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In The Mandate ships come in all shapes and sizes. There are both civilian and military ship designs. Ship construction has been standardized across most worlds to ensure interoperability, simplify maintenance and reduce construction cost. However - individual factions and Houses still maintain unique designs, both as a source of pride and ambition or in the case of many pirate groups - necessity.
This design update in particular focuses on some of the smaller and medium size ships of The Grand Fleet. As military ships may be on extended patrol far away from friendly starbases, design emphasis is put on redundancy and reliability. Furthermore, a military ship of The Grand Fleet will usually forgo a lot of niceties and can be considered quite spartan compared to a civilian or indeed House counterparts. Below you can see a selection of some of these ship designs as well as relative scale measurements.
While all military ships have three sections, some of the specialist ships may differ in their configuration. Merchantmen for example, require specialized modules for shipping depending on cargo requirements. Additionally, bigger ships can fit extra turrets and generally speaking houses more heavy weapon hardpoints as well as more room to install ship modules that grant new abilities or add utility functions. Examples of ship modules include stealth modules, extended sensor arrays, automated repair systems, countermeasures and so forth. On the flip side bigger ships are slower, less maneuverable and it is more difficult to mask their energy signatures.
Another key design principle is economy of scale, modularity and adaptability. This way of assembly line production of ship sections allows a lot of specialized ships to be constructed by replacing ship sections both to update and expand capabilities.
In the picture above you can see a breakdown of a Mandate frigate which is built according to this modular principle. Each ship section is interoperable with the other sections, allowing for 27 unique configurations for frigates alone without taking hardpoint loadouts into consideration. Thanks to the highly modular approach, The Mandate is able to quickly field frigates that meet any mission-requirement.
You may recognize the heavy cruiser from our ship designer since it is partially featured there. Again we can see how mixing different modular pieces can create different configurations which are optimized for specific ship performance or tasks. A heavy cruiser can function as both a flotilla leader for smaller ships or operate independently, either mounting powerful weapons or holding several fighter and bomber squadrons giving it a long range punch.
Beyond the various military ships there are also support and auxiliary ships like merchantmen, hospital ships, supply ships or mine layers. These are crucial to maintain and replenish fleets that have been deployed far away from friendly starbases and considerably extend the range/reach of military patrols. They are also a favourite target for pirates or rebels who seek plunder or wish to sabotage the operations of The Grand Fleet. These auxiliary ships are therefore high value targets and must be screened and defended from enemy warships and boarding parties.
A Mandate fleet is a force to be reckoned with - but as the influence of the Empress diminishes across the outer rims, the rebellion gaining ground and the pirates, always a thorn in the side of the Mandate, the power base of the Mandate is reeling.
Anatomy of a ship
Externally a ship is the combination of three different pieces:
- Forward section
- Amidships section
- Aft section
For each ship we are aiming for a minimum of three unique forward, amidships and aft sections which gives 27 unique external visual configurations. This was covered in the previous design update and is all nice and fine, however, the external configuration also has implications for how the ship will function internally.
In The Mandate each ship will have one deck plan which is made up of a series of rooms and interconnecting corridors. This deck plan is split in three parts and each part is linked to the corresponding exterior ship section. We are not aiming to mimic reality here and we will not have 25 floors. First of all this would be a nightmare to design, build and playtest, and secondly a boarding combat could drag on for many hours and quickly become a chore rather than an exciting tactical alternative. That being said we are targeting anywhere from 1 to 3 decks depending on the size of the ship. By adding an element of vertical gameplay we believe both when attacking and defending you will have more options for flanking, sneaking or setting up ambushes.
Similar to external ship sections you will have customization options for your deck plan. For example the layout of the corridors and the number and size of rooms will be defined by us. This is analogous to the number and size of hardpoints on the external hull for ship sections which we have predefined. Internally, then, some rooms will already be occupied by weapon controls, ammunition storage, reactor room, hangar [if installed] and bridge. Other rooms will be empty and during ship construction or refit at a starbase you may install or swap out the contents of these rooms. In general larger ships have room for additional and bigger rooms.
It is important to note that rooms actually serve a gameplay purpose. They can either help augment your ship capabilities or provide your crew with more recreational activities which may help morale or let them blow off some steam or engage in training/study. Examples of different rooms include an extended sensor array, an auditorium, a bigger mess hall, additional crew quarters, a high security brig [cyber parrots are especially crafty!] or a gym. So as you can see the decisions you make with respect to what equipment to install, will affect your crew directly and indirectly in different ways. Furthermore, if during combat one or more rooms are damaged, you may need to repair them before they return to full operating efficiency. Also, in the event that a room is completely destroyed, you may need to return to your homebase or visit a friendly starbase for a refit and repairs.
We use the same procedural textures technology both outside and inside the ship and you will therefore be able to customize the interior colour of your ship. We will provide suitable templates for each faction and variations over these. As a captain of interior design do you opt for warm colours and a cheerful mood or try to mimic something grim and dark out of another sci-fi IP? Or does the captain really have more important things to attend to and does not care what the interior sRGB values of his/her warship is? We cannot answer that question for you. We can, however, provide the canvas and the crayons, and leave the rest in your capable hands!
Some players may wonder since bigger ships provide more or bigger rooms, is the ultimate goal in The mandate to have only big ships? No, the composition of your ideal battle squadron will depend on both your playstyle and also how much time you are willing to spend on exploration and research. While a pair of frigates are no match for a battleship at the same tech level, a pair of high tech frigates who adopt efficient tactics may stand a fighting chance if they work together.
Specifically in terms of tech level, we are planning to have "quality tiers" for both equipment and ship sections. This is a concept many players will be familiar with from playing RPGs inspired by Dungeons & Dragons (+1 / +2 / +3 equipment), action RPGs like Diablo or most modern MMOs. With respect to the frigate example above, a higher quality tier ship section may allow installation of thicker armour, more weapon hardpoints or mount larger and more powerful weapons in existing hardpoints. So in the example with the two frigates above you could design a "glass cannon" frigate with long range offensive weaponry and a "diamond rock" frigate which would be very difficult to destroy and would harass the slower battleship.
As you may have already seen from the various concepts of the frigate and heavy cruiser sections it is possible to equip hangar bay sections. By doing so you are trading in some weapon hardpoints for hangar facilities which allow you to deploy light craft.
Light craft is a broad term that encompasses smaller spacecraft with limited range and which rely on a mothership to refuel and rearm. There are different types of light crafts which have defined roles.
- Fighters, interceptors and heavy fighters defend against enemy light craft, perform reconnaissance and scouting or destroy incoming enemy warheads
- Heavy fighters and bombers attack enemy capital ships and installations
- Assault shuttles transport marines and initiate boarding operations
The basic fighter is the jack of all trades, it has no particular weaknesses or strengths and is rather flexible. The interceptor is optimized for the anti-fighter role to deal with other fighters, interceptors and heavy fighters. The bomber has a singular focus which is to knock out enemy capital ships or installations. It is slow and while capable of limited self-defence priority is given to payload capacity and as such providing fighter escorts is crucial to allow bombers to complete their mission and return home in one piece. The heavy fighter is somewhat of a hybrid and is more heavily armoured and armed than a fighter or interceptor but also slower. At the same time it also has a secondary capital ship attack capability.
With one exception (more on that later) the light craft are organized into flights and these make up the basic tactical formation. As captain you issue orders to the flight rather than to individual light craft. Several flights make up a full squadron. Depending on the size of the mothership, the complement may be anything from a single flight, to a squadron, to a wing and finally a full air group with multiple wings each with multiple squadrons.
As you already know we put a lot of emphasis on your crew in The Mandate. Both in their interaction with each other, with your ship and ultimately with you, their captain. It therefore makes sense to also have pilots as part of your crew. Pilots are specialists and a green enlisted cannot become a pilot. However, through experience and training an enlisted may qualify for pilot training and with your permission earn his/her wings, and perhaps one day even become a legendary Ace. Whereas the crew as a whole is a big family, to pilots in particular their squadron is very important to their identity and esprit de corp. Squadrons may have unique names and their own logo/symbol to reinforce their identity.
As for the rank structure for pilots we are planning on adapting the rank structure of the Royal Air Force (RAF). The reason for this partially being historical, as the Imperial Russian Air Force had ordered (but not got delivered) uniforms inspired by those of early RAF designs. Another reason is that the ranks say a lot about what formation a particular officer is in charge of, e.g. squadron leader, wing commander and group captain.
Specifically for the light craft you will have the option to research upgrades and design and manufacture improved versions of light craft. Escape pods while not a requirement is certainly something to consider if you want your pilots to survive. There may also be certain starbases where you can purchase light craft but these are expensive and in the long run you will probably want to set up production of your own light craft. Once a light craft is built, its technical specifications cannot be changed (with a few exceptions).
While there are limits to what you can change on a light craft after it is built, you will still have a degree of flexibility: Depending on the upcoming mission you may customize each flight to carry specific weapons. With this new information in mind, let us review the light crafts embarked on the HMS Collinder, a Mandate heavy cruiser, which was mentioned in an earlier design update. She carries three squadrons and as such technically this is a wing which would be commanded by a wing commander (equivalent to a modern day navy commander or lieutenant colonel):
- 131st Fighter Squadron "Georges Guynemer"
- 1st flight: Escort-LR
- 2nd flight: Escort
- 3rd flight: Patrol
- 12th Bomber Squadron "Tiger Sharks"
- 1st flight: Patrol
- 2nd flight: Close Support
- 3rd flight: Close Support
- 71st Bomber Squadron "Red Devils"
- 1st flight: Starbase assault
- 2nd flight: Capital ship assault
- 3rd flight: Capital ship assault
You have a limited number of light craft onboard your carrier and while you may carry replacements, keep in mind that both pilots and light craft should not be wasted needlessly. A carrier without its light craft must rely on other escort ships and makes a tempting target.
The final type of light craft is the assault shuttle. Assault shuttles come in different sizes and allow you to embark and transport your marines to initiate boarding operations. Assault shuttles are equipped with thick armour and some even have personal shields, but they forgo weapons to maximize available space for marines. An assault shuttle will approach and attach itself to the outer hull of a capital ship and use its front-mounted drill to cut through the armour. Depending on the ship and its armour composition this can be a lengthy process during which the assault shuttle and marines are very vulnerable. A captain who sends a fully loaded assault shuttle into the heat of battle with no escorts is either very smart or very stupid.
Whereas the assault shuttles do not carry weaponry, both fighters and bombers and capital ships are armed. In the next design update we will focus more closely on the weapon types employed on capital ships.
Previous design updates have focused on crew and then ships of varying sizes, both light craft and capital ships. In this design update we will tackle some of the offensive weapons that can be found aboard ship in The Mandate.
Broadly speaking a ship has a number of weapon hardpoints. For smaller ships these are centered along the amidships section while on bigger ships both the forward and aft sections mount hardpoints.
Weapon hardpoints are divided into two main categories:
- Primary weapon hardpoints
- Heavy weapon hardpoints
The primary weapon hardpoints are the most numerous and allow you to install various types of turrets. Furthermore, primary weapon hardpoints come in different sizes from tiny to small to medium and bigger which dictate the maximum size of a weapon that can be installed. Generally speaking bigger ships have more and larger primary weapon hardpoints but there are exceptions as well.
Unlike primary weapon hardpoints the heavy weapon hardpoints are more standardized and fall in a �one size fits all� category. Heavy weapons are very powerful but have limited number of reloads available and as such a �spray and pray� approach is not recommended. In contrast primary weapons come with ample supply of ammunition and some types do not require ammunition at all.
All heavy weapons deploy from the same type of socket. When This is analogous to the tall ships of the age of sail where as long as the cannon ports were closed, it would be difficult to know exactly what type and size of guns were carried. In The Mandate acquiring intel about what type of heavy weapons your adversary can use against you is crucial information and may affect your tactics.
Each heavy weapon type functions in a specific way. Here are four examples:
We will cover these four examples in reverse order. Missiles are fully autonomous and can lock onto and be fed data from the ships� targeting computers. After they have locked on, they can launch and will guide themselves to their intended target. Missiles are quite versatile and many different types exist. Due to their high speed they can be difficult to intercept and shoot down. Missiles, however, are susceptible to jamming and counter-measures.
The third type of heavy weapons is the rocket. These are unguided projectiles which can be fired en masse and while individually they cause low damage, a full barrage of rockets can cause severe damage. Rockets are fast, they cannot be jammed and the sheer volume of them can make it difficult to deal with them before they hit their intended target. On the flip side rockets have the shortest range of all the heavy weapons and have a very narrow firing arc.
The space bomb is a dumb fire and long range weapon which is best employed against stationary targets like space stations or disabled enemy ships. Bombs do not have an independent propulsion and this has both pros and cons. Bombs generate almost no EMS signature and so can be difficult to detect by non-visual means. Furthermore they have the longest range of the four heavy weapons discussed in this update. It is possible to configure bombs to detonate based on either impact/direct contact or proximity. On the flip side bombs rely on the speed of the launching platform for their speed which make them impractical to use at low speed. Their firing arc is limited and so the launching ship must line up for its shot. If the target repositions itself while the bomb is on its way, the bomb will miss.
The torpedo is a very powerful heavy weapon with its good mix of speed and damage potential. It is also armoured and can withstand some damage. The torpedo can be manually piloted which allows the operator to pick the optimal angle of attack and minimize chance of detection and interception. Torpedoes are resistant to jamming and can be remotely detonated. The two main drawbacks are the lower speed which makes it possible to intercept with light craft and the torpedo also has limited ammunition. A captain who plans to go on extended patrols or a long campaign may wish to install extra magazines or include a fleet resupply ship in his/her battle squadron.
As for defending against enemy heavy weapons, it is important to employ a mix of countermeasures, light craft, ECM and point defences.
Just as with ship sections we will have quality tiers for weapons. Higher quality tier weapons are generally more efficient or have reduced drawbacks compared to lower quality tiers. However, beyond stat increases we also aim to offer a bit deeper customization options:
Primary weapons can benefit from the installation of special focus crystals or superior electronics which can be researched, purchased, captured or manufactured. These will either boost their potential or provide them with utility functions.
In the case of heavy weapons we are taking a slightly different route and you will be able to design your own custom warheads/ammunition. If you know that you will be going up against a faction that relies heavily on jamming or ECM, you could design ammunition that is especially shielded to withstand ECM. Alternatively, if the enemy employs fighters to defend against and intercept torpedoes, perhaps you may wish to consider a torpedo with a cloaking device or more armour at the expensive of damage potential?
One final point to make about weapons is that we are designing these with synergy and cooperative gameplay in mind. From a production point of view, player A may design and produce custom torpedoes which he or she trades with player B who in return can offer some unique primary weapons. In this way cooperative mode can extend well outside just fighting together in a battle. Again, cooperative is entirely optional.
We previously mentioned how the ships in The Mandate are built from three sections: the forward section, the midships section and the aft secion. We also mentioned that upgrading or swapping out a ship section would impact not only the exterior hull and number of weapon hardpoints, but also the interior of the ship. In this design update we will go into more detail about the insides of the ship(s).
One challenge when designing games is to find the right balance between realism and gameplay/fun factor. In The Mandate we deal with large capital ships and even the smallest are 200 meters long. So how do we represent these inside the game in a way that makes it possible for players to manage them and keep a good overview without needing to first read and memorize a 500 page technical manual that lays out the blueprints for each deck?
We had to come up with a few ground rules and since we had already decided to divide our ships into sections, it made sense to start from there:
- The basic capital ship in The Mandate is the frigate, each ship section being 60 to 70 meters long
- For the interiors we want to show a living and breathing ship, with crew milling about to attend to their duties
- We wish to reuse the same layout during boarding operations
- Make it easy to navigate the ship, as well as avoid boarding operations taking too much time, we settled on 1 to 3 decks
- We want a certan level of customization: if you install special modules, they should be represented in the interior
- We want the interiors to be dynamic and show the status of your ship at a glance: if sub-systems take damage and that sub-system is housed in a room, that room should also look damaged
Based on the above we came up with the following approach:
- We will use a standard unit of scale which is 5x5 meters
- Each ship section will be arranged in a grid structure that uses the standard unit of scale
- We can build a standard corridor with a 5x5 block, or we can fill it in to create a more narrow or cramped corridor
- Our doorways will be 1.5, 3.0 and 4.5 meters wide. The most common being 1.5 especially on the smaller ships. 1.5 m wide doors create natural chokepoints
Applying the guidlines above to a frigate we get a grid layout as shown above. Each ship section is 60x60 meters and consists of a 12x12 grid. Together the length of the internal ship sections for the frigate add up to 180 meters which matches quite well with the exterior dimensions.
Now, if you swap out one ship section this will inlude not only modifying the external looks and number of hardpoints but also the internal grid structure for that particular ship section. The number of rooms and corridors may change as indicated in the illustration above. Rooms in this context come in two types: pre-installed and free. Certain functions on your ship are so basic that they are considered mandatory, like crew quarters and the cantina. These are already placed out when you equip a new section. However, there will also be free rooms where you can install additional equipment like a sensor array, an auditorium, a gym etc.
The rooms inside your ship may require a minimum crew to function optimally and it may also be possible to assign additional crew to boost efficiency. For example if your ship has taken heavy damage you may wish to reassign crew to sick bay or engineering to heal wounded crew and repair the damage your ship has sustained. Or perhaps you acquired some exotic food or drink that could boost morale on your ship. If your cantina is empty like above, then those exotic foods may rot or spoil before you get a chance to use them. You are the captain -not the cook!