East vs. West was announced last year, but we’ve only just managed to catch up with the dev team to find out about the game. Boy, have we missed out – East vs. West takes the Hearts of Iron formula and changes it into something truly exciting. We spoke to frontman Gellert Keresztes to find out more about it, and how we could get it into our lives pronto:
Strategy Informer: So the theme of the game is the Cold War – NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact. Is there any scope for players to not join either side? What kind of ‘game’ could they get out of that?
Gellert Keresztes: So some nations, you can get a bonus for staying out of the factions. We use the strategical goal system, and you get a strategic goal bonus for just being neutral. There’s an alignment tracker in the Diplomacy, and you stay in the middle of that within a certain range. But we didn’t want to create a Neutral ‘faction’, because really nobody was neutral, everybody took sides – India, Sweden... everyone took a side. So we looked at that and said “no, there should only be two factions”, and then there’s a span where you’re sort of neutral but we wanted players to able to have the ability to always go to one faction or the other. That’s really how that mechanic works – there’s a reward for being neutral, but at the same time that means you don’t have as many friends.
Strategy Informer: Can you form your own ‘faction’? Or like Hearts of Iron Vanilla are you stuck to the pre-determined groups?
Gellert Keresztes: Well, we have a system for that, and that’s using organisations. Like for example you could gave G20, the African Union, things like that... but for the base game the only Organisations we’re going to have are NATO and the Warsaw Pact. But we do have the option to form other groups aside from the factions, yeah.
Strategy Informer: How have you changed the gameplay from the basic Hearts of Iron set-up? That was essentially a wargame, after-all.
Gellert Keresztes: The problem with Hearts of Iron III was that it only really had depth through combat. We didn’t want players to only have just one tool for doing things; we wanted the player to have many tools to choose from just like it was during the Cold War. Take politics for example, you can support specific parties, with penalties, and depending on which Government-type you have you can even outlaw parties, so they can’t participate in the next election. This then can buy you time to work on the population and get them on your side. Or you might just want to collapse that and go into Communism, and suspend elections all together. The only way you could then get out of that is to suffer a coup, or get another nation to invade you and force your government out. So if your country drifts into either of these extremes, Communism, Fascism etc… then you can’t get them out without drastic measures. This means though that the US could go Communist, and then the next largest faction in NATO takes over.
There might be a time-span where you’re not in combat, so you can run at a higher speed – doing the ‘Space Race’ tech tree, for example. Researching all those techs takes a lot of time and resources, and you’ll probably be running at higher speeds there. Also, you may be setting yourself up for events that happen in the game, like UN decisions, or whatever else might happen. We don’t feel that this will be an issue when you play this game. You couldn’t just speed through in HoI because you had to micro-manage the combat... although that could happen here as well. If you play the US, for example, you could get bogged down in Vietnam, and then you’d need to spend a lot of time managing the combat there.
It also depends on the nations and the style that you’re playing as. Some nations may not go to war much at all, or you may concentrate on the other parts of the game, like politics and spying.
Strategy Informer: Starting right at the beginning, you’re going to have a lot of emergent nations – Isreal, Germany... how will that work in the long-run, and what happens if you want to play as an emergent nation that’s not present yet?
Gellert Keresztes: Yeah, and that’s with all possible nations. You can get nations to form in different ways – you can release them, or you can get uprising that changes your government or forces you to release them. We’ve changed the way dissent and National Unity works as well for these. Now, Dissent represents how well the people are getting on with what your government is doing, and whether they support your policies. National Unity on the other hand has changed to reflect how well you’re holding your nation together. Take Yugoslavia for example, if national unity gets too low, it’ll start breaking off into the Balkan states. This goes for the Soviet Union as well. Essentially, nations can form by themselves if you don’t have a good National Unity, so you have to keep on it.
You can also unite nations as well – so take Korea for example, or any other nation that’s split into a couple of parts, they all have the potential to unite into one nation. What we’re looking at is what to do if this happens to you, which we’re leaving until we get into beta. One way is to have the Hearts of Iron III way, which essentially means the game ends as you were playing as a nation that then ceased to exist. Or do you unite that nation and then continue playing as that nation? Or if you’re playing as Great Britain, and you free a colony like Kenya, could you then choose to play as that nation instead? We’re trying to find a way to do it that isn’t too exploitable. For single-player the issue won’t be that difficult, but in multiplayer we have to make sure it’s not exploitable.
It’s liked we’ve removed paratroopers as well – Paratroopers are one of the most exploitable units in the game, and we got rid of their mission types. Mainly because there weren’t really any division-level Paratrooper units at the time, and we wanted to add more meaningful combat features. For example, all of the provinces are the same size, and this gives you real progression when fighting. We’ve also altered the modifiers, in terms of combat strength. Typically a grand-strategy game would have two types of modifiers, terrain and unit, and we’ve stripped out terrain completely. A unit can’t go more than 100%, what is going 120% of speed anyway? Or 120% firepower? Is that even possible? No. So we’ve said being on a flat terrain equals 100% modifier. Any other terrain type, then depending on the unit you have, you’ll get less than 100% to various stats. And then there’s units like Engineers who give divisional bonuses to redress the penalties.
