Features & News

Interview: Ben Falcone (The Forest: An Open World Survival Game)

June 21, 2013, Author: Neil Hughes

As a mature gamer, who was brought up on a forbidden love of pirate horror movies on VHS, I must confess that a survival horror game called The Forest inspired by cult classics Cannibal Holocaust and The Descent was always going to capture both my curiosity and attention. Stranded in a forest after a plane crash, you are faced with a decision to perish and accept your fate, or embrace your inner Bear Grylls and build, explore and survive.

The Forest is an open-world survival horror game currently in development for PC, where your character enters a living, breathing forest with changing weather patterns, and plants that grow and die.

There is certainly something eerie about exploring a vast network of caves and underground lakes with the added authenticity of tides that roll in and out with the day/night cycle. You can chop down trees to build a camp, or start a fire to keep warm. You’ll scavenge food to keep yourself from starving, and find and plant seeds to grow food, which all sounds very nice; but as night falls your peaceful world can change dramatically. The ethos of explore and build during the day and defend your base at night might sound more than a little familiar to fans of an ubiquitous 8-bit title, but this is something that looks much more beautiful and equally sinister at the same time.

The more you carry, the quicker you get tired, the sooner you die.

The more you carry, the quicker you get tired, the sooner you die.

Most horror films make the mistake of showing too much of the scary demons, because what is in our head is usually much scarier than what we see on-screen. When the naked pale genetic mutants in the forest attack your character, you see just enough to realise this is some really scary, messed-up shit.

The survival horror genre has been in need of a shake up for some time, so I’m genuinely  excited to see if the open-world concept actually adds to the scary experience. With this in mind, I was delighted to speak with lead designer and creative director Ben Falcone to talk about The Forest whilst toasting a few marshmallows.

Q. Tell us a little bit about the background of the company and why you chose to build The Forest on PC.

“Our first game was for iPad called End Night. It gave me a chance to explore ideas I had about an open world horror game with procedural elements; however, I was never able to overcome the limitations of touch controls. For The Forest the initial vision was a large procedural forest, and I knew this wouldn’t be possible to the level I was interested in on a tablet or portable device.

We’re also really excited about the Oculus Rift and so our game is designed to use that to create the scariest game experience ever made.”

Q. What kind of challenges have you come across when developing a game for the Steam Community? Are there any less restrictions than iOS, XBLA or PSN?

“No challenges so far; the Greenlight community has been amazing and really embraced the type of game we’re making.”

Q. What was your inspiration for The Forest?

I take a lot of inspiration from 70’s and early eighties exploitation films. I Spit On Your Grave, The Hills Have Eyes and Italian cannibal films. The goal was to take a serious and scary horror world and throw players in there. The type of vision we don’t see in today’s games.”

Q. Are you fans of horror movies and games? Any stand-out favourites?

“I’m a big fan of horror films; the original versions of Dawn of the Dead, Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, along with Italian horror movies from the same era, Deep Red, New York Ripper and The Beyond.

My favourite game is still System Shock 2.  I think of all the horror games I’ve played it gets the balance perfectly between scary and calm moments.”

Q. Upon seeing the trailer, I immediately thought Lost + The Descent + Minecraft + first-person survival horror. Is this a fair assumption?

Yep. Completely. I feel these different ideas have never been brought together in a way like this before, and are the perfect premise and set up for a survival game.”

Q. How do you feel about The Forest being compared to Minecraft?

I think it’s great. I’m a massive fan of Minecraft.  Our game is different in a lot of ways as we focus much more on survival horror.  Dropping players into a terrifying world and letting them figure out how to stay alive

Q. Could this be considered as Minecraft for the over eighteens?

I think horror can appeal to a pretty wide range of players.”

We are not lost, we're right here somewhere on this little blue line.

We are not lost; we’re right here somewhere on this little blue line.

Q. How do you want the Forest to be perceived by gamers?

I hope players really do find it the scariest game experience they’ve ever had. And with the Oculus Rift I want players to be so scared they can’t even put on the headset.”

Q. How did you come to start developing The Forest with the Rift headset support?

I’ve been really excited for the Rift since it was first announced. Early test versions of The Forest were played using the Sony HMZ-T1 which gives a really immersive 3D view, and even with the limited FOV and lack of head tracking was a pretty amazing experience.”

Q. What challenges are you having to overcome with designing the game with the Rift headset in mind?

Getting the controls right is the biggest right now. Also making sure the scale of the world feels correct; this is something that you don’t really notice until you stand inside the world looking directly at objects.”

I thank Ben for his time and wish him the best of luck with The Forest before walking off into the sunset and wondering if that really was just an animal that caused the snapping of a twig behind me.

Maybe I have watched one too many horror films and played too many survival horror games over the years, but The Forest certainly looks like one of those games that will get under your skin and stay with you long after the game has been completed.