The Captain's Journey
For this update we will discuss the campaign structure, the event system and what we call the bridge dialogue mode. While we will go through them in the order mentioned, we first want to re-iterate the unique selling points of The Mandate
- the captain experience: you are a character on a ship, you are not “just a ship”, and as captain you must manage your crew
- the human factor: the focus is on crew and interactions between people, not just ships blowing up other ships
- the historical setting: the game is built upon a new theme that draws on Napoleonic references to create a rich historical context via cohesive lore documents and factions with a coherent ideology
Before we discuss specific acts we should make a note on the game’s duration. It should take, on average, 40 hours to complete the main story. Each of the acts below assume that the player focuses on completing a specific act. However, it is the player’s actions that actually drive the game environment towards a particular stage. So if the player prefers to do side activities like hunting down notorious pirates, that will increase the playtime.
When starting a new game you first undergo the character creation process. This process will be similar to what was outlined during Kickstarter whereby you select your background and build your military service record by travelling between various planets and picking responses to the events that pop-up. Next the player may (optionally) take some time to learn about the basics of crew management and ship handling.
After character creation the player will proceed to the New Player Experience. The main focus of the NPE is to let the player familiarize himself with the various factions. The player’s journey to build the future of The Mandate begins. The New Player Experience takes place inside one star cluster (each star cluster has multiple star systems).
The New Player Experience should take a couple of hours to finish and when completed will grant the player access to his or her own starbase.
The starbase is important as it is where you can recruit and train both crew and officers as well as refit or upgrade the ship(s) in your fleet. While other starbases offer similar services, your starbase supports further specialization. You can assign officers to oversee production, training and research and upgrade the starbase facilities. By upgrading its facilities you may construct larger ships, reverse-engineer captured technology and manufacture new equipment for your ships, light craft squadrons and crew.
After the New Player Experience is completed, the player unlocks access to several new star clusters.
When adventuring into and exploring these clusters, the player will find that the Mandate is more of an ideal than a political reality. Alliances between factions are strenuous at best and in the cases of the major factions, conflicts have arisen between them forcing the player to take sides or attempt to mediate between them.
Star clusters come in two types and are either “wild space” clusters or “designed conflicts” clusters. The number of “wild space” clusters is variable but the number of “designed conflicts” is exactly three. The “designed conflicts” centers on the conflict between The Mandate and The Rebels whereas “wild space” involves gameplay centered around responding to distress beacons, pirate attacks etc.
The “designed conflicts” clusters contain both star systems for you to explore as well as disputes to settle between two major factions who do not see eye to eye. Initially the player is an independent actor who can perform various actions to assist either (or both) factions inside a “designed conflicts” cluster. The player will gain faction reputation as a result of his or her actions and eventually be able to pick a side in a conflict (and join that faction). This means that the player effectively supports three different factions during the course of Act 2. As you progress with one faction and earn its trust, you will unlock faction rewards and access to one or more of their sub-factions. Sub-factions may offer special faction rewards (such as ) and unique equipment.
In terms of playtime we are aiming for the three conflicts to take around 8 hours each so 24 hours in total. However, at any point you are free to go off and explore other (“wild space”) clusters or even switch between the three “designed conflicts” clusters should you desire.
Up until this point the conflicts have been contained inside individual clusters and only involved two factions. However, during Act 3 things will escalate quickly as the Rebel fleet and the Grand fleet arrive on the scene.
The player must pick which side to support during this final conflict and any allies the player may have made during Act 2 will come to the aid of the player.
Epilogue + open-world
As the final conflict is resolved in the Outer Rim the player is rewarded with unique upgrades based on the campaign choices that were made previously and gets to see the impact of his actions on the core worlds & factions.
The vast content (including backer content) available in each randomized galaxy will guarantee hours of additional play.
