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The Mandate: Inspired by the Golden Age of Games

Suzie Ford Posted:
Interviews 0

MMORPG.com: Please introduce yourself and give our readers a bit of your background in game development.

Hi my name is Ole Herbjørnsen and I previously worked on MMORPGs at Funcom between 2005 and 2012, first on Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures and later The Secret World. I have worn several different hats including designer, lead designer, project manager and associate producer. I was also heavily involved with recruitment of both designers and artists on both projects. For The Secret World I initially ran the dungeon team and later managed the tech art team and AI design team. While my education is technical my primary interests lie in the area of game design. For three years I was program director for a newly established bachelor of games design back in Norway and I put together the bachelor program, created the curriculum and lectured select game design courses. The most recent MMOs I have played are Star Trek Online and Neverwinter Nights Online.

Howdy, my name is Robert Halvarsson. In fact I started at Funcom one week before Ole back in January 2005. I have worked both as a designer and associate producer on Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures, its expansion Rise of the Godslayer as well as The Secret World. For the latter I was in charge of the strike team that developed and delivered the missions and gameplay for the two Egyptian playfields. Before I worked for Funcom I worked as a teacher and I also taught level design courses at the bachelor program mentioned above. On the side I have been making lots of smaller games with Gamemaker over the years but last year I transitioned to Unity3D. I also have extensive experience as a DM from both DnD 3.5, Traveller, Shadowrun and Deathwatch. I crafted several universes for my campaigns and between 2006 and 2012 I ran several custom campaigns for fellow developers at Funcom.

MMORPG.com: Can you give us the quick and dirty about the lore and concept behind The Mandate, for those who haven’t been following the game?

The Mandate is set 1500 years into the future. Earth has been abandoned long time ago due to reckless exploitation of resources which left the planet mostly uninhabitable. Initially the solar system was colonized and later colony ships were launched to spread among the stars. One of these colony ships was funded by Russian Oligarchs and was called the colony ship Romanov. Initially the descendants of these colony ships have no communication with each other until a breakthrough is made by a Romanov scientist which allows mass acceleration Gates to be created. After a series of wars, The Mandate is founded to protect humanity and ensure that the mistakes from Earth are not repeated. The Mandate is ruled by an Emperor or Empress from the House of Romanov but the different factions maintain their cultural identity, their own nobility and limited home rule.

MMORPG.com: It’s being billed as a hybrid RTS / RPG title and that those are further divided into three separate and distinct focuses. Please explain how this works.

So The Mandate will feature three main game modes: Exploration & diplomacy, base management where you research and upgrade your base, ships and marines and finally the combat mode. We are looking closely at both Mount & Blade as well as Pirates! for the exploration mode of the game but our diplomacy element will be deeper than either of those two games [yes we are aware of the Diplomacy mod for Mount&Blade]. For our base management, research and manufacturing mode we are inspired by the original X-COM. For combat, first of all we are inspired by Jagged Alliance, X-COM and Men of War. The other part of combat is space combat and this is probably the area of the game that is most difficult to explain briefly.

MMORPG.com: How will classes be handled? Are different ships and captains considered “classes”?

Ships are built from modular ship sections. Each ship consists of a forward, midships and aft section. We are aiming to have a minimum of three variations of each per class for a total of nine ship sections with 27 variations that also impact gameplay. For example one ship section comes with hangar bays to allow you to equip fighters and bombers. On top of that we plan to have both quality tiers and different manufacturers for ship sections to allow for further customization. Ships can be further customized by installing different weapons and modules like cloaking devices, shields, sensor arrays etc.

As for captains your player character is a bit special. Your player character already starts out as a disgraced space captain who faced a court martial and was thrown in jail. You are released, however, by Anastasia Romanova, the new Empress who needs your help. You start out as a captain and can still advance and specialize in different skills and eventually you can reach flag officer rank which will allow you to commission a flagship and deploy a full battle squadron with escort ships controlled by your NPC captains.

MMORPG.com: How many races will be included? Will players be able to hire crew members of different races?

We’re not really representing races in The Mandate, so much as factions, which have their own unique cultures. We have announced four different factions so far. In addition to colony ship Romanov, we have colony ship Europa, colony ship Arkwright and colony ship Black Eagle.

MMORPG.com: It seems from the information on the site that there will be ground and space combat. Will the ground combat be tactical or real time? What about in space?

We will have boarding operations and space combat. Ground combat and away missions are a separate stretch goal for us. The combat will be real-time and boarding operations will take place at the same time as ship combat. In singleplayer you will be able to pause the action and issue orders to both your marines and your ship(s).

MMORPG.com: Each player will command their own ship. Will ships be able to be upgraded? Do ship and captain level separately?

If playing alone a player can command up to one flagship as well as five escort ships. Ships and captains are independent entities and level separately. You can reassign captains to different ships during the course of the game. Ships can be upgraded with new modules and weapons, and you can also refit ships to replace ship sections. However, you cannot upgrade a frigate to a battleship. But you could keep your frigate as an escort ship and assign an NPC captain who you have either rescued, recruited or leveled up  while you take command of your new battleship.

MMORPG.com: Captains need fellow officers. How are these officers and their individual squads of “expendable” crew members recruited? Are crew members similar to the fabled Star Trek red shirts? How are squads rebuilt? How do they level up?

For your crew you have enlisted, NCOs (non commissioned officers) and commissioned officers. Enlisted have basic skills and can acquire and improve these over time. They only affect the crewman. NCOs have leadership skills in addition which boost the effectiveness of the enlisted around them. Commissioned officers also gain command skills and can command NPC escort ships to support you in battle. Veteran commissioned officers can be promoted to full captains and given command of larger ships like heavy cruisers, battle cruisers etc.

MMORPG.com: Will any cooperative multiplayer be included? If so, in what form might that happen?

The Mandate can be played entirely in single player and we will have a deep and long campaign to keep players busy for many hours. In addition we will support "coop on demand" where you can request help from other players who can jump in to help you with a particularly difficult battle when are in over your head.

For friends and players who want to explore together, they can join up and play together in a host player’s sandbox/universe and travel around together.  There will be incentives for visiting other players' universes and starbases to purchase upgrades and equipment for your ships and marines.

Furthermore, since you can customize both ships and captains we are planning both mid and endgame content to allow you to take advantage of synergy effects in battles to support each other.

MMORPG.com: You’ve recently been “Green Lit” by Steam and have initiated a KickStarter program. How goes the fundraising? Is the community pleased with the announced features and systems?

The community has been incredibly supportive. Many of our forum users are translating local press coverage for us, and spreading the word about the campaign. In all, I think I can candidly say they are happy, but since this is a 60 day campaign they’re all nervous about us keeping up the momentum. It’s certainly true that we’re earning their faith with regards to keeping the content coming, and Scourge of The Mandate took most of them by surprise.

Fundraising is exciting, but difficult. Most Kickstarter projects asking for a substantial amount of money are coming to Kickstarter already with a community. Maybe it’s a reboot, or a long awaited sequel. We had to build a community from day one of the campaign, and that’s a slow process. That said, we talk to them almost 24 hours a day, and we remember a lot of them by name. Needless to say, we are eternally grateful for all the support so far, but every day we’re working on the next big press release, or the next major coverage.

MMORPG.com: In a best case scenario, when do you anticipate beta testing and release?

We anticipate entering alpha in late Q4 2014 with beta starting in Q1 2015. We have set aside 3 months for Beta and plan to launch at end of Q1 2015. This is a proper beta, not a marketing beta, and while we have prior experience with stress testing and beta testing for MMORPGs this is not what we will be doing for The Mandate. Support us at $40 or above to be granted access to beta + season pass that includes lots of extra content like the first expansion pack.

MMORPG.com: Anything else you’d like to add? This is the place!

We feel our Kickstarter is quite unique in that we have skipped physical rewards (they will be added at cost for backers after Kickstarter is funded) and instead we offer you a chance to put your mark on The Mandate for reasonable prices. We have a clear vision with The Mandate but we will engage the community in a peer design process where Kickstarter backers first work with fellow backers to design their own characters, ships and starbases before our writers and designers get involved and give final feedback and approval. We think this approach is very different in terms of community involvement.

We have veteran developers with a background from both MMORPGs, multiplayer games and single player games. The Mandate is our first game but we already have plans for expansion packs and follow-up games so if you support our Kickstarter you are both supporting The Mandate and a new game studio that is heavily inspired by the games from the golden age of PC games where deep gameplay mattered more than fancy graphics. We invite you to check out our design philosophy over at http://www.perihelioninteractive.com/about.php

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Suzie Ford

Suzie is the former Associate Editor and News Manager at MMORPG.com. Follow her on Twitter @MMORPGMom