In the News

As we have been nearing the end of 2016, and knowing that I’d like to start creating a small amount of (local) buzz about my game, I thought it was a good time to consider doing some promotional work so that people can look forward to its (eventual) release. Since this project is very much rooted in my research as an academic artist and designer, I thought it would be best to work from within on the initial information release. Working with Jerry Poling, the Assistant Director of University of Wisconsin-Stout’s Communications, we crafted a press release that would be directed at local media outlets. Jerry’s UW-Stout release write-up was fantastic, capturing the research aspect of the game in a way that I could have never done.

That release ended up catching the attention of a few different outlets. I thought I’d take this post to do a round-up of those, so as to create a one-stop archive post of Fall 2015 press for Tombeaux.

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Tombeaux receiving front-page coverage in St. Paul’s Pioneer Press

St. Paul’s daily newspaper, the Pioneer Press, ran a nice piece about Tombeaux on their November 9th Monday edition. I was quite surprised to find it on the front page, as once I saw that I really wished some of the visuals from the game could have been represented there as well (but who am I to complain about front page press?!?). Their online version of the article did the game more visual justice, through a handful of in-game screenshots. Furthering the life of that article, the Duluth News Tribune re-ran the piece, which might have had more of an appeal in thre great northern, wilderness-focused mini-metropolis. Kelsy Ketchum, the reporter for the story, also interviewed Jennifer Sly of the Minnesota Historical Society about the piece:

“One challenge in video games set within a historical period is that you want to give players agency and choice, but it’s hard to do that without changing the historical timeline… Dave Beck’s work is one way to let users explore history in different times.” – Jennifer Sly, Minnesota Historical Society

Following fast on the heels of the Pioneer Press article, I was contacted by Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time hosts to do a short on-air interview. I was expecting to either receive prompts or questions ahead of time, but being a daily news show, they cut straight to the chase in a live, rapid-fire-question format. They actually cut me off halfway through my final answer/statement, but it was still great experience. You can listen to the full WPR piece here, or below.


WPR’s Central Time Interview from 11/19/15

Ironically, the initial stage of PR reached further than my local hometown area, crossing in to Minnesota and reaching to the far eastern edge of Wisconsin. After a few weeks of being featured around the region, it finally came home to roost, with a really nice feature online and in print by Nikki Lanzer in Volume One. Volume One is a bi-weekly arts and culture paper out of Eau Claire, WI. Her article was short and to the point, complete with a catchy (albeit cheesy) title of: “Tombeaux-lievable


Color feature in Volume One

“Beck expects Tombeaux to engage players in a completely new way than what they’ve grown accustomed to from other computer games, giving them a refreshing and unique experience that will foster both historical awareness and appreciation for the St. Croix and its surroundings.” – Nikki Lanzer, Volume One

So, with the help of my university’s communications department (and a little overtime on PR myself), I’m happy with how Tombeaux has done in the public sphere up to now. This is especially so, given that there is so much left to do in the game for it to be called finished! Here’s hoping that 2016 shows as much success and attention as in this previous year.

See you in 2016!



Supporting Characters and Their Voices


A Few of the Historical Supporting Characters from Tombeaux

While a picture might be worth a thousand words, I have a feeling that a thousand words spoken by the right person – someone who possesses the talent and training to properly deliver a line – is worth even more.

Tombeaux is somewhat heavy on narrated dialogue. It delivers a large portion of its story through a single main narrator that we hear throughout the game. But just as crucial to that single voice are the musings delivered in the form of short dialogue snippets by the sixteen different historically accurate supporting narrators. I spent a large part of last spring and early summer refining these characters and the lines that they would speak.


Historical Supporting Character Bios

Just as with a film or book, one cannot necessarily just sit down and begin writing dialogue for a character. It was important to me that these individuals were well-researched and authentic. Additionally, I wanted to make sure to have a small bio (with supporting imagery) for each character, so that I (and eventually, the actors) could more easily get into the heads of these people. In the case of well-known historical figures (like President Thomas Jefferson, who we hear reading one of his letters in my game), this was easy. I could fill in his name, age, gender, ethnicity, and even the year of the event/dialogue with a simple internet search. From additional research, I could also supply the bio with his educational background, speaking dialect/style, home, and occupation. Because I have placed these characters in the game as supporting observations and narrative (it is not required of the player to listen to their statements), their role acts to fill in holes left by the main narration, adding a level of depth for the particular player who wants to learn more. To support this, I’ve also assigned each individual bio with specific emotional states and themes that they would be representing in Tombeaux.


