Meri-making: Historical Research, Concept Art, Music & More!
Hey Backers! Welcome to another installment of "Meri-making." We apologize for being a little late on this update; we were working closely with the New-York Historical Society on this one, making sure we got everything right and had permission to use the images you will see below. We're sure you will be pleased with the results!
This month, we're going to take you behind the scenes of the New-York Historical Society, where, thanks to Meriwether backer and museum educator Rebecca Mir, we were able to get a few questions answered about a game element we wanted to include: a spyglass. We think this will give you excellent insight as to how we are working hard to make sure the game is as historically accurate as possible while still being loads of fun. The Tl;dr is--sometimes you get lucky, and the history and the gameplay marry perfectly.
So sit back, grab your favorite beverage, and let the many pictures and files load for the full effect!
Hard at work on Meriwether, the team was debating how to include a spyglass (i.e. a little handheld telescope) among the various tools Lewis will have at his disposal. From a gameplay perspective, a spyglass seemed like a cool addition: you could use it to scout ahead and find otherwise hidden parts of the landscape. As we started experimenting with it, however, it became clear that the spyglass would be most useful in the game if you could set it to different levels of magnification: far, farther, and really far. But then Josh asked the question, "Do spyglasses of the period really work that way? Did they have different levels of magnification?"
It was actually two different questions: 1) do spyglasses in general work that way? and 2) did spyglasses of the time work that way? To answer both completely, we'd have to get our hands on a period spyglass--not the easiest thing in the world to do.
Enter Rebecca Mir. You might remember Rebecca from her appearance on our "Meri-thon" at the end of our Kickstarter campaign. Rebecca works as an Educator at the New-York Historical Society, which Josh had visited in the past to research The Lewis and Clark Expedition. So Josh contacted Rebecca and asked her our spyglass questions.
We knew we could count on Rebecca to provide us great information, but she went much, much farther. She invited the team to see the New-York Historical Society’s collection of spyglasses, as well as other Lewis and Clark artifacts in the museum's holdings.
First, we were allowed to examine some of the New-York Historical Society’s most important Lewis and Clark objects. Among the most impressive was this: one of Jefferson's Peace Medals.
The Peace Medal was a "coin" Jefferson had commissioned specifically to help foster better relationships with Native American tribes. They came in different sizes; Carlos (who is holding the medal) was especially struck by its size and heft of this baby.
Next, we were able to see the famous painting of Lewis wearing the "tippet" he traded for with Shoshone chief Cameahwait (who was Sacagawea's blood relation, possibly her brother). Both of us had seen photographs of the painting on the web, but were surprised to find out how small it really is! Still, there is no mistaking Lewis's pride and patrician air in the painting. It's an excellent reference work we are using not only to model Lewis's face, but, because we hit that stretch goal, the tippet and buckskins he is wearing, which will provide a hunting bonus when worn.
Lewis's tippet and this painting of Lewis wearing it have an interesting history. If you want to learn more, check out this link: http://lewis-clark.org/content/content-article.asp?ArticleID=1913 .
After enjoying a few other historical treats, Josh and Carlos got down to business and examined the New-York Historical Society’s spyglasses.
The two spyglasses pictured above date from a little later time-period than the Lewis and Clark Expedition--mid-19th century, probably--but were very much in keeping with the kind of military spyglasses we can expect Lewis and Clark to have carried (as the technology had not progressed very much in the intervening years).
Most striking is their size. We had expected the spyglasses to measure maybe 6-12 inches (~15-30cm). The team's historian, Barb Kubik, pointed us to an entry in one of Lewis's letters indicating that he had bought a six-inch telescope for $7.00 before the voyage. Furthermore, some Lewis and Clark scholars have posited, based on evidence gleaned from Lewis descendants (not of Lewis directly, as he never had children, but the children of his brother and sister), that one telescope he had on the journey measured 15 inches (~38cm) when closed and five feet (~153cm) or more when open. Scholars believe that very large spyglass would have needed to be fully extended to work--making in an unwieldy choice for everyday use.
The New-York Historical Society’s spyglasses, as you can see from the pictures below, are smaller, though perhaps not so different than the six-inch spyglass. At any rate, they would still answer the important question of various levels of magnification that we sought.
The two differed in their designs. The larger one has one draw-tube, but it can be pulled to various lengths, depending on how far you wanted to see. The smaller one has two draw-tubes that provided three levels of magnification, depending on how many you extend--which is exactly what we wanted for the game!
SO WHAT'S THE ANSWER?
Josh and Carlos agreed: the length you pulled out a draw-tube, or the number of draw-tubes you extended, affected the level of magnification. It seemed like we had our answer.
Just one thing: we could not be sure that not extending the spyglass to its full length did not distort the image--kind of a "objects in this mirror are closer than they appear" type of effect. It didn't seem that the two spyglasses we examined distorted images, but we knew from research we had done, from Lewis and Clark scholars to modern-day spyglass manufacturers, that some spyglasses don't function well at anything less than full extension.
HERE'S WHERE YOU CAN HELP!
So for now, what we have decided to do is include the three levels of magnification for the spyglass, since our experience seemed to suggest it is at least plausible, and it does make gameplay more fun. But we do not consider the case closed! We have a very smart Kickstarter base, so if you know a little something about 19th-century spyglasses, please let us know your thoughts in the comments.
THE SPYGLASS IN-GAME
As we said, we love the way the spyglass is working so far. These test-shots will give you some idea of how the three levels of magnification will work. (Please remember that this is placeholder artwork.)
Besides allowing you to scout ahead, the spyglass will allow you to find discoverable landmarks and points of interest. When you look through the spyglass, invisible points of interest, represented by stars (for now), will suddenly appear. You can then walk over to them to discover what it is that makes this point interesting and what role it played in the Expedition's voyage. They will also serve as fast-travel points on the map.
NEW CONCEPT ART
So much more to tell you! We've been charging ahead on all fronts: programming, design, writing, music, everything. Here, then, is a heaping helping of our work over the last month or so, starting with concept art.
By now you know we are absolutely committed to creating honest portrayals of Native Americans. In that vein, here is our concept art for Coboway, a Clatsop chief who helped Lewis and Clark survive their Pacific-coast winter.
If you're wondering why he's so plainly dressed, it's because this is an authentic, unidealized portrayal of what the Clatsop of that time and season wore. Yes folks, this is winter attire. And compared to some other Clatsop, Coboway here is relatively bundled up--some Clatsop that Lewis and Clark encountered walked around naked.
Next up, our concept art for Pierre Cruzatte. Talk about colorful characters: this gentlemen was hired as a guide and translator for the Corps. And he also has the singular distinction of being the man who shot Meriwether Lewis in the tuckus! Apparently, while the two were out hunting, he mistook Lewis for an elk and planted a lead ball in the Captain's buttock.
Here he is. Notice the violin case; he was one of two fiddlers with the Corps, helping to keep spirits high. And for you Lewis and Clark buffs, notice that we are purposefully NOT portraying Cruzatte with an eyepatch. There is some debate in the community whether or not Cruzatte wore one: in the journals, Clark mentions that Cruzatte "is near Sighted and has the use of but one eye" but "has the use" is a phrase that is open to interpretation. So, without spoiling too much, let's just say that Cruzatte's questionable eyesight is part of the game, and that you might have to improvise a patch for him if things don't go well. Bwa-ha-ha! (See picture two.)
And last, but certainly not least, feast your eyes on the concept art for Sagacawea's husband, Touissant Charbonneau. This fine fellow will play an integral part on your voyage, so get used to seeing this face!
Jim Welch, our composer, has been purchasing period instruments, studying music of the era, consulting with the team (esp. historian Barb) and writing short musical studies. After all this work, we are proud to unveil his first iteration of one of the game's themes. The final version of this piece will play during Meriwether's menu screen, so it's meant to evoke the gravity of the task ahead, with all the potential for greatness and disaster thereof. We'd love to hear your feedback, so please let us know what you think! You will find the audio file at the bottom of this update.
Jim's hard at work on the various other leitmotifs and themes for the game. Here's a sneak preview of his notes toward what's he's calling the "River Theme." The team agrees the best part is the "river sparkle"!
Our lead programmer, Kyle, nearly lit his fingers on fire coding so quickly over the last month. Thanks to him, we've made huge strides on the programming side of the game. Some of this stuff we will feature in future updates, but for now, some of the main things we have accomplished include:
- Updating Unity, and implementing the new "Mechanim" system to assist with animation. (P.S. Mechanim is awesome, as it allows animations to be created much more cheaply and efficiently than previously possible);
- Pathfinding is now working (and those of you who are programmers know what a big deal this is);
- Procedural terrain for Travel Mode is now implemented! This is one of the hugest gains we've made, as it will allow us to really start testing and troubleshooting Travel Mode and get it into its final form. We'll probably center an entire future update on Travel Mode once it's a little more camera-ready, so stay tuned!;
- The Medicine Mini-Game is a hair's-breadth from being completed. We hope to have some footage to show you for the next update of this vitally important aspect of the game.
WE COULD GO ON....
But at this point the update is probably functioning more as a sleep-aid than a forum for communication. Please know that the entire team is charging ahead on every front and that we are committed to delivering you a game you will be delighted to have supported. Thanks so much, and we'll see you again in a month.