Premature Evaluation – Life Is Feudal: Forest Village

Every Moday we send Brendan to plough the fields of early access and see if anything nutritious grows. This week he mismanages a settlement of brow-beaten farm workers in Forest Village [official site], a placid spin-off from Life Is Feudal’s medieval sandbox.

The village of Scallyminster lies in ruins. I’d like to think I did everything in my power to help the last citizens of this dying village, but that would be a lie. They followed my orders, like good computerised serfs, right to the bitter end. The village is empty of life now, except for the bears, who have always been very pleasant. I don’t think the game will let them feast off the frozen corpses of the last six villagers. Which is a pity, because the citizens of Scallyminster murdered plenty of bears in their time, before the fall, that is. Before the 13th Year.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. This is Forest Village, or to give it its full title, Life Is Feudal: Forest Village. It’s a management sim counter-argument to the medieval survival game of the same series. It also bears a close resemblance to the farming and village management of Banished, and rests a lot of its appeal on the survivalism of its cousin. You need food to stay alive, for instance, lots of food. But you also need firewood for warmth and a roof over your head. And when I say “your head” I really mean “the heads of your idiotic labourers”.

You begin with a few shacks and a handful of people. By plonking down fishing piers and farms you can begin to make a living for your underlings. But you also have to entrust each of these production facilities with a worker or two (or three or four). Farms especially will need more people the bigger they get. My first potato farm turned out to be far too big and I had to assign four workers to make sure everything got harvested in time for the winter. Because yes, seasons matter.

This is one of the game’s strengths. Not only are you constantly checking the number of vegetables, fish, apples, and meat stocked in your barns and warehouses, you also have to keep an eye on the time of year and the temperature. When autumn comes, the first frost will instantly kill any crops that remain unpicked. You can slave away all summer but if you don’t get harvesting at the right time, half of your crop will go to waste. You can click a button to reap the fields immediately at any time, but it’s smarter to build a field with the right dimensions to fit your population, and in this way the little villagers will pluck the spuds and dig up the apples as soon as the field is full, automating the process.

There’s also an unspoken tech tree of sorts. You need a lumberjack’s yard for firewood but you also need a kiln to turn that firewood into charcoal. Then you need charcoal and ore to make metal ingots and metal ingots to make strong, iron tools. The same logic applies to pies, which require a bakery and lots of the types of things that go into pies, like, I don’t know, hooves. You can make meat pies and fruit pies and veggie pies and then when you have enough of them you can put them all in a ship and go on an expedition to discover some new crops, like pumpkin or corn, or new animals, like Things That Aren’t Bears.

The bears love your village, you see. They aren’t yet programmed with violent behaviour (that is, if they will ever be programmed this way) so along with wolves, wild boars, foxes and stags, they kind of just mill around, living in perfect harmony with your dark age peons, until you set up a hunting lodge and assign a worker to put them all into pies. The animals don’t seem to mind this and willingly give up their bodies to feed your people. They’re the most understanding bears I have ever met.

After a while your people start to have babies – this is how you bring more workers to the fields and workshops of the town, slowly expanding the village with each snowfall. Most of the game is played by simply clicking plus and minus symbols next to each facility, making sure people aren’t idling and that everyone is doing the right job at the right time. If the blacksmith is sleeping, you had best throw him down a mine or into a windmill.

You’re always understocked in some regard, so this shuffling of human resources is often what determines who lives and who dies. Sometimes people die in farming accidents, or crushed in a mine. One of my builders died in childbirth once, along with the infant. But more often they starve to death, or freeze, because you forgot to set a worker on firewood duty or didn’t send the farming squad to the cabbage patch this year. You damned fool.

The village of Scallyminster had all these problems and more. When my population didn’t increase for ages I realised that the houses needed to be upgraded to increase a chance of pregnancy. I assigned all the shacks in town to be renovated but didn’t consider that the peasants would have nowhere to stay while the work was being done. One of the women did get pregnant, but her child – the first baby to be born in over four years – subsequently died of exposure when her mother had no cot to put her in. My bad.

I built a chicken coop when the supershacks were finished and the woman in charge of the hens managed to feed a single oat to a lone chicken before it was promptly devoured by a fox. That same woman spent the next year pretending to work and feeding zero chickens. If there is a way to regenerate hens, short of rebuilding the coop everytime the “starter hen” is eaten, then I do not know about it. I kept two eggs for three years and they did not hatch.

