Over the last two years I have been following the work of a very talented pair, Michael Samyn and Aurie Harvey, of Tale of Tales, a Belgian studio producing interactive online computer games based on fairy tales. Currently they have three projects in various stages of development: "8," "The Endless Forest," and more recently a new game called The Path, a spooky (and very punk-looking) version of Little Red Riding Hood.
Their first experiment, 8, is an exploration of different versions of Sleeping Beauty which takes the player through some beautifully designed locations. Here's a description of the plot: "A young girl gets trapped in a luxurious palace surrounded by a thick forest. Everyone in the palace is asleep. They should have woken up by now. The Prince should have come by now. But the Princess is in no condition to meet him. Assisted by a Wicked Fairy out for revenge, eight unworthy princes have penetrated the forest and disrupted the magic that once protected the sleeping court. The power of the spell is fading. The forest branches are growing. The palace walls are crumbling." The project is still in its developmental stages, but the website lets one wander through the fascinating landscapes and have a peek at the conceptual art created by Lina Kusaite, Martin Michl and Gorik Lindemans.
In The Endless Forest, a multi-player online game, one enters the game in the form of deer (the various avatars are wonderful!) to explore an enchanted landscape and interact with other deer and with this magical world. From the description: "Although not goal-oriented, there are several activities that you can engage in. Nothing very demanding or violent. Just fun things to do in a nice environment. Once every so often, the forest deities will appear, either in person or through their divine powers. Beware of falling rocks and sudden showers!" There's lots of fun to be had here -- one can change other players' horns or pelts, or even shapeshift them into squirrels, bats, frogs, or birds through spells collected from eating mushrooms, from pinecones, or from mushroom "fairy circles." (With more fabulous concept art from Lina Kusaite.)
The most recent project is The Path, the team's first commercial single player game (available 2009), based on a very dark interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood. Here's the introduction: "There is something wrong with the forest. No matter how bright the sun shines, it remains dark and foggy. It smells like something died. Strange noises fill the rusty air. Squeaks and screeches. The dull thump of someone chopping trees. The wind playing eerie melodies on ghostlike flutes. Shivers run down her spine. She just left the city. Cars can't drive here anymore. Mother told her to go visit grandmother. The old lady lives all alone at the other side of the forest. Quite a walk from here. It's probably best if she stays on the path." As before, there is no set goal for this game, rather an invitation to journey through the dark forest and decide whether to adhere to the path, or to wander....
(*Thanks to Carisa Swenson for reminding me about this wonderful studio.)