About this project
For the latest news on Meriwether, visit http://meriwethergame.com
"I’ll just come right out and say this: Meriwether is absolutely fascinating." -- Adam Smith, Rock, Paper, Shotgun
"I actually had a chance to play this game about a year ago and found it extremely involving, even at such an early state. From the looks of their Kickstarter page, the game has improved by leaps and bounds since then." -- Andy Hull, TIGSource
"[Meriwether is] part of a new crop of games, from the highly mainstream (Assassin’s Creed 3) to the academic-indie (Walden) to the art-game avant garde (Proteus) that scrupulously renders and unabashedly celebrates nature." -- Joseph Bernstein, Kill Screen
"Josh’s work will bring not only a new dimension to this exciting story but will also win a new generation to the timeless event." -- Dr. Gary Moulton, Acclaimed Lewis and Clark Scholar
"Meriwether: An American Epic is going to take an important step forward in terms of bringing together great gameplay with reality-based drama..." -- Richard Lemarchand, Lead Designer of the Uncharted Series
"Josh DeBonis is one of the smartest game designers that I know." -- Eric Zimmerman, Acclaimed Game Designer and Scholar
1803: Thomas Jefferson more than doubles the size of the United States in a controversial deal with the French government. Trouble is, only the sketchiest maps of North America west of the Mississippi exist. Rumors swirl that several Indian nations have forged alliances with the British, the Spanish, and even the Russians. Some leading scientists even believe these primeval lands may be home to the mastodon, the megalolynx, and other Ice Age behemoths. But no one will know until someone with the courage, mettle and skill-set to make the perilous voyage ventures forth and returns to tell the tale. That person is you.
In Meriwether, you play as Captain Lewis, the man President Thomas Jefferson selected and specially trained to accomplish this mission. You’ll join forces with your long-time friend and former commanding officer, William Clark, and with him you’ll form the Corps of Discovery, a party of hand-picked soldiers, interpreters, and hunters to whom you’ll trust your life every day of the 28-month journey.
The Corps of Discovery’s goals are to:
- find an all-water route across North America, if one exists
- draw accurate maps of your voyage
- establish peaceful relations with as many Native American nations as you can
- identify plants and animals unknown to Western science
- make it back alive!
It’s an impossibly dangerous mission. The odds of even surviving the arduous trek are slim at best. But if you do succeed, your voyage will change the course of history, not just for the fledgling United States, but for the entire world.
Steeped in history but made by gamers, Meriwether will offer a unique blend of roleplaying, resource management, exploration, diplomacy, and survival. Though your mission is one of friendship, scientific discovery, and commerce, it will be fraught with life and death choices throughout.
You will battle the elements, hunger, thirst, exposure, mighty rivers and towering mountains over the course of your 8,000 mile round-trip voyage. Some Native Americans of the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains, and the Pacific Northwest will see you as potential allies, while others will think of you as invaders; it's up to you to broker peace with them. You will need to survey the land and record detailed descriptions of the plants and animals you find in your journal. As captain, you will need to maintain discipline and the respect of your men under these difficult circumstances, while keeping morale high.
Failure will come quickly to those who act before they think. You will only have one opportunity to make a first impression with the Native Americans who hold your fate in their hands. If the remedy you concoct for a sick or injured soldier doesn’t work the first time, you might not get a second chance. A trained soldier can load and shoot a rifle at the blistering pace of three shots a minute. So choose your words deliberately, measure your medicines with care, and let your breath out calmly before you shoot.
The game employs two distinct types of levels: “Lewis” and “Travel.” The gameplay in “Lewis” levels will be very familiar to RPG fans. You’ll hunt, interact with other characters, identify plants and animals, serve as the Corps’ doctor, trade with French voyageurs and British trappers, and hold councils with Native American nations, all while controlling Lewis via an over-the-shoulder, third-person perspective. Lewis levels will be lovingly hand-crafted, with multiple solutions to missions and lots of optional goals to achieve. For a synopsis of the Lewis levels, check out Update #16.
