Paradox Interactive have always been a champion of niche gaming, especially in the strategy genre. In recent years though, the ‘internal’ titles like EU, CK, Victoria, HoI** have ceased being the central revenue stream for the company, with third party titles like Magicka taking over. Thankfully, Paradox will never abandon the genre that made them great, and their announcement today proves that.
**By 'internal', we mean the titles that were developed by the internal team at Paradox Interactive, which are now being developed by the recently formed 'Paradox Development Studios'. It's basically the same guys, in the same office, doing the same thing, they're just their own seperate entity now.
That's right folks: the long rumoured and long-awaited fourth instalment of one of their hallmark franchises – Europa Universalis, has been announced and is decidedly on the way. What will it involve? What will it be like? We went to PDS' Thomas Johansson and our BFF Johan Andersson to find out:
Strategy Informer: Ok, so, welcome guys, and thanks for agreeing to talk to me about Europa Universalis 4. Tell me, was there ever any doubt as to whether you'd make a fourth game?
Johan Andersson: No, it was more a question of "when does it feel right”. We started developing EU1 in 1997, EU2 in 2001, EU3 in 2005, so a 7 year gap until the start of the next sequel is the biggest gap so far.
Thomas Johansson: EU is really really, for me at least, the essential paradox game that we keep coming back to. As long as we keep coming up with new ideas we will always feel the need to come back to it. And as johan says, it was a long time since the last sequel.
Strategy Informer: So, speaking of new ideas - let's start off with the basics - Run through for me some of the BRAND NEW features and ideas coming to EU4?
Thomas Johansson: Since EUIII is a game we really like we have tried to go with the philosophy of keeping the stuff that works, while refining it and changing the systems we weren’t really as happy with. One such system is the trade - The old EU had centres of trade that the game valued to provinces and you sent merchants there to try to compete with others.
We weren’t really happy with how it worked and now that we’ve had a chance to make something different we have gone with having trade routes instead that the player can take control of directly and make money from.
Johan Andersson: Another feature we've done is the concept of letting the ability of the ruler matter much more in what you do. We've taken a fair amount of inspiration from CK2, and want to create the concept of ebb and flow in the game play. Who is your monarch should matter a lot… A peter the great should be a great period for your nation.
Strategy Informer: That was going to be another question I had - the Monarch System does sound a bit like CKII made manifest in an EU context... are there any more details you can go into at this point regarding that feature?
Thomas Johansson: To a certain extent it was inspired by CK2, especially how great persons gives you a personal connection to your country and how monarchs of different types will nudge your country in different directions. But you don’t play the monarch, you play the country.
Johan Andersson: We don’t have any plans for monarch pictures and no you won't play the character. But otherwise… the adm, mil, dip matters on what you can do.
Strategy Informer: So that system will still work for countries that don't use a monarch? It's just an extra layer in shaping your nation?
Thomas Johansson: All countries have a leader, some just don’t call him a monarch. I suppose you could say it’s an extra layer, but a very important one. As Johan said when you have a strong military monarch you have more power to take military initiatives, then his son comes along who is more of a peacemaker and your armies won’t be as flexible any more but perhaps your country can have what it takes to make more and better deals with others.
History is shaped by people, and we want the player to feel that his country is shaped both by the geographical and economical conditions but also by the people that lead it.
Johan Andersson: yes… it is replacing and changing some aspects of the country though. What we can say, to explain it, is the monarch’s ability allows you to do certain things: A high MIL monarch can do more assaults, more forced marches, recruit more leaders etc...
Strategy Informer: EU4 is using the latest version of the Clauswitz engine... is that engine allowing you to do anything gameplay wise that you couldn't do in the last game? Or is it just better visuals?
Johan Andersson: Engine development is not so much about gameplay, but more about performance & graphics.
Thomas Johansson: One thing to add there though is that an important step to make our games more accessible is to have good interface and lots of improvements have gone into the engine that helps us build our vision of what it should be. Perhaps not gameplay per se but when the engine becomes easier to work with, as definitely the new Clausewitz engine is, there is less technology stuff you have to think about when you make game features.
Strategy Informer: Over the course of the four expansions, EU III received a lot of accumulative improvements, will these 'end results' carry over into EU4? Or will you have to make another expansion like Divine Wind to improve certain areas?
Johan Andersson: EU4 is based on EU3 with all expansions of course, quite a lot of code has been rewritten, as some modules (like trade) have been changed completely. I had written ideas for 2-3 more expansions for EU3, in addition to what we’ve already done, but it was so damn fun to take a step back and think about how do we make a sequel out of this instead…
Thomas Johansson: Then there will surely be expansions for EU4, the thing with a project like this is that once you’re done and have the time to play the game and hear the feedback of the fans, you always come up with new ideas. I agree that EU3 + expansions feels like the ultimate game but I’m sure we will never run out of new ideas.
Strategy Informer: Need to quickly touch on a sour note: Obviously the Magna Mundi project was cancelled a short while ago. Tragic, but the ultimate result is a half-finished game with what I assume are some good ideas knocking about not doing anything. Did you ever consider allowing any of the concepts in that project to live on in EU4?
