We bought a Switch last Christmas, mostly for the children to play Minecraft and Animal Crossing, but I did also happen to buy Zelda: Breath of the Wild for myself - which the children quickly got absorbed by as well.
So it's really exciting now to see and play Curious Expedition 2 on our nice big TV screen - it does look rather splendid - and especially as I've not been able to play-test the game for a while as I'm on a Mac at home.
As well as a number of improvements and software tweaks from the team, I've worked on a large number of new art assets, with art director Johannes Kristmann, that have now been imported into the storyline.
These include a new 'corrupted world' biome complete with a new tribe, the Pale Masks, and a selection of new characters and enemies, including the T-Rex, the Stygimoloch, a mountable jellyfish, the Zouave veteran, the monstrous, tentacled 'Duke', and a rather cute truffle-hog called Joobee.
The New Director update is free and there are further updates planned in the coming months. If you want to give Curious Expedition 2 a play, then it's currently on sale (for one more day) over at Steam.
This still isn't the 'final' version of the game as new content is still under construction, to be added into the game at various points in the upcoming months - so it's just going to get better and better.
Here's the new January 2021 trailer for the game ...
This the longest I've ever worked on a single commercial project (not including The Rainbow Orchid), so far clocking up over 3000 hours of drawing time - and there's more to go.
The game is currently in Early Access, but you can download a demo from the CE Steam page, read more about the award win here, and see the current trailer here. I can also highly recommend PalicoPadge's playthrough series on YouTube.
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!