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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.

Meri-Making, August Edition: Mega-crunch!

Meri Mega-crunch & "Table-Read"

Last week we all hunkered down in Josh’s apartment to eat venison, drink gallons of coffee, slather stuff is Sriracha, and--oh yeah--work on Meriwether. We reached a major milestone during the crunch: we have written ourselves all the way to the Pacific Ocean! The major story elements are now written, scripted (meaning that flags and events are activating properly) and implemented in-game. We’re super-stoked about how much content we have been able to include in the game: as of this writing, the word-count for the game dialogue stands at just under 80,000, a word-count similar to a decently-sized novel. You will have control over how much of the dialogue you engage in (to a point), but even if you don’t read every line, you can rest assured that we have worked hard to create a game-world that feels alive by imbuing Meriwether with a substantive narrative. And we’re not done yet! It’s likely that the final word count for dialogue will reach 100,000 words before all is said and done, and that’s not including supporting text, such as the Wunderkammer!

Now that we have reached this milestone, we are doing a “table-read” of the game level by level as the first step in revising the text. We’re using “table-read” to mean that we’re just playing through the dialogue of Meriwether without worrying about any other aspects of gameplay, so that we can get a very clear sense of how well the dialogue is working solely on its own merits. The table-read will continue for the next few weeks and help us improve the quality of the writing, check the continuity of story arcs and missions, and copyedit. Things are going to start coming together very quickly for Meriwether’s overarching narrative from now on. 

Google Hangout & Music

Jim is in Texas and so obviously was unable to join our Brooklyn session in person. But he was right there with us on Google Hangout. It was a great way to work together. Just hearing fragments of the tunes he was writing put us in the right mood and helped us all focus. Before you go any further, scroll down to the bottom of this page, hit play and listen to this draft of "West of the Rockies."

New Dialogue Camera System

Kyle’s focus during our crunch was revising the camera system. Our first step was to identify a number of shots used in cinematography, particularly those used for dialogue. We collected references for various types of shots, such as “full shot,” “mid-shot,” “close-up,” “extreme close-up,” “American two-shot,” “over-the-shoulder,” and others. Based on these references, Kyle extracted a set of rules that could procedurally recreate these shots, given an arbitrary set of relevant characters in a scene. This is going to get technical, but that’s game development. :) 

The basic technique is to identify a pleasing spot to look at, a pleasing angle to view it from, and a pleasing distance to zoom the camera. With some shots this is easy, as the rules are very specific (for example, the extreme close-up or over-the-shoulder two-shot.) For shots of three or more characters, the guidelines become less specific and require a more advanced algorithm. The algotirthm determines the viewed point based on an averaged position of the characters (so the camera tends to view the middle of the group). Next, it finds an ideal viewing angle to ensure that we don’t have several characters lumped on top of one another in the view if possible. Finally, the algorithm determines how far it must zoom out from the viewed point along that angle to ensure that all of the required points are in view. For example, with a wide shot of three characters the camera must view out far enough to ensure that all characters feet are within view. However, another shot may only require the camera to zoom far enough that the waist of each character is in view. One other thing we learned from looking into common cinematic camera shots is that they tend to "cheat" the angle a little bit by slightly rotating the actors towards the camera. It gives you a better angle of the face while being subtle enough that you don't notice it when switching to an angle on the opposite side. We decided to imitate this technique, although we left out another common aspect of the technique, which is to place the actors closer to each other than feels natural, since we need room in between characters to display dialogue.

The Great Plains

George S. has been busy sprucing up the Great Plains. Those gorgeous prairies are probably the most iconic terrain of the journey. This has been a technical challenge, since games often rely on obstacles like trees to obscure your view to reduce the number of objects that need to be simultaneously drawn on screen. It has also presented some interesting game design challenges, such as how to make a mostly-empty space interesting. Next month we plan to focus more on art, but here’s a work-in-progress to whet your whistle. 

Other Projects

We’re lucky to have such a talented team working on Meriwether. We thought we’d share a little bit about some of the teams’ other projects. 

George S., our environment artist, was also one of the environmental artists on Saints Row IV, which was just released! If you’re in the mood for some loony, surreal fun, the Saints Row franchise should scratch that itch! 

Jiyoun has been very busy on a broad variety of projects, including the artwork for the iPhone game 'Baboon', in which you protect wild animals from poachers in sanctuary. She has also just illustrated a set of stickers and smileys for the new multi-platform texting app HelloPop. She recently had a solo exhibition of her fine art called Roommates at Coohaus Art in Chelsea. She is also preparing a 2-person art show 'Urban Jungle' at BBCN bank, in Woodside, NY, Opening Sept. 12th.

Josh has been refining Killer Queen, a 10-player real-time strategy platformer arcade game that he co-designed with Nikita Mikros. It's a team game inspired by arcade classics like Joust and Mario Bros. In fact, they are hosting a tournament for the game tonight, August 23rd at 7pm, in Brooklyn, NY. And if you're not in NYC, you can watch it live on Twitch.TV at 7:30PM EST! Details here: http://on.fb.me/1d5eSGi

Carlos has sold two stories so far this year. "The International Studbook of the Giant Panda" is an sf story about using robots and virtual reality to help pandas in captivity reproduce (!); it was published in the venerable British magazine Interzone (March-April edition, http://ttapress.com/1603/interzone-245/). His story "More Than Pigs and Rosaries Can Give" was published in the anthology Exotic Gothic 5, Vol. II and features a Cuban spiritualist who pulls ghosts out of the bullet holes left behind after a firing squad. Check it out here! http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/exotic-gothic-5--volume-2-edited-by-danel-olson-1766-p.asp

Jim has been working on a mobile game called Snake Esc. Check out the awesome trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdCTpxtB3eE. And he also just released a Unity sfx pack for digging/mining/chopping sounds (http://u3d.as/5b5).

Barb recently published an article in We Proceeded On, the scholarly journal of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation, about the early years of the publication, which started in 1974.

Op-Ed: On Saving Games

Carlos here. One of the first Kickstarter projects I supported was the Shadowrun Returns computer role-playing game. It’s a spiritual successor to the SNES Shadowrun game that came out decades ago, headed by one of the original creators of Shadowrun, Jordan Weisman. The game has received solid reviews from gamers and critics alike (as of this writing it has a Metacritic score of 76), and I personally would rate it much higher. The quality of the writing is excellent--it struck the perfect balance between campy fun and sudden, surprising insight. Without spoiling anything, I believe the dramatic irony in the game’s denouement is one of the most poignant moments I have experienced in a video game in a long time.

The game has received some criticisms, however. The biggest complaint by far centers around its save-game system. Basically, the game only saves your progress between levels. If you die in a scene, you start over at the beginning of the scene.

There is definitely an “oldskool” feel to that kind of checkpoint system that, for those nostalgic for a ‘90s CRPG experience, might be seen as a plus. But a great many players saw it as a huge problem. Since a single scene takes anywhere from 10-30 minutes to complete, a player could lose a great deal of progress when a battle goes bad--and since Shadowrun Returns is partially luck-based, sometimes things do go bad. Furthermore, without a “save progress on quit” function, some people lost their progress for extrinsic reasons--child needs attention, cake burning in the oven, etc.

I felt the pain of the save system a couple of times. I admit that even though I am a fan of the game’s story, I did not like rereading a heap of dialogue I had just read, just so I could get back to the battle I had just lost. Urge to ragequit, rising!

Still, it only happened a few times to me, and it was in no way a dealbreaker. Most of the time saving between levels was more than adequate for what I needed.

The good folks at Shadowrun Returns, listening to player feedback, have recently stated that they are looking into ways of creating a better save system. But it’s not as simple a problem as it might seem. Saving at any arbitrary point in a game can be complicated and costly, since it requires remembering the state of every single thing in the game, and then being able to load it back up. Also, there is a game design concern. There is a phenomenon known as “scum saving,” whereby players are saving their games constantly and reloading whenever the least little thing in the game doesn’t go their way. This, in a very real sense, can destroy a game’s design, making the game much too easy (especially as time goes on) and therefore much less challenging and fun.

Needless to say, after playing Shawdowrun Returns and following the brouhaha around saving, we here at Meriwether have been thinking carefully about how we should implement saving games. We want players not to be frustrated, but we want to have a system that makes sense in terms of the game’s resources and that does not promote an unfun, “scum saving” gameplay style.

After a good deal of discussion, we think we have it. Recently, and independently of the save discussion, we implemented a day/night system and a concomitant camping system. A day in game lasts a fairly short time--somewhere around five minutes. While that may change slightly, we don’t expect it will change dramatically. So we think that saving the game at the end of each day as you camp is a terrific solution. It will definitely preserve players’ progress very often, but individual conversations, interactions, and other choices you make throughout a given day will still have consequences. We also love it thematically, as saving the game day-to-day will allow you to page back through your saves and note the progress you made each day: which will feel very much like you’re paging through Lewis’ journal.

Of course, we need to test the system thoroughly to know how well it really works, so this is not the final word on saving games! But we want you to know that it’s not just the history we are trying to get right in Meriwether. We are thinking carefully about every part of the game experience to try and make the game feel great, even when we’re talking something as low-level as saving progress.

Proceeding On

It’s all coming together: the writing, the art, the music, the programming, the design. Things are only going to get more exciting from now on. We will continue to work and continue to update you on our progress. Until next month!

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Comments

    1. Creator Corrodias on September 9, 2013

      "The problem is more that many people, if given an option to optimize their strategy (such as save scumming) will take that option, even if it is to the detriment of their enjoyment of the game."

      I can't disagree with this statement. However, i'm also always a proponent of player choice, even if it means they get to ruin the game for themselves. Or "ruin" it in the way that you perceive it, anyway. We don't all achieve "fun" the same way as each other.

      I wonder whether there is a way to compromise. Could communication on its own be sufficient? Can you have checkpoint saves, but then also have manual saves at any time, with a prominent warning that the game has been balanced around checkpoints, and the design team believes it is most enjoyable if you don't overuse manual saves?

    2. Creator gandalf.nho on August 28, 2013

      This is a exploration-based game, please don't use only checkpoints to save the game, this type of game needs a save anytime/save anywhere option. The ironman mode will be available for the people which don't like save scumming

    3. Creator light487 - Kickstarter Junkie on August 27, 2013

      "even if it is to the detriment of their enjoyment of the game."

      In who's opinion? Your's or their's?

      Take a step back from this issue for a moment... you are forcing people to play the way you like to play or the way you want them to play. For the type of game we have here, which is more about the history and experience, I don't see a solid reason why multiple save options shouldn't be given.

      I think it would be a mistake to have checkpoint saves in this game because it's the type of game you want to be as accessible as possible to as many people as possible as it's not the traditional type of game.

    4. Creator Daniel Magnan on August 24, 2013

      @Sortasoft Cool. I am not one to play Ironman mode, but a lot of people like to. Options for the player are always good.

      As far as people save scumming just because they can, their lack of willpower shouldn't cause me to lose options.

    5. Creator Sortasoft LLC on August 24, 2013

      @Jabberwok, a couple things we didn't mention above: we are planning to add an ironman-style mode to Meriwether too! And in all modes we want you to be able to quit at any time and resume where you left off.

    6. Creator Sortasoft LLC on August 24, 2013

      @Daniel, I don't think most players or designers take issue with other people save scumming. The problem is more that many people, if given an option to optimize their strategy (such as save scumming) will take that option, even if it is to the detriment of their enjoyment of the game.

    7. Creator Daniel Magnan on August 23, 2013

      I forgot to write reason 5, which someone else mentioned earlier, "real life interuptions". Spouses, pets, kids, work, etc... don't always wait for you to get to the next save checkpoint. With the average gamer being in their 30s nowdays, we don't have time to sit and play 12 hours straight like we did as teenagers.

    8. Creator Daniel Magnan on August 23, 2013

      I wouldn't call myself a save scummer, but I do like to be able to save whenever I want. I save frequently but only rarely go back to an earlier save. There are several main reasons I save a lot: 1) Bugs happen. No matter how well tested, games have bugs. I have had game stopping bugs occur where an event didn't trigger for some reason, an npc got stuck,etc... Making the player go back to a checkpoint save due to the game's failure is frustrating, escpecially if that last save isn't back far enough to fix the problem. 2) Mistakes happen. Sometimes in a rpg conversation I have clicked option A when I meant to click option B. 3) I like to make saves at key points in the story to explore alternate choices and paths without having to replay the entire game. 4) Related to 3, it can be nice to try out different tactics to a battle to see what works best or perhaps even keep replaying a battle that you have trouble winning and not be forced to replay other things before it. People play games to have fun and everyone has there own way of doing it. I dont think other players or the game developers should dictate how anyone plays the game. I don't get why players care about others save scumming, how does it affect their game enjoyment? When I hear some developers talk about preventing it, I get the impression they are just trying to pad the game playtime by making players replay areas over by having spaced out saves.

    9. Creator Jabberwok on August 23, 2013

      Long term consequences are largely immune to save-scumming. As someone who has engaged in that practice frequently in the past, to satisfy an OCD personality, I still believe that it's not necessarily the developer's responsibility to deal with it. More options are usually good, especially in an open-ended game, so offering the ability to save any time puts the power in the hands of the player, which I feel is usually a good thing. When I played X-COM, I chose to play in iron man mode, specifically so I always had to deal with the consequences of my actions. On the other hand, in some games, I like having the opportunity to save and experiment with my playthrough. Depending on the ultimate complexity of Meriweather, I can see it going multiple ways. Using save points between missions seems to make a lot of sense. But I also don't see the benefit of forcing players to stick with a single save. IMO, customization and choice wins the day when it comes to kickstarted games, and possibly most games of this type.

    10. Creator Bieeanda on August 23, 2013

      As much as I like the ideas behind SR:R, their lousy save system and compartmentalization in general looks like an artifact of trying to stretch a too-small team way too far. Appeals to nostalgia are really just spin.
      I've been playing CRPGs since the Apple II was a big deal, and the game that got me to pester my parents into buying an IBM PC clone was a roguelike. Did I scum? Bet your last Sacagawea dollar I did. I save and reload regularly while playing first person shooters too, so that particularly fraught battles don't leave me unable to progress. Deus Ex: Invisible War's 'one ammo feeds all guns' system almost necessitated doing so.
      Basically, making a game is like writing a book... or making a game: beyond format (and sometimes not even then) you can't dictate how people will engage with it. What a stereotyped young person gets out of Moby-Dick or Monopoly is far and away from what Melville or those weird little rules about mortgaging intended to put across. Does it cheapen the experience? Perhaps, but that's to be left to the player or reader to determine.
      That's not to say I object to checkpointing systems... when they're done well. The early console Tomb Raiders were frustrating, because their checkpoints and free-save objects were very sparsely scattered. The latest one seems to save every ten steps or so, and when something bad happens it's very easy to get back into the game without a loss of momentum. Meriwether's system seems similarly reasonable, if not -absolutely- ideal, which is a far cry from what SR:Returns unfortunately ended up with.

    11. Creator Sortasoft LLC on August 23, 2013

      @Brett, we do have some American Indian advisors. But we can always use more perspectives. If you (any anyone) knows anyone that is a member of, or expert on, any of the relevant tribes, and they would be interested in helping their story be told, please put them in touch with us!

    12. Creator Sortasoft LLC on August 23, 2013

      @Jörn, I definitely see both sides of the save scumming issue, and I don't think there is a "right" solution to it. Often, good saving solutions hinge on other aesthetics of the game. Here is my perspective as a designer: one of my responsibilities is to ensure that the mechanics of the game facilitate players' enjoyment. If there's an exploit in gameplay (for instance, a way to generate free items), the game is less fun and that is a problem. The difference with exploiting savegames is that they are "outside" of the game.

      Most of the time in Meriwether choices are not "right or wrong." Like Imban mentioned, there are often different outcomes based on your choices, that are equally useful, but change the story, or perhaps allow the player to take a different strategy. Our hope is that our save system will encourage players to explore alternate paths when they want to, but also to stay out of their way so it doesn't interfere with your experience. It's something that we will be playtesting extensively and iterating upon, like everything else in the game.

    13. Creator Jörn Huxhorn on August 23, 2013

      Let me put it like this:
      It's not the job of game developers to parent the gamers. If they want to spoil their fun then why try to prevent it? If I quit a game then I'd like to simply resume it the next time I start it.

      I guess some people will complain about this anyway so why give them the opportunity?

      And, yes, you are right. Shadowrun is very good. The only downsides are the saves and the DRM issue. I think it's quite tragic that such a basic thing is lowering their review scores...

    14. Creator Imban on August 23, 2013

      I *do* like save scumming, being the kind of person who does it themselves! I don't think it's a huge problem, because it's just like cheat codes - something to use for fun if you're frustrated with the game, trying to finish a playthrough in two hours, or whatever strange personal reason you have.

      If you're trying to build a sense of things having consequences rather than just being save-scummed away, based on my experiences with RPGs I'd recommend two things: having the consequences for at least some of your actions happen significantly later on in the game, and having those consequences that come up later mostly not be things that are purely good or bad from a player's perspective, so they feel like their choices had an impact rather than that their choices screwed them over.

    15. Creator gandalf.nho on August 23, 2013

      @Daniel, me too, if someone thinks "save scumming" turns the game too easy then don't use. I prefer to be able to save any time and place I want and when I reload I like to be in the same place. not in another place and being forced to return a good chunk of game (especially if the enemies respawn, like ARPGs)

    16. Creator Brett on August 23, 2013

      Thanks for fantastic update. I likely missed, but if for some reason you do not already have some Native American stakeholders (advisors) -- important to get them.

      You of course want to ensure the represented Indians are authentic and multidimensional (don't want to extend any old Hollywood stereotyping). My guess is that the team is already taking this very seriously.

    17. Creator Daniel Magnan on August 23, 2013

      Great update. Yeh, I have never understood why "scum saving" is a "problem". If people want to play that way, what is the problem. It is a single player game and people should be able to play however they want.

    18. Creator libertytexan on August 23, 2013

      I don't like to save scum because it ruins the fun/challenge but if someone else want's to "cheat" I don't see what the big deal is. They get what they want out of the game.

      I like what Europa Universalis IV has done. They have an Ironman mode that only allows one save and it is constantly overwritten when you make important decisions. People who don't want it don't have to turn it on and they made it required for achievements to give players some motivation to use it. This could work with your end of day saving system.