Company, Fall In! Inspection Arms!
Time for another update. Today we will give an overall update on the game design. First we will discuss what we learnt from preparing for the Gamescom demo and what changes we are making as a result. Next we will talk about our focus over the coming months, and then we will discuss specific design changes included crew management. Finally, we will discuss manufacturers with respect to lore and equipment.
On a side-note the vocal recordings for the soundtrack were completed last month. We caught some footage of the choir recording the Russian lyrics for the Mandate Main theme and uploaded it to our youtube channel a couple of weeks ago.
The crew management changes are highly relevant for the pledge tiers for “design an officer”, “design a captain” and “design a marine platoon”. The design documents for these pledges have been updated. CLICK HERE to review them. Our volunteer scribes are ready to assist and answer questions over on the forums.
The Gamescom Demo showcased a late game boarding action where the player leads eight squads of marines and attempts to take back a heavy cruiser. In case you did not read the previous update or forgot to watch the video itself then you can check it out below.
As part of our post mortem process after Gamescom we discussed that our current workflow for building the ship deck plans took too much time and was difficult to modify later. Keep in mind that with around 50 ships we have a lot of interiors to build. The process is prone to placement errors which can easily cause pathfinding glitches and issues. For away missions we have a different and much faster workflow. So we are now taking inspiration from this process and improving the workflow for building ship deck plans. It requires some rework but should pay huge dividends in the long run.
Another area where we need to focus is optimization and performance. Both the artificial intelligence solution from Apex Software (which we mentioned in Update #51) and our animation systems require optimization so boarding combat can run smoothly in parallel with space combat.
From a gameplay perspective the Gamescom demo also told us that having small rooms with only one door entrance makes the rooms have less value during boarding combat. While there is still value to blowing up consoles inside rooms (synergy with space combat) the rooms themselves are otherwise dead ends. The player is forced to use corridors exclusively to move squads around the ship and with lots of squads these areas become cramped. The art and design departments are currently rethinking and redesigning the role of rooms during boarding combat and our goals is to have more interconnected rooms. The deck plans should “make more sense” and there will be more obvious pros and cons when fighting in corridors or rooms.
Beyond implementing these changes and improvements our next goal is to bring the adventure mode and space combat up to the same quality as the Gamescom demo. We are first focusing on adventure mode as it is the hub from which all other content in our game is accessed. It is also where the impact of your victories in battle will be felt and seen. Currently we are working on the artificial intelligence for each of the factions as well as the Great Captains.
The Great Captains are NPCs who command their own ships, can perform missions on behalf of factions and level up. They may also have their own ambitions and goals which dictate their behaviour in the sandbox and can lead to either alliances or conflict. In many ways the Great Captains will mimic player behaviour and also play by the same rules as the player. This will create a more dynamic experience which we think adds an extra dimension to the sandbox. Conflict will be more personal and interesting as you interact with these Great Captains. Finally we are also implementing information warfare, of which the scanning feature is an important component since it plays a crucial role in both adventure mode, space combat and boarding combat.
Before we continue we should make a note that we have spent some time to polish both the historical references and Napoleonic elements. One example here is the revised design for the Osmani armours. The original design had issues with the rig which caused animation problems.
Therefore we set out to redesign the Osmani armours and we cross-checked our lore documents for the Osmani faction. Now the Osmani armours are based on the historical Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire. If you google them then you will see some of our design inspirations.
As you probably saw from our Gamescom developer video we have done some changes to crew management. Initially we were going with a hands-on approach where you would manage individual crew members and give orders to individual marines in boarding combat. However, while this approach works with a frigate with a low crew count later ships will have a much higher crew count. So over time (read: mid and late game stages) this hands-on approach starts to become impractical as you would spend more time proportionally to micro-manage your crew as the ship gets bigger.
With The Mandate we want to generate this command experience where you feel like Captain Picard or Admiral Adama. Neither of these two knew the first name of everybody serving under their command nor did they micro manage the daily routine of each member of their crew. But they were close to their command staff and other select officers so we decided to go back and take another look at how the crew is organized and try to find a solution that would scale better as the crew got larger.
Our solution involves organizing the crew into squads and officers. While your crew is on duty they are organized into squads. When your crew is off duty, however, individual squad members and officers will socialize and relax, and you may interact with them one at a time, hear their concerns and help them with problems.
As captain you can interact with your officers and they in turn interact with your squads (crew). This emulates the military chain of command and is in line with the command experience we pitched on Kickstarter and are still very much committed to make a reality.
A squad contains up to eight named crew members while an officer is an individual crew member. Squads are an important game concept for several reasons beyond the reduction in micro-management. For example, in The Mandate, we want to model attrition. This means that your crew will die. Squads are more long-lived than individuals. They can take casualties and individual members may die but if the squad survives then it can be reinforced later.
The squad approach also allows us to have a unified crew focus and all squad types can be used for boarding combat or away missions. With squads it will also be easier to differentiate and make them feel unique as opposed to making lots of individual crew members unique. We are working hard to strike the right balance between an army of clones and something completely random.
So how exactly do we differentiate squads? Each squad will have an origin faction, a background trait, personality trait and a starting skill. Squads can level up during play and an important choice to make is which service branch the squad will join. On the topic of service branches we should mentioned that we have decided to split security into marines (infantry) and aviation (cavalry). The design templates mentioned in the introduction reflect this change.
As the squad levels up it gain additional traits and learn new skills. New skills are acquired based on which service branch the squad joins and existing skills will increase in rank. A squad can have a maximum of five different skills and the max skill rank is 10. Traits are a bit more unpredictable in that which traits a squad gains may depend on multiple factors like origin faction, service branch, ingame events which the squad was involved in etc.
Which types of squads exist? Well, first we are focusing on the core progression system. Our standard squad types are the service branches (medical, engineering, astrogation etc). However, as a squad gains experience it will be possible to further specialize the squad within a service branch. The maximum level for a squad is 30 but we are evaluating what could happen once a squad reaches maximum level.
While squad traits and experience is important, proper tools are also needed to get the job done. You will be able to specify both weapon, armor and kits (grenade, motion scanner, hacker tool, etc) for each squad. Some types of equipment may require specific skills or traits. So specialized engineering kits or medical kits for example may only be usable by squads from the engineering or medical service branches, respectively.
Provided you have a training room onboard your ship you can assign squads to train with their equipment when you are not in combat. Training is especially important for marine squads and aviation squads who can expect to see a lot of action. Depending on the type of training they do, they may gain different temporary bonuses which augment their traits and skills.
Experience, equipment and training will help your squads perform better. Another way to improve a squad's performance is to assign it an officer and we will discuss this interaction a bit later in this update. Officers can also be assigned to the bridge as a bridge officer (becoming part of your command staff) or they may act as envoys off ship.
The number of bridge officers that are needed to run the ship efficiently depends on the size of the ship. So a heavy cruiser will require more bridge officers than a frigate or destroyer. The bridge houses all the service branch heads, their support staff, the executive officer and of course the captain. Whenever the captain needs to hail and interact with other captains or external contacts he can fall back on the expertise and experience of his bridge officers. Here we are modelling the experience around TV shows like Star Trek TNG where the core interaction is between the captain and his officers.
Below you can see a design mockup which depicts a scenario where the captain is communicating with an external contact, in this case Admiral Suvarov. There are several dialogue options available due to the captain’s own attributes (“Warfare 6”) and traits (“The Protege”). The bridge officers can supplement these dialogue options based on their faction, attributes and traits. In our example the chief science officer has a suggestion (“Requires Sciences 8”). Note that the officers do not address the external contact directly but rather confer with the captain. It is then up to the captain how to proceed and which choices to make. Again, keep in mind that this is a game design mockup and consequently does not represent final GUI or even dialogue text.
The third area where officers come in handy is in the role of envoys. Envoys is actually a role we decided to put more emphasis on after reading discussions on the backer forums. Envoys do not interact directly with your squads nor do they serve on your bridge. Instead they can be assigned missions and travel around in the sandbox. For example they could travel to distant star systems to gather intelligence about enemy forces, perform sabotage, negotiate with factions or search for clues and rumours. You can train officers as dedicated envoys (instead of assigning them to join a service branch) or you can take existing officers and temporarily use them as envoys. For example an in-game event could involve you being asked to temporarily send your chief science officer as an envoy to take part at an important summit.
Officers lead squads
There are similarities and differences between squads and officers. For example both have traits and both can gain experience during play. In the design mockup below you can see senior warrant officer Eva Takei. She is a level 20 senior warrant officer (SWO) from the Black Eagle faction who has acquired a total of four traits: Navy Brat, Cynical, Hunker Down and Killing Fields. Traits can affect both the officer and the squad (s)he commands in different ways. Officers also have five attributes which broadly define their areas of expertise. The attributes are the same for all officers. One of Eva’s traits buffs her Warfare attribute by one point.
Eva is in command of the “Thunder Chickens” which is a level 20 Romanov marine recon squad. It has four traits: Renegade, Gun Nuts, Precision and Muscle Memory. In addition the “Thunder Chickens” have acquired five different skills. The selection of skills is not random but rather based on choices made by the captain (the player) when deciding which service branch (marine) and later what specialization (recon) the “Thunder Chickens” should focus on. If the squad had instead joined either the astrogation or medical service branch then it would gain different skills. In addition we can see that one of the squad’s traits “Gun Nuts” buffs the basic weapons skill by two points but reduces the console operations skill by one point. To read more about these traits please consult the updated backer design documents which are linked at the start and end of this update.
These design mockups illustrate the general direction we are going in with both officers and squads. As captain you can pick which service branch each officer and squad should join but you do not directly control which traits they will acquire as the game progresses. As the captain you can award squads with citations & battle honours which affect all squad members. Officers can be granted medals and knighthoods which affect them individually. Squads are strongly tied to their service branch (which is where they get most of their skills and traits from) while officers are less constrained by the choice of service branch. For example there may well be a mission where it makes sense to put a medical officer in charge of a squad of heavily armed (and armoured) assault marines. It will be up to you as captain to juggle your squads, officers and equipment to maximize their chance of completing the mission objectives.
Equipment was already mentioned as a major influence on the performance of your crew. Equipment encompasses both ship weapons, ship consoles as well as personal gear for squads (weapons, armor, kits). In the case of squads certain types of equipment may have skill requirements that must be satisfied before they can be used. An example could be heavy armor or a sniper rifle which requires training before it can be used effectively in a combat situation. Below is a design mockup which explains how the officer, squad and items (equipment) are connected and interact.
We hope this overview of crew management alongside the design mockups has given you a better idea of the design changes we are doing and also why we are doing them to deliver this command experience (which is heavily inspired by TV Shows) where you get to sit in the captain’s chair. We think especially the squad system approach will help us spec and balance the game better and it is a flexible system which we can easily expand upon later.
We talked about the importance of equipment (items) earlier and we wanted to share some of our thoughts on how these are designed and introduced into the game world. One of the benefits of working for another faction is that you may gain access to their selection of equipment. Each of the major factions in the Mandate have their own fleets and standing armies and are supplied by mega-corps which produce anything from sidearms to ship cannons. These mega-corps are the equivalent of modern day Lockheed, BAE or General Electric (the latter producing everything from MR machines to nuclear attack submarines!).
Each faction has a strong identity, ambitions and goals which are established through the lore and backstory documents. Their mentality influences what tactics and doctrines they have adopted and their troops and ships are equipped accordingly. In the Mandate each major faction will have up to five manufacturers (mega-corps):
- A base manufacturer which produces everything from infantry weapons to starbase modules. This is your bread-and-butter equipment. Nothing fancy, nothing expensive
- Sub-faction manufacturer: These manufacturers produce higher quality equipment but also offer a more limited selection. They usually offer their services in conjunction with a sub-faction so you will need a good standing with the sub-faction to obtain their equipment legally (...)
- Skunkworks: The crème de la crème, very good and very expensive. Some of these “skunkworks” have been shut down or their work is classified which means you will not exactly find their contact info in the yellow pages
Our writers are currently fleshing out the backstory for the manufacturers of each major faction. In many ways it will be an extension of the lore document which helps inform our designers about equipment variations and what each manufacturer will focus on. To give you an early peek we decided to share the manufacturer list for the Romanov faction. CLICK HERE to read an early draft of the manufacturer document.
Keep in mind that this document is subject to change, and the document will be updated with revised text in the coming weeks and months. Once we are happy with the manufacturer document we will update the “design a fighter squadron”, “design a starbase” and “design a legendary weapon” backer design templates and mention this in a Kickstarter Update.
Promising Kickstarter projects
We have not done Kickstarter shout-outs for a while but we thought we should mention two interesting projects.
First up Larian Studio’s Divinity: Original Sin 2. Its prequel was funded via Kickstarter and was very well received by both gamers and press. Both games have cooperative support, and while Divinity: Original Sin 2 has already met its funding goal, there are some nice stretch goals and are only a few thousand dollars away from hitting the extended mod support stretch goal!
Next we have “The Dwarves” from King Art Games which has previously released two Kickstarter-funded games. “The Dwarves” is a fantasy RPG about beards, beer and battle where you recruit and control a group of heroes. The game is set in the world of “Girdlegard” and is based on the books by German writer Markus Heitz. The game features a very interesting crowd combat system where your heroes duke it out with multiple opponents in real-time.
We mentioned the away mission design workflow in the introduction of this update. Next update we will show the steps that we go through to generate an away mission. We hope this will be an interesting “behind the scenes” look and it should be of big interest to future modders.
Again, just a friendly reminder that you can CLICK HERE to review the updated backer design documents.
Until next time!
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive