We're nearing completion, and Carlos was the first team member to finish all his work, so with the writing complete, he is now taking on the task of reward fulfillment.
As hundreds of you already know, we have sent the survey out for Meriwether rewards! We can't tell you how excited we are! The game and rewards will be in your hands soon.
Specifically, the survey is for those backers who are receiving physical rewards or from whom we needed information (e.g. to which institutions you’d like to donate Scholarship copies of Meriwether). If your rewards are all digital, no need for a survey!
If you haven't already, please fill out the survey ASAP, and no later than Sunday 20 September. If you didn't receive a survey, please e-mail us at email@example.com and we will send you one.
We will be sending out our pre-launch update soon.
We’ve had our noses to the grindstone and are getting very close to being finished. We’ve been conducting extensive team reviews of all content, and making final punch lists of historical issues, bugs, and art that need to be polished. The third, and hopefully final, version of the Beta is now available to all Engage-level backers and above through the Humble store. Just log in at Humble.com with the email you used to back Meriwether. Please contact us privately if you’re having difficulty logging in.
The most important feature of the new Beta is the addition of in-game tutorials. These address the biggest issue that arose from the previous Beta, which was that many players had difficulty learning some of the specific mechanics, especially of the medicine minigame. We have added tutorials for that situation, as well as earning facet skill points through dialogue, reloading, basic interaction, plant and animal discovery, the command mechanic, and more. These appear as text overlays at appropriate times, and stay up until you perform the associated action. They don’t force you to do the action right away, but they do encourage you to do it relatively soon. (Plus often it will be at a point where you can’t progress without performing the associated action anyway.)
One thing that’s been a thorn in our side since the beginning of the game has been how to handle translation in conversations. Lewis encountered dozens of different languages on his journey, and translation, or the lack thereof, was a monumental challenge he had to deal with. However, it’s also important to us that the game is readable and that you’re able to have nuanced, interesting conversations with the American Indian characters throughout the game, despite the fact that communication was often difficult. After all, the Corps of Discovery often had weeks, sometimes months to discuss matters with the American Indians. Our conversations are distillations of the history: what players experience in minutes may have taken the Corps an entire season.
Throughout the years of development, we’ve tried everything from ignoring translation to adding mechanics and interpretation minigames, but ultimately we’ve finally settled with a simple but effective solution: each translated conversation starts with a narrator node describing that it’s translated, to the effect of “translated from the Oto by Faufong and Dorion,” as you can see in the screenshot below. This particular conversation is your first interpreted conversation and it helps reinforce how awkward, confusing, and stilted things could get. This convention reminds the player that there are others present, even if they rarely materially participate in the conversation, and that while it’s all written in English, the characters are all speaking in their various languages. It also has a bit of a literary flair, which we feel helps best convey the style of the game.
UNITY 5 IMPROVEMENTS
Just prior to our previous Beta release, we had updated our development environment to Unity 5, which gave us a lot of improvements, but also broke a lot of what was already working.
Since then, we have fixed and improved a number of these issues. We ripped out all of the old Image Effects (some dating back to Unity 3.x with lower quality and lower performance than their more modern counterparts) and selected some key Unity 5 effects to bring the game up to a better standard. Note that most of these, other than Unistorm, were added after we tested and built the Beta, so we’ve included screenshots of them here since you can’t see most of them in-game yet.
The most obvious thing you’ll notice in the new beta is that we finally moved from an ancient version of our dynamic weather and time-of-day system (Unistorm) to a new Unity 5 supported version. The harsh edges on the skybox are gone and things are looking significantly better overall. The different in the skybox between the previous build is, well, day and night.
From there we had a few key image effects in mind that we knew we wanted to add into the game. The largest contributor is undoubtedly bloom; it’s an effect that the industry has definitely overused in the past, but it’s absolutely instrumental in getting that sun-kissed, outdoor look Meriwether relies on. On top of that we are dropping on simple full-screen antialiasing and screen-space ambient occlusion.
Ambient occlusion is a very powerful rendering technique that tries to approximate the darkness you would expect to see in all of the creases and corners of the geometry in the real world. In Meriwether it means that our few indoors scenes are looking better, our grass is starting to have some real depth to it, and the details in the characters are more pronounced. You can see in our comparison shots that it brings a lot of depth to the scenes, especially when there is intricate geometry visible. It’s not perfect yet (the edges of the room need improvement for sure), but like the rest of these effects this is simply our first pass and we’ll definitely be tweaking things as we move towards the full release.