During “Travel” levels, you will muster the entire Corps of Discovery and, using their combined set of skills and talents, attempt to complete a leg of the journey. Here, you will have to navigate the rivers, hunt, fish and gather food, map interesting features of the landscape, repair your boats and pirogues, and record plants and animals new to Western science, all before your supplies and the Corps' morale run out. Different characters will bring different strengths to the journey, so it’s your job to use the right Corps members at the right time to best guarantee success. But there are no guarantees, and you will have to be ready for anything Nature can throw at you. Travel levels will be procedurally generated to give you a unique challenge every time you play, while still remaining true to the actual path of the Corps of Discovery.
Meriwether Lewis continues to be one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures in American History. In his journals and letters, he can come across at times as bold and heroic, while at other times he seems self-deprecating and unsure. Sometimes he views the world with a scientist’s dispassionate eye, at other times with a poet’s swell of emotion, and still others with the dry wit you'd expect from an Enlightenment gentleman. Over the course of the voyage, he behaves alternately as a bully and a peacemaker, a miser and a spendthrift, a scoundrel and a man of honor. And his tragic end, just a few years after Expedition, has led generations of historians to ponder and speculate about the man and his motives.
The heart of Lewis levels is Meriwether's one-of-a-kind “facet” dialogue interface. Skill-building, dialogue with NPCs, and puzzle-solving will all depend on the facet interface. We’ve identified five key facets of Lewis’s personality.
The four facets to the left represent Lewis's various roles as captain. Virtually every exchange you have in the game will ask you to choose between two or more of them, and each time you choose a facet, your skill in it increases. In this way, your responses will allow you to to build a Meriwether Lewis who is, say, more of a Diplomat than a Soldier, or more of a Leader than a Scientist. Thus, you’ll be able to customize your character while still playing a game that honors the real history of the Corps of Discovery.
Furthermore, the fifth facet, “Melancholy,” represents Lewis's dark side: a dark side that could come out at inopportune times. If you lack a high enough level in any of the other available facets, you might have to select the Melancholy response. And like Lewis, you’ll have to deal with the consequences of that Melancholy.
In Travel levels, you have one week to travel a certain distance (depending on your mode of transportation). Often you will have additional goals, such as to find a lost Corps member, or to observe new flora, flora, or land features. You must do this while maintaining the Corps’ morale and resources, and avoiding hazards and dangers along the way.
Travel levels are procedurally generated. You’ll traverse terrain such as mountains, plains, roads, and rivers. Here I’m going to focus on my favorite part: the Missouri river. Here’s how we generate the level:
1. First we choose a start and end point for the river.
2. Then we use an algorithm called “Drunken A*” (pronounced “A-star”) to generate a path for the river.
3. We then generate terrain around the river, comprising of other terrain features likes prairies, mountains, forests, and tributaries
4. Finally, we add content to the level, such as plants and animals you can observe, trees to use a fuel and for repairs, villages to trade with, river hazards like rapids and “sawyers” (submerged trees in the water), and land hazards like prickly pear cacti, rattlesnakes, and the occasional—but always terrifying—grizzly.
Every day (turn), your fleet of pirogues, canoes, and your keelboat moves up the river. You can speed up or slow down, but you must maintain at least a minimum speed to stay on-schedule. If you go too slow or push the men too hard, they will lose morale: but that’s why you brought whiskey. The fleet serves as your home base for sending out exploration parties.
Each day you may send out two exploration parties: one lead by one of the captains (the other captain must always stay with the fleet) and the other lead by one of the other men, often a hunter or scout. In addition, each party includes a few “redshirts”. The higher your Leader stat, the more Corps members will accompany you. Each character has a different set of stats and special skills. Here are a few examples:
When you send out a party from the fleet, you have a fixed amount of time to explore the environment and act upon it. You may encounter resources, such as fuel, food, or scientific samples, which you can send back to the fleet with one of your “redshirts”. If you’re the only one left, you can choose to bring it back yourself and end your turn prematurely. If you have a scouting party, you might look around for landmarks to send Clark to map, or clear a safe way for the fleet.
Like the actual journey, Travel levels are difficult and unforgiving. But they’re also fun, fast, and replayable. If you’re unsuccessful or unhappy with your progress, you can play again. When a level is replayed, the game recreates the level with similar qualities, but in a different configuration, so you still get that sense of wonder that comes with exploration and discovery.
Besides these two different-yet-complementary gameplay modes, we have one other trick up our sleeve to help immerse you in this world. Meriwether will have its very own Wunderkammer, or "Cabinet of Curiosities." Functioning much like the "Codex" in Mass Effect, the Wunderkammer is where you will collect the game's lore: every person you meet, every historic place you find, every object of interest that comes into your possession will be recorded in the Wunderkammer. Unlike sci-fi and fantasy RPGs, however, our lore comes straight from history, so every time you read an entry, you'll gain a little more understanding into the zeitgeist of early 1800s America.
Right off the bat, we knew we wanted the art style to be stylized in some way, rather than photorealistic. But since we are doing our best to be historically accurate with every detail, we set ourselves some constraints. The proportions of people, objects, and buildings need to be as realistic as possible. However lighting, textures and colors should be exaggerated, stylized, and oversaturated. Because the characters are symbolic and larger than life, we hope that this stylization can remind people of the historical nature of the game. We also decided to put an outline on characters. This is both a stylistic and a functional decision: since the spaces in the game are so large, the outlines on characters help them stand out from the background.
Graphical User Interface
The design of the Graphical User Interface (GUI) reflects that Lewis had (for the time) state-of-the-art technology and scientific training. Most of the GUI doesn’t represent actual items, but we try to make it inspired by those “high-tech” tools of the time such as chronometers, microscopes, hydrometers, octants, and sextants.
The Corps of Discovery had a number of different styles of clothing they would wear for different occasions, such as formal uniforms, hunting frocks, and buckskins. Also, because the Corps was a mixture of volunteer recruits and enlisted men (mostly infantry, but some from artillery units), the men had different uniforms. Not to mention, as the journey progressed, their clothing deteriorated, and at points many of the men were essentially in rags. We want to reflect all these styles of clothing. We also need to represent a wide array of characters in an iconic way. Our initial inclination was for the clothing of the men to change over the course of the expedition. But we realized it would be difficult for players to distinguish between characters because their look would be constantly changing. So instead, we choose a specific uniform that represents that character’s personality or role in the expedition, and they wear it throughout. (It’s the same reason why in The Simpsons, Bart is always wearing the same red shirt and blue shorts.) Through choices such as these, we think we have achieved a sensible balance between our goals of being true to the history and making a fun, engaging game.
The money will primarily be used to pay for the programming, music, game design and art assets we need to finish the game. And as you know, these are expensive. One question you may have is, “How the heck do you expect to pull off a game as ambitious as Meriwether with a paltry budget of $35,000?”
The good news is that this project has received funding from a number of sources, including Humanities Montana, Humanities Iowa, the ESA Foundation, and private donations. That money, funds from our studio (Sortasoft), and the countless hours we have already put in have allowed us to take this journey as far as we already have. The $35,000 we’re asking for from the Kickstarter community will combine with our other funding sources to allow us to complete a game we know you’ll love.
We hope we have set a realistic goal, but we would love to exceed that ground-floor number so that we can add even more features and improvements to the game. If we are fortunate enough to exceed our goal, we’ll share our plans on how we can make this game even better.
DESCRIPTION OF TRADING POST ITEMS
"THREE NEWFIE MOON" T-Shirt: We're taking the required Kickstarter t-shirt and cranking it to eleventy with a design based on the greatest t-shirt ever created. (P.S. If you find our t-shirt a little perplexing, please click here, and all will be revealed: http://knowyourmeme.com/memes/three-wolf-moon). The three Newfoundlands featured on the shirt are the actual dogs you'll be able to choose from as your canine companion in Meriwether.
USB COMPASS: You don’t just want a download code. You want something real, something tangible, something you can clutch in your fist and with a Bond-villain cackle proclaim: “I own this!” We feel you. That’s why we’re making USB drives on which you will find DRM-free copies of the game for PC, Mac, AND Linux (that's right; you get all three platforms!), as well as the game’s soundtrack. Oh, and the USB? IT'S ALSO A COMPASS! (Note: please do not ever allow your survival to depend solely upon the accuracy of this USB compass.)
"PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP" MERIT BADGE: President Jefferson had peace medals specially minted for the Expedition that Lewis and Clark used for trading and gifts. In that same spirit, we're modernizing the peace medal by offering this exclusive "Peace and Friendship" Merit Badge. Sew in on your bookbag or hat, or better yet, give it to someone with whom you want to make peace and/or initiate a friendship. Betcha it works!
CLOTH MAP: Remember those cloths maps that used to come with RPGs like Ultima? We do. We loved them so. And seeing that mapping was one of the primary missions of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, it seems fitting that we offer to you a Meriwether cloth map of your own. We're still working on the final art for the game map, but we can promise you that, like all things in this game, it will be optimized to enhance gameplay but derived from the best historical sources that exist.
DR. RUSH'S "THUNDERCLAPPERS" (A.K.A. "BILIOUS PILLS") Before embarking on this adventure Captain Lewis consulted with one of the foremost physicians in the country, Dr. Benjamin Rush, in order to learn how to better treat sick or injured Corps members. Dr. Rush's advice? Laxatives. But not just any laxatives: Dr. Rush had his own brand of super-purgatives with ingredients such as mercury (!) and jalap that were guaranteed to, shall we say, "inspire evacuation" almost instantly. In honor of one of the finest medical minds of his time, we are offering this commemorative tin celebrating Dr. Rush and his contribution to the nation's health. NOTE: THE TIN IS FILLED WITH YUMMY CANDY, NOT MERCURY-LACED LAXATIVES! Sorry to disappoint, but we think most of you would prefer the sweet and spicy taste of Red Hots to heavy-metal poisoning.
All add-ons are available at the Trading Post ($50) level and higher. Just add the appropriate amount to your pledge using the Manage Pledge button at the top of the Kickstarter site.
Risks and challenges
MERIWETHER is an ambitious project by any measure, and the largest project we've taken on so far. That's why we've done our homework before bringing it to Kickstarter. We've been researching and prototyping this game for years, making sure that we knew we could deliver on a project of this scope before asking backers to join us.
We are also trying to carefully balance creating a great, entertaining game; adhering to the most current historical understanding of the Expedition we have; and portraying Corps members and Native Americans in a culturally sensitive way. It's a tightrope walk, to say the least. To help us meet this challenge, we have an advisory board of acclaimed historians and Native American experts, and are partnering with the Lewis and Clark Foundation. Together, they will help ensure our game reflects the best understanding of the Expedition that is currently available. And of course, we will be conducting extensive playtesting to make sure MERIWETHER is engaging and fun.
Anyone who’s worked in software development knows that finishing a project as complex and ambitious as MERIWETHER on-time and on-budget is definitely a challenge. A real risk, therefore, is missing our November 2013 release date. We have planned carefully for a realistic completion date, and will do everything possible to finish the project on-time. We will also be providing our backers and the MERIWETHER community with regular updates as to our progress, so that everyone knows exactly how the game is progressing.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Unity. By choosing Unity as our development environment, we’re joining prestigious company--some of the most exciting RPGs currently in development, including Wasteland 2, Shadowrun Returns, and Project Eternity, are using Unity to make terrific games on a small publisher’s budget. Plus, we already have a lot of experience with Unity and a repertoire of code from other games we’ve made that we can use to speed up development.
We are definitely considering it! Ouya hasn’t been released into the wild yet, so we can’t be sure there won’t be hidden impediments to releasing a game for that console. That said, Unity will publish to Android now, so if we were a Magic 8-Ball, we’d answer “All signs point to yes.” More info as it becomes available.
We grew up playing Oregon Trail and have fond memories of catching dysentery and breaking wagon wheels. But Meriwether operates on a different scale: its environments and characters are much richer, its historical research is much more integral to gameplay, and it is much more complex overall. Meriwether also has a focus on roleplaying that wasn't a part of the original Oregon Trail. Still, it might not be unfair to call Meriwether a spiritual successor to Oregon Trail.
Our definition of "educational institution" is pretty loose by design. Because Meriwether isn't an educational game in the strictest sense, we hope to see it in all sorts of locales: expected ones, like schools and libraries, but also nontraditional spaces where people go to enjoy themselves and/or learn new things--community centers, Boys/Girls Clubs, the YMCA and YWCA, and after-school programs, just to name a few. Basically, any place that has a mission to educate the public will fly with us. If you have any questions about whether an institution you have in mind qualifies, please don't hesitate to contact us personally.
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