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The Mandate: A Sandbox Sci-Fi RPG on Kickstarter

By on October 18th, 2013 9:24 am

The Mandate - Sandbox Sci-Fi RPG on Kickstarter

Would you like to play the role of a spaceship captain, responsible for the lives of the ship’s crew and explore the galaxy, defend your ship from boarding operations and fight ship to ship battles, possibly in co-op with 6 friends? Well, if you do, then that’s what The Mandate seems to be all about. Of course, this is a Kickstarter pitch, and very few things gameplay-wise seem to be done at this point. The devs say that they’re still on the concept pre-production phase, but they do have working ship design and character creator prototypes, to serve as an early demonstration of the game engine.

The kickstarter page describes that the development team is composed by a group of international veteran game developers that went indie. Apparently, part of the team have worked on many shipped games, including AAA titles and “major MMOs”, but they say that the game will not be an MMO but an RPG with a 6 player cooperative experience in mind, but also gameplay for the single player audience.

The Mandate - Isometric boarding operations view - Concept work

Isometric boarding operations view (real-time tactical) - Concept work

The strategy part seems to be about offensive and defensive ship boarding operations, in the style of Jagged Alliance or X-COM but in a real-time fashion. So, more of a real-time tactics experience than a strategy one here to be fair. But, there could be other strategy elements, although most of the gameplay seems to be really about the RPG experience onboard of a spaceship, interacting with your crew and going on missions. There’s also ship to ship combat. Their idea is to portray the type of combat you see in shows like Star Trek, Firefly, Babylon 5 or Battlestar Galactica. So, I guess a more focused combat involving less ships.

“The Mandate is a sandbox RPG (similarities with Pirates! And Mount and Blade), allowing you to travel the galaxy through a series of jump-gates, opening doors to new systems. If you or your friends are in trouble, instantly jump to their location from outside of the game using Steam. Each system of the universe offers a series of procedurally generated content which varies every time, as well as hand-crafted story-driven content for you to take advantage of. What you do in The Mandate is entirely up to you, but as you gain power and unlock more systems, you’ll drive the story forward.” –Perihelion Interactive LLC

The Mandate - Battles from space are orchestrated from the classical perspective (e.g. Star Trek Online, Klingon Academy) - Concept work

Space battles perspective - Concept work

But, while the devs mention a sandbox type of experience, kind of like having the freedom to do what you want in an open world, this isn’t a 4X type of game if you may be wondering about that.

They ask for $500,000 to make this happen (currently at 24.5% with 44 days to go). They say that their decentralized structure, their know-how, experience and technology, with the use of established middleware like Unity3D (which allows them to release to PC, Mac and Linux), should not cause much overhead, and that 500K should be enough to make the game.

Here’s the pitch video (great soundtrack by the way). More info here.

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  1. Scero says:

    HA! I love the Soviet Union theme xD

  2. Alex says:

    Take my money!!

  3. Buxaroo says:

    OK, this looks pretty freaking awesome. As Alex says, Take my money!

    • Darren Scott says:

      Me three! I need to stop reading Space Sector, this is my third Kickstarter this month.

      Well at least this time next year I might actually get to play some games… :p

  4. Evil Azrael says:

    I am quite enthusiastic about this game. Looks like an epic scale with a nice backstory.
    The “preproduction” is what me worries most. In movies that means the haven’t started working on that movie yet, but other game studios call the time before going gold preproduction. But obviously they have already started. Going kickstarter with only concepts is a bit risky.
    I wonder how well the different scopes during a battle will work in real-time. Will you have really the time to oversee or defend a boarding while fighting other capital ships? This sounds really good, but is that manageable? It looks like delegation and even multiplayer co-op will be part of the game. I am curious how this will work.

    Nevertheless backed the game on the very first day :-) As always kickstarter projects build on your dreams and your imagination.

  5. Keith Turner says:

    I’m a backer for this one since I first heard about it. I just hope they can really do what they are planning with the amount requested.

  6. Hypnotron says:

    anyone try the shipbuilder app (see link in article) that launches through the Unity Web Player? It was prohibitively slow. I know my machine isn’t the greatest on earth but it’s just one ship…

    I have to say I’m skeptical of using Unity on a project like this. This is a very ambitious project that will be simultaneously simulating exterior and interior gameplay and a custom engine would offer them much more flexibility I think.

    I think what a lot of developers who try to “big” games in Unity discover is that they end up having to write a lot of functionality to replace the things that Unity does for you if you’re making a small game. Sophisticated visibility management is one of them. But unfortunately, your low level options here are limited because you don’t have the source code. Apparently there is a source code licensing option but the price isn’t listed on their site.. you have to contact their sales department and I suspect at that point you’re going to wind up paying something comparable to what you’d have to pay for another major engine license.

    I’d much prefer them use Unity for prototyping and then Ogre3d for the actual game. Using Unity will force developers to scale back on the types of features that would really make this project interesting. I can already hear all the denials, but mark my words. Unity reminds me somewhat of Visual Basic 6. It makes the easy things easy, but it makes the hard things harder than they should be.

    • Hypnotron says:

      I don’t want to totally bash Unity. Unity is really great. It’s got a first class editor, multi-platform, and it’s really opened up game development for indies. It shaves YEARS off of development time and saves a ton of cash not to mention gray hairs!

      But show me a game in Unity3d that has
      1) GREAT single player AI (in non turn based game)
      2) expansive, contiguous, game levels with non-sparse graphics (eg Kerbal is in some ways expansive, but it’s sparse graphics by design)
      3) networking support for >16 players (where the devs use the built in unity networking code)

      If you go through the list of games based on Unity, you’ll find that all of them are compact FPS action games (with horrible AI if they even have a single player mode!), strategy games of low-ish scope (nothing close to the level of a Total War to be found), puzzles, platformersscrollers, etc.

      This game is ambitious like a Total War game but it’s being made in Unity and I think that is going to make it a very shallow product if they ever finish it.

      And I feel that if the developers of Mandate had the technical skill to pull off this game at the type of DEPTH players expect, they’d KNOW ALL OF THIS and would not choose to use Unity in the first place. So I question their technical abilities, experience and seriousness.

      If you’re going to use Unity, don’t make a game that bites off more than the engine can chew. You don’t make Mount & Blade in Unity. You don’t make Total War in Unity. But you can make an XCOM:EU in Unity (see Space Hulk)… but EU is not an ambitious game.

      I will not be backing this project.

      • Wodzu says:

        @Hypnotron, I’ve never used Unity, but what a 3D engine has to do with an A.I. module?

        • Hypnotron says:

          Indeed. Why on earth are NPCs or AI in Unity games so horrible?

          The subtle suggestion I was making is that Unity developers tend to not be very good at such things. Unity will help their game look good, but it wont help them make good AI and if the gameplay really depends on that AI, they are in trouble.

          Writing good, high performance AI is doubly hard.

        • Wodzu says:

          “The subtle suggestion I was making is that Unity developers tend to not be very good at such things. Unity will help their game look good, but it wont help them make good AI and if the gameplay really depends on that AI, they are in trouble.

          Writing good, high performance AI is doubly hard.”

          Couldn’t agree more! A.I. is often neglected and we get nice looking but boring game…

          Writing good A.I. is way harder than implementing 3D stuff, especially when you have an engine which is doing most of the job for you.

    • SQW says:

      No one should be funding a Kickstarter based on a sales pitch without a breakdown of cost. 1/2 million is peanuts in terms of game development if the game is as ambitious as this one sounds. The lack of deliverable timeframe alone, the size of the team would make any costing a pipe dream.

      A quick look at decent, non-expansive KS successes like Shadowrun would tell you just how expensive game dev is. Decentralised dev environment might SOUND awesome, but Xenonauts’s 1+ year delay is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls ahead.

  7. Samwell says:

    ohh my, this looks like FTL on steroids. I would love to see that game come to fruition and actually keep its promise.

    time will tell though.

  8. Jeff P says:

    I’m no programmer, but I’ve noticed a theme in game development: complex real-time games with lots of player-made input (i.e., custom ships and avatars) never realize their potential. Perhaps it is because of the tremendous variability of player computer specs, but turn-based games with this level of customization seem to fare better.

    I wish them luck, and I’ll keep an eye on the Mandate, but I’m hesitant to support it at this time.

    • Allen says:

      I agree that the real-time aspect and their notion of making it playable with up to 6 players in co-op sounds unworkable. Maybe they’ll surprise us but turn-based seems such a better fit for this game.

      That being said, I like their concept and the content they already have looks decent and well-thought out. I backed them and I’m interested to see if they can gather the support they need and where the game will go.

    • SQW says:

      What content do you mean by? Apart from some concept art and ideas, I’m not seeing any gameplay vids in their pitch.

      • Allen says:

        There is an interview with one of the designers and they show gameplay footage of boarding combat. Additionally, their website has two minigames you can play with about character creation and ship creation.

  9. Jay G says:

    Tiring a bit of the kickstarter binge.

  10. Kjell E says:

    Wow! Gameplay looks brilliant! RPG, RTS and ship-building with coop-option.

    Needless to say, I’m backing it and I’ll be spreading the link to The Mandate kickstarter to my gaming friends.

    Apparently they have a Paypal option too:

  11. Moon Master says:

    I’m feeling highly skeptical of their claims.
    Maybe thats because they use the term sandbox, and we clearly are using different definitions for that term.

    To me, games like X3 are an example of sandbox game. Or Eve Online. Or even in some ways Distant Worlds where you can completely automate and forget about stuff you dont care about to focus on your desired element.

    Their game looks to me like a browser game you’d find on Kongregate. Well, thats not quite right, but its certainly not a full fledged standalone game.

    I can see it now, they will have pretty but static main interface window and game models of ships/crew will be predetermined and exactly the same (the modular components is a strong giveaway, very minor cosmetic difference while everything else will be same old stuff).
    Most of the time will be spent in that ui, with some interruptions from occasional 3D action scenes like boarding and ship combat, which will feel exactly the same after ~10 first battles. I mean really, you fly on the same damn ship, with the same internal layout – how many times do you have to fight off boarding before it gets repetative? And what about the 6 player co-op, why do you even need that in non fps boarding game – are you going to be swarmed by hordes of boarding lemmings which you cant fight off on your own because you cant click fast enough? Once you are familiar with you ship and crew strenghts, where will the challenge come from that requires 6 people? Can you even reliably find 6 people online at the same time to play such a niche minigame…

    The spaceship battles look more interesting though. Kinda reminds me of Nexus: Jupiter Incident, only much less complex, more fastpaced, with less customization and ultimate focus on boarding enemy ship (how else would you get to play that boarding thing). People for some reason didnt like Nexus very much but I enjoyed it a lot and hope to see something similar again – RTT with spaceships. A real tiem tactics, with highly controllable modules. The one where you couldnt possibly control more than 8-10 ships because it would be too complicated for the player to handle. Sword of the Stars 2 had some good ideas in that department but wasnt quite right either, not enough tactical control.

    If the ship battles turn out like I hope they do I would back them. But like I said, so far this has a scale and feel of the browser game for me. I want to be proven wrong though…

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