Do you remember that incredible and melancholic deer game from Microsoft’s press conference all the way back at E3 2019? Way to the Woods was the name of an emotive journey of a deer and fawn as they traverse a rundown and seemingly abandoned city, attempting to make their way back to the woods. That game had an expected 2020 release date, but unfortunately completely dropped off the map when solo developer Ant Tan missed his projected deadlines and stopped publically sharing information about his game. In fact, still to this day, the game’s website lists a “Coming 2020” release window and its one (and only?) trailer somewhat comically reads “coming 2020 …for real this time”.
With all its beauty and intrigue, Way to the Woods became somewhat of a mystery with headlines like “What happened to Way to the Woods” popping up in game spaces across the internet. Heading to Ant’s Twitter or Tumblr pages never turned up many answers, outside of a December 2020 post apologising for delays and an inability to hit certain targets during development.
As someone who has been keeping an eye on this release, hoping for it to resurface, I was delighted to have been invited to a press event held by VicScreen where Way to the Woods was one of six games being showcased. Better yet, Way to the Woods was playable, allowing us to go hands-on with the clearly not abandoned release.
In the slice of game we were able to play, you’d move the deer around a grim environment, full of a black tar-like substance, doing light platforming over logs and at one stage vans whilst you pursued an ethereal spirit of a deer. Stopping to feed your fawn berries showed the dependency of the youngling as you take in your surreal environment. Instantly impressive were the deer’s movement animations, as tails slowly waggled and ears twitched between elegant steps. You could call upon light with the press of a bumper and expel that light to power electronics around you and help dispel the black tar. The further into the demo we played and the more abstract the environment got. Clearly this wasn’t a snapshot of the reality we currently know, which raises questions that continue to so far go unanswered.
Talking with developer Ant Tan and you can see the passion of this young creative. It’s not easy to make a video game, especially when it’s your debut project as a solo developer who was only in his teens when his game started getting attention. Ant mentions the idea of an emotive and evocative journey, one which he hopes will cause a genuine stir and a possible tear from his players. It may not be a challenging game, having a strong focus on narrative rather than win or loss conditions, but Ant suggests proudly that it’s still important to him that the game remains fun to interact with.
Importantly, Way to the Woods also finally has an updated release window, now expected in the first quarter of 2023, as also seen on Ant’s Twitter. Watch this space for updates about Way to the Woods as we continue to learn more about this beauty of an Australian release.