Quote by Oscar Knapp, Steamboat Captain

While my main character is more opinionated and collaged from multiple facts, writings, and quotes (representing one voice of collective America), the supporting characters are either actual figures from history or a representation of a figure one would find in that era. For instance, I have people like Frederick Weyerhauser the lumber baron and the Ojibwe Chief Great Buffalo (Kechewaishe) speaking in my game. These are historical figures – icons – speaking in the game with either real things they said, or a collection of quotes and facts that were associated directlly with them.


Quote by Kristina Nilsson, Swedish Homesteader

But in the case of many view points I wanted to represent in the game, it was very hard to find documentation on both a person and a specific quote. I often times had to find a word-for-word quote by an unnamed person and attribute it to the name of another person from that time period. For instance, James Johnston the lumberjack or Kristina Nilsson the Swedish homesteader did not have specific quotes attributed to them in history. Instead, I combined various quotes and facts from that period in order to craft lines that would have most likely been spoken by that person (or a similar person). Essentially, while some of the narrated lines were pure non-fiction, I had no choice but to dive into “creative nonfiction” for some characters, through historical research and inventiveness.


Matthew Carlson

Once I had the lines written, it was time to start recording them for the game. While I recorded all the lines myself first, that was obviously only as a placeholder. Luckily, one of my closest friends, Matthew Carlson, is an actor and writer. In addition to having years of experience on stage and a graduate degree from NYU, he’s been focusing a lot of his current work on screenwriting. Not only was Matt able to lend his voice talents for one character, but he gave my script a much-needed overhaul, bringing it to a level of polish I could never have achieved alone.


The lumberjack James Johnston (voiced by Matthew Carlson)

And, as if that wasn’t enough, he also offered to act as unofficial “casting director” for me, helping me to find the other 15 voice actors for the game. Before I knew it, he had reached out to his acting friends, and received affirmative responses from nearly every person he asked.


Some of the voice actors from Tombeaux

The result has been amazing, as now my game is filled with a who’s who list of Broadway and IMDB, including Nicholas Carriere as Thomas Jefferson, Ray Baker as Frederick Weyerhauser, Gretchen Hall as a Swedish homesteader, and Kate MacCluggage as a park ranger (to just name a few!). Again, I have my good friend Matt to thank for helping Tombeaux’s narrative and voice talent ratchet from “amateur” up to “professional” in a series of a few months.


Thomas Jefferson (voiced by Nicholas Carriere) reading a letter from 1803

While the ideal situation is to record the lines in a outfitted studio, my voice actors were literally spread across the country from LA to NY. Since each of them only had a single 30-60 second line to record, we relied on earbud mics as the recording tech for the first run-through. After bringing the emailed files in to the free audio editing program, Audacity, I made some adjustments that followed a quick workflow tutorial that I found online. These adjustments allowed all of the tracks to sound relatively similar, and resulted in a fairly sufficient quality that I could bring in to the game. Once I overlayed the tracks on top of the game’s background sound effects and Joseph Fear‘s musical score, they fit perfectly. The dialogue and recordings have proven to be the perfect addition to Tombeaux’s dedication to authenticity and excellence, and I have over a dozen people to thank for that (especially my friend, Matt)!

Special thanks to all of my current voice actors: Steve Alm, Mike Ojibway, Chris Bolan, Nicholas Carriere, Lesley Shires, Brian Slaten, Rob Eli, Ray Baker, Matthew Carlson, Kevin Crouch, Gretchen Hall, Ben Graney, Max Santucci, Kate MacCluggage, and Ken Roht.

