Tree lines

The cre­ator of Pro­teus branches out into pro­ce­dural sto­ry­telling


Pro­teus’s Ed Key tells a pro­ce­dural story in the eerie For­est Of Sleep

For­est Of Sleep is the latest dream­like pro­ject from Pro­teus cre­ator Ed Key. A fairy­tale in which you guide three chil­dren through a for­est, the look of the game was inspired by late-20th-cen­tury eastern Euro­pean il­lus­tra­tion and an­i­ma­tion. The game pro­ce­du­rally com­bines il­lus­tra­tor Ni­co­lai Troshin­sky’s hand-drawn char­ac­ter and back­ground com­po­nents to con­jure up “rich, tan­gled scenes and strange char­ac­ters”.

Each trip through the dark for­est will also be gen­er­ated on the fly. “The idea is to let play­ers’ ac­tions form as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween ob­jects, verbs and char­ac­ters, which cre­ate pat­terns and ex­pec­ta­tions that can be re­peated, re­ferred to, or sub­verted for dra­matic ef­fect,” Key ex­plains. “We want the player to feel a cer­tain au­thor­ship over what hap­pens, aim­ing for some­thing like play­ing a pen-and-pa­per RPG with a good dun­geon master, but ob­vi­ously mod­u­lated through the am­bigu­ous, text-free pre­sen­ta­tion, and the fact that it’s an AI rather than a hu­man.”

The pen-and-pa­per ref­er­ence is fit­ting, since the team has planned out branch­ing sto­ry­lines us­ing pa­per pro­to­types. Each playthrough should take 30–60 min­utes, mak­ing room for sev­eral acts and twists. There’s also a sim­ple re­source sys­tem that al­lows you to for­age or beg for food, and you’re able to trade items. While hunger can cause you to col­lapse, Key is ea­ger to avoid tra­di­tional Game Over screens.

“We’ve thought a lot about this, and what con­sti­tutes a fail state,” he ex­plains. “We’ll try to avoid end­ing pre­ma­turely, but fail states are al­lowed as long as the game con­sid­ers them to be a valid con­clu­sion for the story – for ex­am­ple, a story that was about how some char­ac­ters tried to do some­thing and failed, but gained some­thing on the way. Oth­er­wise the game will try to move the story for­ward re­gard­less by in­tro­duc­ing ‘help­ful’ el­e­ments, which be­come tied into the plot.”

Twisted Tree Games is hop­ing to re­alise its am­bi­tions for For­est Of Sleep by late 2016, when it’ll launch on PCs and tablets.

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