Adaptive character system
For this update we are going to talk about our adaptive character system and what exactly it allows us to do. First of all it allows you to customize the visuals of your captain as part of the character prologue. The same system is used to generate the visuals for all the NPCs you will encounter during your travels in The Mandate. Also from a production point of view it allows us to automate several time-consuming tasks (rigging, skinning, modelling, texturing) which saves us time and allows us to offer more variation. Lastly we can optimize at run-time for either quality (dialogue scenes) or speed (boarding combat with lots of characters).
Before we continue, we need to take a little detour. Right at the start of our Kickstarter campaign, we were being both accused of under-representing women in The Mandate, and also being asked whether or not the game would feature playable female characters at all. This took us by surprise as our story elements focused on Empress Anastasia Romanova who even had her own Twitter account. In The Mandate she happens to essentially rule most of known space.
Just as some of the strongest leaders historically have been women, and there is a certain romanticism ascribed to service under them, we wanted to build these elements into the story as well as the relation between Anastasia and the player’s (space captain) character.
For example one of our backers wrote “Seriously, that many players want to be Han Solo? (Well, all the male ones, anyways...though I guess of course there could be a greater diversity of characterization too...)”. Another wrote “Hi ! I just signed up to kickstarter specifically to support you guys[…] My only gripe with the project is it's exclusively western focus, with no "asian" or "african" related factions, makes the whole setting harder to believe, at least for me”.
We all noticed the comments, and looking at each-other confused we said “Why wouldn't there be female characters at all levels, including playable ones? Some guys prefer to roll female characters -just like Kenny (McCormick) and vice versa. Why shouldn’t you be able to pick your own ethnicity?”.
In The Mandate you are the captain and we want your avatar to reflect your backstory and the choices you made during character creation. It follows that you should be able to play as any ethnicity, gender and body build. At the same time every video game has a set budget, and every element you add has an associated cost. For example we don’t have the resources to maintain a large set of different rigs, animation sets etc. How then can we give players the freedom of self expression without escalating costs?
Our Technical Director, Vegard Myklebust, wrote an article about our character system which was published over at Polygon. Rather than re-posting it here we invite you to CLICK HERE to read it. It goes a bit “behind the scenes” and includes several pictures so it should be an interesting read. We also made a short video which shows the character system in action and generating different characters.
PS! Keep in mind that all animations and graphics are temporary in this video
The video mentioned above only shows the standard uniform which should be familiar to everybody by now. However, the character system will also handle different types of clothing (including combat armour!) and adapt these to work across all genders and body shapes. Our system also works with procedural textures so we can do modifications to the textures as part of this process.
Since our character system is now working as intended, we have started to push the system to the next level: more exaggerated shapes and non-uniform/asymmetrical versions. Below you can see examples of both: the Mandate heavy armour and the Osmani Light Trooper armour.
Beyond testing new types of armour/clothing we are currently testing performance with 100 unique and animated characters in the same scene on both low spec and high spec systems. This allows us to identify any performance bottlenecks and we prefer to do this now rather than a couple of months before launch when it would be too late to make major changes.
So there you have it, our stance on playable female characters, ethnicity, our challenges and our solution: the adaptive character system. We expect our next update to somehow involve both the character system and the following asset!
We wanted to round off this update by giving a shout-out to Larian Studios and their recently released RPG Divinity: Original Sin. It checks all the right boxes for us: open world exploration, co-op gameplay, and an interactive world AND it ships with the RPG toolkit used to build the game. Expect lots of custom content and mods! It is said that a picture is worth a thousand words. Well then a series of pictures in sequence should be even better so here is the feature trailer for Divinity: Original Sin:
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive