Phase Three of The Endless Forest is open!

After a few months of intense beta-testing with the players (read: messing around with strange bugs that make your deer do silly things), Phase Three of The Endless Forest has now been declared officially open!

The Endless Forest Phase Three: Fawn & Stag

Be a fawn in an entirely new area with birch trees and cycamores. Or collect blue tits and red breasts on your antlers and play hide and seek among a bunch of large boulders.

Download the new client now!

It’s free!

Phase Three was made with the latest version of Quest3D and contains all new animation blending and forest rendering, making the application faster, require less memory and the download even smaller than Phase Two.

Conflict and gender

Game developers and journalist often stress the importance of conflict as part of a story and (thus?) of a game. I have always questioned this claim. Mostly because they used it as an excuse for throwing more monsters and bigger guns at us. So I figure only men like conflict in their games.

But hearing the (predominantly female) players of The Endless Forest talk, has changed my mind somewhat. I think women like conflict in their entertainment just as much. Not conflict as such but also, just like men, because they get a kick out of resolving the conflict. It’s just that they tend to resolve conflicts in a different way.

I hope readers of this post don’t think I’m sexist for saying this. And please contradict me if I’m wrong. But from what I have seen, women tend to want to keep the peace, above all. They are quicker to apologize, consider other people’s arguments more deeply (or pretend to) and are generally happier when everybody gets along, sometimes even at the expense of their own status or pride.

I used to think that this type of behaviour meant that women (or men with similar tendencies) don’t like conflict in games. But seeing how much they enjoy the “peaceful resolution”, I have changed my mind about this. Perhaps they get as big a kick out of peacefully resolving a conflict as men get out of blasting the monster into oblivion.

Are there any games that cater to this desire?

Peaceful conflict resolution probably doesn’t lend itself well to spectacular visual effects (explosions etc) but it could perhaps introduce a new form of play. And open up a new audience.

Games as tools, as instruments, as theater

Some people are better at playing games than others. And they have more fun.

Sure, some are better at achieving high scores or figuring out puzzles in record times. But that’s not what I mean here. Other players are better at playing itself, playing along you might say. They use the game as a theater stage and they play their part. The response of the game is then interpreted as part of the story.

The reward is not an increase of a certain number or the acquisition of an item but the feeling of being part of the narrrative. This is a form of play that computer designers often seem to ignore. Computer games tend to be very goal oriented, even when it comes to narrative. Designers try and find all sorts of ways to make the players do exactly what they “should” be doing to bring the (still often linear) experience to a proper resolution.

But how about giving the player some freedom and some responsibility? How about creating a universe where the player is responsible for his own pleasure? No punishment and no reward. Simply play.

The game designer provides the tools and the setting. And the player manipulates those to play a story. A player who does well, will have a better experience than one who doesn’t do an effort to “get into” the story, to play along.

Playing as experience

In computer games, the focus of the experience often shifts from the purpose of an action to the action itself.

Older games tend to be highly symbolic. Any move you make on the board, if not entirely abstract, represents an event in an often highly abstracted manner. As a result, you make the move for the purpose of advancing in the game somewhat. Sliding a pawn over a board isn’t the world’s most exciting experience. Contemporary computer games tend to add a layer of simulation to “making a move” that can be a source of pleasure in and of itself, disregarding the outcome of the move as a result of the game’s rules.

Historically, these simulations have been nothing more than ways to dress up the game (either visually or narratively). But the technology and skills of the creators (and possibly the expectations of the audience) have evolved so much that the simulation layer is quickly becoming the thing that many people enjoy most in a computer game. Game rules design as such has not evolved much. As pure games, computer games have not delivered greater masterpieces than board games. But they have delivered something else, a new type of experience.

What I long to see is a computer game that is nothing but simulation. Not the sterile spreadsheet-based simulation of Sim City or Tycoon games. But a simulation painted by an artist: an sensual, expressive environment that focusses entirely on the (inter)action for its own sake, with no purpose other than pure experience.