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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.
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Sortasoft LLC

1,433 backers pledged $44,489 to help bring this project to life.

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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

Meri-Making: Loose Ends Edition

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Hey Backers!

Since our last Meri-making, we’ve focused on tying up the few remaining loose ends in the gameplay. There were a couple game mechanics that we have struggled with since the start, but we have now slain those bugbears!

Weapon Aiming System

Sometimes you have to see the world before you know the value of home. The obvious way to implement a gun in a 3D game is to point it in a direction and, when the player hits a button, shoot where it’s pointing. When we set out, and up until recently, we naively thought that Meriwether was “too civilized” of a game for such a “primitive” mechanic as point-and-shoot. We experimented with a number of ways to make shooting more cerebral and more strategic. But we just “succeeded” in making it convoluted and pretentious. So we finally came round to the simplicity, elegance and intuitiveness of point-and-shoot. We did add some wobble to the rifle, which makes it a little more challenging and gives you a specific stat that can be improved (if you choose to focus on the Soldier facet.) Most of the difficulty now stems from animals’ animations and behaviors. It took us way too long to arrive at this simple solution, but we’re glad to be home now!

Rifle Reloading System

Throughout our development process we have struggled to create a rifle reloading system that is both simple enough to be easy to learn, yet complicated enough to reflect the history. Loading your gun in the early 19th century was hard! It’s also interesting and has a lot to say about the history of firearms that we think our playerbase will find interesting.  

We’ve tried a number of systems throughout the development process, but were never quite happy with them. The one we’ve had implemented most of the time was a slow progress bar that made you wait to fire again while you reload automatically. It conveyed the intended slow rate of fire, but it was little more than an annoyance. And annoyance is pretty much the opposite of fun.

We’ve finally come up with a system that’s working well in our playtesting. Here’s how it works: after you fire, you must press R to reload. Then, there are a series of six steps that you must perform in order:

1. BITE the top of your paper cartridge off (a cartridge is a paper package containing a premeasured amount of powder and a lead ball that soldiers would pre-make before they headed off to hunt or do battle)
2. PRIME the pan
3. POUR powder down the barrel
4. Insert WADDING
5. Insert BALL
6. RAM the ball down the barrel 

Each of those steps will have an icon and a hotkey associated with it. You can click on the icons, or press the associated hotkeys. The steps must always be performed in this order, but the display order is shuffled every time you reload. If you select a step in the wrong order, you must start the process from the beginning.

We should note here that these six steps are a simplified, symbolic version of all the steps really necessary to reload a flintlock rifle. As always, we’re balancing history with gameplay, and so far the gameplay feels best with six steps. Even those of us who have practiced the steps have noted that the process always requires a bit of attention to get right, though we also like how much faster we get at reloading the more we practice. It’s just hard enough that you’re always trying to optimize it in low-stakes situations, but you must also laser-focus your attention to reload while a grizzly is charging at you. And that’s just what we want!

Map Loci

Much of the procedurally generated content of the game, like animals, birds and NPCs, is created by clustering similar elements around points of focus we call “loci.” We used this concept early in development but at some point lost it; our procedural content started to get scattered evenly across the map. Recently we noticed that the levels were feeling “mushy.” The individual areas of each level lacked definition or differentiation, and the things you encountered felt random.

And so we reintroduced the loci and clustering of content, and all of a sudden there were intriguing peaks and troughs in the gameplay. We have now doubled-down on this loci feature. Now, if you spot elements of a particular locus, that locus is revealed on your map as a written description. This is important because, while technically the locus has a central point, the important concept to convey is that a general area around the locus contains many elements of a type. For instance, if you see some deer, it may draw “a herd of fat deer” on your map. And these elements can also be revealed by spotting “sign” that indicates their presence. For instance, big game is revealed by finding scat (your trusty dog Seaman helps you spot it), and NPCs are revealed by finding prior campsites (tipi rings or burnt-out fires). Having these elements on the map makes it clear that they are clustered and helps guide you to the types of interactions you’re interested in at the moment, both strategically and for the sake of exploration.

Oto Character Models

Art production is still our biggest bottleneck, but we’re getting there! Our character artist J recently finished our principal Oto characters. From left to right, meet Big Horse, Little Thief and BaZa Conja. In his journal, Clark notes about Big Horse’s nudity, saying that Big Horse came to the council naked in order to show how poor he was. Our Oto advisor Matt Jones also related an interesting backstory about this. Oto oral tradition describes his nudity as a punishment. Apparently in their first meeting with the Corps of Discovery, Big Horse overemphasized his prominence within the tribe. Then in their second meeting, he was forced to travel to and from the council without any clothes, as punishment within the tribe. J is working on completing the Mandan and Hidatsa characters next!

Wrapping Up

With these out of the way, the game is finally in a state where we are comfortable to have you playing it without our immediate supervision. So, very very soon we will start sharing it with those of you backers who are at the Beta level and higher. We can’t wait to hear your feedback!

Josh & the Meriwether Team

Watch us on Twitch right now!

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The stream is go! Come see the first level of the game, but STAY for the unbelievable acting, as Josh and Carlos perform the dialogue! We're hopping on Twitch right now, so come join us and check out our Philadelphia level at http://twitch.tv/sortasoft

 Josh & Carlos