A Big Week

As the late-October daylight hours become increasingly shorter, it seems that the frequency of my blog posts have an opposite effect. The school/work year at University of Wisconsin-Stout is now in full gear, and my chances to set aside time to post – or even contribute to Tombeaux – have become rarer and rarer.

But last week was a very busy week for both me and the game! In the period of about five days, I launched the Tombeaux website, released a teaser trailer, and gave a presentation to the IGDA Chapter in the Twin Cities.

For the actual website of the game, I’ve been working closely with my former student, Keith Catalano. Keith is a talented 3D artist in his own right, but also works full time as a interactive designer at Clockwork Media. I hired him to help with the development of Tombeaux’s site, as well as aid a bit on the identity of the title treatment and logo in the game.


Main Page of Tombeaux Site, with title treatment

Working over the past few months, Keith has done a fantastic job in designing a site that feels fresh, informative and simple. I’m extremely happy with the result of the site, and the type treatment and logo hits the exact amount of subtle yet unique balance I was looking for in the game’s identity. I invite you to jump over to at some point soon, to see the great job he’s done.

webshot1webshot2Screenshots of Tombeaux’s Website

Before I could make the site live, I wanted to have a teaser trailer ready for viewers to discover nested on the page. I was going for a very simple and short experience that incorporate a glimpse of the river scene at night (as experienced by the player at the beginning of the game) and a few shots of the cabin interior. After recording the gameplay with the awesome, open-source software that is OBS, I brought it into Adobe Premiere. I then overlaid the video with a snippet of the score being composed by Joseph Fear and a selection of narration by the main character in the game (voiced by Steve Alm, who is reciting one of my favorite passages by Thoreau, from Walden). I’m happy with how the teaser ended up, and plan to release a few more teasers in the next few months.

First Teaser Trailer for Tombeaux

Finally, I had an opportunity to present the progress and research I’ve made on the game thus far to my local IGDA Chapter last Wednesday. The IGDA Twin Cities Chapter meets on the 2nd Wednesday of every month at The Nerdery, a software design and development company located in Bloomington, MN. It was a great experience to be able to talk about the project to such a large group of peers in the game development industry, and received some great feedback on the game as well. I look forward to continuing to participate in future meet-ups for playtest opportunities and conversations.

IGDA Twin Cities Logo

Overall, it was quite a busy week for Tombeaux and myself, which resulted in more than one late or all-nighter to get things done on time! It’s now again time to hunker down and model more assets, so that I can perhaps have another new teaser to share with you at some point in the coming month or two!

Plants – the Supporting Actors

First off, a disclaimer: Now that the school year is about to start at UW-Stout, my teaching, chairing and program directing duties will be (unfortunately) eclipsing much of any hope I have of keeping this blog frequently updated.  My goal will be to have something posted every few weeks, to keep you informed of the snail pace progress that occurs during the school year!


Various plants filling in as groundcover in Tombeaux

Last month, I posted about the importance of trees (namely, the White Pine) in my game. The trees are essentially characters in my game, with a focus on their historic, environmental, and commercial value. I’d like to follow-up with a sister post, about some of the smaller foliage elements – the supporting actors – that are scattered around the river scenes of Tombeaux.


A scientist from the St. Croix Watershed Research Station, playtesting Tombeaux (photo courtesy Greg Seitz)

I once again returned to the source – the river – to get the evidence I would need. Through consultation with scientists at the Science Museum of Minnesota’s St. Croix Watershed Research Station and a trip out on to the St. Croix, I spent a mid-August day doing some field research that would help me refine my focus (I was also able to get some valuable playtesting time in to the trip).


Foliage in Tombeaux

There are a myriad of common plants one might find in a variety of natural settings (around the world), whether they be prairies, forests, or rivers.  As examples, daisies, queen anne’s lace, cattails, ferns, knapweed, various grasses, and mushrooms are found (and easily recognized) by people around the country, and sometimes world. Plants like these are also native to the St. Croix region, and thus necessary elements to my game, providing the “filler” that I am looking for regarding ground cover around the river. Just as with the trees, I used a fantastic program called Speedtree to create all of my plants.  In a few cases, I was able to employ and modify the template of a plant they had already created. But in most cases I found that it was necessary to strip down the structure of a plant to create a new, unique looking species that would fit my specific needs.

Photo of Wild Celery

In addition to the common plants mentioned above, there were a few unique plants that I knew I would need to create and represent well in the game, due to either their history or their “prolific-ness” on the river. Regarding the latter, wild celery (Vallisneria americana) is in fact a frequently found piece of vegetation around the country and world, but also very unique to the St. Croix. It’s a type of “tape grass” found in freshwater environs and is commonly sought after by waterfowl; it has a beautiful movement as it flows with the underwater currents. When one is on the St. Croix, the plant seems to be everywhere – serving as both the bane of the fisherman’s motor and also dinner for a duck.


Wild Celery (and fish!) in a shallow river area of Tombeaux

I wanted to be sure to represent this plant – even if in a subtle way – in Tombeaux. Making it in Speedtree was somewhat easy – I first created a simple grass cluster, and applied a subtle amount of force to the mesh, which resulted in a wavy feature that seemed to fit well with the natural flow of wild celery. When a slow, weak wind force was applied, it gave the look of a grass moving underwater.


Using Speedtree – Wild Rice (Top), Wild Celery (Bottom Left), & Queen Anne’s Lace (Bottom Right)

The second unique plant was a bit trickier. Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris) is a well-known upper-Midwest staple, especially in its final form on the dinner table (it is not actually a form of rice, but a grass with grains growing from it). This plant is particularly important to Tombeaux, due to its historical significance in the Ojibwe culture (both in the past and still today). The harvesting and preparation of wild rice is an art in itself, implementing a series of tools and extremely involved processes, including the use of canoes, knockers (large wooden sticks that remove the grain without damaging the plant), and winnowing baskets that are made from birch bark.

Photo of Wild Rice

When the St. Croix and surrounding tributaries were completely flooded due to logging (with both high water and the presence of logs), the wild rice began to dwindle. With a spiritual, cultural, and economic way of life for such a large population disappearing, it foretold of what was to come with land and rights also going by the wayside. My use of the plant in Tombeaux thus has both historical and environmental intentions, hoping that it catches the eye and interest of a player to learn more.

Drawing of Wild Rice Harvest by S. Eastman

Due to it growing so thick in a natural environment, I wanted to make the wall of wild rice exactly that – a thick collection that swayed in the wind, not allowing the player to navigate beyond its edge. In the game, I’ll have various tools and canoes nearby, to provide the story of this important part in Ojibwe culture to the player to observe and consider. Using photos from wild rice plants, I applied textures and wind properties to the plants in Speedtree, to give them as real a representation of the actual plant as possible.


A thick wall of wild rice in Tombeaux

I hope this brief glimpse into some of the “supporting actors” of Tombeaux’s environment has helped you gain a better understanding for both the process and the meaning behind their creation.


Looking past the cattails at a beaver dam in Tombeaux

Water Music: Composing for Tombeaux

I’m Joseph Fear, the composer working on Tombeaux. Dave asked me to jot down some thoughts about how we arrived at a direction for Tombeaux’s music. I don’t blog for myself, but hopefully you’ll find a few interesting tidbits that will leave you salivating for more.

I’ve been writing music professionally for over ten years, but this is my first experience writing for a video game. Video games have been my main hobby since forever (and my first compositions were written with Mario Paint for the SNES), so I’m excited to get the chance to merge my two main interests into one career opportunity and close the loop, as it were.

Dave and I met at a game music conference in Saint Paul, MN, while stopping by the Minnesota Public Radio booth and chatting with Emily Reese, the host of the Top Score podcast (an excellent resource for anyone interested in listening to game music composers talk about their experiences writing for a wide variety of games). It was a bit of planned serendipity on my part, since as anyone in the game industry will tell you, most of your early career opportunities derive from networking at these sorts of events (if you are an introvert, remember: many of the rest of us are also introverts). We exchanged contact info, looked at each other’s work, etc., and found that our artistic voices aligned well for this project.

The title theme that serves as the source material for all the music in the game

Turning to the project itself, the structure of the game helped me make a number of choices early on in the process to help support that structure. Since the game is about a natural environment and humans’ interactions with it, I decided that I should use primarily acoustic instruments. Also, Tombeaux is unique among games that I’ve played in that, although the game-space is small, the time of the game changes quite drastically. This led me to a theme and variation form, the theme being a Copland-inspired representation of the river and the variations being period-influenced forms using that theme.

A brief clip from the background music for the first level, in which the player will hear stories about how the Ojibwe used the river

One of the exciting challenges of opting to take this route is that it requires a lot of flexibility from me. In addition to Classical treatments of the material, I’ve also used the material as an Ojibwe-inspired flute, drum, and rattle piece, Joplin-style rag, a folk-music work song (complete with some Earl Scruggs banjo-picking), and I’m in the process of working out how to overlay the melody in country, hip-hop, and rock styles that play at the same time (good luck with that!). All of these are interspersed with an increasingly (musically) complex loop based on the theme that plays while the player interacts with the cabin between river exploration periods.

The music for level two: if you’re ever feeling down on life, write a cakewalk.

The description sounds disjointed, and that certainly was a risk of this approach, but so far the results have been gratifyingly cohesive, and it has given me the opportunity to explore a number of different musical styles that I enjoy but in which I have never chosen to write (pro tip: if you’re ever feeling down on life, write a rag).

There were, of course, a number of ideas and sketches that went into the virtual trash can. Dave and I had talked about the inclusion of a phonograph player in the cabin that would allow players to revisit the music of the different levels/time period. It was a good idea, but ultimately one that we decided to put on hold at least for the first release of the game.

I have had a great time working on this project, and am pleased that the music is coming together and fits well within the context of the game. I hope that what you’ve heard will leave you wanting to hear more.

Ciao for now,


Trees, Glorious Trees!

As I’ve mentioned before, Tombeaux has a main narrator character who we hear reading journal entries throughout the game experience. But there is a group that I would argue upstages our narrator, and that (as you probably guessed by the title) is the trees. Before the St. Croix was a river of recreation for fishing, canoeing, and speedboating like it is now, it was a river of pine, acting as one of the nation’s busiest highways for timber in the mid to late 1800’s. During this time, non-logging boats were lucky to get up the river at all, due to the waterway being clogged full of floating logs (or even worse, a logjam that stopped everything in its path). Since the St. Croix directly connects with the Mississippi, and it had what seemed to be an unlimited supply of tall and straight trees growing along its edges, it was a resource ripe for the picking (or chopping…sorry).


L: group of Pinus strobus, R: distribution map of tree (images via wikipedia)

While Tombeaux is not entirely about the logging industry, it definitely does take the player on a journey to see what it might have been like both before and after the timber harvest. Because of this, I wanted to set the stage by creating an old growth forest, with the main silvan feature being that of Pinus strobus, or the eastern white pine. These old growth forests of white pines are nearly impossible to find now, as only 1% remain in North America due to logging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This type of pine is the tallest tree found in the eastern (and northeastern/midwest) United States and Canada. With a mature white pine living well past 200 years old, reaching heights of well over 150 feet (while keeping a very straight trunk), and a diameter of 3-4 feet, they were particularly attractive to lumber barons.


Mood Board for reference

After doing some visual research, both online and in person (last post I wrote about my trip to northern Wisconsin, in which I did some bark texture reconnaissance), it was time to dive in to creating this giant beast of the forest, including the many iterations that it might take, such as sawed-off stumps, beaver-chewed stubs, and dead (needle-less) versions (both standing and downed).  Additionally, I wanted to make sure I was creating an environment that felt both native and diverse, filled with other types of trees such as oak and birch. At a later date, I plan to return to the detail meshes and plants, to create native species such as wild celery (an underwater type of river weed/grass), wild rice, ferns, and wildflowers.


One iteration of an eastern white pine, inside SpeedTree

Once I compiled a small mood board, I set out to learn and use a new program that I had been itching to try, called SpeedTree. It is an industry standard tree and foliage creator for both movies and games, and now that it is naturally integrated into Unity 5 and Unreal 4, we will most likely continue to see a great deal of high quality natural environments in the coming years from both indies and AAA companies. One way to use their tech is by paying and downloading high-quality, pre-made tree assets from their store (but what’s the fun in that?!). Another, more creative way is by paying a $19 per month subscription fee to use their modeling/creation software. As a point of reference, two months of paying for the software is actually cheaper than the $39 price tag for a single tree from their store!). Since it is my goal to create as much in my game as possible from scratch, I decided to download the software and start making assets myself.


2 Stumps and 1 Gnawed Beaver Tree in SpeedTree


Bare (Dead) White Pine in Speedtree w/ Bark Detail

Simply put, SpeedTree is my new favorite software. One can quickly and easily create natural assets for a game, using an intuitive, node-based interface that tries to mimic how a tree is naturally constructed. Starting with a trunk, and then adding elements such as roots, branches, and leaves provides for a very smooth workflow. Everything is highly customizable as well, with integrated wind effects, collision capsules, seamless branching, randomizers, break points for branches or trunks, and automatic billboard and LOD (level of detail) creation upon export to Unity.  Once I created a base white pine tree, I was quickly able to create many iterations by simply removing leaves (bare tree) and breaking and capping trees (stumps).  I didn’t even use many of their features, and hope to dive deeper into the program when I use it to create plants and other detail foliage.  Again, I can’t say enough about how much this program has helped my environment-heavy project achieve a great look.


LOD transition feature in Unity (LOD 0 on left w/ 9K tris, LOD 2 on right w/ 2K tris)

Once you bring a SpeedTree asset into the Unity engine, it offers other great options for you to tweak. With the LOD’s that were auto-created/exported by SpeedTree, you can adjust them to your liking in the engine, so that it seamlessly transfers to a billboard at the distance you set. I really like the fact that you can also drag and drop the trees into the scene as objects or prefabs. Since these also have the LOD settings, you could put a hero tree (a hi-poly, hi-detailed tree) in your scene without having to worry about relying on Unity’s finnicky terrain.  With that said, I painted most of my trees on the terrain, as it makes it much easier when you have a large amount of assets to place and randomize.


Here there be beavers…and downed trees…the perfect natural barrier!

Due to my game being on a river, it is important that I have some invisible walls that will stop the player from continuing up and down the river at their leisure. Implementing barriers correctly is tricky, as you don’t want the barrier to scream “HEY, I’M AN INVISIBLE WALL PUT THERE BY A GAME DESIGNER WHO DIDN’T REALLY CARE ABOUT YOUR IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE THAT MUCH!” (sorry, it is one of my biggest pet-peeves in games). While natural-looking barriers are great, you also don’t want it to be mistaken for just another stick or bush in the game that one thinks they can walk over.  I try to put some purpose behind the walls when possible, which is where things like downed trees, beaver dams, and beaver-gnawed stubs come in to play (plus, it’s always a great way to show off some of your hard work in a more up-close view!).


The view from directly outside the cabin door

While the exterior river scene is hardly complete, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made in the past few days on the tree elements.  So far, I’ve created and placed four iterations of the white pine, three of the birch, and two of the oak. Additionally, I have three white pine stumps, three gnawed-beaver stubs, and three downed trees.  Once I give the same attention to the plants and detail rocks (they are all currently the low-quality placeholder plants that Unity provides), spend some time on the lighting (it is just a single real-time directional light w/ default skybox at the moment), and add some environmental effects like haze and fog, the river will hopefully start to look more like it did 200 years ago.


Looking up to the cabin from the river (underneath a couple towering pinus strobus)

Certificate of Authenticity

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, so I wanted to speak about what I’ve been up to, in regards to Tombeaux’s progress. While I haven’t been able to devote as much time to creating visual or design work for the game as of late, many other necessary elements have been accomplished in the background.  Most of that behind-the-scenes work has involved me doing a lot of reading, writing, and traveling, all in support of the game’s research.

Since Tombeaux – more than any other project I’ve done to date – includes an extremely large amount of history, the emphasis on solid research has been crucial.  Just as with any historical fiction piece (book, movie, game, etc.), I feel like I have spent just as much time reading and researching as I have been modeling and designing (if not more!).

