Capitalism and the IFTL - Trading In All Sectors of the Galaxy
Time for another update.Today we will provide a production update, covering many different areas of the game production and also discuss the IFTL (Interstellar Free Trade League) and the role this faction plays in The Mandate.
Let us start our production update with the audio department or more specifically the soundtrack. Choir and soloist recordings were completed on schedule during August and both the stereo and 5.1 versions were finalized in early November. This means that from a production point of view the soundtrack is done. Below you can listen to the final stereo version of The Mandate main theme with choir and Russian lyrics while reading the rest of this update!
As you may have noticed - for the Gamescom demo we put together a functional GUI but this was not the GUI direction we wanted to go with for the final game. We have spent quite some time iterating on the GUI design and one of the goals we were aiming for was to introduce some historical motifs and designs into the interface.
Specifically we wanted to introduce some Napoleonic influences to connect our historical references visually inside the game. We investigated and did tests with baroque, rococo, Empire, neo-classical and Federal styles. Some of the iterations on the GUI are shown below. Note that gradient colours, highlighting, animations etc are not represented below.
The art direction and detailed scroll work provides a coherent style connection to the period while setting an immersive GUI for interacting with the universe as the Captain in the adventure, space combat, and boarding combat modes. We are still doing tweaks to find the right balance between immersion and usability and now we are at a stage where we are testing out a more refined design inside the game.
Next let us check the status for ship production. With eight factions each fielding six ship classes, we have a total of 48 ships to produce. As we reported on the ship production at end of July we had roughly 21 ships completed back then.
As it stands now, we have 33 ships complete with two more battlecruisers right around the corner which will bring the number up to 35. While this would seem to indicate that the production rate has been lower than expected, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, the Rebel ships are - unlike the other factions- asymmetrical by design. This increases the workload on the artists since they have to model and texture both halves of the ship instead of mirroring one half.
Secondly we reassigned artists to work on the star-bases so we could test the modular approach as well as scale of star-bases since we need to experiment with both model detail and texture usage on such huge structures.. Thirdly, we invested time into doing a polish pass on existing ships as well as upgrading smaller details like the windows.
Also, we had incorrectly reported the Grand Fleet light cruiser as complete last time and the Grand Fleet heavy cruiser was also rebuilt from scratch after the last production update. This particular ship which we first put together for the Kickstarter campaign has now been built for the third (and last) time. Finally, we got behind schedule early when folks took some well-earned vacations after Gamescon but we are still steadily reducing the backlog.
Leaving the ships behind let us look at the status of character armours. From the table we can see that 25 armours are completed. Compared to the previous update we added four armours for the pirates so instead of producing a total of 32 we will produce 36 armours.
We decided to add the pirate armours since we decided they really ought to have a distinct visual style during boarding combat to reflect their tactics and make them stand out. Once the pirate armours are done the rebel and IFTL armours will follow.
Since the last update we have finished the Europan and Osmani armour sets. The Europan armours have a high-tech feel whereas the Osmani armours are inspired by the uniforms (and headgear in particular) of the Janissaries of the Ottoman Empire. Historically they were elite infantry units who formed the Sultan’s household troops and acted as bodyguards.
On the animation side the focus these last months has been on the heavy armour animations as well as the animation sets for the four levels of marine veterancy: rookie, trained, veteran and elite. After we are done with the veterancy animations we will switch to make social animations which you will see when your crew is either working or off-duty and which should add a lot of life to the ship.
On a more technical side the programmers have been very busy with the adventure mode. First of all we needed to make sure that the ship statics properly take into account basic ship performance characteristics as well as officer attributes and traits. As an example this means that if you replace your chief astrogation officer this can impact the effectiveness and range of scanner probes launched in adventure mode.
The galaxy generator has also received attention where we have added new gameplay objects like gas clouds and asteroid fields. Each of these has a specific behaviour as well as associated visuals to make their function apparent. We are also adding additional spawn and randomization functions to diversify the visuals and take advantage of the procedural textures.
A third area we have been working on is the match-making and the multiplayer prototype. We needed to validate that our object entity model works well both in a singleplayer and multiplayer environment and that the transition between singleplayer and multiplayer works as intended.
In the last part of this update we will present a scenario related to the IFTL faction and the AI for different factions that are active in the sandbox. Our programmers have been working closely with Apex Software developers to provide gamecode hooks and interfaces so the Apex Utility AI can read out our game data, perform various evaluations and then relay decisions to the gamecode.
A lot of work has also been done to ensure that missions can be issued by AI factions based on the game stat itself. As the factions will constantly try and improve their positions and constantly evaluate their standing in the galaxy, they will need the help of Great Captains to expand their power and encroach on their goals. For example If resources are becoming scarce, Great Captains might be tasked with missions to conquer new resources. This ensures that missions will constantly spawn and these are relevant to the context of the game. Both the player and other Great Captains can make a difference in the Galaxy and affect the course of history by action, inaction, success and failure.
