Are you tired of constantly saving the planet from alien invasions? Well the boot is on the other foot in the upcoming indie RTS, The Manipulators, which places you at the preparatory steps of an alien invasion. Your goal is to take over a small suburb using stealth and mind control while avoiding detection and being discovered by the local humans who will use an evidence system and smart AI to try to expose your efforts. California in the 90’s is the setting for this open world and the concept art and early screenshots look delightful. Starting with your alien Queen you must grow your empire by exploiting social networks and picking your targets well because as the AI becomes more suspicious of you they will defend themselves appropriately.
The Manipulators is under development by a team of indie developers from across the globe and we got the chance recently to put a few questions to the Project Lead, Mark Vatsel. Here’s what he had to say to us:
CA: Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
MV: Glad to, thanks for having me.
CA: In terms of the concept, the artwork has a very B-movie feel to it, what are your influences? Are there any movies or other games that you drew inspiration from?
MV: The inspiration for the concept comes from horror genre classics such as The Faculty, the Puppet Masters, Slither, and Invasion of The Body Snatchers (both films). Alien mind controlling parasites have been explored extensively in horror and I was really surprised it hasn’t been really tried in gaming at all. We aim to change that.
CA: You say it’s a top down RTS style game, how does it control? Do we get a whole map visible to plan strategy?
MV: It’s mainly clicks and selections, your standard RTS scenario of giving commands to units, but imagine a camera closer to the action a distance like in The Sims or the first Commandos games. Most of the map will already be explored, the challenge is dealing with the fog of war and getting information on the humans. You’ll have to have eyes on the ground through your puppets (and other means) to see what’s actually going on, and what the humans are up to. Our goal is to put the player on edge, having to be extra careful watching their back, making sure they’re up to date on the latest gossip in town.
CA: Will there be a “Story Mode” or is it randomized for each playthrough?
MV: Our aim is to randomize the hums, their stats and their social groups. Not knowing who the influential humans in town are, gives the game that needed tension and challenge. Depending on how development goes we might be able to randomize more aspects. I personally enjoy strategy games most when you have the largest amount of freedom and opportunity to be creative in your gameplay, so I’d naturally want us to be able to provide that too.
CA: It seems extraordinarily difficult to create a hamlet of humans that react realistically, how much of a challenge has that turned out to be?
MV: It’s a huge undertaking, which I’m countering by making flowcharts. Massive, highly complex, and frighteningly detailed flowcharts.
CA: Tell us about the evidence system, how does the human AI go about solving your nefarious alien crimes?
MV: The AI has the unique problem of figuring out what’s going on (is that murder a fight that got out of control or is there an alien invasion?). The humans solve the problem in a distributed, individual way. Each human collects information, and then humans exchange it among themselves, slowly piecing the puzzle together. This is a really crucial game mechanic, it means you can play humans against each other, and it’s not an immediate game over if one human figures it all out, they still need to convince someone with real influence to alert the mainland.
CA: Tell us about the believe-ability modifier, if I read the flow charts correctly some humans are more believable than others?
MV: Believe-ability is based on several variables, and the main one is how good of a relationship the listener has with the confiding human. It’s very similar to how you would trust a friend more than a random person on the street.
CA: Is it possible to drive a human mad by having them constantly report alien activity and have nobody believe them?
MV: Haha we haven’t planned that feature, but a human like this in game would usually just continue ruining their credibility.
CA: The concept art looks amazing, have you got any sneak peaks of the actual game yet?
MV: Thank you, we have a screenshot we’ve released of one of our houses.
CA: And is the game going to resemble the concept art in terms of artistic style i.e. bold colours and a slightly cartoony feel?
MV: The idea is to catch the cheerful attitude of 90s California, with bold vibrant colours and everyone being happy and having nice things, a Hollywood version of “normal life”. And then letting the player to demolish it entirely.
CA: What have you guys got planned in terms of soundtrack?
MV: We want a strategy game with a focus on planning rather than combat or fast paced decisions, so is ambient imagine SimCity or Civilisation instead of a live action film. An important aspect is to have a dynamic soundtrack that changes as the player infects more people in the town. The music will slowly progress to a haunting and menacing ambiance.
CA: And the all important question, when can we get our hands on the game?
MV: Sometime in the future is as precise as I can get, sorry!
This is a game that pricked my curiosity right from the word go. It’s a fantastic concept and it really looks like the team are doing the legwork towards making it a truly interesting and challenging game. Head over to the site at https://themanipulators.co.uk/ and while you’re there be sure to check out the blog where you can find some really interesting flow charts that describe the way the human AI deals with your activities. Be sure to check back at gamespresso.com for more updates about The Manipulators as the project moves on!