There are other early access oddities. The terraforming options are daft and hyper-fiddly. You can create farms over hills and slopes (and they look great like this) but you can only build large structures on flat ground. So you have to use a terraforming tool to push it down in big grids. As a result the land goes from looking gorgeous and naturalistic to being a bizarre landscape of sharp polygons and stretched textures. I’m sure this will be polished in the intervening years but given the lack of flat land by default, it currently becomes necessary to fill your village with wonky grass spikes and surreal quarries, making roads (which allow villagers to travel faster) sometimes impossible to place.

Nightfall is also a huge pain. As soon as it becomes dark all your dumb villeins go to their pits. That’s fine, they need their rest if they’re to die in a tragic windmill accident tomorrow. But what’s not fine is the descent of pitch black in the game, a darkness so profound that you can’t reliably place any constructions, roads, wells or terraforming plans. And since the game also has a somewhat glacial pace, you tend to spend most of your time in the speedy ‘fast forward’ mode – meaning night comes often enough for this recurrent blindness to become a huge annoyance.

There are some things that make up for this. For example, it includes the neat trick of being able to possess any worker at any time and go wandering around inspecting the wheat fields or looking out to sea, or chopping wood or picking plants. It’s a serene sideshow to all the overhead bossing around, being able to suddenly inhabit these chattels and go for a quiet walk through the fields or up to the forest on the hill or down to the beach. There’s an odd magic to it. Then you remember that Carlos should be harvesting the hay and you hit escape and start telling everyone to brace for the oncoming tornado.

That said, there does feel to be a very limited lifespan in it so far. It’s a hugely sedentary game too, moving so slowly that I often had it running in ‘fast forward’ mode in a window while I read the Sunday internet. The goal seems to be to build as big a town as possible and to go on multiple sailing expeditions to get all the new crops and animals, so as to make your people the best bondsmen possible. Someday, you reason, you will be able to leave things ticking over and the men and women of your poxy village will be able to take care of themselves, like some sort of anarcho-syndicalist commune. I know this is the dream, because I attempted it one fateful year in the Scallyminster’s short history – the 13th Year.

I set each man and woman to their work and left in the fall. With potato-pickers in the fields and carpenters in the workshop and bakers at the oven and millers making flour, everything looked A-OK. I left my computer and made a breakfast composed of delicious ingredients that the bumpkins of Scallyminster would never know. When I returned, four years later, only six villagers were still alive – two fishermen, a gardener, the oat harvester, a carpenter and – inexplicably – the school teacher, who now spent every day looking at empty chairs in the classroom, since all the children had long ago died of starvation. The same fate had befallen the others, except the herbalist and the hunter, who both managed to die of old age (well done). Of the six villagers who survived the dark years, zero were women. With six men between the ages of 70 and 20 years old, there was no way to continue the village. The people of Scallyminster were effectively extinct.

I set the six men to task, dismantling everything. They began, ill-advisedly, with their own houses. Homeless and overworked in the dead of winter, they each succumbed to hypothermia while trying to remove bricks and planks from the tavern roof. When the last of the men passed from this world, I expected a prompt, some kind of ‘game over’ screen. But the simulation just carried on. The night came and more snow settled. The sun rose on the abandoned village, and new inhabitants began to prowl the snowy streets. The bears had returned to Scallyminster. Never again would they be baked into a pie.

Life Is Feudal: Forest Village is available on Steam for £18.99/$24.99. These impressions are based on build 1316845

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  1. klops says:

    The name is one thing, but I never get over Life is Feudal’s dumbass logo.


    • MrBehemoth says:

      I’ll never get over the dumb-dumb-dumb-ass name itself. Ugh.

      Even excepting the face that the pun only works in an American accent, it’s still dumb.

      • anHorse says:

        Until you said “the pun” I’d never even noticed it

        Such is the level to which it doesn’t work

      • Hensler says:

        Pun? Maybe I need to work on my American accent… I don’t hear it.

        • ButteringSundays says:

          This whole thread has me stumped.

          What’s wrong with the logo? What pun? Is this some dank meme reference I’m not getting?

          Off topic: RPS staff, I was presented with an arithmetic challenge response test on the login page. I left it blank, it did nothing.

          • IEatCereal says:

            The last couple of times I tried to log in, the website would accept my username and password and then do nothing. Two days ago I clicked log me in automatically (the website still didn’t log me int) and today, somehow, I’m logged in. Yay?

          • klops says:

            The logo is made of a sicle and a sword, like The sicle and hammer combo made more familiar by The Soviet Union. Makes as much sense as putting an anarchy A, star of David or U.S. Airforce symbol as the logo. WHY?

            The RPS logging problem is solved in my computer so that after you succesfully log in, you need to refresh once. After just logged in, the site still keeps me as unlogged for some reason.