Since Tombeaux is a historical game that relies more on fact than fiction, I’ve returned to a sources, all of which I’ve consistently used for reference in making the game:


Important Sources for Tombeaux

These books are actually what got me started on this journey over a year ago, and it’s been a pleasure to revisit their pages. The experience has simultaneously reaffirmed old ideas and sparked new ones for the game. In the past few weeks, these texts have helped me to get close to finishing the characters and dialogue found throughout the game.  At this point, I have seventeen different characters from different time periods, cultures, and backgrounds (the player never sees these people, but does hear their voices in short narrative bursts). These include historical personalities such as a fur trader, an Ojibwe woman, a lumber baron, a tourist, a homesteader couple, and a farmer, to name a few. I’m attempting to stay as authentic as possible in crafting their dialogue, so while I have taken a few artistic liberties, the characters will speak words which are an amalgamation of both fact (actual quotes) and fiction.  I’m nearly finished with these, and look forward to seeking out voice actors for these various roles (if you or someone you know might be interested, please do reach out!).


In addition to the reading and writing mentioned above, I’ve been diving deep into various primary resources, such as letters, photographs, maps, journals, and certificates, many of which I plan to somehow feature in the game as “virtual artifacts” of the actual text/image (hanging on a wall, sitting on a desk, etc).  I would never have been able to find nearly as much material if it wasn’t for the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS). In addition to having an unbelievable online catalog of visual materials, the History Center in St. Paul houses a world-class museum and research library.  I had the good fortune of spending a bit of time at the center and interacting with the employees, making it one of the highlights of my time working on Tombeaux thus far.

But it doesn’t stop there with the MNHS – they actually manage 26 different historic sites scattered across the state, a few of which I’ve recently visited to seek out visual references that will aid me in making my game’s scenes as authentic as possible. This summer, I’ve been able to visit two sites of particular importance – the Mille Lacs Indian Museum and Trading Post, and the North West Company Fur Post (both are 60-90 minutes north of the Twin Cities and only an hour apart from each other). In both cases, I had specific goals of what I’d need to capture with my camera, in hopes that I might be able to use it to aid me in creating the worlds of Tombeaux.

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The “Four Seasons Room” at Mille Lacs

At Mille Lacs, I discovered that the museum had curated a wonderful combination of both contemporary and historic Ojibwe culture, culminating with an experience in their “four seasons room”. This particular room was so rich with identity and history that 15 minutes of photographing that space has saved me hours of combing the internet and archives for reference imagery examples of 19th century Ojibwe living customs!

The North West Fur Post provided museum-goers with somewhat of an opposite experience from Mille Lacs, approaching things from the perspective of the english fur trade culture set at a re-creation of a famous 19th century trading post (I recommend visiting both sites in the same day, for the balanced historical perspective as well as out of convenience). I was able to gather more visual materials for Ojibwe culture, as well as new elements of fur trading culture and history, all of which will be visual examples to be references when modeling objects and environments in the game.

NWC hero

North West Company Fur Post

In addition to these focused and deliberate trips, things also sometimes just appear when you least expect it. I spent last week on vacation at a cabin north of Hayward, Wisconsin, and had the opportunity to gather some miscellaneous elements for the game, including: the chance to inspect and photograph some century-old branded timber from the logging era (courtesy of the Barnes Area Historical Association), gather some white pine tree bark textures from the surrounding area, and visit the Sawyer County Historical Museum.

This is why I love what I do – I’m able to combine two passions I’ve had since I was a kid: the urge to express myself in a visual and creative manner and my desire to soak up everything I can about the history around me. And honestly, I don’t think I could be happy doing just one of them. I need my artwork to be rooted in authenticity and research and I can’t imagine how I’d ever write a scholarly history book like James Taylor Dunn did (unless I was able to fill it with more pictures than words!).  Making historically focused and inspired artwork is truly an enjoyable process, and I can’t wait to finally share that experience with everyone else (as I’ve always found that sharing is half the fun!).


Top: White Pine Trees, Bottom: Hayward Museum (left) and stamped log from Barnes Historical Association (right)