Another important area is the mission tracker and mission editor. This is where designers and writers can implement the story missions and events which are described further down in the design section of this update. We are still in the process of adding new goal types but now that the basic tools and architecture is working it is a rather straightforward task to expand on this with additional mechanics that build on the foundations. All in all the mission editor has been designed to be both fast and powerful to enable designers to create a content rich game while utilizing a diverse set of mechanics and triggers.
The designers have been working closely with the programmers to implement the game features for adventure mode and so this has taken up a lot of their time and focus. Another focus area has been to test and implement dialogue, tags, events and mission systems.
Tags allows us to set flags on the player based on what has happened in the game. A tag can be applied to the player through choices made during character creation, dialogue, events, or through game triggers, such as visiting a specific asteroid belt, encountering a specific ship and so forth. We can then use these tags to trigger specific ingame events that the player has to deal with or use them as criteria checks for allowing events and specific dialogue to appear for the player. This system gives us a lot of power to control both exactly when as well as why certain in game events trigger.
When it comes to events, we want a lot of them to spice up your playthrough. As we mentioned earlier, events can apply tags depending on your choices in them, which allows us to have events that follow naturally from previous experiences; In one event you may bring on board a medical cache where you find some experimental medication and in a later event find out that the medication in fact has caused a number of your crew to suffer unwanted side-effects. The goal is to create a cause-and-effect scenario that makes sense for players and at the same time keep the events interesting.
In general we distinguish between three broad event categories: Crew events, Space events and Galaxy events. The first two are interactive while the last is non-interactive.
What do we mean by interactive events? Well - when an interactive event triggers you will be presented with a briefing of the event by your XO and asked to pick from one of several options to resolve it, each with different outcomes and effects. Depending on your tags, traits and skills as well as the skills and traits of your bridge officers, different responses may be available. As an example; An event where you encounter a Romanov military satellite may have an option for dismantling, salvaging and/or hacking the satellite depending on what skills your officers have.
Crew events are generally focused on the behaviour and interaction of your crew. This extends further than simply being a measurement of ship morale (although that is definitely in there as well) and deals with any potential crew challenges and problems that may occur on board. As an example; How do you deal with the discovery of a traitor on board? Do you throw the traitor in the brig or do you banish the traitor from the ship? And if so - via shuttle or through the airlock?
Space events are linked to the area which your fleet is moving through. For example, if you fly through an asteroid field then there is a chance that an asteroid field related event could trigger, such as a mineral-rich asteroid presenting an opportunity to get some rare resources or micro-asteroids threatening the integrity of the ship hull.
Galaxy events concern the overall sandbox world and the events could be of either a permanent or temporary nature. For example, a star going supernova would be an example of a permanent event whereas a famine or plague hitting a specific system or planet would be a temporary event.
Finally, a third focus area has been the main story. The designers and writers have iterated on both the story and narrative structure to ensure we have a good balance between being sandbox friendly on the one side, and telling a compelling storyline for each faction on the other.
The general organization is that we have a New Player Experience which is followed by three chapters. It is important to stress that the player decides when to finish a chapter and proceed to the next and she will receive ample warning before this happens. That being said it is a bit tricky to discuss the narrative structure without giving too much of the storyline away but this is a generalized structure of the game:
- During the first chapter the player is free to interact with and learn about the various factions but by the end of the first chapter he or she will need to make a decision on which faction to support. At the conclusion of the first chapter certain changes will also happen in the sandbox.
- Chapter two sees the player working with his/her chosen faction to expand its influence and build up the logistics and support infrastructure needed to sustain a war effort. Missions will include a mix of universal missions and faction storyline missions.
- Chapter three again introduces some new opportunities to the sandbox and by this time the player will have an important position within his/her faction and can now influence the destiny of his/her faction.
- At the conclusion of chapter three the sandbox again undergoes certain changes with the injection of additional end-game content.
Finally one thing to keep in mind is that the sandbox will be fully “operational” during all chapters. So if you prefer to take your time and exploring the sandbox then this is a valid option (and player choice). We use the chapters to introduce some extra elements and story hooks to progress as part of the overall story arc progression.
That concludes the production update section of this update so let us now switch to the other major topic of this Kickstarter update. Namely the IFTL.First a quick reminder from the Mandate lore document about who the IFTL are and what they do:
“Originally a loose association of free colonies and independent traders, the League is now a powerful but largely invisible political force within the Mandate. The League has its own fighting ships to escort convoys through pirate-infested systems, and it works closely with the Gate Transit Authority to keep the Gate network secure and open for business…”
Whenever a new game is started, a limited number of trade hubs are scattered throughout the sandbox as part of the generation process. These trade hubs are starbases which are under the direct control of the IFTL. Each trade hub may establish and maintain a number of inter-system trade routes. These inter-system trade routes always terminate at another trade hub governed by the IFTL. When a freighter begins its journey along a trade route it will first plan a route for which stations to visit on its way to its final destination.
When an IFTL freighter enters a star system and docks at its starbase the local economy will receive a boost and as a result the faction controlling the starbase gains additional income. The freighters may carry different types of goods which can influence the selection of available goods at a starbase, and freighters naturally attract the attention of pirates or other factions who are out to earn a quick buck by less than legal means.
Conversely when IFTL freighters are attacked and looted this has a negative impact on the economy in a star system and will increase the chance of the next freighter planning another route to avoid this system as it is obviously risky and bad for profits.
Ingame this is modelled through a star system security rating. The security rating and says something about how safe the system is to travel through and how likely one is to be attacked by pirates. Repeated pirate attacks on freighters or a state of war between two factions can reduce the security rating of a star system.
Now, how does this affect the AI and how the factions play? When the security rating goes down the IFTL faction AI looks at historical data for trade routes and can also evaluate the profitability of certain trade routes. This means that it can decide that the loss of a few freighters is acceptable and justifiable if the profit margin is sufficiently high. Alternatively the IFTL faction AI may decide to group freighters together into bigger fleets and assign escorts to deter pirates. It could also decide to ban any of its freighters from entering the star system where the pirate attack took place and request that the faction controlling the star system deal with the problem.
The AI of the faction that owns the star system where the attack took place may decide between different strategies for dealing with the pirate problem, irrespective of whether the IFTL requested intervention. For example some factions are more likely to use guile or diplomacy while others prefer brute force.
As an example the Romanov faction AI could decide to take the long-term view and build up military patrols over time to increase the security rating. The Arkwright faction AI would perhaps instead elect to pay off the pirates (and request they at the same time go cause problems for another faction, in another star system). Likewise the Black Eagle faction AI could decide on a more aggressive solution and either assemble an attack fleet or offer a mission to one of its Great Captains to deal with the pirate problem. If the situation is really getting out of hand then any faction AI could decide to request the intervention of a Great Captain from its faction. As you know the player is also a Great Captain in this context and may therefore accept a mission to deal with pirates or respond to a request for intervention.
The AI of the pirates must decide whether to move on to another star system or continue attacking freighters in the current system, building up its presence and perhaps investing in better ships or establishing a pirate stronghold somewhere at a remote location. If the pirates become sufficiently strong they may even attract a Scourge of The Mandate, a Great Captain and notorious pirate.
Moving on let us talk a bit about the IFTL ship roster which is a bit different from the other factions. The ship roster is distinct in that the IFTL does not field heavy cruisers, battlecruisers or battleships. Instead it has three modular freighter classes as well as three escort classes (frigate, destroyer, light cruiser).
The freighter classes come in three different sizes: small, medium and large. Both the bow and stern sections are relatively short and the midship takes up the majority of the length of the ship. Each freighter can be configured either for carrying cargo containers or are purpose-built. In the case of the former the midship has ample space to mount a number of cargo containers. There are different types of containers and each is optimized for carrying a limited selection of goods or resources. This gives the freighter a lot of flexibility and the ability to be adapted based on the trade route it is serving, commodity prices and the need to diversify.
If the freighter is purpose-built to fulfill a specific role then its entire midship section is optimized for that specific role and it sacrifices cargo space to install facilities to undertake this role. Some examples of roles include prison ship, hospital ship, luxury ship / yacht and troop transport.
Non-IFTL factions also utilize freighters but tend to prefer the purpose-built freighters which serve as fleet auxiliaries, yachts or prison ships.
Unlike military warships the freighters are built to less stringent standards. As a result they may be rebuilt or enlarged by combining multiple midship sections. By chain multiple midship sections together it is possible to construct freighters with additional cargo capacity or purpose-built freighters which can fulfil two roles, like a combined troop transport and hospital ship.
While freighters are not defenceless they usually not armed or armoured for protracted engagements as this would sacrifice valuable cargo space. If in serious danger lone freighters would prefer to outrun their attackers or failing that send out an SOS signal to request assistance from nearby friendly forces.
Bigger freighter convoys or freighters travelling through dangerous star systems will typically be escorted by one or more escorts. The escorts make up the second half of the IFTL ship roster. They are typically fast and cost-effective and protect the valuable freighters from light to moderate attacks.
We hope this update has given you a good picture of where we are in production and the progress made during the last few months. Also the discussion around trade routes and the different decisions that the AI can make based on pirate or player attacks on freighters, should illustrate the type of interconnected experience we are aiming for.
In the next update we plan to discuss the adventure mode in more detail as well as share a developer video with commentary from the adventure mode.
From all of us at Perihelion Interactive we would like to wish you Happy holidays!
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive