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Take command of the Corps of Discovery in this RPG based on the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition for PC, Mac, and Linux.
Take command of the Corps of Discovery in this RPG based on the historic Lewis and Clark Expedition for PC, Mac, and Linux.
1,433 backers pledged $44,489 to help bring this project to life.

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Meri-Making: Final Beta Edition

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Hey Backers!

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.

TUTORIALS

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.)

Before you can cross the continent, you must learn to Walk.
Before you can cross the continent, you must learn to Walk.

INTERPRETERS

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.  

First Contact
First Contact

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.

UNISTORM

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.

Identical vantages from Camp Dubois at morning and dusk.
Identical vantages from Camp Dubois at morning and dusk.

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.

Before and after the new image effects.
Before and after the new image effects.

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.

Ambient Occlusion in Wistar’s house, and the AO map showing the affected areas.
Ambient Occlusion in Wistar’s house, and the AO map showing the affected areas.

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.

Wistar’s outline at a distance vs. Wistar’s outline closeup.
Wistar’s outline at a distance vs. Wistar’s outline closeup.

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.

Colter, Lewis, and Seaman in conversation, before and after the field-of-view effect.
Colter, Lewis, and Seaman in conversation, before and after the field-of-view effect.

FEEDBACK

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.

WHAT’S LEFT

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!

Josh & the Meriwether team

Beta 2 Released!

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Hey Backers! 


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. 

LEVEL CONTINUITY

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.)”. 

VOICEOVER

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.

RELOADING INTERFACE

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.

CAVEAT 

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!

NEXT STEPS

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.)

FEEDBACK

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 josh@sortasoft.com. Let us know if you think this new build addresses the continuity concerns! 

Josh & the Meriwether team

Beta!!!

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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 josh@sortasoft.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.

Betatesting Tips

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!

Josh and the Meriwether team

Beta announcement!

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Hey Backers,

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! 

Carlos & Josh huddled around the fake fireplace
Carlos & Josh huddled around the fake fireplace

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!

Josh & the Meriwether team.

Meri-Making: Prickly Pear Edition

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Hey backers!

We’re in the home stretch! We’ve extended our internal beta a little longer, to add just a bit more polish on the game before we send it out to our beta-level backers. We’ve been focusing on the nitty gritty details, like fixing bugs, correcting typos, and optimizing gameplay performance.

All that stuff makes for interesting work, but there’s not much else to say about it, except that we are plugging away at it. But we do have two notable features that have solidified or changed lately, and we want to share those with you.

Ailment system

You don’t have hit points in Meriwether. Most of the damage you take is a series of small papercuts that wear you down over time.Occasionally a serious threat, like an angry Grizzly, presents itself, but most damage comes from nuisances like the thorn of a prickly pear cactus through the sole of your moccasin, or a relentlessly troublesome swarm of mosquitos.

When you take damage, it has an immediate effect; for instance, stepping on a thorn stops your movement for a moment, mosquito bites annoyingly interrupt whatever you’re doing while Lewis scratches, etc. You also gain an “ailment icon,” which appears on the left side of the screen. This icon has a cooldown timer on it, and when the timer triggers, the damage effect hits you again.

One thorn in your foot isn't much of an impediment, but when you’re cold, wet, tired, itchy, and also footsore, even the smallest mission becomes a sisyphean task. Ailments are removed when you rest, and the number removed depends on the quality of your sleep; a warm campfire is sure to warm your bones better than a snowy night under the stars.  

The ailment system has also been integrated with another system we’ve struggled with: running! Like in many first-person games, holding shift allows you to run. But thematically, it didn’t feel right for Lewis to be running all the time. We have previously experimented with stamina bars and all sorts of other mechanics, but they were always unnecessarily complicated. The way it works now is that when you’re running, the cooldown timers on your ailments speed up. So running when you’re fresh is not a problem, except for the fact that it’s harder to avoid stepping on a cactus or spooking an elk. Essentially, you have the stamina to run as much as you want. Once you’re burdened with a number of ailments, however, running becomes much less useful and encourages you to become judicious in its use.

Redshirts Killed Off! New Leadership System!

