A couple of weeks ago Maschinen-Mensch released Curious Expedition 2 on Steam Early Access, meaning players could have a test run of the still-in-development game, providing feedback to help identify and fix bugs and to be a part of shaping the eventual full release. It's been an enormous relief to see the overall reaction so far has been positive, with a lot of useful feedback from players that I think will only make the game even better as development continues.
Now the game is out in public, I think I can show some of the work I've been doing with the team at Maschinen-Mensch (though see their Twitter feed for much more). It will also interest, I'm sure, a lot of my Rainbow Orchid and Julius Chancer readers, in fact any fans of ligne-claire comic art and adventure stories.
The original Curious Expedition (still available and still supported) is a 'roguelike' expedition simulation set in the late nineteenth century. You have a team of explorers, you have resources, you have a map and lands to explore, and you have goals to attain. Curious Expedition 2 is much the same in principle, but with many improvements in game-play, story, character development and scope.
The biggest outward difference is the graphics. Whereas CE1 is a pixel art game, CE2 is going for a ligne-claire style (think Tintin, Blake and Mortimer, Tardi, Joost Swarte, maybe even a little Moebius), giving it a European bande-dessinée feel. This has also opened up the options for graphic detail, including facial expressions and gestures for the characters, and a whole new arena for animation and interaction.
Maschinen-Mensch started out as two people, Johannes Kristmann and Riad Djemili, and they pretty much created CE1 on their own (Johannes did all the amazing pixel art, which still informs the feel of the sequel). Due to the game's success and support from their new publisher, the Swedish Thunderful Games, they've been able to expand their full-time team to eight people, as well as a coterie of freelancers - including myself. (You can meet the team and see an introduction to the game on this video here).
Although I may be doing a large chunk of the actual drawing for CE2, what you see on the screen is the result of a close and overlapping collaboration between many minds. Johannes is the Art Director - and while I do have some creative input at the concept stage, I'm very much channeling Johannes's strong vision for the game and working closely under his guidance. You could say he's the brain and I'm the hands. Many of the special effects and the wonderful atmosphere applied to the in-game scenes are the work of technical artist (and horse expert) Laura Brosi, and the fantastic (and often funny) character animations are created by animator Katarina Czikorova. But the whole team make contributions in every area, with the end result drawing from every quarter of the production. It's no good just seeing a screenshot of CE2 - the game is the character, interaction, movement, music, feeling and story that all come together to result in the overall experience.
The core of the game is the narrative you create as you play. Characters will form traits and attachments; empathy and cultural respect is encouraged and rewarded. The dice-based combat system is great fun, and there's even a 'saving roll' aspect which especially appeals to me as an old Tunnels and Trolls player. On one of the missions you can even go in search of the rainbow orchid.
Coming from a largely publication-based world, as I do, the learning curve and challenges I've faced on this job have been enormous, but very rewarding. There's a whole host of technical limitations and parameters to take into account, but also, of course, things you can do that you just can't on paper. To see a character I've drawn, with its separate arms, legs and head, come alive after Katarina has been at work on it has seemed like magic at times (and I won't even get into the sorcery of the programming side). Other challenges have included the scale - drawing scenes for 4K (and above) resolutions - and the integration of various changeable elements: 2D characters, scenery and locations in a world with perspective.
While the map is mostly the work of Johannes, I have contributed hand-drawn visuals to that area too, as well as some dice icons and the inventory items - so there's been a wonderful variety of art tasks that have kept me busy over the many months I've been involved. I've had nothing to do with the lovely fin-de-siècle influenced interface, the work of Johannes and Sandrine Dubois.
There has been a little negative reaction to the new art style, of course, and - besides just the normal difference in people's personal tastes - this largely comes from a few fans of CE1 who are very attached to Johannes's pixel art, which is understandable! Of course CE1 is not going anywhere and is still available - but there seems little point in re-making the same game, and it's hoped that the new art style may appeal to a new and wider audience, to whom pixel art may seem less accessible, catering more to a core of retro-gamers. I've seen some comments about the 'vector art' of CE2 - I'll clear that up: it's not vector art. Really, it's still pixel art ... just a lot more of them!
Curious Expedition (no connection with The Lost Expedition card game, by the way) is an enormously ambitious venture, and I've seen some of the blood, sweat, tears and dedication that the whole team have devoted to make it a reality - the work that's gone into it already is mind-boggling. There's still more to do, but you can now give the game a test drive and see it's paid off. I feel incredibly honoured to have a part to play in this project, not to mention the great experience of working alongside Johannes and the rest of the Maschinen-Mensch team. The finished product is going to be awesome.
You can buy Curious Expedition 2 (Early Access) on Steam here.
"The said John Bozell's way of life is mostly in pretending to tell fortunes, and fraudulently getting people's money by telling them, that by giving him such a sum of money, in such a place they shall find a great sum, and has brought a great many ignorant people to ruin."
