We are currently in the process of converting this site into the eventual website for the game’s distribution, so we’ve moved our blog updates on our Kickstarter updates page.
Thanks everyone for such an incredible 39 days! Because of you, we raised $44,489!
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This morning we launched our Kickstarter campaign. I am overwhelmed at the generosity and support of our friends and the gaming community. You guys rock! For those of you who haven’t been there yet, check it out at:
Lately we’ve been spending some time working on “box art”. Although the game will primarily be distributed digitally, we’ll use this art when showing the game on the web. This image will help us convey our complex ideas for the game in a single image. These are shots of the work in progress, to show you our process. The final version is coming soon. Let us know what you think!
And here’s some of the sketches that led up to it. (Click to enlarge.)
We’ve spent the last couple weeks developing a logo for the game. The effort has been led by one of our artists, Jiyoun, but the entire team has contributed ideas. We’ve ended up with a logo that reflects both the personality of the game and the personality of its eponymous protagonist. It also reflects Clark a bit. For example, the dot on the “i” is taken from the way Clark would sketch North on the compass rose on his maps.
One of the first steps was to look at the logos of other games as references. Some that particularly stood out are the historical games by Paradox Interactive, as well as Assassin’s Creed 3. Although we love the look of AC3, we are cognizant of the fact that we need to distance ourselves from it, since it will be released at a similar time, is based on a similar period of history, and frankly, has a larger budget.
Our next step was to collect some examples of typography that we found interesting. Here’s a few of them.
We then experimented with a series of sketches to find elements we liked and disliked. Here’s a few of them. Even though it’s “finished,” I’m sure we’ll continue to iterate on the final design (above) as we give it time to settle and start putting it in context. Next up, box art!
Last week Carlos, Barb, and myself went to the annual meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. We wanted to show off the game to the attendees, but knew most wouldn’t have time to sit down and play it. So, we quickly threw together this video. Much of what you see here is still a work in progress. Thanks to Dan Ward for helping us edit it.
Up until now, most of our writing has focused on events that occurred at a particular location or time represented by each level. We have much of that type of writing finished at this point. Now we need to fill in the gaps and add continuity between the levels. We have chosen to focus on seven major NPCs (non-player characters) who travel with you for the majority of the trip: William Clark, York, Sacagawea, George Drouillard, Alexander Willard, Patrick Gass, and John Colter.
Yesterday, Carlos and I plotted out the character arcs of these seven. We outlined what happens to them in each level, and how they develop. Many of them, for instance Sacagawea, change over time, due to the events of the expedition, or the actions of the player (Meriwether Lewis). Others, such as George Drouillard, don’t change much, but rather represent general themes. We tried to stagger the moments when each character’s development peaks so that the player can focus on them at the appropriate time.
This photo shows the method we used to chart out these character arcs. Our telling of the story finally has taken shape and has its own clear voice with a new perspective we want to bring to this timeless story.
While reading through their journals, it struck me that on several occasions Clark and Lewis mention beaver tail as a delicacy. For example, on August 1, 1804, Clark writes, ”This being my birth day I order’d a Saddle of fat Vennison, an Elk fleece & a Bevertail to be cooked”. The next Spring (May 5), describing the bounty of the Great Plains, Lewis writes, “we kill whatever we wish, the buffaloe furnish us with fine veal and fat beef, we also have venison and beaver tales when we wish them”. These passages intrigued me and made me wonder what a beaver tail actually tastes like.
My brother Tony is a trapper in upstate New York. He had never tried eating beaver tails, but has seen many and told me it was pure fat. This explains why the Corps liked it so much – they needed fat in their diet. The next time I went to visit, he had a special gift waiting for me in the freezer!
Last weekend, the development team met at my apartment to have a weekend-long crunch session. The end of the session was a perfect time to wind down, have some beers (it was St. Patty’s day), and cook up the tail! I had asked around for recipes for the tail. Here’s my favorite, from Barb’s friend Gary: “Skin it, fry it in a pan, drain the grease and keep it. Throw the rest away. Trust me.” A few other people recommended deep frying it, which is what we did – in my wok!
We tried cooking it two ways: initially we cut the fat off the outer leather and fried it. This worked, but we lost a lot of it just trying to separate it from the leather. Next we just filleted a section of the tail and threw it in the wok. This was way easier.
None of us were expecting to like it, but actually it was very good! It tasted quite a bit like chicharron, or fried pork rinds. Parts of the outer leather we very crispy and delicious, but other parts of it were impossible to chew. We seasoned the tail with salt and a little mandarin orange. Lemon probably would have been perfect but we didn’t have one handy. I wouldn’t go out of my way to cook it on a regular basis, but I won’t turn it down if someone offered it to me! I’m really glad we tried it.
