The Mandate interview – From Russia to space
If you are interested in TV series and you love the Sci-fi setting, chances are you are also a fan of Battlestar Galactica. Criminally enough, no game has managed to capture some of that unique sense of community within a spaceship, but The Mandate, an RPG/RTS title in development at Perihelion Interactive, is looking to fill that void while also doing a lot more, as we learn in our chat with Executive Producer Ole Herbjørnsen.
Greetings and welcome to Worlds Factory. Can you briefly describe the game and Perihelion Interactive?
The Mandate is a sci-fi RPG where you are a disgraced space captain who stood court martial and was put in jail. However, you have been released to get one final chance at redemption. Were you guilty? Were you innocent? You get to decide that during the character prologue. Do you want to redeem yourself or does hoisting the Jolly Roger sound more appealing? Perhaps it is time to join the Rebels! YOU decide!
The Mandate takes place 1500 years into the future in a dystopian universe where Earth has been abandoned due to the reckless pursuit of greed. Skip many years forward and colony ship Romanov (funded by Russian oligarchs) sets down on a habitable earth-like world, Novy Petersburg. Skip many years into the future again and Novy Petersburg is the center of an Empire that spans many many worlds.
Perihelion Interactive was founded by a gang of industry veterans who used to work at Ubisoft, EA, Funcom, 2K Games and more. Some of the tiles or developers worked on and shipped in the past include: Assassin’s Creed 1&2, Mafia 2, Far Cry 2&3, Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, Call of Duty 3, Splinter Cell, Rainbow 6 Vegas and The Secret World.
Do you find it difficult having your development team spread across different countries?
Of course it would be easier if everybody was sitting in the same office but we have experience with teams spread across multiple continents from our earlier work and so we have the know-how, tools and collaborative processes to help minimize the impact.
On the Kickstarter page, you mentioned that during battle the entire personnel can be affected by environmental hazards such as a hull breach. However, I’m wondering if it is possible to specifically target another ship trying to cause a hull breach in a certain point, or will it be just a random occurrence?
We will feature a wide variety of weapons. Some do a lot of damage but are imprecise whereas others can be used to surgically strip away enemy weapons and sub-systems. For example it may be a good idea to disable the enemy ship’s artificial gravity well and perhaps even life support system before sending in your mag boots equipped marines to storm the ship.
Similarly, will it be possible to board the enemy ship with the intent of poisoning the inhabitants through the ventilation system? I reckon it would be funny (well, not for the poisoned ones) !
This is TBD but it is a good idea! Our concern here would be game balance. We do want to allow both you and the enemy to board ships to not only seize prize ships but also to sabotage or steal technology blueprints etc so it does fit with this. This is also probably not something a noble Mandate officer would do but for a Pirate everything goes, right? Again, TBD ;)
Another topic often explored in the so-called space operas is that of the inherent danger of space exploration: expeditions would venture into planets and then bring back some kind of alien disease that could threaten the entire crew. Will players have such hazard to account for in The Mandate?
TBD. Away missions is a stretch goal for us currently, but it would not be unreasonable to expect something nasty on old derelict ships. We actually cover this in our Scourge of The Mandate text adventure.
I understand that you are taking an RTS approach to combat. I’ve also read that you intend to allow battles to span two fronts: in and out of the ship. However, I’m wondering how does this work in practice; usually this happens in turn-based games. Will players need to leave one of the two fronts to the AI?
No, in single player you can pause and issue orders. Also you will be able to effortlessly switch between the two modes (similar to picture in picture). In cooperative we expect players will be able to support each other and coordinate who does what. E.g. if six players all storm the same enemy capital ship at the same time and completely forget to scan for and intercept enemy reinforcements… Well let’s just say you will not want to repeat that mistake again! ;)
You defined The Mandate as a sandbox RPG. Unfortunately, in most of these RPGs the world does not really seem to have a life of its own; what I mean is that often the world remains static unless a player triggers a change in the storyline. Will this be the case with your game, or do you plan something more interesting?
We need to distinguish between the sandbox world where factions go about their own business and either react to you if you have gotten in contact with them or ignore you. Factions will interact with other factions whether you are an active part or not. As for the actual storyline or campaign this is triggered by player events after certain milestones or key conditions are met. So yes, we are trying to give the sandbox and world a life of its own. Not everything revolves around the player -at least not in The Mandate.
From a storytelling point of view, how do you plan to balance the RPG staple of deep relationships with NPCs against the fact that each one of them might die in any given time, perhaps sucked out of the ship? Also, will there be romance in The Mandate, since it’s a staple of Sci-Fi storytelling across all media?
So early on as captain you will not be expected to interact a lot with your enlisted. As they increase in rank and skill, you gain more direct control over their progression and level up process. Certain events will transpire that may reveal vice & virtues which make them more or less suitable for specific career choices. Once you promote and train an enlisted as a Non-Commissioned Officer, you receive a small amount of points to invest in his/her leadership skills. NCOs affect enlisted around them and can boost their efficiency, morale etc. Veteran NCOs can be trained and promoted to commissioned officer rank. You will gain a small amount of points to assign to command skills. Command skills allow commissioned officers to affect NCOs around them and a secondary function is to allow them to command starships. You can assign a commissioned officer to control one of your NPC escort ships once your captain character has advanced sufficiently to unlock this. Eventually, the player character will advance to the rank of flag officer and gain the ability to construct a mighty flagship. Also, sooner or later one of your commissioned officers will advance in rank such that you can promote him or her to captain 1st rank.
Once an NPC achieves the rank of captain 1st rank you may assign that NPC to control any ship size or command your star base. So your officers should become more and more valuable to you over time and you need to be careful about risking them in battle. That being said we will have difficulty options to allow you to let officers get wounded instead of dying (default behavior for your captain character anyway). However, for players who prefer a challenge and like “iron man” mode they will have plenty of opportunity to lose their crew.
How much written lore will be available to the player to read in The Mandate? I know quite a few people who are pretty interested in this kind of stuff, myself included.
Lots! We will have 1500 years of story and we have only revealed a tiny bit of it, partially to hold back for the game itself and also because not all of it is ready yet. The Codex which will ship with the game will be a sort of built-in encyclopedia which you can spend many hours sifting through.
I understand that the game will have co-op functionality. In most co-op games though, I’ve found that following the storyline while playing with others deterred my ability to immerse in the plot and the virtual world – do you plan to introduce anything to address such issues?
When you join up with another (host) player, then you are playing in their sandbox. There is so much to do in The Mandate without necessarily advancing the main story line so we do not think this will be a huge problem. Think about it, you each have your own sandbox which is part of a big big galaxy and so it really fits in with the idea behind the game that you are not the only Chosen One. The Empress is fully aware that some of the Corsairs should probably have stayed in jail and she is not putting all her eggs in the same basket…
Given the nature of the game and your background as developers, I simply have to ask if you’ve already thought about the possible evolution of the franchise as an MMO in the future, provided that this entry is successful of course. Conceptually at least, a sandbox MMORPG/RTS with procedurally generated galaxies definitely piques my interest.
We want to focus on the coop dimension and actually get away from MMO development. When you develop an MMO there is so much else you need to focus on which detracts from the actual game design, story etc. Unless you have worked on an MMO it is difficult to appreciate the number of man hours and the complexity involved with creating an MMO. We will not rule out that “The Mandate” MMO could happen in the future but not in the next few years at least.
Thanks for your time!