In game development, one of the most difficult, but most important skills is knowing when to kill your darlings. We decided to cut a feature--well, really we abstracted it--and the game is now stronger for it. I wish we had decided to do this much earlier.

For a long time now, you have been able to “recruit” NPC followers (Internally, we called them “redshirts”) to lead around the level. The higher your leadership, the more followers you could lead around. Depending on the character, they would do a variety of things, like help you hunt, give you stat bonuses, or special abilities. Sounds pretty good, right?

Wrong! Ultimately, redshirts presented three problems: some of their powers, like hunting, took agency away from players; other powers, like stat boosts, were not interesting, as they oversimplified or out-and-out removed player choice; and in all the feature was way too much work to implement in a way that felt fluid and natural. We sunk way too much time into it already, and trying to get it working, even at a basic level, would have eaten up countless more hours of Kyle’s precious programming time.

The feature we have replaced it with was easy to implement, more transparent to the player, more interesting, and more fun. The way it works is that all the NPCs are scattered randomly within a radius of your camp, sometimes in small groups, and sometimes alone. Many of these NPCs have a signature ability tied to their historical role with the Corps of Discovery: scouting, big game hunting, small game hunting, gathering, fiddling, blacksmithing, tailoring, etc.

Depending on your leadership level, you can give commands to 0-4 of these NPCs per day. At the end of the day (when you encamp) Sergeant Pryor presents his report to you that reflects the events of the day, which includes the results of these commands you’ve issued. Sometimes, the command will have been successful (e.g. “York brought home some rabbits: +1 Food”), or if it’s unsuccessful, you’re given information instead which will be useful for future days (e.g. “Drouillard saw no sign of large game in the vicinity.”) Depending on Lewis’s skills, the needs of the moment, and the Corps members you wish to use, you can choose a variety of different approaches to solve the most difficult problem the Corps faced: surviving day to day.

Unity 5 Beta--Our Take

On the technical end, we just updated to the latest version of the Unity game engine, version 5, beta 16. We had a few hiccups in the conversion, and unfortunately it took up a significant amount of time to complete the update, but in the end it was a worthy investment that will pay for itself in the long run.

The most important change we’ve noticed is that the Unity 5 editor is faster and more stable. We think this is primarily because it is now 64-bit and can fully take advantage of more RAM. This is boosting our productivity, and it’s making it much more pleasant to work on such a large project. Pleasant = productivity!

We’ve also seen a significant performance increase. The game is running faster and smoother, with little extra work on our end. We’ll still have to spend some time improving performance on our own, but thank you Unity team for making things that much easier for us!

Unity 5 also boasts a host of new features. Most relevant to Meriwether is integration of SpeedTree. This is middleware specifically built to quickly and beautifully render trees. Since our game is filled with such large, open landscapes, it’s very common to see many trees at a distance. The trees in prior versions of Unity “billboarded” by becoming flat 2D planes in the distance, as a necessary way to process a large number of 3D objects on screen. However, SpeedTree handles this much more seamlessly, preventing the trees from “popping” from 2D to 3D like they used to. We want to switch over most or all of our trees to SpeedTree. It also allows us to dynamically change trees based on season, which will add some nuance to the game’s artwork.

Three different levels of detail on the same tree in SpeedTree.
Three different levels of detail on the same tree in SpeedTree.

Yet another useful new feature in Unity 5 is their revised Graphic User Interface system. The previous GUI system was terrible, and the third-party solutions were only marginally better. Although much of our GUI is already implemented, the remaining elements are going in in a third of the time or less.

Finally, Unity 5 also features a new standard, physically-based shader. Without getting too technical, this combines all the various shaders into one, gives us more flexibility, and in general will make much of the game, especially materials with specular (shiny) features, look better without any additional work.

Next!

We’re going to have a lot of development time available at the start of the new year and will be crunching on Meriwether through January. As always, we’ll keep you posted about our progress. Next update we’ll also include some of our new art, including new characters and some other miscellaneous objects. We also planning on hosting a few more game-streams in the near future.

Have a happy holiday and a happy new year, everyone!

Josh & the Meriwether team