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Willard Animation

Monday, July 18th, 2011

George, our art director has modeled, texture, and rigged our model of Private Alexander Hamilton Willard. He will be one of the major characters in the game, and this model will serve as the basis for many other members of the Corps of Discovery.

Here’s a walk cycle animation to show it off!

project update and pre-alpha milestone

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Dear friends and supporters,

Happy new year to you all! We have been working hard, and the Meriwether project just hit a major milestone: pre-alpha! That means that all major features of the game have been designed and implemented. Now the lion’s share of the work will be devoted to content-creation, art production, and playtesting.

Specifically, perhaps our single greatest advance has been the creation of “Expedition” mode. This part of the game emphasizes the arduousness of the journey by forcing players to make difficult decisions about how fast to travel; how often to hunt, trade, scout, and rest; and how best to maintain morale. The gameplay, as opposed to the roleplaying that occurs in “Discovery” mode, is more abstract and boardgame-like. Expedition mode will be ready for large-scale playtesting in the near future.

The game also now has three major “Discovery” mode levels in a playable state: The President’s House, Fish Camp, and the Great Falls Portage. Currently, we are working on the Fort Mandan level, which features some of the journey’s greatest moments, including Charbonneau and Sacagawea joining the Expedition. Coming up for 2011: Fort Clatsop, The Lolo Trail, and encounters with the Blackfeet and Teton Sioux.

Art production is further behind than we’d like it to be, due to lack of funding: art is perhaps the single most expensive part of creating this game. However, 2010 saw some major bounds forward on the art front. George is now in the final process of texturing and animating our 3D infantry model. The wireframe for this model will become the basis for many members of the Corps of Discovery, including Lewis himself.

We continue to meet weekly in New York, and keep in touch with the remote team members through a weekly check-in conference call. Barb is meticulously researching every aspect of the game and ensuring that it remains historically accurate and culturally sensitive.

Our team has grown to 8 diligent developers! Here’s what we’re up to on the Fort Mandan level:
Joshua DeBonis, game designer, is creating the Fort Mandan level map.
Barb Kubik, historian, is researching the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
George Lambrakis, art director, is creating 3D character models.
Carlos Hernandez, Ph.D., writer and game designer, is writing dialogue
between Lewis and Toussaint Charbonneau.
Kyle Staves, programmer, is implementing “Expedition” mode.
Carol Bronson, grant manager, is looking for partnership and funding
Justin Jordan, 3d modeler, is about to finish up his 3D model of the
President’s House.
Eric Budo, level designer, is creating terrain tiles for “Expedition” mode.

Thanks as always to Humanities Montana and Humanities Iowa for the funding they have provided for this project, and thanks to our advisory board, and the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation for their support. Furthermore, The Institute of Play has agreed to be our fiscal agent as we apply for more grants. And speaking of grants, we should hear back shortly about significant NEH funding. Wish us luck!

In 2011, we will continue to seek much-needed funding opportunities and, more importantly, continue to design levels, create art, playtest, and in short do the work of making a great game. Once more, let me thank you all for the time and support you have lent this project. Have a great 2011!

Joshua DeBonis and the Meriwether Team

Conceptualizing History

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

The typical protocol of the concept artist on games/movies is to bring the original idea of the director(s) and/or producer(s) to life via image and then further tweak said image with the notes of feedback from the production team. Conceptualizing the images of the President’s House is a different beast from start to finish. Instead of an original idea of a world the artist has to portray, we had to use American history. Instead of getting notes from director(s) and producer(s), we got notes from historians who specifically specialize in the Lewis and Clark expedition. The constraint of accurately portraying the interiors of Jefferson’s new abode proved to be both meticulous and very rewarding. Meticulous because there is no definitive imagery of the interior of the President’s House, so a lot of focus and research was put into the details of how those rooms could have looked before we sketched them up. Rewarding because few other visual media, if any, have such a considered and accurate rendition of the President’s House. Let alone for a video game!

For example, take a look at these three versions of the Public Dining Room.