Next let us discuss the event system. What are events? Events are situations that occur during your playtime in The Mandate that require a response from either your crew or yourself as the captain of the ship. Your ship scanners may have found an escape pod with faint life signs floating in space. Do you take the pod on board and risk exposing the crew to whatever might be inside it, or do you leave it where you found it?
Some events require snap-decisions to be made, while others allow more in-depth problem-solving. In the aforementioned example, it could for instance be prudent to first let the medical officer look at the scan-data to see if there is a medical reason why the escape pod shouldn't be taken on board.
With that said - how are events started? While we have the ability to trigger events using almost any criteria you can think of we will limit even triggers to mainly be based on the location of the player fleet in space. This means for example that if your fleet is inside an asteroid belt then there is a chance that an asteroid belt event will trigger. The event system also has support for cool downs so we can limit how frequently an event of a specific type can trigger.
Events are not limited to outer space - your ship is a living, breathing anthill with many opportunities for you to interact with your crew and officers. If morale is low, the risk of certain events go up - on the flip side - if morale is high, the risk of other types of events go up. Events can be both positive and negative and are not designed to be hurdles to be jumped over. Rather, they are designed to convey the life and activity on board the ship while playing.
Events also vary depending on your campaign progress. They respond to the galaxy around you as you have affected it and how you play the game. Events can feed on themselves as well - a response in one event or the completion of a specific mission may lead to another event becoming available (or locked).
When an event triggers you can opt to respond in a number of different ways to the event. A number of basic event responses will always be available. Extra options may be available due to your captain’s traits, attributes or faction rank.
We also want the event system to let players make important moral choices which define your captain and how the world around you perceives you. It is important that you do not feel forced to act according to a single set of principles or morals, so we feature a diverse set of responses, ranging from morally reprehensible to generally accepted behaviour. These choices in turn may apply tags on your captain which we use to unlock or lock events further down the line as well as provide additional responses in subsequent events.
In addition, your officers may also have ideas about how to solve some of these events (based on their attributes and traits). A savvy Engineering officer may come up with a technical plan for hacking an enemy satellite to prevent it from relaying information about your whereabouts to your enemies or a very attentive Medical officer may suggest a way of dealing with an outbreak on board the ship.
This means that the player is exceptionally unlikely to have the same event occur twice in a playthrough, and if this happens then the event responses will be different.
Returning to the discussion in the introduction the event system is both an efficient way for us to reuse existing systems and to push the captain experience and put more emphasis on the human factor.
Let us now take a look at an event seen from a “technical behind the scenes” perspective...
Our event-system is designed to be very modular and easy to expand by both designers and possibly future modders. At its core, an event can be thought of as consisting of a Briefing, a selection of Responses and a selection of Outcomes. The Briefing of an event is the text shown to the player that outlines the event; for example:
"Captain! Short-range scanners are picking up a faint distress call from inside a nearby asteroid field. It could be a damaged ship but this is pirate space - it could just as well be a trap. Should we investigate?"
When an event is selected, our system runs through all the response-options, checking them to see whether the player qualifies for any (or all) of them. Once this check is completed, the Responses list is displayed.
To expand on the example from before, the responses for the player could include options such as:
- "Yes, we need to investigate but ready weapons just in case."
- "[Light Squadron] Scramble a recon squadron to investigate the signal. I am not going to risk this ship in case it is an ambush."
- "[Scanners 6] I want to make certain this is not just a pirate ploy. Do another scanner sweep and make sure there are no surprises lurking in the asteroid field."
- "No, let's not take any chances."
In this example the player has a Light Squadron in his hangar which means that (s)he may opt to send scouts to investigate. Furthermore, if the player captain or the chief astrogation officer has a Scanner rating of 6 or higher, (s)he may instead elect to perform another scanner sweep. This means that there is not only a single way of potentially solving a situation but multiple ones.
Once a response option has been selected, the event either proceeds to an outcome or an updated Briefing. If a sensor sweep was ordered and the Astrogation team finds nothing out of the ordinary, the briefing text will now update to show this information to the player (which may in turn lead to new Response options).
