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 French edition (L'Expédition Perdue) is published by Nuts! Publishing and the Polish version (Zaginiona Ekspedycja) comes from All In Games. A Chinese version from Yihu BG is also available - or soon to be, I'm not sure - I've seen a cover but haven't yet seen any sign of a physical copy.
The game itself is largely visual and doesn't require much in the way of translation except for the rulebook, of course. Besides the above repackagings you can find a number of downloadable rules translations at Boardgame Geek, including Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Hungarian, and Russian.
It was a challenging but really fun job - a somewhat surreal city scene throwing together a regular town, a food market, and various giant food and drink products as part of the architecture. And I was very lucky indeed to be asked to follow up that first commission with illustrations for the subsequent 2018 and 2019 awards.
Here are the finished illustrations and a few of the working sketches (you can perhaps see I got a bit more confident and ambitious with each year!).
I also illustrated the covers (plus some internal art) for the accompanying Great Taste Books, distributed to over 245,000 retailers and celebrating that year's award winners.
Four expansions are included in the little box, all of which can be added into the base game separately, or mixed and matched as you like. The Fountain provides 12 new adventure cards and tells the story of the original conquistadors who discovered the 'Fountain of Youth' and who now jealously guard it with their eternal but decaying lives. The Mark consists of six new adventure cards and injects an ancient dark curse into proceedings. The Mountain replaces the base game map with ten new terrain cards and some new rules for a bit of variety. And then there's New Friends - three companions to help you survive your quest.
As usual with Osprey, the production is as high quality as the mechanics, and it genuinely enriches the game play, it's not just an afterthought. The only criticism I've seen is a slight variation on the colour on the backs of the cards in relation to earlier editions of the base game, and a minuscule size difference, only noticeable if you look hard enough. Neither impedes game play. The one tiny criticism I'd have is a design one - the poor kerning of the title on the box cover, which could have done with a little attention.
If you own The Lost Expedition then you really should augment it with The Fountain of Youth - it adds a new dimension of enormous fun and adventure. If you don't own it - go and get a copy! (See my blog post on doing the art for the original game here.)
A couple of weeks ago the local theatre 'What's On' guide popped through my letterbox. I flicked through it and immediately came across a very familiar image ... the Oliver! logo I designed back in 1998 for a local production of the famous musical, now being used to advertise a brand new 2018 production by a completely different company. Only, it wasn't quite what I originally designed, it was a crude copy - though this too has become just as familiar to me thanks to its use by a large number of amateur theatre groups over the past few years.
The copy is pretty horrible - at some point, possibly around twelve years ago, someone saw my version online, small and low-res, and decided they needed to make their own print-res copy, obliterating much of the detail in the process (perhaps by tracing the low-res file into a vector format). This version got whisked up the Google Image rankings higher than my original, and it has been found and used and re-used, and sometimes re-copied or edited with even less detail, by countless others. I can't help but think, what does it say about the quality of your show if you're happy to use such badly rendered graphics to promote it?
Comparison detail of my original (left) and the most often-used copy (right). License my original!
But the first time I came across an unlicensed use of my Oliver silhouette it was a fully detailed copy of my original artwork. Once I started looking I found others, both good and bad copies, in shows from the smallest school production right up to professional youth theatre shows and displayed inside and outside big city venues.
That's what led me to start up my Logos For Shows website - licensing my theatre images to fit the budgets of amateur companies and schools, not so much with the intention to make money, but to protect and assert my copyright and moral rights, and to promote the idea of copyright and legal use of artwork (and sure, the pocket money helps a bit too).
Part of this process included writing to some of the copyright infringers and informing them of their transgression - a task I have never relished and in which I have always been as polite and understanding as possible. Almost without exception the theatre companies have written back saying they had no idea they were breaching copyright and that they just handed the art task to their designer.
Sometimes the theatre company in question just ignores me. One of the earliest infringements of my work I found dated back to 2003, and the same company had used my artwork again for further productions in 2004 and 2008 (their 2013 and 2018 productions, after my letters, do have a new design). Their rehearsal space includes large posters of my design up on their walls.
I'm sure it's true - most amateur theatre groups take artwork from the internet in ignorance, not with any malicious intent. But that doesn't make it right. It's very simple - copyright is the right to copy something. If you don't have that right (and you'll know if you do), then you should not use or copy someone else's work. Amateur theatre companies do know about rights and licensing because they cannot produce a play or musical without paying a fee and licensing the work from the publisher.
Artwork for promotion is no different. If in doubt about the value posters and artwork have then I can point to the company who were incensed that I'd requested the venue take down my artwork until we'd come to an agreement, claiming that every day their posters weren't up they could be losing sales. So ... artwork has value, then?
The photos below show some companies that have used my work without permission and perhaps this gives an indication of how important the visual element of promotion can be for a show.
