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My influences in developing terrain for the Fish Camp

Monday, May 17th, 2010

One of my major responsibilities is developing the terrain in the Fish Camp level. Since authentic terrain is such an important design element of this game, I pulled on some real world experiences to develop realistic yet fun terrain. 

The major influence I can point to when developing terrain are the many hours I’ve spent driving across Kansas and Missouri. The two states are nearly opposite as far as terrain goes, but both have great examples of terrain layouts.  Missouri, for the most part, is covered in large rolling hills covered in trees. It also has some interesting rock formations along the Missouri River, especially around the Columbia area. These bluffs are a hundred feet tall and go all the way down to the river. It’s taken thousands of years to carve those out. I pulled from this image to shape the bluffs of the Fish Camp level.  I wanted to make the bluffs in the game look like the actual bluffs I have seen along the Missouri river. It’s still a work in progress but I think its coming off well. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum is Kansas, especially the western half of the state.  Kansas is known for being flat, and it is to an extent. Kansas has miles and miles of beautiful gently rolling hills covered in grass. Most of this land is fairly untouched and looks like it did a couple of hundred years ago at the time of Lewis and Clark. This feel of wide open space and gently rolling hills is important to our Fish Camp level. We have a nice open area, covered in grass and other discoverable plants, animals, and items, for the player to explore.  I’ve tried to simulate the gently rolling feeling of those Kansas prairies. I really wanted to give the player the realistic feel of being in that open environment.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with how the terrain has turned out.  There are gentle, rolling hills, realistic shore lines along the rivers, and tall bluffs that really add flair to the level.  The Fish Camp level has come a long way in a short amount of time!

 Eric B. – Level Designer

Fish Camp sneak peak video!

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Here’s a brief look at one of the levels we’ve been working on, titled ‘Fish Camp’. It’s set on the bank of the Missouri river near present-day Sioux City, and compresses several historic places into a small, navigable area: fish camp, Towontonga (and abandoned Omaha village), an Otoe village, Fort Charles, Floyd’s bluff, and Council Bluffs, as well as other small landmarks.

This level occurs about 1/3 of the way into the game. It was our first in-depth exploration of how we would handle the Corps’ interaction with American Indians, in this case, the Otoe. I’ll post about the process at a later date. We also focused on the disciple issues with the men, and with Sergeant Floyd’s death.

Please keep in mind that we have been focusing on the core gameplay, interaction, and dialogue, and at this point all the art in the game at this point is placeholder.

Writing Meriwether: The Jefferson Question

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010

Thomas Jefferson--pimped out in fur!

One of my first tasks when I signed on to Meriwether was to begin fleshing out how we would portray Jefferson. I humbly submit to you that there are few prospects capable of instilling more terror in the American writer than to try to create an historically-accurate yet fictional version of our third president. I mean, he slept with his slaves. Where do you go from there?

Less facetiously, Jefferson continues to be among the most polarizing of the Founding Fathers, as the Texas Board of Education demonstrated by removing him from a list of “great world political thinkers” of the 18th and 19th century. But it’s not only Ultraconservatives who find him a problematic figure: he felt that African Americans were racially inferior to whites, while believing that Native Americans were primitive but “redeemable”–that they could be assimilated into American/European cultures. And Sally Hemings was probably his long-time consort, as well as his slave. He was a prisoner of his time in terms of his worldview: as we all are, of course. If you haven’t yet shuddered at how history will look back on us, start now. It won’t be pretty.

Still, we want our players to be immersed in the zeitgeist of the time while simultaneously enough outside of it to analyze and critique the time the way a historian would. We want our players to think like historians, in other words. How, then, should we portray Jefferson, the architect of the Corps of Discovery’s mission?

Since Jefferson’s role in the game is relatively minor–he only really appears in the first episode of the game, we decided to emphasize his far-ranging imagination, his wit, and his scientific bent–all undeniable facets of his character, no matter what your political bent may be. His interactions with Lewis are at first playful–the two were great friends, Jefferson serving as perhaps the most important father figure in Lewis’s life–and later switch to emphasize the spirit of adventure and the desire to explore North America that both share. Game-wise, we had time to incorporate little else in the dialogue, but the player will be able to learn a great deal more about Jefferson through other means: Jefferson’s servants lend insight about his character; some of the curiosities that he has collected and brought to the President’s House (that’s the name of the White House before it was the White House) are almost Steampunk; and, most directly, the game will give, as part of the “wunderkammer” of factual information we’ll be providing players, a biography of America’s third president.

And for the record, the Meriwether team is a big fan of Jefferson. For all his flaws and human weaknesses, he remains perhaps the single most visionary of all the visionary men who made America.