Now, how is the outcome decided? When we write events, we write a number of possible scenario variations for each event. When an event is triggered, one of the possible scenarios is set as “true”. So in our example above perhaps it IS a decoy ship or perhaps it is a damaged vessel that badly needs aid. Perhaps it is a damaged vessel from an enemy faction.
Let's say that the ship in our example is not a pirate but a damaged ship in dire straits; their reactor has taken a serious pounding and radiation is slowly leaking into the ship, poisoning the crew. Without help, they'll surely perish. The first step for the player may have been to scan the area to make sure there were no pirates around. However - a successful scan should inform the player about the full reality of the actual situation. The outcome of this step is a simple briefing update to reflect the facts as well as populate the Response list with appropriate responses to this situation.
From here, the player may now be able to choose from additional options more suited to this particular scenario - perhaps sending a medical team in radiation suits on board the vessel to extract crew or an engineering crew to attempt to repair the reactor. Again, the skills of the player and his officers will determine what options are available and not.
So far we have discussed the the campaign structure and the event system. This has been a lead up to the bridge dialogue mode. But before we discuss the bridge dialogue mode, let us quickly talk about bridge design.
We are taking a modular approach and are building six bridges: frigate, destroyer, light cruiser, heavy cruiser, battlecruiser and battleship.
The starting frigate bridge will feel quite cramped (as it should be) but the bigger bridges will have more space. There is also a clear progression in terms of officer consoles, the introduction of the captain’s platform which elevates him above the rest of the crew (and very much in line with the historical/aristocratic inspirations for The Mandate) and expanded guest areas.
With our modular approach each faction will have variations of the holoscreen, captain’s platform, blast doors, stairs and the battle orchestrator.
When combined with faction-specific texture kits and faction-specific lighting this means that an Arkwright and Osmani heavy cruiser bridge will look and feel quite distinct.
In addition we are setting up several camera positions on each bridge. This will allow us to switch the camera around when the player is interacting with his officers. In addition we can set up some interesting shots on the holoscreen when the player is interacting with another ship captain or starbase commander.
Bridge dialogue mode
Now what exactly is the bridge dialogue mode? It is one of the primary ways for us to tell the story (campaign progress) as well as let you interact with events, and it is heavily inspired by the TV shows that we have used as inspiration for The Mandate.
Whenever you meet another ship/starbase in adventure mode and decide to hail it (or respond to its hail), or you respond to an event pop-up, or just wish to check reports from your officers, you can activate the bridge dialogue mode. This will pause the time on adventure mode and overlay your ship’s bridge.
At the bottom of the screen you will see your captain and XO. The service branch chiefs (chief engineer, chief medical officer etc) are arrayed in a semi-circle around the captain and XO. In the rear of the bridge there is a guest area where passengers or envoys may gather. At the top of the screen you will find the holoscreen or main display where event images or external contacts (typically ships, starbases, talking captains etc) are displayed. Depending on the size of the bridge each service branch chief may have one or more assistants which they can delegate tasks to.
As well as being a hub of communication with others through the holoscreen, you may enter the Bridge at any time you wish as part of normal gameplay. When you do, you may speak with your officers outside the context of an event or mission briefing to ask them about their thoughts on the current situation, request status reports from them or consult them on a variety of topics.
We are also making high resolution heads to be used with the holoscreen interactions in bridge dialogue mode, and these heads will also be used for character creation when you create your own captain character. Our process is such that we first start from 3D scans and our artists use this data to create heads that we can use.
Once we have several heads we can then blend these together to create entirely new heads. The image below shows our blending process and is obviously a work in progress (missing eye balls etc). The new head (in the middle) is generated using the two other heads (left and right) as input. There is still some work left on this system but the results so far are quite promising.
Next update we will do a video of the adventure mode with developer commentary to showcase the adventure mode, the event system as well as the new bridge dialogue mode. In addition we will have a production update to go over the status of art, design and code.
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive