Time for another update! Today we start by outlining a schedule for the next few updates:
- Update #42 boarding combat (this update)
- Update #43 space combat
- Update #44 (tentatively) status of development
When discussing the boarding combat it makes sense to first talk about some of our goals for the boarding operations.
The Mandate focuses on the crew inside your space ships and the marines are an important part of your crew. We want boarding combat to come alive with drama and action. These interactions will be more high-paced than space combat, with ample explosions, memorable characters and the occasional acts of heroism or stupidity. After a firefight, the corridors should look banged up with bullet marks and bodies.
Scalability is an important property for two reasons. First we want you to be able to manage anything from a couple of fire teams to a dozen squads as you build up your strength. Secondly some players prefer to be hands off while others like to micromanage. We plan to facilitate both approaches and this requires clear communication through the GUI to give feedback and critical information on anything that could affect your decision making process. Furthermore, the marines need to be semi-autonomous and able to act without detailed input from the player.
We touched on the GUI and familiarity is important and we also acknowledge that space combat and boarding combat in The Mandate have a lot of depth and there will be a learning curve to master each mode. Therefore we are investing time and effort to ensure the space combat GUI and the boarding combat GUI use similar metaphors. As part of this process we reached out to select members of the community who have provided very useful feedback. When we present the space combat GUI in update #43 you will see the similarities with the boarding combat GUI later in this update.
Moving along, we want to make you feel like you are commanding proper marines (from rookies to battle-hardened veterans) and their behaviour should be suitably "military". This means that the traditional real-time strategy approach -which involves box-selecting a bunch of different units and telling them to go somewhere- does not really work for us. Instead we are relying on concepts like fire teams, squads, battle drills and the "maneuver wheel". We will explain all these terms a bit later in this update.
So what are the steps a boarding operation will go through? First of all you need to decide how many marines to assign to a boarding operation as well as what type of equipment they should bring along. There are several things to consider here including the expected enemy resistance, the skill of your marines as well as what type of equipment you have in your armoury.
So who are your marines? A marine is a member of your crew who belongs to the security service branch and has received training in boarding operations. Marines can either be generalists (riflemen) or specialists that focus on for example breaching (combat engineers) or first aid (combat medics).
Once the equipment loadout has been selected you can then assign your marines to assault transports. As part of this process you, the captain, also define the Mission Order which is basically a fancy word for informing your marine commanding officer about which ship should be boarded as well as how many marines are available. We are not expecting you to sit and type this document out but rather we plan to use the choices you make to generate the Mission Order for you. This is similar to the character prologue tool where we put together your military dossier based on the choices you made when generating your character.
One part of the Mission Order where you do get to give input is Rules of Engagement. It defines (among other things) how to handle non-combatants (neutrals), what to do with enemies that surrender as well as weapons posture: basically whether your marines can open fire at will or first need to identify new contacts as enemies. For example you could imagine a hostage situation where you really want your marines to be careful. Similarly if you are playing as a pirate you may not care or wish to restrain your (pirate) marines. If Mission Orders and Rules of Engagement does not sound like your cup of tea, do not worry, you will be able to select from pre-made templates instead. In addition to specifying the Rules of Engagement we are discussing ways to allow you to inject extra side objectives for your marines which if completed successfully may grant extra experience to your marines.
Speaking of experience, at the start of the game you will start out with green marines. They know which way to point their weapons but that is basically it. As your marines take part in (and survive) boarding operations, they will gain experience and become better marines that also work more efficiently together. There are three components that factor into the performance of your marines: their individual skill, their formation's experience and the skill of their squad leader.
Formations, you may be asking? Well, initially your marines will be organized into fire teams of up to four marines each. In The Mandate the fireteam is your basic tactical unit. Later on you may promote experienced marines to squad leaders who can lead squads. A squad contains two fire teams and up to eight marines. Squad leaders may in turn be promoted to platoon leaders and your best platoon leader can be promoted to company commander. A platoon contains four squads and a company contains three platoons; for a total of twelve squads or 96 marines. Since this is a lot of numbers, the diagram above should sum this all up nicely.
Now, assuming that our assault transport managed to successfully dock with the target ship and unload marines, we may start the boarding operation. Remember that this takes place in real-time while space combat is going on outside the ship. In any event you can pause the game at any time to appraise the tactical situation. For space combat we showed off the battle orchestrator earlier this year and you may remember that we also demonstrated a waypoint system to plan the movement of your ships. For boarding operations you will have access to similar planning tools to maneuver your fire teams and squads.
Before we continue we want to introduce the boarding combat GUI which you can see below. It has five major elements:
- the picture in picture which gives you an idea of what is going on outside the ship that you are currently boarding
- the objectives tracker which lists what objectives your marines must accomplish
- the mini-map which gives information about your immediate surroundings
- the action panel which contains the ability buttons and the maneuver wheel
- the squad panel which lists your squads and individual soldiers as well as their status
The first three elements should be familiar from other games so we will skip over these and instead focus on the last two: the action panel and the squad panel. The action panel contains ability buttons, the "maneuver wheel" and go codes. Each ability button icon corresponds to equipment or skills for your selected squad and so is based on the experience of your marines or the equipment you issued them with before they boarded the assault transport. Examples of abilities include grenade throw, snipe, suppressive fire, first aid and hack.
Moving on we have the "go codes". If you place out multiple waypoint orders (see below) for a squad, you can use “go codes” to inject artificial pauses, causing a halt for that squad. This could be useful when maneuvering several squads and you want squad A to reach a waypoint and then wait for squad B to get into position before moving to the next waypoint. Our goal here is to make the planning and syncing the squad maneuvers as easy to manage as possible.
Next up we have the maneuver wheel. It includes an outer ring with three initiative stances: reactive, balanced & aggressive. The initiative stance allows you to set how much speed and risk your marines should take when performing the orders that you give them. Should your marines move slowly and use cover, or sprint and move quicker but exposing themselves more to enemy fire? Inside the maneuver wheel you will find a total of seven waypoint order buttons. You can click a waypoint order and then place it in the main view to issue an order to your selected squad. So far, so good. Where things get a bit more tricky... uhm … interesting is that an order is modified by the current initiative stance. Let us take an example in the form of the "move to” waypoint type (three arrows pointing up):
- reactive stance: move to
- balanced stance: attack
- aggressive stance: assault
If you think about it, most real-time strategy games already have these commands. The combination of an initiative stance and a waypoint order result in a specific movement pattern (formation) and pacing (slow/fast) for your selected squad. This is what we call a battle drill, which is a military term that defines specific formations and maneuvers. Our battle drills are based on the ones used in close quarter combat but we are modifying them to work for our purposes.
With three initiative stances and seven waypoint order types this gives potentially 21 battle drills. Another way to look at battle drills is to think of it as choreography and how to show unit behaviour. You may think that 21 battle drills is a lot but keep in mind that at the start of The Mandate you will only have rookie squads and these only have access to the first initiative stance: reactive. In addition they have access to only a couple of the waypoint order types but as your squads gain experience they unlock new initiative stances and waypoint order types and by extension new battle drills. Alternatively, you really only have a total of seven waypoint order types, but you on top decide to be defensive, neutral or aggressive.
For boarding operations we model both suppression (your marines being shot at and pinned, slowing them down) as well as morale. Suppression is tracked on a squad basis and is embedded into the maneuver wheel (red colour). Suppression is a counter to initiative and as you take more suppression, your squads may not be able to operate as fast or swiftly as before. In game terms this means that an initiative stance becomes unavailable due to suppression. As squads take more suppression this may affect morale. Morale is tracked per marine and unless your squad leader is able to rally marines, they may start to panic, run away or go berserk.
Now that we have gone over the major elements of the action panel it makes sense to turn our attention to the squad panel which is situated at the bottom center of the screen. The squad panel gives important information about the squads under your command including how many marines are in each squad, whether they have taken casualties or something urgent requires your attention. Hostile contacts in the form of enemy squads will also be listed in the squad view.
Your units can be controlled in one of two modes: squad mode or individual mode. In squad mode you give orders to your squad as a whole by using a combination of initiative stance and waypoint order type which will execute a specific battle drill. In addition you can toggle on/off individual abilities to allow/disallow your squad from using these. For example you may want to disable the use of grenades if the squad is moving through a volatile area or there is a lot of expensive equipment nearby that you wish to preserve and not accidentally damage.
In the example above we have selected squad Alpha and picked the “move to” waypoint type. Since our squad is in the balanced initiative stance, squad Alpha will attempt to execute the “attack” battle drill.
The other mode, individual mode, can be activated by selecting a marine within one squad. This allows you to activate his/her abilities directly as well as specify where he or she should move. So ability buttons function slightly differently in squad mode and individual mode.
In the example above we have selected squad Alpha and then Asbury who is the squad leader. We are currently checking the range of Asbury’s rally ability to see if it can reach Nahasa and Haywood in order to rally them. Nahasa is the leader of fireteam #2 in the squad and her morale is wavering. Haywood and Kennie were bunk buddies, and Haywood who is also the squad combat medic panicked upon seeing his best friend killed in front of him.
Well there you have it, our goals with the boarding combat and quite a bit of details about how exactly your marines and squads will operate. We hope this overview of the boarding operations was an interesting read and gave you some new insight about The Mandate.
PS! Whereas the GUI is tweaked in Photoshop the corridors and associated art assets that you see are taken from our prototype
Your friends at Perihelion Interactive