Paradox Development Studio Q&A: Johan Andersson talks grand strategy
IG: When playing CKII and Europa Universalis IV, it felt as if a lot of planning had gone towards making their various systems more transparent and accessible. As a studio, what is your philosophy regarding the balance between accessibility and complexity? Is it possible to boost the former without the latter suffering?
JA: Transparency has been a key factor for us throughout the entire development. Early on, we knew we did not want to reduce the complexity of either Crusader Kings II or Europa Universalis IV. But we still wanted the games to be more accessible and welcoming to new gamers. This was something that really went through the entire games, in game features, gameplay systems, interface, hints, tutorial. I would definitely say that Europa Universalis IV is, under the hood, far more complex than Europa Universalis III was when it released – but it is still far easier to enter the world and enjoy the gameplay. So yes, I’d definitely believe that you can keep complexity and still create an accessible game and that will always be our goals when we make our games.
IG: Have you experienced any negative pushback from long-term fans who now feel the games are less in-depth, or even (horror of horrors) too casual?
JA: Ha, to be frank, not as much as we expected.
I’d say that we got far more criticism before the game was actually released, because our gamers saw trailers and live streams and they became afraid that we were reducing the complexity. Luckily for us, once they started playing, most realized we had not “dumbed down” the game, but rather made it more accessible and with better graphics – which actually helped them convince their friends to try out our empire building game!
IG: You’ve just released a couple of bits of DLC for Europa Universalis IV, but are there any larger add-ons (in the manner of CKII’s Old Gods, Sunset Invasion, etc) planned for the game?
JA: Absolutely. We have several larger expansion planned, but we keep it very open now because a lot comes down to what our audience requests and what we believe can be created to enhance the game. Our first large expansion is planned to be released by the end of this year *knock on wood* and it will be roughly in the same size as the Crusader Kings II: The Old Gods expansion.
IG: Speaking of Sunset Invasion, what was the deal with the curious art files people found in EUIV showing dinosaurs and UFOs? Was that a developer in-joke, or the remains of an experimental, alt-history add-on?
JA: Well… That actually was a developer in-joke.
Europa Universalis IV will always be a historical strategy game. We might look to explore alternate history for the game, but we will most likely focus on plausible alternate history. But what we as a game development studio create in the future, who knows? We will always be creating historical strategy games, since that’s where our hearts are, but I am absolutely not ruling out that we might create different strategy games in other genres, parallel with development of the historical ones.
IG: You released a pretty sizeable patch for EUIV a couple of weeks back, but is there anything already on the list for inclusion in the next update? What have players been asking for after the last patch?
JA: Oh, trust me, there will be more patches! Patch 1.3 will hopefully be released in late October or early November and will include improvements for the AI, balance the game even further and handle some of the requests from our gamers. More info will surface soon, so be on the look-out on our forum.
IG: Here are some things I’ve done in your grand strategy games: ordered the deaths of infants; engineered a European war just to distract some other nations while I took a small parcel of land; cultural genocide of entire countries. Do you ever feel like your games get mysteriously overlooked in the various ‘violence in videogames’ debates? Do you ever secretly long for the guaranteed publicity you’d get from a hysterical local news reporter going into gory details about Crusader Kings II?
JA: History is a dark place in many aspects and we aim at exploring history. We try to put the events in the historical context and we explain why they take place. Our foundation is historical accuracy and we leave our games open for the gamer to decide what to do.
For example, look at GTAV where you as a gamer, if you explore the story line, are forced to do violent, morally questionable actions in order to progress in the game. If you compare that to for example our empire building game Europa Universalis IV or our strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II, you as a player do have the choice to carry out horrible actions – but nothing in the game is forcing your hand. In our games, you do as you choose and each choice you make has different consequences. The only judge of morality is you as a player.
IG: As a developer you’ve always seemed very open to modding. What kind of benefits do mods bring to your titles? Has there been any noticeable change in the number or usage of mods since the integration with Steam Workshop?
JA: We love our modders! They are a huge part of our success and we have hired quite a few to our studio! This includes Henrik Fåhraeus, the project lead for Crusader Kings II who started off as a modder for Europa Universalis I as well as Martin Anward, who created CK2+, one of the most popular mods for Crusader Kings II.
We always want to keep our games open as much as possible, so that people can change them as they want and create the game of their dreams. Modders are creative and fantastic; they keep the games alive and what they do can inspire us for the future development of the games as well. We have noticed an increase in the usage of mods, but we have always had a very active modding community. Steam Workshop has made them more easily accessible for more gamers.
IG: There were quite a few PC strategy titles released this summer: Total War: Rome 2, Dragon Commander, Civilization V’s Brave New World expansion. Did you play any of those, and, if you did, what were your thoughts?
JA: Well, for me personally with a daughter that is 1.5 years old, recently moving house and working intensely on Europa Universalis IV – I have not yet had the time to explore those games, sad to say. More recently I have played Papers, Please and Hearthstone…
But I am a huge fan of the Civilization series and I have no doubt that I’ll pick up the expansion sometime in the future. I think they are creating great empire building games. Their games are of course quite different from the ones we are making, but they are still really good strategy games and the developers’ passion for their games shows in the gameplay.
IG: You’ll obviously be supporting Europa Universalis IV for a fair while, but has the next major project after that been decided upon yet?
JA: It has definitely been decided and the development has already begun. We at Paradox Development Studio are currently working on three new games, but of course they are still top secret, sorry! However I would not be surprised if one of them might be announced at Paradox Interactive Convention early next year, so be on the lookout.