Although there are other candidates, it's possible his son, John, was the 'Black Jack' Boswell who gave rise to the later famous Derbyshire Boswell clan. But that John was said to be a brother to other well-known Boswells of the period, Lawrence, Bartholomew and Edmond, and there are other names in the ring for their parentage too. But it could at least be said there is a close link with another historic Boswell - Shadrach the soldier, who was likely press-ganged into service as a result of the Vagrancy Act, and fought the French in Canada in 1779 - he may have been a cousin.
It seems fairly well accepted that John and Edmond were brothers and variously went by the name of Boss, sometimes also called the 'Kak' Boswells, on account of a lazy eye, or eyes of a different colour. One daughter went by the title of 'Gall-Eyed Licia', and I tend to blame the Boss family genes whenever yet another photo of me emerges with one of my eyes half-closed.
Edmond was the husband of Eldorai Boss, reputed to be a sister of Shadrach. One of their children was Eliza, and she became the wife of Anselo Boswell (often recorded as Joseph Boss), the son of Edmond's brother John. Anselo's siblings included Viney, Hairy Tom, Black Ambrose and John - the latter, or his father, claimed to be 'The Flaming Tinman' of Borrow's popular Lavengro, but it was more likely to be the son given that his age was "not much under fifty".
John Boss (the father) has been recorded as marrying one Mary Newberry in Loughborough, Leicestershire, in 1780, but this seems unlikely. Mary's maiden name was Wood, and she married the recently widowed William Newberry, a Loughborough butcher, in 1775. They had a daughter, Parnell, in 1776 (she would go on to marry a cavalryman and then work in the Royal household), before William died in 1779. In 1778 he had taken an apprentice, John Boss, most likely his cousin, and it was this John, apprentice butcher, who married the widowed Mary Newberry in 1780. Little of this has the Gypsy stamp upon it.
Anselo and Eliza had a number of children baptised across Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Worcestershire, Lincolnshire and Cheshire. One of these, in 1812, was Mary Ann Tracey, known as Tresi. In 1832 she married William Sherriff at Rugeley, Staffordshire, allegedly a mumper - a slightly derogatory term the Romanies used for someone less than a true Gypsy, a beggar, a vagrant, a hedge dweller. But the Sherriffs themselves have a pedigree of travelling, at least back into the beginning of the 18th century. Some of these Sherriffs married into the Hodgkins and Clayton families, and others into Tresi's Boswell clan.
William and Tresi had a dozen or so children, with several marrying into 'good' families - Claytons, Hollands and Boswells. Youngest son Hope married Trinity Boyling, the daughter of "tale-teller" Absalom 'Appy' Boswell. In 1903 Hope and three of his sons were apprehended for the murder of a policeman - Hope was acquitted but the three sons ended up in prison on a charge of manslaughter. One died during his sentence, while another, Thomas, came out to fight in the Great War, only to be killed on the first day of the Somme.
The Gypsyologist Thomas W. Thompson wrote that "no marriages have been recorded" for four of the Sherriff children - Alfred, William, Lorcni and Joseph. My own research shows that William had a son with an Ann, and then lived for a number of years with an Elizabeth Allen, before being killed in a fight at Ripley. As for Joseph, he was my 3xg-grandfather, and he married Eliza Johnson at Uttoxeter in 1871. Eliza was a widow previously married to Joseph's cousin, Joseph Clayton, son of his aunt Ann Sherriff.
Eliza had three children: Alfred, Mary Ann Tracey (who died age 4), and Charlotte (my gg-grandmother), all born before she married Joseph Sherriff in 1871. But were they the children of Joseph Sherriff or Joseph Clayton? If it's the latter then I am not descended from the Boswells at all, and I'll have no one to blame for my sometimes-lazy eye. Both Josephs were chair makers, and both had fathers called William, also chair makers. Furthermore, daughter Charlotte recorded the maiden name of Claydon on seven of her 11 children's birth certificates.
Although they married in 1871, Joseph Sherriff was with Eliza and the eldest child, Alfred, on the 1861 census. Joseph's age and birthplace are consistent with previous and later census returns to indicate he is the Boswell descendant. Even so, this is thin evidence in the Gypsy world where facts are often made out of nothing better than sand. But further research into first husband, Joseph Claydon, puts it almost beyond dispute. In 1846 Claydon was apprehended for his involvement in a violent house robbery over a year before - he was found guilty and given the harsh sentence of transportation for life. He arrived on the remote Norfolk Island in September 1846, but seven months later he was dead from dysentery. This may explain the late wedding of his cousin to Eliza if they did not know his fate.
My gg-grandmother, Charlotte Sherriff, married William Hodgkins, her first-cousin once-removed (Charlotte's grandmother was also William's aunt), and though they went on to have 11 children, only five survived into childhood, and only three of those into older age.
My great-grandfather, Charles Hodgkins, survived WWI but died a few years later, age 34. He had two daughters by then, including my Granny, May. Both her and her second daughter, my Mum, always claimed their dark hair was a sign of their "True Romany Gypsy" heritage, even though by then the names and stories had been mostly forgotten.
More on my Gypsy family history here.