So I started reading his Theology of the Body and came across his Letter to Artists.

In preparation for the release I am praying a novena as atonement. Not just for Saint Pope John Paul II but for the injustice with which I have regarded the Catholic Church all my life. And as an expression of gratitude to the almighty Lord for receiving me into his flock in spite of my obvious unworthiness.

Michael Samyn, Rome, 14 October.

I did not believe

The Viriditas Chapel of Perpetual Adoration is the first work of art that I have created as a Christian. But this is far from the first time Christianity inspired me. In fact, the theme seems to have followed me throughout my creative life. God has been tirelessly knocking on that door and I kept wondering “What on earth is that noise?”

I grew up in an atheist household but I attended catholic schools. Hence my familiarity with Christian narratives. I have also long preferred old art. As a result Christian themes and iconography were no stranger to me. And as a designer of immersive spaces, I was drawn to churches for inspiration. I even regularly attended mass simply for the experience, to “see the machine performing the function it had been designed for.” But I did not believe.

1988 As a teenager I made clothes for myself. On one of my jackets I had sewn a bronze crucifix found at a flea market. But I did not believe.

1992 Right after school I created lots of art objects. I often used imagery from mass media and advertising. For one piece I mounted the logo of a brand of toilet paper in gold on a piece of black cardboard shaped like a baroque frame. The logo was a lamb. But I did not believe.

1995 In the early days of the web there had been a bug in the Netscape browser that allowed defining the body tag more than once. Thanks to the slow speed of modems this could be used to create animations that were otherwise not yet possible. When that feature was removed I created a web site called The Church of the Multiple Body Tag in protest. It referenced the choice between Jesus and Barabbas and the number of the beast. But I did not believe.

1995 In my first piece called Home I made a sort of crucifix of a framed portrait of Kate Moss, two guns for hands and an electrical socket for feet on a wallpaper background. And only now, almost 30 years later, I discover that in that image, the model is wearing a necklace with a cross. But back then, I did not believe.

1996 My last piece with Group Z, Belgium was called I confess. It was an online confessional with a game interface that forced you to admit all the sins you had committed as an artist. But I did not believe.

1997 In the early web days I was involved in several collaborative projects. One of them was on the domain for which I created the web interface. But I did not believe.

1997 The website collaboration with Olia Lialina started when she said her plane had crashed and she was writing from paradise. So we named the site Heaven & Hell, after the internet connection we discovered between the two. But I did not believe.

1999 When I met the love of my life we were separated by an ocean. We started creating together the day after. We were so overwhelmed by our experience that we reached for the grandest thing we could think of to express our love in the wires: the Pentateuch. Our web site unfolded a love story inspired by the first five books of the Bible. We called the whole thing The Godlove Museum. But I did not believe.

1999 Genesis was about two souls meeting online. Our relationship was both amorous and creative. We represented ourselves as saints, used baroque ornaments and sacred music. But I did not believe.

1999 When farao let Auriea go after several dramatic plagues, we made a website called Exodus. But I did not believe.

2000 When dealing with immigration laws and learning the customs of a new land, we made a chapter of The Godlove Museum inspired by the Bible book of Leviticus. But I did not believe.

2001 In our first interactive 3D piece, Eden.Garden, we used scans of our own bodies to represent Adam and Eve in a Garden of Eden generated from the code from any web page. Genesis was quoted directly. But I did not believe.

2001 In preparation for our first experiments with 3D, Auriea and I had scanned ourselves kissing. With The Kiss we created an immersive environment inside of the mesh of our entwined bodies that shared one heart that was shaped like a cross. But I did not believe.

2001 We called a small web project Per omnia saecula saeculorum, referencing a well known trinitarian doxology, with music from Handel’s Messiah. But I did not believe.

2002 The attack by US president Bush on Afghanistan was accompanied by rhetoric that seemed to come straight from the Old Testament. Simultaneously Auriea and I realized how different our cultures really were. We mixed quotes from Bible and president and even Jesus made an appearance in Numbers. But I did not believe.

2003 Our first videogame creation attempt, simply called 8, was inspired by a fairy tale, not a biblical text. I did include a chapel in my design for the palace of Sleeping Beauty. And the music we had chosen before working with Gerry De Mol was Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater. But I did not believe.

2005 When we figured out how to create and release a game, we made one in which deer would have glowing signs between their antlers, as in the legend of the conversion of Saint Hubert. At the launch of the project in the former abbey of Ename online players would convert visitors of the exhibition. And the central feature of this first phase of The Endless Forest was the ruin of a church. But I did not believe.

2006 Long after the previous chapter, when we had already given up on the web as an artistic medium, we created the last part of The Godlove Museum, Deuteronomy, in which we remixed the previous parts with Bible quotes about rules and regulations to express the sadness of not being able to enter the promised land. But I did not believe.

2008 In The Graveyard you play an old lady who visits a cemetery and listens to a song. It was inspired by my memories of the peaceful combination of solemn graves and lively nature in the cemetery of the small town where I spent my adolescent years. And by my grandmother who was still alive at the time and deeply catholic. I was profoundly struck by the cheerfulness with which she expressed her desire to join her husband who had died shortly before. But I did not believe.

2009 Fatale tells the story of the execution of John the Baptist. You play his ghost in his final night on earth, free to contemplate the love of Salome imagined by Oscar Wilde. Another biblical story. But I did not believe.

2010 When the first iPhone came out we created a Memento Mori for it the name of which, Vanitas, referred directly to the biblical basis of the concept from Ecclesiastes: “Vanitas vanitatum et omnia vanitas.” But I did not believe.

2011 During a research project called Cncntric I explored my interest in sacred architecture and medieval cosmology. I was mesmerized by how the architecture of a church would lead the visitor from the square that represents earth to the circle that represents heaven. And the geocentric conception of the universe, while disproven by Copernicus, still made a lot of spiritual sense. I love the idea of our planet floating in the embrace of ever expanding spheres and finally by God Himself. But I did not believe.

2013 We named Luxuria Superbia, a game the simulates sexual pleasure in an abstract and playful way, after the Latin words for two mortal sins: lust and pride. But I did not believe.

2015 Sunset takes place in San Bavón, the capital of an imaginary South-American country. For couleur locale, the dates in the game were accompanied by the mention of the Christian saint or feast of that day. But I did not believe.

2016 LOCK was a simple game structured along a gigantic geocentric universe. The name was an abbreviation of Loci Omnes Caelesistis Kyries which means something like “All Places of the Heavenly Lord”. But I did not believe.

2016 Liberated from the pressure of making commercial videogames, I found myself free to explore my life-long passion for Christian iconography en symbolism in old art and architecture. This culminated in a giant umbrella project called Cathedral-in-the-Clouds. I wanted to create opportunities for contemplation inspired by Christian narratives that I felt should be considered equally valuable to modern culture as Greco-Roman mythology. Backed by a successful crowdsourcing campaign and inspired by visits to numerous cathedrals in Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and Poland we created a prototype for a virtual reality cathedral. And the project even lead me to leave my country and move to Rome, around the corner of the Vatican of all places. But I did not believe.

2018 Cricoterie is a Virtual Reality program inspired by the Theater of Death of Polish theater make Tadeusz Kantor. As such it addressed the theme of religion and featured crosses and a priest. I relished the opportunity to deal with completely serious subject matter. But did not believe.

2021 After several rejected proposals for Christian themed dioramas -which turned out to be the most controversial subject of my already somewhat defiant career- including a tribute to Saint Ambrose, a chapel for Saint Anthony and a virtual sculpture of Adam and Eve, I managed to create a pietà in Virtual Reality. In Compassie I have the user take the place of the Holy Virgin sitting at the bottom of the cross with the dead body of her son on her lap. But I did not believe.

Michael Samyn, Rome, 14 October 2022.

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!