This blog began in 1997 as a single news page called Nucelus. In 2005, during a long wait to move into a new house, I decided to learn some php and MySQL and write my own blogging system, which became inkyBlog and which now powers this, my own Webbledegook blog.
Thank you to my brother, Murray Ewing, for help with some of the more challenging aspects!
Also available for all these platforms is the Highlands of Avalon DLC.
I was first contacted by Johannes Kristmann, Curious Expedition's co-creator and art director (and artist for the game's first version), back in Feb 2018 and, after some try-out samples, I started my work on the game in January 2019.
It's been three years and almost 4000 hours of drawing, resulting in over 100 environments, more than 200 characters, creatures and skins (plus separate hands, hairstyles and facial expressions), more than 50 equipment sprites, about 300 item icons, 70'ish dice images, about 100 or so map elements, plus a few extras such as clouds, cursors and textures.
Not everything you see on the screen is my art - the team has included animators, a special effects artist, an interface designer, map creators, and that doesn't include the magicians behind the scenes with all the programming, writing and producing that has to be done. It's quite a mind boggling package.
It's been a real challenge at times, and I've learned so much from the experience. I'm proud of my involvement in such a terrific game, and my art has improved thanks to these past few years of consistent work.
I think I can honestly say I've enjoyed every aspect of the game, but my favourite pieces have also been some of the most complex. These include the club halls (especially creating and designing the Taishi 'floating library'), the city of Paris, the Broken Compass tavern, and the environments and characters that make up the various tribes.
I feel incredibly lucky, not only to have worked on a game that is thematically right up my street, not only to have had work in what's been a difficult few years, but also to work with a fantastic company and team of people - even if they were about 700 miles away, it always felt like I was coming into a friendly 'office' when I sat down at my desk in the morning.
A huge thank you to Johannes who has been an absolute pleasure to work with, I'll be forever grateful he decided to entrust me with his vision and ideas for the game. Thank you Riad, and thank you also to Laura, Mascha, Katarina, Philip, Isaac, Lorenzo, Shawn, Milan, Luzia, Petter and Sandrine - these are just a few of the team with whom I have worked, there are others too - truly inspiring work from all.
That's enough gushing for now (sincere as it is). As I write there are still two more DLCs to come out for the game, one in particular has some of my favourite work in, but I can't show that yet. I'll update when they're released, of course. In the meantime - you can buy the game here (Steam) or here (Switch), and it'll be out for XBox and PlayStation in the coming months.
And now, I guess, onto something new!
These include new recruitable characters (the Grail Knight, the Clydesdale horse, Kobolds and Pict islanders), four new enemies, six new locations, and seven new equipment items ... and more.
"Curious Expedition 2 is like a Jules Verne pulp adventure version of a pen & paper RPG, mixed with narrative roguelike elements, all wrapped up in a streamlined and accessible gameplay experience. Take on the role of an intrepid explorer, assemble your crew and head out into the unknown."
The DLC is available now on PC from Steam, and will be coming to the Switch edition early next year. Next year will also see release of the full game on Xbox and Playstation.
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.