Funded! This project was successfully funded on January 6, 2013.

Update #43

Meri-Making: Soundtrack and TJ's Birthday

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Meriwether Original Soundtrack

We are thrilled to announce our release of the Meriwether soundtrack! The 25-track album is simultaneously beautiful, exciting, and mysterious. We’ve been listening to it on repeat while working on the game, as it sets the atmosphere perfectly. The entire record is composed, arranged, and produced by our very own Jim Welch, with the exception of two period pieces that Jim arranged: Gavotte by Arcangelo Corelli, and Minuet by Alexander Reinagle. We will soon be sending a link out to those of you who backed at the Soundtrack level or higher! If you pledged at a lower level but want to add the soundtrack now, you can raise your pledge to $35 by sending us the difference via paypal at http://bit.ly/1hJRdXY. This additional pledge will continue to support us finishing Meriwether. Take a look at this massive track list! There is such a wide range of sounds, emotions, and styles. The songs all complement each other so well, making the album greater than the sum of its parts.

1. An American Epic
2. On The Plains
3. West Of The Rockies
4. Danger
5. Teton Sioux Confrontation
6. Gavotte by Arcangelo Corelli
7. The Shoshone
8. Lolo Trail
9. The Hunt
10. Off We Go
11. The Columbia
12. Coastal Tribes
13. Ocean In View
14. Plains Tribes
15. Melancholy
16. The Missouri
17. Drouillard's Theme
18. Minuet by Alexander Reinagle
19. York's Theme
20. The Ohio
21. Clark's Theme
22. Sacagawea's Theme
23. August 20th 1804
24. Journal Entries
25. Pomp's Lullaby

Procedural Music Implementation

Now that we have the mastered soundtrack recordings, we’ve implemented a dynamic music system to play them at opportune moments within the game. Each piece is tied thematically to a “muse,” which is either a person, place, or action. When it seems like the player might be getting ready to interact with a muse, a “submix” of the song begins. This is a sparse, quieter mix of the soundtrack version of the song that hints at the qualities in the background without fully committing. If a player continues to engage with the muse, then the audio fades in to the main mix that you hear on the soundtrack. Our procedural audio engine also allows for extended stretches of silence in between the music tracks. This respite helps you to engage with the environmental audio. For instance if you notice a bird chirping, you might try to locate it and observe it through your spyglass.

Hero Trap Hangout tomorrow 8pm eastern

Our friends at SMASHWORX are hosting a Google Hangout, much like our own Meri-thon, to promote their new roguelike dungeon-runner The Hero Trap. They're so close to their goal--maybe we can help push them over the edge! A few of us are joining them on Google Hangout to discuss Meriwether, Kickstarter, and anything else that comes up. Please join us tomorrow, Monday 4/14, 8pm eastern at http://bit.ly/1n2Vcai.

TJ’s Birthday Crunch Session

Today happens to be Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, so make sure to treat yourself to a mammoth piece of cake! After our team celebrates, we’re starting a major crunch session, and hoping to hit our “internal Beta” milestone by the end of next week. We’ll use it to start testing internally and put together a punch list for the private Beta we plan to send to y’all. We’re getting down to nitty gritty details, which is a good sign that we’re getting near the end. The details aren’t very interesting to show, unfortunately. For example, we just spent the last few days teaching our algorithm to detect lakes and ponds in the terrain. For our next update we plan to show more of our procedurally generated terrain and discuss our approach and algorithms.  

Josh & the Meriwether team


Update #42

Meri-Making: Character Creation

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Way back in the day, when I first started playing RPGs, I was mostly playing hack-n-slash games like Wizardry, Bard’s Tale, and NetHack. These games were great, but I found something totally new the moment I played Ultima VI. This game was no longer primarily about min-maxing your way through combat (though it had that). Instead it offered the opportunity to explore and build an entire world and meet characters that inhabited it. It came with a cloth map to help immerse you in that world. It even included a shiny polished “moonstone” to help transport the player into the game world--the same device used in the game’s intro to literally transport the Avatar from the present day into Britannia. This is the style of storytelling we want to emphasize in Meriwether. This game is about the characters you play and meet and the world (and time) in which they live.

I’m sure Meriwether is influenced in many subtle ways by the Ultima series, but one very obvious and deliberate way is through our character creation system. Starting with Ultima IV, the game always began with an encounter with a gypsy who asked you a series of questions which ultimately determine the details of the character you will play. The gypsy would ask you questions like “A local bully pushes for a fight. Dost thou A) Valiantly trounce the rogue, or B) Decline, knowing in thy Spirit that no lasting good will come of it?” Your choice would reflect one of the 8 virtues that were so important in the game, and impact your character in several different ways.

character creation in Ultima VI
character creation in Ultima VI

The first level of Meriwether takes place at Caspar Wistar’s home on the corner of 4th and Locust in Philadelphia (It’s still standing there today--you can see it on Google street view.) Jefferson sent Lewis there to train with some of the greatest minds of the time. Many men contributed to his education, but we chose to focus on three doctors: Dr. Caspar Wistar, Dr. Benjamin Barton, and Dr. Benjamin Rush. We felt that these three characters complemented each other well and also reflected the game mechanics we want to introduce at this point.

Dr. Caspar Wistar
Dr. Caspar Wistar

The level opens with some exposition to help situate who you are and what you are doing. The doctors then begin to candidly, but informally, quiz you on what they have imparted on you during your stay. Although these conversations use the same interface we do for the rest of the dialogue in the game, they also largely mirror what happens with Ultima’s gypsy. Here are a couple of the gruesome medical questions that Dr. Rush asks you:

Instead of being associated with virtues, Meriwether’s choices are based on Lewis’ facets: Leader, Soldier, Diplomat, and Scientist. (There is a 5th facet, Melancholy, but it doesn’t get introduced until the end of this first level.) None of the choices are right or wrong, but rather reflect a way that Lewis might have responded and how the player is choosing to play Lewis. Each of these choices gives you a skill point in the associated facet that can then be used to purchase related skills. For instance, you can spend soldier points to become a better marksman, or to gain stamina.

Dr. Benjamin Rush
Dr. Benjamin Rush

Because this level focuses on Lewis’s training, and because it’s the beginning of the game, it was clearly the perfect place to introduce some of the other mechanics. Benjamin Barton, the spirited botanist, guides you through the plant-discovery mechanic in Wistar’s garden. Then Dr. Rush teaches you how to play the medicine minigame by treating your generous host’s gout!

Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton
Dr. Benjamin Smith Barton

We’ve put a lot of effort into trying to depict these three characters accurately, both in their appearance and through their dialogue. Now we’re building out the physical space of the level: a single room of Wistar’s house, plus his garden.

Indiecade East was tons of fun! Carlos and I had the opportunity to demo Meriwether at their Show and Tell area. Here’s some of the press that came out of it: 
International Digital Times
Pop Matters
Spike
(You can also watch the talk I gave at Indiecade with Nik Mikros about a different game I’m developing called Killer Queen on YouTube.)

Next weekend I’m headed to San Francisco for the Game Developers Conference, and while I’m not officially demoing Meriwether there, I plan to have my laptop with me and will be showing it informally whenever I have an opportunity. We’re playtesting the game more often now, and continually revising little details. We’ve moved on from working on each level individually, to really focusing on the story arcs that span multiple levels and the general experience of how the game evolves over the entire experience. I know we’re finally getting close since we’re working on details instead of fundamentals!

Josh & the Meriwether team 


Update #41

visit us at Indiecade East

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Hey Backers,

This weekend we'll be at Indiecade East in Astoria, NY. Friday February 14, at 4:30, Josh is giving a talk about another game he co-designed called Killer Queen Arcade. Then we'll be showing Meriwether at the Show & Tell session on Sunday February 16 from 4 to 6. Come check out the game and give us your feedback! We'll be demoing one of the game's early levels, set at the Falls of the Ohio, in which you meet Clark, and several of the other men, for the first time.

