The team is currently preparing for Gamescom which is a big trade fair for video games that is held every year in Cologne, Germany. This year it runs from 5th to 9th of August and we will be there to demo The Mandate. You can come and visit us - our booth is in hall 10.1, booth A60.
In this update you will find both a linked video as well as a track from the orchestral soundtrack. Most images are linked to Full HD 1920x1080 resolution images which you can also download and use as wallpapers on your desktop.
We are going to diverge from our monthly update schedule and post updates more frequently over the next weeks both before and after Gamescom:
- Update #51 - Production update (this update)
- Update #52 - Artificial intelligence
- Update #53 - Gamescom demo
- Update #54 - Game design update
Before we continue, we want to address the subject of Alpha and Feature Beta. Back when we announced the deal with Eurovideo in Kickstarter update #45 last year, our plan was to roll out Alpha in early third quarter. We are in third quarter but our Alpha version is not ready yet. Now what do we mean by that? Well, we want to deliver a top notch quality product so that you can enjoy the Alpha and provide valuable feedback. We also want to have the capacity to respond to the feedback and make a better game. We are not yet feature complete, and from both a stability, usability and performance point of view we still have work to do. Our current focus is the Gamescom demo preparations and we will share gameplay footage from this demo soon. As for when you can expect the Alpha, we will get back to you as soon as we know more.
Next let us discuss the progress with the soundtrack. We will start by sharing a link to the revised The Mandate main theme. This is the stereo instrumental version. Since you first heard it back in our Kickstarter campaign almost two years ago it has been expanded from around 2 minutes to 8 minutes. Check it out below while reading the rest of this update.
Originally we had planned to do a 60 minute full orchestral soundtrack if our budget allowed for it. After discussing with both our composer and also Eurovideo we decided to go for 120 minutes of full orchestral music, and actually in the end our composer created 130 minutes of music. During June we recorded all 130 minutes of instrumental music with a full orchestra of 70 musicians. For some of the tracks we had access to rather exotic instruments. For example the Arkwright faction theme is scored with anvils.
In August and September we will record with a choir and so some of our tracks will have both an instrumental and a choir version. Since no self-respecting space opera would be caught without proper opera, we have commissioned text lyrics for four of the tracks. As befits the game setting and backstory these lyrics will be performed in Russian. The entire soundtrack will be both stereo and 5.1 sound. The list of tracks is as follows:
- The Mandate main theme (instrumental and opera)
- Anastasia’s theme (instrumental and opera)
- Suvarov’s slow march (instrumental and opera)
- Suvarov’s quick march
- Faction theme Arkwright
- Faction theme Black Eagle
- Faction theme Europan
- Faction theme Osmani
- Faction theme Pirates
- Faction theme Rebels
- Faction theme Romanov
- March Grand Fleet
- March Imperial
- March Triste/Funeral (instrumental and opera)
- Exploration music part 1
- Exploration music part 2
- Tension music part 1
- Tension music part 2
- Combat music - boarding
- Combat music - space
Keep in mind that inside the game several of these tracks will be split up into smaller parts, especially the exploration, tension and combat tracks. Also, the post production itself will take several months after the choir and opera recordings.
Shifting focus to the art budget we can say that since space combat and boarding combat are two of our main game modes it follows that a large part of our art budget is allocated to those two modes. Ships, ship interiors, character armours and animations make up the bulk of the art budget.
When we started development of The Mandate we had originally planned to have Grand Fleet ships and in addition a few ships from each of the Houses (Arkwright, Europan, Black Eagle, Romanov). Back then we did not know how many ships we would be able to produce and so (as discussed in previous updates) we spent quite a bit of time to figure out exactly how we would produce the ships (modular approach, procedural textures etc). In total we expected to produce somewhere between 15 and 20 ships. The deal with Eurovideo allowed us to staff up with additional artists and expand the art production budget.
So how many ships are we planning to produce?
How many ships have we produced?
When do we expect to be done with all ships?
The table below should answer these questions:
In total we are planning to produce 48 ships from 8 factions. Each faction has a distinct style with a strong design language and for each faction we are making six classes of ships: frigate (FF), destroyer (DD), light cruiser (CL), heavy cruiser (CA), battlecruiser (BC) and battleship (BB). Each ship will have four bow, three midship and three aft sections.
Together that gives 36 visual combinations per ship and the visual changes will also have gameplay implications. Later in this update you will see variations of a Rebel heavy cruiser where we have replaced the different ship sections.
Two factions stand out in the table above, namely the pirates and the ISTL. The pirates stand out since they are absent from the table and the reason for this is that we did not find a good justification in the lore for letting pirates build their own starships. Instead pirates will use modified prize ships which they have captured from other factions. The pirate versions will have both colour and silhouette changes to make them stand out. As for the ISTL (Interstellar Trade League) this faction was announced with the lore updates. Its primary focus is on trade and making a profit rather than outright conquest. This is reflected in the ISTL ship roster with three classes of freighters and three classes of escorts. Their freighters in particular will be different from most other ships since they are built to carry lots of cargo. We touched on our ideas for cargo concepts back in Kickstarter Update #41.
You may also notice that we are doing BC and BB last. This is because we wanted to finish a basic ship roster for each faction and get more experience with building the smaller ships before we tackle the bigger ones.
So to answer the three questions from earlier we have so far produced 21 ships out of 48 ships. Our current rate of production is 7 ships per month and we expect to complete all 48 ships by end of November. These ships are then ready to be inserted into the game engine. When all the ships are finished the artists will switch to other tasks.
Next we have the character armours which are important for boarding combat. Again we are aiming for the same eight factions as with the ships. For each faction we are producing four sets of armour: a duty suit (jump suit), light, medium and heavy armour. So far we have produced the Grand Fleet, Black Eagle and Romanov armour sets. The Arkwright armours are currently in production. Our production rate is approximately 1 faction or 4 armours per month and we expect all armours to be completed by end of December.
Especially for character armours we expect that the faction design for one faction may not be to everybody’s liking. There has been more discussion on the forums about the direction of character armours than for ship designs. We released the arkwright armour concepts as part of the Gamescom press kit last week and it has already gotten a lot of feedback, especially for the heavy armour. We do read your feedback and discuss internally but we cannot promise that your feedback will result in changes.
Also, keep in mind one extra constraint that we have for boarding combat which is that you should at a glance be able to make out the type of armour an enemy squad is wearing. This requires that we play around not only with the textures but also with the silhouettes. The armour affects both mobility and survivability and if you come up against enemy marines in medium or heavy armour who you recognize to be moving in veteran or elite formation, then you may not wish to risk a frontal assault.
Of course the characters also need animations to work properly. We previously discussed in Kickstarter Update #43 that the veterancy of your crew has a huge impact on their combat performance. Especially during boarding combat we want to communicate this via animations, formations and the way weapons are held (weapon posture). To communicate the difference in veterancy (rookie, trained, veteran, elite) we plan to have four animation sets. Each animation set has approximately 200 animations.
We have completed the trained animation set and this is the one we are using for the Gamescom demo. You can see a selection of the animations in the video above. For the other animation sets we will base these off of the trained animation set but also create new ones. Aside from ships, armours and animations we are also creating planets, ship interiors, weapons and space stations. Each faction will get its own modular space station. Below you can see the concept for the Romanov starbase.
Ship interiors have also been given room to grow. Each faction will have a unique visual style for the ship interiors. While the Grand Fleet might seem cold, spartan and militaristic, the Rebel ships are cobbled together with parts they salvage from other hulks, and the Osmani ships are sleek and heavily integrated with their technology.
Beyond differentiating the interior visual style for each faction we also want the interiors to change as you expand your fleet and gain access to larger ships. For example, the bridge of a Battleship is much more intimidating in size compared to a frigate bridge. Expanding the interiors of the ship allows you to feel like you're commanding bigger, and better ships, and if you decide to board a ship of another faction you might be surprised by what you come up against.
On the programming side we have had two major challenges. The first challenge was to find the programmers with the right experience and who were also available to relocate. That said, we now have all the programmers that we need but it took longer than we expected. Our second big challenge is that of artificial intelligence. For The Mandate we want a robust AI solution that can handle both our boarding combat, space combat and adventure mode. There are no existing solutions on the market which satisfies our requirements (performance, features, customization etc). We will talk more about our solution a bit later.
There are several areas where we have made significant progress. First of all as you may know we are using the Unity engine. Unity 5 was released back in March 2015 but we opted to stick with Unity 4.6 since there is always a risk associated with upgrading to a major new release. After doing compatibility tests we upgraded in the middle of June from Unity 4.6 to Unity 5.1. While Unity 5 adds several new features, one of the more important ones for us is the ability to run the Unity editor in 64-bit mode. This allows us to utilize more memory inside Unity while developing the game. Another important feature that came with Unity 5 is the asset bundling which simplifies the workflow for our artists when putting together art assets and creating prefabs for use by the designers.
Ever since we made the decision to go for the mod support stretch goal back in Kickstarter Update #37 we have been designing, implementing and iterating on our content tools. For example we now have a galaxy generator which can take objects (planets, stars etc) as input and generate star systems. These star systems can then be grouped into clusters. We can mix randomly generated star systems with specific/custom ones (think for example the starting system of each major faction in the sandbox which will be custom made).
To save time and avoid reinventing the wheel we have gone with third party software and solutions wherever possible. We already use Allegorithmic Substance Designer for our procedural textures. Recently we finished integrating support for Bullet physics which has several interesting features and also supports multi-threading. Two other third party software programs are Popcorn FX (for particle effects) and FMOD (for sound effects). Finally, we should mention that we are using Apex Path and Apex Steer from Apex Software ApS for pathfinding and formations, respectively.
Now, we mentioned earlier that we were looking for a robust AI solution and we did a thorough review of available AI solutions. There were no existing solution that satisfied our requirements and we did not want to develop our own solution from scratch as that would be a high risk project. Back in March we were exchanging some emails with Apex Software about their other products and were told that they were planning a third product, Apex AI. Since they knew we had several experienced developers they asked us what features we would be most interested to see in a new AI product. Well, we started talking and one thing led to the other. More on this soon..
On the design side, our approach to boarding combat has caused us to reconsider several aspects of the game. One part of the game we wanted to cover already today is crew management. First of all while you start the game with a frigate and a small crew, later on you will have bigger ships with considerably larger crews. We were struggling with how the player would manage the crew without losing the direct one-to-one interaction that makes The Mandate stand out. Since managing lots of individual crew members will become a time-consuming click-fest we needed a more elegant solution.
Our solution is to organize crew into squads and officers. A squad consists of eight crew members. It is standardized across enlisted, marines, pilots and even specialists like engineering or medical. Crews are recruited and managed as squads. Squads have a number of skills and as they level up you can turn them into more specialized types of squads. Squad progression is both dependent on the type of service branch and in some cases also faction. So two squads of the same type (tactical marine squad) which come from different factions (Arkwright, Europan etc) may have different upgrade paths available.
As a squad levels up, it may generate an officer candidate. Officers are individuals and have attributes in place of skills. They can be given different assignments. For example you could put an officer in charge of a squad, serve on your bridge/escort ship/space station or send him/her on a mission. A mission could be anything from gathering intelligence or performing acts of sabotage.
We believe this new direction will make crew management easier and remove unnecessary micromanagement. At the same time it should be mentioned that we are still committed to having a living ship, which should resemble an ant hill. When both squads and officers are off duty, we still want you to see them milling about and making a home for themselves in your ship. Some of your crew may even have special dialogue, missions or complaints which you can respond to.
Beyond the crew revamp the design team and writers have been working on other aspects of the game design as well:
- Story and mission structure
- Character creation
- Crew/officer interaction
- Officer attribute and trait lists
We will cover these points in much more detail as part of Kickstarter Update #54 and include progression examples for both officers and crew.
Speaking of updates you can expect KS Update #52 soon. KS Update #53 will be out right after Gamescom, and KS Update #54 will be rolled out end of August / early September.
Expect to also see more press coverage of The Mandate in August.
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive