Hearts of Iron III – Paradox’s most ambitious game is sadly one of the most troublesome. By the studio’s own admission it tried to do a little too much all at once and is a little bit too complex for its own good. Bit by bit though, the team at the 'Paradox Development Studios' has been improving and re-working bits of the game to make it more fun and interesting.
We fired off some questions to Project Lead Dan Lind about the new upcoming expansion, Their Finest Hour:
Strategy Informer: Hmmm, you’re not Johan. Where’s Johan gone? What have you done with him!?
Dan Lind: Have you checked the bunker? :D Nah, since Paradox Development Studio has been growing so well (we have 3 full game teams now!), Johan has started off-loading more responsibility on the individual teams. How else would he have time for beer drinking? ;) The team working on Hearts of Iron III: Their Finest Hour is the same one that worked on Hearts of iron III: For the Motherland and Victoria II: A House Divided expansion.
Strategy Informer: Every Hearts of Iron III expansion has had a ‘theme’, what’s the theme for the expansion Their Finest Hour? It can’t be the Battle of Britain – which was totally our finest hour – because none of the material to date suggests that the aerial warfare mechanics are being changed.
Dan Lind: Our expansions for Hearts of Iron III have never really been that focused on a particular theme feature wise. We have always preferred overall improvements with one or two features to go with the theme. The feature referencing the title is our new strategic warfare screen giving you much more detailed long term information on how the aerial war, bombing and convoy raiding/defence are going. So it is very much part of the Battle of Britain, albeit an abstraction.
Strategy Informer: Espionage is being worked on for the first time since release, but there are plenty of areas still left untouched… what’s currently the biggest thing you’d like to change or improve upon?
Dan Lind: The entire air war model could do with a make-over. We had a look at doing this for the expansion, but we decided it was such a radical change that it would fit better in a possible sequel... I want to make it much more visible to the player without being so micro intensive.
Strategy Informer: Tell us more about the ‘Elite’ Units – how do they fit in with Heart of Iron’s larger army management structure? How will you make them ‘stand out’?
Dan Lind: The idea is that they are specialized infantry with generally strong terrain bonuses. Each nation's elite units have unique stats and models. Whether it's the US Rangers bonus to combat in rough terrain, the Soviet Guard's high morale or the Alpini's mountain warfare skill they are each pretty different. They are also limited in number so it will be important to pick the most suitable battlefields for them to maximize their capabilities.
Strategy Informer: The custom game-mode seems to offer an ‘accelerated’ start to the main game – was that a fan-request or did you just want to offer more flexibility?
Dan Lind: The main proponent was Johan actually, he's been nagging me about it since Semper Fi! But I have had several multi-player groups talk to me about this as well, so it´s definitely a fan-request we took to our hearts. The idea is that you can start at a later date and not have to play from 1936 to get your country to where you want it. It saves a lot of time in multi-player. In single player I expect players will like it for the experimentation as it lets you quickly test completely new technology tracks and army compositions.
Strategy Informer: The Naval systems seem to be getting tweaked again – are you having trouble getting that element to work how you want it too?
Dan Lind: The invasions have always been a bit tricky to get right, I have to admit. But we are now introducing new ships and technology for handling naval invasion. This should definitely give much more control and flavour I hope.
Strategy Informer: Members of the HoI dev team, including Johan and King, have mentioned before how with Hearts of Iron III they tried to do too much all at once, so the base product wasn’t as good as it should be. Three years on, if you could go back in time and do it all again, how would the base product differ?
Dan Lind: We still love our game, and with patches and updates as well as expansions we do think it is a great game and we are proud of it. But if we got to go back in time and do it all again, then we would most likely hold back a lot more on the complexity. Many systems like supply and weather are big and complex, but don’t really give the player the right tools to understand and work with them easily. They are also hard to balance from a developer perspective to make them fun, which is of course one of the most important things! When we design expansions for other games, it is usually a question of coming up with new features to put in. In Hearts of Iron we already have so many features right from the start that it is more a question of taking existing features and giving them a do-over to make them fun and easier to use. If there is something we learned over the last couple of years it is that it’s better to have a smaller game that works and then add more things to it though patches and updates. Rather than to put everything in at once and get it too rough around the edges.
Strategy Informer: Is this a ‘last hurrah’ for Hearts of Iron III? Does the team want to continue making expansions for this game or move on to something else?
Dan Lind: When you have a good game, I believe you can always keep adding more cream on top of the cake. But you never know, I can´t confirm or deny it right now… ;) But I have to admit that the ideas we want to do are getting bigger and bigger and do not always lend themselves well to the incremental improvements you can do in expansions.
Thanks go to Dan for taking the time to talk to us. Their Finest Hour is due out later this year.