Strategy Informer: Tell us more about the Doomsday Clock – what makes it ticks forward or backwards?
Gellert Keresztes: So yeah, the Doomsday clock... there’s quite a bit of stuff that influences. So if you have wars all over the world, the clock will start ticking. But it’s also linked to the amount of nuclear weapons in the world – if lots of nations are developing a lot of nuclear weapons, then the clock will tick faster. But it’ll also tick backwards, if you get a detent, for example, or reduce the number of nukes or standing armies, which will reduce the clock. But this is a dangerous gamble because you have to use diplomacy to convince your enemies to do the same; as if you just do it by yourself you make yourself vulnerable. So you have to make sure you try to influence other nations to follow your lead. At the same time, other nations will try and stop you from getting nukes in the first place.
Strategy Informer: What happens when the clock strikes noon?
Gellert Keresztes: Come on, should I give that away?
Strategy Informer: Well, one can assume something bad happens, but it’s not an automatic ‘Game Over’ or anything?
Gellert Keresztes: You never get to ‘Game Over’, unless you reach the end of the game-time or if you lose your nation completely, depending on how we do that. But you can get nuclear annihilation. All it would take is 30,000 warheads to hit every province in the game twice.
Strategy Informer: How easy will it be to mod this game? I mean it’s a heavily modified version of an existing game – will players be able to get to grips with it?
Gellert Keresztes: Well like I said, Organisations is expandable to, well, eternity. The game is really moddable as well. Everything we put into the game we wanted to make sure could be easily modded, as myself and many of the other team members are modders as well. We want this to be a platform for any player to build on.
Strategy Informer: In Hearts of Iron, your goal was to win World War II. Other Paradox games have less specific routes towards ‘victory’ – what’s East vs West’s definition of ‘winning’?
Gellert Keresztes: We’re using Prestige. You get prestige from a lot of different places as well. We’re not using victory points, because in Hearts of Iron III that simply related to you earning certain provinces, and that was a result of the fact that the only way you could win was by winning the war. The minor nations as well were pretty much a non-entity, as there was no way you could win a game all on your own. But in East vs West we use prestige, and you can spend prestige on things as well. You can technically win another way, whereby one faction annihilated another completely. That makes it pretty clear that you’ve won... although if everyone is annihilated then everyone loses.
Strategy Informer: The time span of the game is 45 years, which isn’t technically the longest span ever but considering this game ticks through on an hour-by-hour rate, people are in for a long-term game over a short-term one. How does the game progress? What kind of narrative is there?
Gellert Keresztes: We have three main stories in the game – the square off between Nato and the Warsaw Pact that developed through-out the time period, the fall of empires and colonialism, with many of the colonies freeing themselves, and then pan-Arabism. The whole relationship between Isreal and the other Arab nations.
When you play the UK, you could try to prevent the colony nations from forming... or you might start off by freeing some to buy some time to prevent others from leaving. At the same time though, that means a certain segment of your population is going to be pissed at you, so you’ll have low national unity. It’s a bit of a trade-off but it’s always an option to try and play against history, same with the Soviet Union as well.
We use a dynamic events system that’s not tied to the time-line at all. In previous Hearts of Iron games there’s been a lot of linear progression, but in East vs West all of our events are tied to certain conditions, that can be met at any time. You could start the Vietnam War whenever you wanted, for example. It all depends on what you do. We had one play test where someone was fighting the Korean War and then launched the Vietnam War as well. We also have this thing called ‘defensive’ wars, which is wars you can fight to protect other nations.
Strategy Informer: Tell us about the revamped tech-tree – do you still get to unlock new toys to play with on the military side?
Gellert Keresztes: We sat down and looked at Heart of Iron’s tech system and the tech system of other games, and we didn’t really like what we saw as they all kind of operated the same way. Basically, you would research a new unit, and then research the ‘role’ or the ‘doctrine’ to go with that unit and you can send it out to fight. But that’s backwards, especially during the Cold War. So the way we do it, we do it the other way around. So say I want to fight a Guerrilla War, so first of all I research the ‘doctrine’ for Guerrilla Warfare, which unlocks the units, but also unlocks an additional set of techs that then enhance the unit.
Also, when you research a tech, it doesn’t just affect one unit type, it affects all unit types, but it also detracts from some unit types as well, depending on what it is.
Excited? No? Get out. But seriously – Paradox make good games, but it’s always fascinating to watch what the fans, the pro-amateur and the part-timers can do when they’re given a little support and some funding. Fingers crossed this won’t turn into another Magna Mundi, but there’s been no indications that this might be delayed so far. Don’t forget to check out our preview.