We went through several iterations on how this room could look and intentionally left the images sparse (no color or shading) since it saved timed and we were aware that changes would more than likely happen. We conjured up the first version (below) using our initial research such as books, maps, the Monticello website, etc. Using these we found out the size of the room and its contents such as dining table (who would of thought?), a dumbwaiter, girandoles, etc.

Version 1 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

The version 2 image below shows added content using the feedback from Barb Kubik, who is our super awesome historian. She noted that according to her resources, the fireplace was actually on the east wall, there were actually four doors, and more furniture was in the room.

Version 2 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

Version 3 displays small changes like a dining set on the table, a note to modelers on where the pier table would be, and switching around the dumbwaiter and sidebar based on further research.

Version 3 of the Public Dining Room (click on image for full view)

The following image is the Public Dining room in its final iteration.

The Public Dining Room's final iteration (click on image for full view).

We made this final iteration after showing Barb the version 3 image. She made comments based on her further research that there were actually two small dumbwaiters that would be by the tables and one on the south east door. Also, one of my favorite details, is the square crumb catcher under the dining table. Barb noted that during the time, textile workers would make square crumb catchers because it was more practical as circular carpets wasted too much material. The numbers at the top of the image are the room dimensions for modeling purposes.

You could spend 5 seconds in this room, but knowing that you were in a super accurate rendition of that room makes the experience so much more rewarding and meaningful. I think that’s a huge part of this game and is a big draw for players. Much thanks to Barb for all the help and time she put in. The team loves her for it. Thanks for reading.


Justin – Concept Artist/Modeler

Nez Perce Country

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Last week I traveled to Lewiston, Idaho for the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation’s 42nd annual meeting. “Meeting” is a misnomer, it’s more of a gathering and outing. Imagine a Star Trek Convention, but substitute Clark and Lewis for Spock and Kirk. I had a great time, met interesting people, and saw some beautiful wilderness. As a designer of this game, it’s important to me that I visit these historical places, explore them myself, and understand their nuances, in order to best portray them in the game. Similarly, being with so many like minded people also helps me see different perspectives and gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the history and the story.

One of the highlights for me was visiting an archaeological site of a Nez Perce longhouse, and many round houses from the early 19th century, in Hells Canyon. It is likely that these houses were part of the village at which Ordway, Weiser, and Frazer traded for Salmon (which rotted before they could get it back to the Corps!) It’s impossible to see in the photos, but there are depressions in the ground where the houses were.

[site of Nez Perce archaeological site visited by Ordway]

[a young Nez Perce dancer]

[Nez Perce beaded Imperial Stormtrooper!]

[Weippe Prairie, where the Corps of Discovery first met the Nez Perce after coming out of the Bitterroots]

Lewis and Clark in Chicago

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago at a regional meeting of the Lewis and Clark Trail Heritage Foundation. We all had a wonderful time and learned a great deal about the local history. I was asked to give a talk about the Chicago Treaty of 1833, which I had previously known nothing about. Researching it was fun, and I learned so much about Chicago history, and Indian removal in the process.

The highlight for me was visiting the Newberry library, which houses many primary documents related to the expedition. My iPhone’s camera hardly does these items justice, but in this photo you several of them.

Private Joseph Whitehouse’s journal is front and center. This went with him to the Pacific and back! Top right above that is his rewritten journal, which he revised after the expedition based on his journal, recollections, and likely information from the other men. To the upper left of Whitehouse’s journal is William Clark’s cash book. The contents are not very interesting, just accounting information. However, on the back cover, Clark kept a running tally of the deaths of the expedition members. This cover is very important to scholars because it proves that Sacagawea was dead by 1825.

In this photo you can see several copies of the original 1814 Biddle edition of the journal. Cool, but the one on the top right is very special. It was Thomas Jefferson’s private copy. He initialed certain pages so that he would be able to prove his ownership. Also cool, but then he gave it to William Clark! Both Clark and his wife Julia signed the book as well.

We saw a lot of other things and places, that irrelevant to this game, but were still very interesting. Many thanks to Lou who made this trip a reality!