The PC is awash with strategy titles dealing with every era possible. We jumped at the chance to interview Daniel Dumont, Creative Director at Gaming Minds Studios about the fourth game in the Patrician series.
Strategy Informer: For the uninitiated, what’s the Patrician series all about?
Daniel Dumont: The main principle of the Patrician games is that you start as a young trader in the historic setting of the Hanseatic League – the northern and eastern European sea area of the late middle age. In this setting, there are 32 historical towns which produce certain goods to fulfill the demand of the citizens. However, each town produces other goods and therefore, the main game mechanism is to buy goods where they are produced at a cheap price and spread them with ships to the towns where the goods are in short supply and sell them at a higher price. The economy system in the background is fully simulated and the prices are calculated in real-time by offer and demand. The AI traders – your concurrents – are simulated as well.
Later in the game you have to produce goods by yourself and establish trade routes which can be optimized in several ways. There’s also a ranking and a reputation system in the game as well as politics, piracy and sabotage play. These are important roles as well.
Strategy Informer: Despite being built around fairly niche concept (historical trading with strategic elements), do you think there’s enough appeal for a wider audience?
Daniel Dumont: We know that Patrician IV is not an action game, it’s a strategy game with an enormous depth and the users will appreciate the special historical background. However, we did a lot of work on the interface and the user guidance system to make the game suitable for a wider audience than we could for example expect in Patrician III.
Strategy Informer: Even if not the case, the game’s fan base is loyal. Why do you think a game about production and trading appeals to so many?
Daniel Dumont: The simulation of production, transport and consumption on the one hand and the calculation of prices from offer and demand on the other hand feels very authentic. I think this is just a very different experience from what the player understands from other games. And don’t forget the main game mechanism: buying (or producing) low and selling high is the way you make money in the game. This mechanism is very intuitive and grants lots of positive feedback. Additionally, the Patrician games are good examples of career progression, building huge towns and trading fleets. When you look at the trade routes, the game is also much about setting these up and optimizing – which lots of gamers just love in strategy games.
Strategy Informer:How historically accurate would you say the game is – have there been any changes to improve the gameplay?
Daniel Dumont: The historic background helps getting into the gameplay and its features. If you know that a game is based on historical facts it is easier to understand the grade of realism and how the game works in general. We tried to be as historically accurate as possible. However, when it comes to gameplay, historical facts have lower priority. An example: each region has a land royal who owns the country around the towns in his regions. Historically, the border between these regions changed within a few years and the land royals changed very often as well. In the game, the borders and the names are fixed avoid confusing the player.
Strategy Informer:There have been a lot of changes in hardware since Patrician III (2003), but what would you say are the biggest alterations that fans can expect?
Daniel Dumont: The usability of the interface and the transparency of the economy system. In PIII, there were lots of information we just couldn’t show to the player. PIV shows and explains much more, e.g. there are information buttons to access background info. You won’t need to keep referring to the manual although we kept the same level of complexity.
Strategy Informer:What level of interaction will we see with the 3D towns – are they simply glorified menus or will they be fully customizable?
Daniel Dumont: Towns cannot be as customizable as they are in pure construction games because towns in PIV are not owned by the player – he is just one of the traders who builds there. However, the player can place his buildings wherever he wants and influence the construction of roads. He can also build city walls and other main buildings.
Strategy Informer: The economy is an integral part to the game – how much scope is there for dynamic changes – is it a real-time virtual economy or is it partially scripted?
Daniel Dumont: The economy in PIV is fully simulated. There is – apart from the missions – no scripting at all in the game. Construction, production, buying, transport, selling, consumption – are all simulated in a closed system (all goods are produced and consumed in the same system). Additionally, the prices are calculated from offer and demand, Pirates with their hideouts and convoys are simulated as well.
Strategy Informer:How active are you with your community – have they provided any suggestions pre-release that have made it into the game?
Daniel Dumont: While creating the concept for PIV, we have always been in touch with the community and we even met them during an event on an authentic ship in Lübeck. The procedure worked like this: we developed the features for a certain area in the game and then we presented it to the community for improvement.
Strategy Informer:Do you think the lack of multiplayer (or mention of) will put people off? Why the choice to limit the game to singleplayer?
Daniel Dumont: I am sure that the lack of mp will put some people off, however the game with its “I-built-an-empire”-principle is not very suitable for mp. We would have had to create a complete new game design around the mp-mode. It’s just another game.
Strategy Informer:Is the game going to see digital distribution (GameWatcher, Impulse, GamersGate) or is it being limited to a retail box-copy?
Daniel Dumont: Yes, there will be digital distribution through Kalypso Media Digital and will be available on all the major ESD portals.
Strategy Informer:What’s the ongoing development plans – is there going to be updates, DLC, etc?
Daniel Dumont: Optimization, updates, missions... everything is possible. However, we have to wait to see how the game will perform and what the users are saying.
Strategy Informer:Console version's aren't currently planned, but with the upcoming release of Kinect and Move, do you think the Patrician franchise might have a future with consoles due to the enhanced playability motion sensing can provide for strategy games.
Daniel Dumont: Controlling the game with any kind of pointing devices is not the only aspect for the platform. I think the depth of PIV is slightly too high for playing it in 30-minute time intervals in the living room. Additionally, you need a good screen to play a strategy game – resolution, contrast and sharpness. Any PC monitor will do, however a non-HD TV won’t be enough. However, I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible to bring the game to a console – we would have to simplify the gameplay and reduce numbers and buttons though.
Thanks to Gaming Minds Studios and Daniel for taking the time to answer the questions! Patrician IV is due out on PC on the 10th September.