One of the fundamental challenges with making a game that is focused on an historical narrative is that by definition, much of the story is pre-ordained. While we do want the player to be able to make meaningful choices and experiment with alternate histories, it’s imperative to us that the core narrative of the Lewis and Clark expedition is still conveyed. Not to mention, every possible deviation from the main branch of the story requires additional production work. (Which is a problem in most other RPG’s as well.) While most RPGs make the player’s character a tabula rasa, it is important to us that Lewis’s intricate personality is conveyed. Rather than allowing players to choose any identity, we want players to instead create their own “tweaked” version of Lewis.
This problem primarily manifests itself in dialogue trees. Since conversations are our main source of narrative progression, as well as our primary window into Lewis’s mind, we decided to try to tackle both issues with a single solution: most decisions should hinge around how Lewis approaches something he does, rather than what he does.
One of the first steps in identifying how Lewis might approach decisions was to identify the various aspects of Lewis’s personality. To help focus a broad task, we decided that the identified aspects should be those that relate to the expedition, to how we are portraying Lewis, and to aspects that are perceptible through our medium. We identified a number of aspects and eventually were able to combine them into four facets: leader, soldier, diplomat, and scientist. These facets directly relate to Lewis’s (and the player’s) “authentic professional identity.”, as James Gee says, “a distinctive way of seeing, knowing, acting in, and valuing the world.” (Gee, James. Video Game Are Good For Your Soul. p57.)
There are certainly many other facets we could have chosen, many of which were not particularly relevant to the game. For instance, we could have focused on his life as a planter or secretary to Jefferson. Alternately, we could have included more generalized facets, such as “friendship”, which could have largely focused on his relationship with Clark.
Each choice in a dialogue tree will be associated with one of the facets. The association is conveyed by a small icon next to the choice. We plan to associate the leader facet with choices that reflect decision, command, honor, inspiration, and passion. The soldier facet represents rules, battle, following orders, and duty. Diplomat reflects negotiation, compromise, friendship, peace, mercy, and respect. And the scientist facet represents curiosity, intelligence, nature, medicine, ethnography, instruments, and journal-keeping.
It is important to us that these facets are directly tied to the gameplay and are more than just flavor. Whenever a player chooses a dialogue option, the related facet’s “level” increases by a point. This allows players to craft their own version of Lewis — not too far deviated from the historical Lewis, but customized enough to feel personal. These facet levels are integrated into the game in two ways. The first and most direct is that each dialogue choice has a minimum threshold at which your facet’s level must be (otherwise it will be disabled). So if you specialize in a facet, you will tend to always be able to choose that facet, but you may prevent yourself from switching to a different facet down the line. If you generalize, you will generally be able to choose any dialogue option, but may be locked out of certain facets in extreme specialist situations. There are some ways to lower the threshold required for each facet, but their discussion is not important here.
This system is actually quite similar to Mass Effect and especially Mass Effect 2 (both of which are influential on other aspects of the writing as well.) They use the concept of having a minimum threshold for dialogue choices. The primary difference is that the two “facets” used in Mass Effect, paragon and renegade, are diametrically opposed, and only apply to the extreme versions of choices. We aim to instead relate one of the facets to every possible choice.
Each facet is also related to the gameplay in at least one way outside of conversations. The leader facet influences the party’s morale, soldier increases your marksmanship ability; diplomat gives you a bonus when trading and gift-giving; and scientist gives you a bonus when discovering plants and animals and when playing the medicine minigame.
Melancholy is a fifth facet that works in a completely different way. This facet represents Lewis’s depressive personality, his self-reflection, and his struggle to reintegrate with society upon his return. Whenever Lewis is unsuccessful at a task, or doesn’t “get his way”, his melancholy stat increases. If it ever reaches a certain level, the player is not allowed to converse with other characters. The player can reduce melancholy by simply “walking it off”, but reduces it faster through exploration, hunting, and discovery.
We have been experimenting with this new style of facet-based dialogue while we create content for our Fort Clatsop level. The above screenshot (with placeholder art) shows a conversation with Colter, in which you can reply as either a leader (the black espontoon icon), in which you discipline him for his carelessness; as a soldier (the red rifle icon), telling him to “man up” and ordering him to solve the problem himself; or as a diplomat (the blue handshake icon), telling him to let bygones by bygones in order to maintain good relations with the Chinook.
I’m currently reading The Character of Meriwether Lewis by Clay Jenkinson. In the preface, Jenkinson calls Lewis a “fractured soul.” I think he’s correct – but for our purposes I want to think of him as a “faceted soul.” Clay’s book has helped further my understanding of Lewis’s personality and I hope as I finish it I have some more insight. Likewise, as we continue to produce more conversations in this style, I hope our ideas will come to full fruition.