We're working on a more substantial update for after Indiecade. Stay tuned!

Josh & the Meriwether Team


Update #40

Meri-Making: anniversary edition

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One year!

Today marks exactly one year after the end of our Kickstarter campaign. Since then, it’s been a lot of work, and a hell of a lot of fun. We met up with many of you at PAX East in Boston, the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation meeting in Bismarck, ND, and at various playtesting events around New York City. We are incredibly happy with how the game is turning out. We’re frustrated (though not very surprised) that development is taking us longer than expected. Best of all, we’re excited to be getting close to releasing the game into your hands!

Facet Mechanic Details

We mentioned the facet mechanic from the very start of our Kickstarter campaign, but up until now we have been somewhat vague about certain details. This was because we needed to experiment with it in the context of the whole game to truly understand how certain things work. We’ve now done that and have made some final decisions. So, here they are! Pay close attention, dear backers, because this is particularly relevant to the advice we need from you below.

In Meriwether, Lewis has five facets of his character: Leader, Soldier, Diplomat, Scientist, and Melancholy. Every dialogue choice is associated with one of these facets. When you choose one of these facets, two things happen:
 1. you gain a skill point in that facet, which you can use to purchase related skills.

 2. that facet gets “gunked up” with Melancholy, visually represented by a black liquid rising up ⅓ of the way. 

In this example image, notice how the 2nd facet, Soldier, is partially filled with this “black bile”. The third time you choose a facet, it will be completely covered. When they’re fully covered, options that use that facet are disabled and you are unable to choose them in a conversation. However, when you choose the Melancholy facet, you don’t get any skill points, but it purges all the melancholy from all the facets, and you are able to use facets that previously became locked.

We were initially reluctant to limit player choice like this, and experimented with several alternate schemes that allowed the choice to remain valid while providing other rewards or penalties for choosing Melancholy. Some of these worked mechanically, but none of them expressed the sense of helplessness we were trying to convey through this mechanic. The current version becomes an interesting balance of trying to press your luck to gain the most skill points (and the type of skill points you want) while also looking for the right opportunity to choose Melancholy in a situation where you think it may be helpful (or at least not too harmful).

Level Structure and Jefferson Flashbacks

Originally, our intent was for the game to start with a level at the President’s House in Washington D.C., featuring Thomas Jefferson. However, we’ve recently had a very interesting revelation. This fall, we were able to finally see the game as a whole (see our post on the table read, here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/meriwether/meriwether-an-american-epic/posts/577388) With regards to this introductory level, the table read allowed us to see a few important points: 

  • It took too long to get into the action; 
  • While your early-game conversation with Jefferson was interesting, it was a bit out of context; 
  • As the first level, it was necessary to give the player a basic tutorial. However, this felt thematically redundant with the second level, which features three of your mentors in Philadelphia: Dr. Wistar, Dr. Barton, and Dr. Rush.

This gave us an idea: what if we cut up the conversations from this first level into several smaller dialogues, and insert them in between our existing levels as flashbacks? We tried it and we think it works great. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • There is less exposition front-loaded, allowing the player to get into the action quicker;
  • Jefferson has a voice through the entire game;  
  • Your conversations with Jefferson happen contextually (generally before or after a related event in the game).

To illustrate this, here’s the level structure:

We need advice!

We’re very happy with this shift in structure and think that it ties everything together very well. However, this new structure has introduced a slight problem. We have some solutions, but we feel that there may be a better solution out there that we just haven’t thought of.

Here’s the problem: The two elements we mentioned above (the facet mechanic, and the Jefferson flashbacks) are working great individually. However, they’re not playing as well together as perhaps they might.

When you have a conversation with Jefferson, you get to make one or more choices during conversation, using the facet system. What we are wondering is this: during a Jefferson flashback, should the facets continue to work as they do throughout the rest of the game? That is, should you gain a point in the facet you choose, and should that facet get gunked up with more Melancholy? Should those values then carry through to the next level once the flashback ends?

On the one hand, it creates a bit of a time paradox if, when you make a choice in the past, all of a sudden you have more skill points in the present (but not the intervening period.) It’s even stranger if all your melancholy is purged in the present based on a flashback conversation that actually occurred years ago. However, good game design demands consistency and simplicity whenever possible.

This is certainly not an insurmountable problem, and we do have some potential solutions kicking around. However, we want to know how you think this would work best. Please let us know in the comments!

New Art

We have several new characters finished. Check ‘em out:

York
York
Pomp (Sacagawea + Charbonneau's baby)
Pomp (Sacagawea + Charbonneau's baby)
Pierre Cruzatte
Pierre Cruzatte
Sheheke
Sheheke

New Music: The Hunt

Most of the music we've shared so far has been thematic based on characters or places. This piece is a little different, it’s intended for moments of tension or potential danger. It’s titled “The Hunt”.

Beta

We know you guys are on the edge of your seat to play a preliminary version of the game, and I know we keep pushing back the date, but we do need a little more time for the Beta to be player-ready. Rather than continuing to burst your bubble with every update, since it’s very difficult to anticipate, for now it’s safe to say that it will be fairly soon. Just know that we are working very hard to make the game the best it can be as quickly as we can.

Website

We’re also starting work on the game’s website. In fact, we are looking for a talented website designer to help us with the graphic design for the website, as well as revising the main Sortasoft website (which still has its original design from way back in 2004!) If you know anyone, please have them email their portfolio to josh@sortasoft.com.

Post-launch steps

While our effort right now is solely focused on finishing the core game, we are beginning to think about additional work that we intend to do after launch. We are investigating the potential for releasing Meriwether on other platforms, including consoles. We’re also discussing the creation of a guidebook to help assist those who want to use the game in learning environments.

Next Steps

For now, we’re excited to get back to work. This week we’re updating our codebase to work with the latest version of Unity (hopefully this will go smoothly!), which we primarily expect to help improve the game’s performance, particularly the speed at which it renders terrain. We’re also at the point where we are spending a lot of time playtesting it ourselves, with friends, and with other designers. We are creating the artwork for Jefferson and the interior of his office in the President’s House, as well as all Corps’ large equipment like tents, boats, awnings, lanterns, a tipi, and the ubiquitous staple of all expeditions and videogames alike: crates.

Josh & the Meriwether team


Update #39

Meri-Making: music edition

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Hey Backers! 

Normally in our Meri-making updates we cover a little bit about all the various facets of Meriwether’s development. However, this month we wanted to do something a little different and dive deep into the music. Jim Welch joined up with us about a year ago. This is our first project working with him and he instantly fit in with the team, got up to speed with the project and immediately had a feel for the style of music we were looking for. He even bought and learned several new instruments to use in this project like a Native American flute, a fife, and a banjo. We’re continually impressed by the quality of his music and want to feature the work he’s done so far. This is the perfect time to do so since he just had the primary recording sessions.

Jim Welch conducting the string section
Jim Welch conducting the string section

Jim started composing the music for Meriwether right after our Kickstarter campaign ended in January. As he was composing, he made mockups (rough drafts) of the songs so the rest of us could listen, give feedback, and drop them into the game to see how they fit with the rest of atmosphere (spoiler alert: they set the tone of the game perfectly!) Some of the parts Jim recorded himself on actual physical instruments to help capture the intention of the piece/part better, but the majority of the mockups were comprised of MIDI performances using synthesized and sampled instruments as placeholders until they were replayed by live performances at a later date.

Sheet music for Meriwether’s soundtrack
Sheet music for Meriwether’s soundtrack

Jim works from his home studio In Dallas, Texas most of the time, but in order to record the large ensemble needed for Meriwether he headed to Austin to record in a more spacious studio. Dave Shumway engineered the sessions and helped a ton with prep work. Dave was a really integral part to bringing the score into the live player realm and deserves a big thanks from all of us! You can check out what Dave is up to at www.mediaeaters.com.

Engineer Dave Shumway and Paul Baker in the control room
Engineer Dave Shumway and Paul Baker in the control room

In anticipation of the recording session, Jim spent nearly all of September feverishly preparing arrangements and sheet music. Observe the reams of charts he painstakingly prepared. Fortunately, the software he composed his mockups in (Logic Pro) allowed him to create a rough initial version of the sheet music based on the MIDI data of the sampled instruments he recorded. But it all still needed a lot of work before it could be placed in front of players. Loose tempos in the midi recordings, meter changes, articulations and many other things were not contained in the MIDI data and had to be added by hand. Additionally, many things had to be removed entirely that were only around to help the “fake” instruments sound better. Composing for a sampled orchestra is very different than composing for a real one. It was a significant task to say the least!

Panoramic view of the wind section
Panoramic view of the wind section

Throughout the game’s process, we’ve had a number of interns and students helping us and learning about game development at the same time, and this recording session was no exception. In addition to being a talented engineer, mixer, and composer, Dave also teaches. For the Meriwether recording sessions Dave invited his higher-level students to observe and help out during the recording sessions. They were a ton of help and I’m sure learned a ton about how complex something like this can be!

Jim playing a Native American flute
Jim playing a Native American flute

Jim spent brutally long days in the studio, recording the music for Meriwether’s soundtrack. The first day was spent recording all the strings: two violins, a viola, and two cellos. Winds and brass were recorded on the second day, including piccolo, fife, flute, oboe, english horn, clarinet, bassoon, french horn, trombone, trumpet, snare drum, and Native American flute.

Jim fine-tuning adjustments down to the last minute
Jim fine-tuning adjustments down to the last minute

Here's two versions of the piece “August 20, 1804.” The first is Jim’s initial mockup using the sampled instruments, and the second is with actual instruments. Some of the differences are subtle, and some are more obvious. Overall, we think they both sound great but the real instruments sound more expressive and nuanced.

Also, here's a new piece that will be triggered dynamically when Meriwether starts to get melancholy. We love how moody and beautiful the piece turned out!

recording a haunting cello line for August 20, 1804
recording a haunting cello line for August 20, 1804

Now that the bulk of the recording is complete Jim is working together with mixer Adrian Cook to make sure all the live instruments reach their full potential. Dave continues to be involved as well and has really put his heart into this project with us. A few pieces still remain to be composed and recorded but we’re almost there! The final step after all recording and mix is complete is arranging the tracks in a manner that suits implementation into the game. An important stage in marrying music to an interactive experience and something we are all excited for. 

SCHEDULE

Currently, our plan is to start sharing a Beta build with Engage-level backers before the end of this year, and release a finished version of the game by the end of February. We’re a bit behind our original schedule, so we want to be realistic about how much work is left, yet we don’t want to compromise quality. We will continue to keep you updated on our schedule. That said, all aspects of the game have really come together recently and we’re happier than ever about how the game is playing. More about that next month! 

Josh & the Meriwether team


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    ★★★ SPONSOR JOHN COLTER ★★★ An explorer and legend in his own right, John Colter gained fame after the Expedition as one of the first "mountain men." At this level, besides receiving everything included in the QUARTERMASTER level, you will be the sole sponsor of Colter and will receive special recognition in the credits and the Wunderkammer describing you as such. We will also give you an 11x14 giclée print of Colter on stretched canvas.

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    ★★★ SPONSOR MERIWETHER'S FAITHFUL DOG, SEAMAN ★★★ Before heading out on his adventure, Captain Lewis purchased a Newfoundland who, to the consternation of American History teachers ever since, he named Seaman. Jokes aside, Seaman was an important help to the Expedition, an asset on a hunt and a vigilant guard. Sponsor the Corps' shaggiest, slobberiest member and you will receive everything at the QUARTERMASTER level, recognition in the credits and Wunderkammer as Seaman's sole sponsor, and an 11x14 giclée print of Seaman on stretched canvas.

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    ★★ SPONSOR PIERRE CRUZATTE ★★ Brought on as a boatman and interpreter and well-liked for his fiddling, Cruzatte's biggest claim to fame is that HE SHOT MERIWETHER LEWIS. Cruzatte, who definitely had poor vision and may even have been blind in one eye, probably mistook Lewis for a tasty elk or somesuch while they were out hunting (Lewis was dressed in buckskin). The bullet hit Lewis through his "left hip-joint," then "cut the thickness of the bullet across the hinder part of the right thye [sic]." In other words, both buttocks with one bullet. Awesome. Sponsor Cruzatte and have your name associated with the man who almost took out Lewis (in both the Wunderkammer and the credits). Furthermore, you'll receive everything at the QUARTERMASTER level and an 11x14 giclée print of Cruzatte on stretched canvas.

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    ★★★ SPONSOR TOUSSAINT CHARBONNEAU ★★★ Interpreter and family-man, Charbonneau is Sacagawea's husband. Besides his skills in communication and in cooking up a mean boudin blanc, however, Charbonneau deserves a great deal of credit for the Corps' great success. It is his family (Sacagawea and their son, Jean Baptiste) that helps Native American tribes see the Corps of Discovery less as a military outfit and more as a band of peaceful explorers. Sponsor Charbonneau and it will be our privilege to thank you in the Wunderkammer and the game credits. You will also receive everything at the QUARTERMASTER level and a glicée 11x14 print of Charbonneau on stretched canvas.

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    ★★★ SPONSOR PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON ★★★ Jefferson's contributions to the formation of the United States of America can hardly be overemphasized, and as America's third president, he was the ultimate architect of the Corps of Discovery's Expedition. He hired Lewis as his personal secretary and trained him in scientific classification, cryptography, and many other skills essential to the voyage. In MERIWETHER, Jefferson is the first person Lewis speaks to in the game. That means he is also the first NPC players can click on and see the generosity of this level's backer extolled in the Wunderkammer (and also in the credits). Backing us at this level also earns you everything at the QUARTERMASTER level, and an 11x14 giclée print of Jefferson on stretched canvas.

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    ★★★ SPONSOR WILLIAM CLARK ★★★ Though the government of the United States only approved a commission of lieutenant, Lewis and Clark agreed they would tell the Corps that Clark was a co-captain of the Expedition. In every way, the two men shared command. That may sound like a formula for disaster, but the amazing success of the Expedition speaks to the remarkable character of both men. In many ways, Clark was the work-horse of the Corps, the reliable and constant soldier who would endure any hardship for his country and his fellow soldiers. He was also the Corps' cartographer and the man we have to thank for the amazingly accurate maps he created on the voyage. Narratively, Clark is a lynchpin of MERIWETHER, the character to whom you will speak most often. Sponsorship at this level includes everything at the QUARTERMASTER level, recognition in the credits and Wunderkammer as the sole sponsor of Captain Clark, and an 11x14 giclée print of Clark on stretched canvas.

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    ★ SPONSOR MERIWETHER LEWIS ★ The man himself! Captain Lewis had an embarrassment of talents: athletic, courageous, and a dead-eye marksman, he was the soldier you wanted standing next to you in a fight. But he was also keenly intelligent, equally adept in the sciences as in the arts. He is one of the United States' earliest naturalists, recording literally hundreds of plant and animal species new to Western science. At the same time, he expresses himself in his journals with a brio that would be the envy of any poet. It is this American original who serves as the centerpiece and vehicle for MERIWETHER. Backing at this level means that you are backing the game's protagonist. You'll be rewarded with everything at the QUARTERMASTER level, recognition in the credits and the Wunderkammer as Captain Lewis' sole sponsor, and an 11x14 giclée print of Lewis on stretched canvas.

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Funding period

- (38 days)