        • Premium User Badge

          Skabooga says:

          Well, in an American accent, we pronounce “futile” as ‘few-til’ and “feudal” as “few-dahl”, and if we say the former quick enough, it’s possible to pronounce “futile” as ‘few-dtil’. How is it in a British accent? “futile” pronounced as ‘few-TI-uhl’ (Long “i” sound, that is)?

          I will vouch that the pun works pretty well in an American accent. Well enough that Calvin and Hobbes did a strip about it once:

          And I couldn’t countenance any insults to Bill Watterson’s work.

          • syndrome says:

            In hopes that I’ve fixed your link

          • Chaz says:

            In UK English feudal sounds like few-dull and futile sounds like, well like few-tile, because you know, there’s an E on the end which makes it tile and not till.

          • ButteringSundays says:

            Life is few dhall?

            Yup, still not getting it. What’s the pun??

          • ButteringSundays says:

            Oooh, you’re saying it’s read as ‘life is futile’!

            Ok, at least I get it now. It’s not a bad pun, as such, just one most of the English speaking world would miss.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Skabooga says:

    Ah, Brendan, I do so admire your talent for storytelling.

  3. DrakeDwarf says:

    On the surface this looks so similar to Banished.

  4. Pekkalainen says:

    I see it more as an “unofficial” sequel to Banished with improved graphics, more details and features that will come along. People who have mastered the basics of Banished will notice that Forest Village is abit more difficult to get a grip on.

    • Someoldguy says:

      It looks like it lacks the same thing as Banished for me: structured scenarios with actual goals to accomplish. I love these sort of games when you’re asked to achieve something, like the original simcity with it’s historical city scenarios, but when it becomes a case of just building the biggest village you can fit on their map without the game chuntering to a halt I lose interest after one or two plays.

      • syndrome says:

        Perhaps you are too goal-driven? Too obsessed with getting somewhere, regardless of what needs to be done along the way, or how fun or tedious the journey is? Do you work for a bank?

        Are you hesitant to make a step in any direction due to fears of the ultimate futility? Perhaps that’s not overly good for your health?

        Have you ever took a stroll just for the sake of it? Do you even listen music? Are you spontaneous?

        In fact, do you even listen when someone speaks, if you can’t see the point of the conversation beforehand?

        How do you live, man?!

        • doodler says:

          Are you not objective driven at all? Too distracted by every flower along the path that you can’t even get to the end of the street? Are you a Barista?

          Are you hesitant to finish a task because you fear that you might miss something minor on the way? Is that really a healthy way to live?

          Have you ever completed a goal for a sense of accomplishment? Can you accomplish anything without being distracted by noise? Do you have life goals?

          In fact, do you really listen when someone speaks or just wait until you can say something?

          How do you live man?!

          • syndrome says:

            Haha I admit those are nice points, ripe for a debate.

            The reason I am not hesitant to finish a task is because I find them as nodes of delicate choices along the way. I simply approach them as they come; I don’t have the urge to do anything it takes to be the most efficient at it.

            This gives me plenty of room to ruminate and later to contemplate on different possibilities that signify the denouement of my previous activities. Without this it wouldn’t feel as rewarding or liberating, but merely as rigorous commitment to clearing-up of any states marked as dirty by my subconsciousness.

            This is why people have hard time separating _fun_ from _fun_.

            Read that again
            separating (Tetris) fun from (Minecraft) fun.
            separating (compulsive gambling) fun from (childish sandbox) fun.
            separating (subscription-based MMO and plenty of social, but hard-to-abstain-from interactions) fun from (“aimless” walking simulator) fun.

            With a wrong mindset, it’s hard.

            You see, there are two individual approaches to the world of rules. And when we talk about rules, why not about the law itself.

            A negative/subtractive approach is why there are incentives and regulations. Undermining the loosely defined law is a common place in every lawful country. Regulations have to be tight and to have as little exploits as possible to limit down the corruption, and to drive the populace toward the needed states of distributed activity.

            A positive/additive approach is what breaks laws apart, because these no longer readily incentivize such people, but simply prohibit genuinely proactive individual behavior. This is why any good change requires some kind of crisis or even revolution to be able to resurface as a solution to the problem. It has to do with how people approach the real-life-problem and rules in general.

            If people would approach every rule negatively/subtractively, we would use technology only for destruction, because it is more energy efficient to kill and steal than to create something entirely new. This is why innovation (contrary to invention) is the safest thing to do when a company gets large.

            Having strict goals (and therefore minmaxing) is what drives/satisfies the more general need for domination and subsequently it is what drives such people to crave for any dominating expressions they can think of. Moreover, people that have a strong need for achieving something in particular, are more often than not easily described as “control freaks”.