Since starting up Logos For Shows, my original Oliver! logo has risen up the Google ranks, this time with my copyright notice attached. And for anyone who licenses my artwork, I request that they credit my art and provide a link back to my site as part of the terms and conditions (though, in fact, many forget to do this). This means that most people who search Google for Oliver! artwork and use it without permission have probably seen the 'copyright version' and have thought taking it from somewhere else was okay, or have thought the poor copy of my artwork was not in breach of my copyright - which is not correct, it is still an illegal copy of my work.
Sometimes the reaction to me asserting my copyright has been surprise that I would worry about small amateur companies using my design. But I am a self-employed illustrator - art is my livelihood which I use to try and pay my bills and feed my family. If Samuel French, Music Theatre International and Musicscope don't give their plays away for free, even to amateurs, if artwork has value to help promote a production, appearing on posters, banners, tickets, t-shirts, balloons, pennants, websites, adverts and in videos, then I think that creative work should be recognised and valued.
The Oliver! dancing trio silhouette artwork is © Garen Ewing 1998 and 2018 and is available to license for a very reasonable fee from Logos For Shows.
I won't say any more than they've released, which is that it's coming out in September 2018 and contains four new expansions for the game which can be added separately or combined together. The set includes four character cards, 18 adventure cards and 10 terrain cards.
Once again I had the pleasure of creating the artwork for Peer Sylvester's excellent game - and I can't wait to play the expansions myself!
The game's author, Peer Sylvester, wrote a nice introduction to its creation over at Spielbar (in German, English Google translation here), and I thought I'd write a little bit about the art side of things.
I was contacted by Duncan Molloy from Osprey Games in March 2016, though due to technology getting the better of my initial replies perhaps it was a close-run thing that I was involved at all. Thankfully we overcame our computers' resistance and I got started on the cover at the end of July. Here are some of the early sketches ...
And below is the finished cover illustration, including box sides. Osprey's final design has featured a Tintin-style title graphic, which, along with my (not quite) clear-line artwork, seems to have resulted in it pushing the right buttons to give off that lovely high adventure vibe.
Next came the characters. At one point, early on, it was discussed (perhaps not too seriously) whether this could be a Julius Chancer game, which - although tempting - I wasn't in favour of. Firstly, it would probably limit the game's audience and, secondly, The Rainbow Orchid had been finished for four years and was now, naturally, seeing a decline in interest and sales.
As an aside, this was not the first time that Julius Chancer and his chums had been considered for a board game. In 2013 my publisher, Egmont, had a visit from the game designer Reiner Knizia and he expressed an interest in my book, the result being that they agreed to adapt his board game Tal der Abenteuer (Valley of Adventure) into a Julius Chancer game. Lots of possibilities come and go when you have a book, but this one got pretty far along, I think, before it petered out and entered the graveyard of dreams, where all the other might-haves and could-have-beens now lie.
Anyway, it was the right decision for The Lost Expedition because the characters that Osprey settled on are fantastic - they are all based on real people and I probably used up far too much of my time on research as they have such a fascinating backstory each, and there's some welcome diversity within the group as well. Here are my initial character sketches ...
In the game you only play three of the characters (though all six are involved in competitive mode), picking one with navigation expertise, one jungle specialist, and one with camping skill - there's male and female of each. My six-year old's favourite is Bessie, and I like her too - it's always a little more painful when she meets some grizzly end in the jungle, so try not to get too attached to them!
Illustrating the deck of adventure cards was the next phase, and probably the most daunting. Sixty-five cards in all (yes, I know the game only includes 56 ... so watch out for some bonus promo packs out there!) and the biggest workload of the project - but enormous fun, even if, sometimes, the research involved looking at some rather nasty stuff! I think initially the cards were intended to be smaller, my original brief mentioning 'poker-sized' cards (63.5 x 88.9 mm), but they've ended up being larger, at 78 x 119 mm, which seems to have had a largely favourable reaction from the gaming community.
The adventure cards are the engine of the game. The mechanics are fantastic and can, at times, be quite brain-taxing, but another big part of the enjoyment of The Lost Expedition is creating a narrative and telling the story of your explorers' jungle trek as you go along, and I like to think the illustrations play a big part in bringing that aspect to life for the players.
For instance, in the trail pictured below we find our adventurers risking the danger of a steep path, causing some serious injury but avoiding the lair of the looming crocodile in the process, and then finding themselves further on in their journey than they thought. They are then caught in a sudden tropical storm, meaning they have to set up camp quickly! When it's over they find the path they had intended to follow has been transformed, perhaps for the better - perhaps not. Hook worms - actually avoided thanks to the torrential rain in this example - must normally be dealt with either by having to stop and camp, taking damage from the infection, or using up valuable ammunition to burn them out. A nest of swarming insects means a sudden change in direction, using up navigation resources, missing the next encounter, and gaining new expertise of your surroundings. If the last card had come into play, then the vantage point would have been a bit of struggle to reach (loss of health) but would have allowed you to change upcoming events to your advantage and gain new knowledge of the terrain. You perhaps also spot something tasty for lunch - though you'd have to shoot it first!
