Willard Animation

Written by josh on 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

Written by josh on 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


Concept Art

Written by george on November 18th, 2010

Hi everyone,

Here is a concept painting for the Infantry.

More than just concept art, this painting is more of a style guide. The idea is to create a look that matches what a final in-game model might look like.

It’s been a challenge trying to create a unique look while adhering to the design of the uniform. Historical accuracy was paramount, of course, but we searched for a style that combines “all the right elements” of fun and modern gameplay as well.

Infantry concept art

Infantry concept art


Conceptualizing History

Written by justin on 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

Written by josh on 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

Written by josh on 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!


My influences in developing terrain for the Fish Camp

Written by ericb on 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!

Written by josh on 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

Written by carlos on 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.


Hello world!

Written by josh on April 13th, 2010

Carlos and I decided today to start showing our development process. Although we’re not ready for the world to start playing Meriwether yet, we still have a lot to share. We hope to get feedback from you, the public, on what you’d like to see, and where you want the game to go.

Working on this game has already been a very unique and incredible experience. It’s been a challenge creating something that is both historically accurate, yet stands on its own as a fun and interesting game. Because of this game, I have become immersed in the world of Lewis and Clark and met so many amazing people. I want to use this site as an opportunity to share part of this journey.