            Wikipedia, for one, states the following

            “Control freaks are often perfectionists[3] defending themselves against their own inner vulnerabilities in the belief that if they are not in total control they risk exposing themselves once more to childhood angst.[4] Such persons manipulate and pressure others to change so as to avoid having to change themselves,[5] and use power over others to escape an inner emptiness.[6] When a control freak’s pattern is broken, “the Controller is left with a terrible feeling of powerlessness … but feeling their pain and fear brings them back to themselves.[7]”

            There is a profound reason why it’s the best to know when to let go. To improvise, to go with the flow. Something with which control freaks have a very hard time. Not everything has to have just 1 true meaning in one’s eyes, including your life. You don’t know its singular purpose, and yet you’re here.

            And sadly, there is a reason why not that many games employ a positive/additive approach to its inner workings. The majority of games are made to click with the obsessive-compulsive disorders, addictive qualities, and subconscious conditioning in their playerbase. And it is possible to make an assortment of such tricks, we all know what is the purpose of achievements in games.

            It’s for the completionists to have their goals. This is entirely justified by the industry, but would you want your son to be such a completionist? Is it really an accomplishment? And objectively?

            Wouldn’t you liked it more if he would experience the game/world more deeply, to worry less about the numeral machiavellism, and more about the people he met along the way?

            I’m not saying anyone should lead a purposeless life, but paradoxically, the more I look, the more purposeless goal-getters seem to be. And if you take a look at truck-driving simulations, also paradoxically, the more objective-oriented they are, the more people waste time sightseeing.

            If Universe wanted to be known upfront, there would be no life to discover it.

        • Someoldguy says:

          I live quite contentedly by playing games like the Elder Scrolls RPGs and Paradox grand strategy titles. Loads of scope to go do your own thing and set your own goals, but some actual objectives there to aim for. Even NMS, much derided by many, had some.

  5. Spacewalk says:

    Life Is Feudal so get medieval on their arses.

  6. Lexx87 says:

    I giggled my way through this. It’s so tragic but Brendan’s writing makes it brilliantly hilarious.

    Whatever Costa Rica is doing for you, it’s certainly not harming your stuff!

  7. UncleLou says:

    Fantastic article, Brendan. Funny, sad, and answered everything I wanted to know.

  8. soijohn says:

    But it’s just Banished. Even the way an unfinished building looks under the snow is the same. The UI is the same. It looks slightly better but with less stuff. Man i wish for a Banished 2 with HD graphics where you get to upgrade your 100000 population village into a real town. With a castle, and thiefs/gards, and guilds and and and… Sigh.

  9. Cian says:

    The number of synonyms for ‘peasantry’ in this article alone make it a pleasure to read.

  10. Elric666 says:

    There were no potato’s in the middle ages. They came from America.

  11. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Short of hiding in the wheat fields during harvest season, I have trouble picturing the kind of farming accident that could claim the life of a dark age farmer. Rabid cows maybe?

    Also, did you even TRY to repopulate your all-male village? Sure, some of your villagers may not appreciate the effort at first, but they’ll just have to take one for the team.

  12. poliovaccine says:

    Still looking for the RTS spiritual successor to Black and White for most hysterically funny villager abuse… this doesnt really sound like it’s that, but it does sound like they manage to abuse themselves in some amusive.. er, amusing ways.

    The title, and trusting devs who’d choose it to have any sort of taste, is a bit of a hump to get over, frankly – UK readers, be glad you’ve been blissfully unaware of the pun, it’s no less poor in its intended dialect. But I do like the depth and particular selection of the scenarios I hear of in this review. Sounds more like what I want in an RTS than, say, Anno 2205 turned out to be (very pretty cities, totally boring tho and with limited creative or aesthetic options), in that you actually can manage your individual citizenry.

    Also, the bit about being able to ridealong with a single villager damn near sold me, as getting down to ground level, where units in an RTS are zoomed in so close you can experience their village at their height, that is just delicious in any game. I think the first game I had that ever let me see that stuff was either Black and White or Empire Earth (a childhood favorite, too bad it seems I might be alone on that one haha).

    But I dont understand how any RTS these days is complete without the ability to pick up your villagers and fling them across the landscape. I mean, I guess I understand, but then again I really don’t. I’m smirking a little just envisioning it now. Why cant I throw my units in Starcraft?? Just once I’d like to use zergs for pelting.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Also, people wondered why Black and White 2 didn’t quite do it for em, but I didn’t, to me it was obvious: *it needed an overhand throw.*

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