You may have also noticed in these comparison shots that the outline shader has finally made a return. Our original shader was broken when moving to Unity 5, and even beforehand, we weren’t satisfied with the look. Recently, we decided to bring the outlines back, but with an updated behavior. Now when you are at a distance from the object the outline is not at all visible (where as before it was overdone)—as you move closer to the characters, a subtle outline appears to help distinguish them from the background.
Finally, we have one last new visual touch we are experimenting with. This one needs the most improvement, but we are excited to hear your thoughts on this early preview. One issue we’ve had with the dialogue system is that it can be difficult to separate the characters, and especially the dialogue UI itself, out from the world; we’d like them to pop more. To accomplish this, we have added a "depth of field" effect to the game that appears only when in a character interaction, placing the characters involved directly along the focal plane, and therefor blurring everything in the background, just a little bit. We’re also going to experiment with adding this feature to other interactions, such as plant discovery.
We need your detailed feedback right now. We’re particularly looking for feedback on two aspects:
1. The placeholder voiceover that plays while you’re traveling across the world map. Do you like how this works stylistically? Any final edits we should make to the text before we record the final voiceover with a real voice actor?
2. The popup tutorials. Do you like how they look? Do you like where and when they appear? Is the wording clear? Do they give you all the information you need in the most succinct way possible? Once we get some more feedback on these we can finish up and polish this feature.
Here’s a list of the major tasks we still have left on our plate:
1. Record Voiceover: Carlos’s placeholder recordings have treated us well so far, but all the writing is now final enough that we can be confident it won’t change. That means it’s time for Jim to hire a voice actor to record the voiceover for real. We’re going to wait about a week or so in case any of you have final feedback on this.
2. Flora Replacement: The current foliage in the game represents only a subset of the actual plants we want to include. Barb has meticulously researched which plants should appear in each level, and we need to revise these plants accordingly and regenerate the procedural terrain with these new species. We have been waiting to do this until we could incorporate Speedtree, which was supposed to be supported by Unity 5. Unfortunately, we have found that they implemented it poorly and so it is way too slow for any actual game to use. So, we are back to regular Unity trees--now we just need to go in and replace them with the proper species. We also need to create the matching sketches for the plant observation mechanic.
3. Polishing and bugfixing: our artists and programmers are now primarily focusing on cleaning up and polishing what we have. There’s a few minor assets and features we’re adding, but mostly it’s just a matter of finalizing what we already have.
4. Reward fulfillment: since Carlos is now essentially finished with writing, other than an occasional edit or revision here and there, he is now working on getting the physical rewards manufactured and sent out to you!
Please, check out the Beta build and give us your feedback. Next update we will be sending out a preliminary build to everyone!
We listened to your feedback from the Beta build, and are excited to announce a new Beta release that takes much of that feedback into account.
The most prominent issue with our previous build was that the levels seemed to jump around, and you were never sure how and why you arrived at any particular place. With this new version, we have put a great deal of effort into giving context to each level. Primarily, we have added a world map that shows where that level exists spatially within the world. The art we used was the art for our printed world map, so we need to now go back and revise that map for the level of detail needed in-game. Also, before each flashback, we help situate you temporally by starting with “Washington, D.C. (three years earlier.)”.
We’ve also added voiceovers during the loading-screen/world-map that help explain how you got there from the previous level, as well as reflecting on what happened and/or giving context to the creative themes explored within the upcoming level. The voiceover is temporarily narrated by our very own Carlos, who would be the first to tell you that it is extremely placeholder! We will replace this audio with a professional voice actor once we determine that it is working as expected and the writing is fully edited.
We finally have art in place for the reloading interface. It still functions more or less the same, but it looks way better and is clearer.
POLISH AND BUG FIXES
We have more characters, more art, polished icons and interface, and way less bugs. The most noticeable improvement will be with load times. We’ve determined that, while the levels will remain procedurally generated, we’ll pre-cache as much as possible to ensure a smooth, painless loading process even on older machines.
Because we were primarily focusing on addressing the level continuity for this build, our testing was mostly on the first half of the game, basically up to the Mandan villages. The levels after that relatively untested at the moment. They might work, but no promises!
We’ll be sending out at least one more Beta build before sharing the final game with all backers. Hopefully this one will come quicker. We’re now focusing on getting the second half of the game polished up in the same manner, punching up Pryor’s Report, and finishing the remaining art and lower-priority features.
HUMBLE STORE & DOWNLOAD LINK
We’re now distributing Meriwether using the Humble Store. It’s much more reliable than our previous methods, and will allow us to seamlessly transition to selling a DRM-free version through their store once we launch. If you already have a login with Humble, you can download it through your account. Otherwise just go to https://www.humblebundle.com/resender and enter your email to receive your download page. If you no longer have access to the email you used for Kickstarter, or are having difficulty, please let us know and we’ll make sure you get your copy. This link works for both the Beta and the final game, although obviously only the Beta is accessible right now (and only to backers at the $40 tier or higher.)