The final component of the game for me to illustrate was the map cards. Although I had a basic idea of what the game was about, I didn't know the rules, so I was a little unsure about how to do these at first. At one point a miscommunication meant that I spent over a week drawing the cards in the wrong orientation (landscape instead of portrait). Osprey, kindly trying to accommodate, were going to look into adapting the artwork somehow, but I didn't want my art out there, on my first game, to be compromised or even fudged in some way (though I'm sure, with their standards, Osprey would have made it work), so I took a deep breath and redrew them - the right decision!
When you play The Lost Expedition you can play an easier game with seven map cards, or do the full trail with all nine. The cards are numbered on the back, and you place them in order, with number nine featuring the ruins of the lost city you're aiming for. But, actually - on the redraw - I designed the cards so they can go in almost any order (in pairs), and still match up.
1 and 2 always need to start, and 9 must always go at the end. 3-4 and 5-6 must always stay as pairs to match up, but they, along with 7 and 8 on their own, can be put in any order. So, you could go 1-2, 7, 5-6, 8, 3-4, 9 (pictured below). It doesn't make any difference to the mechanics of the game, but you can produce some different landscapes with it. (Incidentally, working out the card edges and the bleed for this system almost fried my brain on several occasions!)
I've played the game a handful of times now, in all of its modes, solo, cooperative, and competitive, and greatly enjoyed them all. I know I might be biased, but this game is right up my street anyway. I think Peer and Osprey have produced a really fine game with a ton of replayability.
The rulebook is available for download here (and even in Chinese, here) and Watch It Played did a great video overview here. With the UK Game Expo and Origins largely out of the way (it's the last day of Origins today), a few reviews are starting to creep out too - see here at Co-op Board games, here at Geek Girl Authority, here at Go Fatherhood, and here at Geek and Sundry for starters.
Go and grab yourself a copy - but be careful ... it's a jungle out there!
Edit: There is a short interview with me over at More Games Please about The Lost Expedition.
Created by Peer Sylvester, The Lost Expedition sees you leading a team of three explorers in an attempt to reach the ruins of El Dorado (or 'Z'). To win, all you have to do is reach the lost city with one of those explorers still alive! You can play solo, collaboratively, or head-to head. The box contains six character cards, nine map cards, and 56 adventure cards, as well as playing pieces and various tokens - plus the rule book, of course.
I will blog about it in more detail closer to the release date, but for now you can get a good idea of how the game runs with this video review from The Dice Tower, this comprehensive guide to the rules from Watch It Played, or this blog review from Geek & Sundry. I'm relieved to see that the art has received a mostly positive reaction - you get so close to these things that you lose all objectivity pretty quickly. Osprey have done a lovely job in the presentation.
Something to leave you with ... I wonder if you knew that Colonel Fawcett appears in The Rainbow Orchid? Can you find him? At the time I'd just finished reading The Lost City of Z by David Grann, which has more recently been adapted into a film starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller.
The Lost Expedition is released on June 18th 2017.
The audio adventure will be released on June 16th 2017, but pre-order now and you can get a taster track in advance. It will be available on double CD or as a digital download.
The Scarifyers, created and produced by Simon Barnard and co-written by Paul Morris, follows the 1930s adventures of D.I. Lionheart (the late Nicholas Courtney), Harry Crow (David Warner) and Professor Dunning (Terry Molloy) as they investigate mysterious goings-on and attempt to foil plans concocted by dastardly occult-dabbling villains. It's absorbing, exciting and very funny - give it a listen!
I've not had any involvement in this year's project, but my talented wife, Elyssa Campbell-Barr has. She was involved with Arni when she was commissioned later on to add rhyming couplets to the pages for a very limited edition book after it had completed its screen run. With Monkey Mischief she has co-created the story and written the words, with the art this time being the beautiful work of illustrator Alison Edgson.
If you're out and about over the next few weeks you should be able to spot Monkey Mischief on JCDecaux's screens across the country at train stations, shopping malls, bus stops, road sides and airports, etc. Follow Beframus on Twitter or Facebook to see the story unfold online.
On the subject of Arni, there was a little bit of chatter about how this year's Waitrose Christmas TV advert somewhat mirrors our tale of the little Norwegian Pine Grosbeak. After watching it, I can certainly see it has a few points of remarkable similarity - a little bird making the long trip from Scandinavia to the UK, getting hunted by a hawk, crossing the sea and ending up on a ship after being battered and almost drowned (and rescued) in a storm, and we could even say meeting a little girl at the end who provides it with food after the long journey.
I wouldn't go any further than just noting the similarities though - there are many differences as well, of course. Waitrose commissioned a book of the story written by world-class author Michael Morpurgo and wonderfully illustrated by Kerry Hyndman (and published by our friend, David Fickling) - plus 50p of every book sold goes to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people.