Johan Andersson: No.
Strategy Informer: We've touched a bit on new ideas, and on systems that are being completely overhauled... are there any other systems that you want to highlight that are getting tweaked? Military? Diplomacy?
Johan Andersson: Military will get overhauls, but that has not been finished yet. Diplomacy, we're adding a few new concepts, like coalitions for example. The relation system has been replaced by the opinion system that was in CK2, it’s no longer an arbitrary number from -200 to +200, but a value that allows you to see WHY it is at a certain level.
Thomas Johansson: You could say a coalition is a sort of targeted alliance where a group of countries come together to attack or defend against a third. This is an example of an ability that we think will give a new dimension to the diplomatic gameplay of EU. We've also separated military access from fleet basing rights.
Strategy Informer: Let’s talk about Multiplayer… you’ve actually mentioned some improvements in the initial press material, but as a feature it’s not something that’s really evolved at all in years… are you guys having a change in attitude there?
Johan Andersson: This time we are making changes - we want to put as much focus on multiplayer as we do on graphics. We have improved the internal engine for MP dramatically, hotjoin has been added for people who don’t trust their net, or drop or are late… A completely new chat has been added, bringing it out of the 1980's and giving you the stuff you’d expect from a modern chat interface.
A new matchmaking server will also be created, where you'll be able to see on-going games and possibly join them on the fly (with hotjoin!), and we will also have support for "stand alone servers", which allows a computer to run, let’s say up to 5-10 games continuously, and letting the metaserver know it exists so people can join them as well.
Strategy Informer: Why now for the Multiplayer improvements? And why for this game in particular?
Johan Andersson: Good question. EU is by far the best game series for multiplayer fun ever made, (I am humble… yes I am), I’ve played so many campaigns in EU2 and EU3 and the experience beats everything. Not having to worry about setting up a host, but just having a scheduled game running, if there are hosts for it, and then everyone joins etc… just makes it better.
Thomas Johansson: As you said it’s not been on the top of the priority list till now, but we've always had so much fun playing multiplayer at the office. I guess we just want to get more people to realise what a great multiplayer game EU really is.
Strategy Informer: It's interesting that you say EU is a great multiplayer experience, when the running of your country is a very insular experience. Hell, I know people who deliberately avoid PvP in online games. What's your take on PvP vs. Co-op in games like these?
Johan Andersson: PvP is fun, but in a game like this it is also self-policing, especially with intelligent players - the balance of power is everything.
Thomas Johansson: I guess a game of EU is both, really: you build your country in competition with others. Then you band together with others to contain that guy who is growing really fast, and the moment you realise that your 'ally' only has your country to expand into and it’s on to plan 'backstab'...
Strategy Informer: There's a bullet point on the press release about modding - have you done anything special there or are you just reminding people that EU games are fairly moddable?
Johan Andersson: Just a reminder basically. We're doing the same support for all mods as in CK2.
Strategy Informer: We touched briefly on how the new engine has affected things, but a lot of other things have changed in the last seven years as well, non the least Paradox Connect... will EU4 be taking advantage of that? Has that opened up any new possibilities for you in terms of DLC or whatever?
Johan Andersson: It won’t be attached to Paradox Connect per say... if people still love DLC when EU4 is released, we'll do content the way CK2 does it: with steam packages or through GamersGate’s in-game store. Paradox Connect is kind of dead as far as I know...
Strategy Informer: Ok, we'll start winding down now, couple more questions... is there anything else you want to say about EU4 that we haven’t covered? Any messages for the fans?
Johan Andersson: Historical events (That’s a short cryptic message). We're going to work A LOT on historical immersion to make countries feel unique without railroading them.
Strategy Informer: So, EU is on its fourth game name... not hard to imagine we'll be seeing sequels of one or two other titles as well *cough*Hearts of Iron 4*cough*... the industry at large seems to be suffering from a sense of sequel fatigue - do you think that will ever effect you guys?
Thomas Johansson: I suppose that depends on what you mean with fatigue. But as long as both we and the fans love these games I don’t see any reason to stop making them.
Johan Andersson: Yeah, fans love sequels... But we do non-sequels and people tend to not buy them (rome, sengoku)…
Strategy Informer: Do you guys ever feel trapped into making these sequels sometimes? Even the Total War guys have said they'd love to do a game in China or South America... and yet Rome II is their next game. Would you want to try another new project?
Thomas Johansson: Who's to say we cant do both?
Johan Andersson: We got other projects that are not yet announced in the pipeline… and no its not HOI4! (Ed: Well… nuts)
Thanks to Johan and Thomas for taking the time to talk to us. Well, there you have it – what do you guys think? Intriguing? Worrying? Samey? Europa Universalis is one of Paradox’s core titles, and it’s the title that kicked off the last generation of strategy games. Even though Crusader Kings II officially was the first game in the current generation, it will be very interesting indeed to see what EU4 brings to the table. Sadly, you’ll have to wait for Q3 2013 to find out.