Most importantly, give us your feedback on this build. Please! We need it to keep improving the game. Feel free to post it below, so that other backers don’t have to repeat the same info. Or if you have screenshots or would rather keep it private, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let us know if you think this new build addresses the continuity concerns!
Beta begins today! We could not be more excited. This is a project that began years before the Kickstarter was launched; to have it, at long last, reach this milestone leaves the Meriwether team collectively breathless.
We truly believe we have a fun, compelling game that has a new perspective on the Lewis and Clark story as well as innovative game mechanics, all couched in a meticulously researched and lovingly written meditation on the nature of discovery and heroism. We're grateful for your enthusiastic support in building this amazing game.
If you backed us at the ENGAGÉ level ($40 or higher), you will be receiving a link shortly to download the Beta. If you don't receive anything, we must not have a current e-mail for you. Please contact us immediately, either through Kickstarter or at email@example.com so that we can get the Beta into your hands.
Better than Beta!
Most Betas are used to help find technical glitches and test compatibility with different systems. We're taking a more active approach: we CRAVE your input about the game design, story, art, and everything else because we know our backers can help us improve every aspect of this game (as you already have!).
You can help us fill in any of our design blind spots, refine mechanics and dialogue and character development, and most importantly, tell us what you like and what you don't. Any feedback you give us will help make the game stronger. The more the better!
That said, if you would rather play a finished game than an early, evolving beta, you may want to hold off on downloading until the game reaches a slightly more refined state. We will update often with new revised builds, and let you know the state of the game, so that you can decide what stage of release is right for you.
Here's a few pointers on how you can criticize us most constructively:
1. Trust your feelings
User-friendliness is an iterative art. If something is confusing, doesn't feel right, works counterintuitively for you, or seems just plain weird, please do not assume it's your fault. It's not you; it's us. :) Tell us, so we can look for a way to improve all interactions in the game.
2. Say why
Saying why you did or did not like something gives us the qualitative richness that really gives us food for thought. The biggest way to have a lasting impact as a beta tester is to explain your thinking to us.
3. Take a screenshot, or even a Vine!
Pictures are worth a thousand words, and moving pictures a thousand words per frame! If we can see exactly what's happening on your machine when a bug activates, we will be able to squash it much more quickly.
You can take a screenshot very easily. On Windows computers, just press the Print Screen button, open Microsoft Paint, and press Ctrl+V or use the Paste command in the menu bar. On Macs, just press Command+Shift+3 to take a screenshot. Save the file and send it to us.
Our Dev team has also been using the Vine app. We use our phone to record what's happening on the screen, then send Vines to each other with brief explanations. That's turned out to be a really useful tool for us, so feel free to Vine us, too!
4. The game is not yet balanced
We will only have a sense of how hard the game difficulty level is after we've had enough players playtest it and give us feedback. It will likely start off woefully unbalanced. Our goal is to make a game that feels challenging, maybe even occasionally overwhelming, but never so hard that it is unfun. Let us know what you think about the difficulty so we can hone in on the challenge-level sweet spot.
If you have your own beta-testing tips, please share them in the comments!
What If I'm Not a Beta Tester?
Don't worry! All backers of Meriwether will get to play the game well before it's released to the general public.
After beta-testers have had a chance to give us their reactions and we've revised the game based on their feedback, we'll release a 0.9 version of the game to all backers. That will be a second, larger round of testing, where we will still be listening carefully to player feedback and improving the game on all fronts. And of course, you will have access to builds from then on, all the way to the final release, once it's ready for primetime.
We cannot thank you enough for your continued support. With Beta, the real fun begins, because we start to share the game with our supporters. Excelsior!
It's been a cold but busy week here in Brooklyn. We are just finishing a major Meriwether crunch session and we are finally ready to make a major announcement: We will be releasing Beta to our upper-tier backers on January 30th!
Along with the Beta release, on the 30th we will also announce the release date of the final version of the game. We have a pretty good idea now of when that will be, but we want to keep it under our hats until the 30th, when we will be able to make a fully informed decision. The last thing we want to do is miss another deadline!
The initial release, for Kickstarter backers only, will be a soft launch. We will continue polishing, optimizing, and revising the game based on your feedback for a little while longer before we begin widely publicizing it and selling the a general audience.
Thanks for your continued support and patience. We can't wait to get this in your hands!