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The History and Future of Paradox Grand Strategy

By on February 7th, 2014 2:00 pm

Johan Andersson, studio manager at Paradox Development Studio

When it comes to historical strategy games there’s a studio that immediately comes to mind, the Paradox Development Studio, a Swedish video game developer closely associated with the video game publisher, Paradox Interactive. And, if you’ve been following this site for a while – and even if their titles fall a bit outside of our core themes – chances are that you have already played, or at least heard about strategy titles such as Europa Universalis, Crusader Kings, Victoria or Hearts of Iron. And if that’s so, you’re probably interested in knowing how it all started for PDS, and what will be coming next. So, here’s what Johan Andersson, studio manager at Paradox Development Studio had to say to us about the history and future of the studio and its grand strategy games. 

SS: Tell us about yourself, what made you start working on video games?

Johan Andersson: I have always loved strategy games, always been passionate about history and a gamer by heart. When I started as a programmer in the gaming industry I was actually working on action and fighting games in Norway, believe it or not! But then I felt that I really wanted to return to Sweden and by doing so I was fortunate enough to get a chance to start up a game dev studio as part of the company Target Games, which created board games. They wanted us to create pc-games based on board-games and the first game I was part of was Europa Universalis I, based on the board game Europa Universalis. The board game was complicated as hell, but we were still convinced that it could be transformed into a magnificent empire building game for PC. And so we got the rights and created it followed by Hearts of Iron, Victoria and Crusader Kings. We wanted to make grand games in the aspect that we wanted to make the world into a playground and give the gamers everything history could provide.

When we made Europa Universalis II, I remember three brave game devs in the start of the project with the tiniest of resources cramped in a small room, sharing desks, programming away. And so our story began. As a development studio, we have always been our own entity within other companies, up until before the release of Crusader Kings II. Then we made the decision to create a new identity for the studio and call ourselves Paradox Development Studio. But of course we work really close with our publisher Paradox Interactive still, they are awesome. Everyone working here at PDS are gamers and we have the luxury to be game devs with the creative freedom to make the type of games we ourselves love.

Europa Universalis I (2000)

Europa Universalis I (2000) - Paradox Development Studio, Strategy First, Typhoon Games

SS: What was developing your first game like in comparison to making your newest game?

Johan Andersson: Well, we now have our own desks! Ha, no, the thing is that I have always believed that great games can be made by small teams as long as each team get enough time to work on their passion projects. Paradox Development Studio has indeed grown a lot, but we are still a fairly small Swedish game dev studio and every game has a dedicated team. We are now 40 people in several teams: Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, Runemaster, Hearts of Iron IV as well as our art team that works on all projects. But if you take Europa Universalis IV for example, every single person in Paradox Development Studio has worked on that game during the development at one time or another. When we need help and extra resources, for testing, bugfixing and so on, everyone helps out! So each game is a labor of love for the entire studio, even if you are not on the dedicated team and by having grown we can now easily get everyone on board when we need more resources.

So in some ways, our development process hasn’t changed that much throughout the years. It is just that we now have more time to rework and polish the games, take more time to iron out bugs and develop the games further, and add gameplay features for free. What really helped was the success of our strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II, since we are self-funded. The money helped us to make the release of our empire building game Europa Universalis IV the best still and will keep helping us improve on our future games.

SS: What is it like now that Paradox has hit the big times with such successful titles as Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV?

Johan Andersson: It is absolutely marvelous, truth to be told! I think there is a real craving for sandbox strategy games that let you, as a gamer, write your own story and feel that the fate of the world really lies in your hands. Working on both Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV, we decided early on that we did not want to compromise on the complexity of the games. But we spend a lot of time looking on what could we do to make it easier for new gamers. We reworked almost every single feature in the games to make them understandable, make our first steps to create solid tutorials, added hints and tips systems and hired an interface manager (for EU4) to make the interface easier to grasp. Games don´t need to be dumbed down, but they shouldn´t scare the life out of a newcomer either.

I also believe that, besides the above, what really helped was the storytelling from gamers and the word of mouth. It´s like we finally breached the barriers down and managed to show new gamers what sandbox strategy really has to offer. For a newbie, it is so easy to look at the games and just say – ok, maps, that´s it? When in fact our strategy games often has more storytelling and more choice to explore than the RPG games out there. They just needed to discover that and Crusader Kings II was the game that made them see it!

Crusader Kings II

Crusader Kings II (2012) - Paradox Development Studio, Paradox Interactive

SS: What do you consider to have been your greatest work so far?

Johan Andersson: All of them! Sorry, you can’t ask me that, it’s like having a parent choose a favorite child. I am proud for every single game I have ever been part of creating as well as the ones we are creating. For us at PDS, a great video game is a set of situations in which the player is confronted with meaningful choices. We want to give our players all sorts of options; instead of telling a focused, linear story, we strive to create situations in which the player can create his or her own story. The games are so different once you enter their worlds, from the intrigues and backstabbing in Crusader Kings II, the feeling of conquering the world in Europa Universalis IV, the political decisions and the people’s revolts against your politics in Victoria II or the feeling of WWII-warfare in Hearts of Iron. I would say that our studios greatest achievement is that we can create challenging games that all have their distinct personalities, the freedom for the player to choose how to play and I feel that they all bring something unique to the table.

SS: Have you ever considered making your own sci-fi or fantasy universe for a Grand Strategy game?

Johan Andersson: Of course we have considered it, but we are more curious in exploring other game genres with strategy elements rather than making a grand strategy game in a sci-fi or fantasy setting.

So now we have revealed our upcoming games! Side by side, you will find the development of our WWII game/grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV and our tactical RPG Runemaster! So indeed, Runemaster is our first game ever that is not based on history, but instead based on Nordic Mythology.

I think that we as a studio always think of what we want to explore next, mostly new aspects and eras of history since we love history and since it is an endless source of inspiration. But since we are all gamers and strategy gamers at that, we know most gamers that enjoy strategy games loves not only historical strategy games, but also games set in other areas and realms, as long as they offer really good gameplay.

SS: How do you feel about your community? Every Paradox game I’ve seen has had a massive modding community as well as After Action Reports coming like rain. What do you think of some of the bigger mods, such as Elder Kings, Lux Invicta and Game of Thrones?

Johan Andersson: Our modding community mean the world to us, we really want our games to be modded and we want to see gamers own visions and we have recruited several modders to PDS. There are plenty of excellent mods and I think that above all, they also make gamers discover our games that think that sandbox strategy isn’t their cup of tea. Then they find a mod on a theme they enjoy and can relate to, and it makes them fall in love with strategy games.

I am personally really excited that there is a growing trend among modders to create according to “less is more” principle, where one simple idea can change the gameplay experience drastically. The fact is, most systems work best if they are kept simple and I am happy to see more of that in the modding community :)

SS: What kind of challenges are there when it comes to making a grand strategy game?

Johan Andersson: What is our strength, and also the hardest thing to handle, is the scope of the game and at the same time making it accessible, no doubt. Because it is the depth that is genuinely fun to explore and play – because if offers such a huge variation and replayability. In Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV we worked harder on how we ought to explain things to new gamers, because we really do want our games to be easier to get into so more can caught up in all the drama of strategy games :)

Historical accuracy has always been one of the things that makes Paradox Development Studio game stand out from other popular strategy games. However we still need to add not only real historical events but also plausible and realistic simulation of history that works for your take on the world. Our has never been to recreate history in detail and make gamers play along a set path; instead we look at the historical choices that countries faced at the times and then we build the game logic to make these choices good in game terms. Especially in the Europa Universalis series you can view this development as we have had a different take on historical events in every game. Where Europa Universalis II had a very historically set path, Europa Universalis III had more free events, and Europa Universalis IV introduced dynamical historical events where each country gets guidance on its historical path, but these events might not happen if the conditions are not there because you’ve taken your nation on a different path from the historical one. Naturally, this also means that some ahistorical successes might lead you to interesting and plausible alternate history events…

Overall I think the core of our games is the idea that the individual pieces need to be clear. If you look at the systems in isolation, most of them are fairly simple to use. The complexity comes in your mind when you try to grasp all the pieces at once.

Europa Universalis IV

Europa Universalis IV (2013) - Paradox Development Studio, Paradox Interactive

SS: One of the iconic traits of a Paradox game is the soundtrack. When creating the music to suit a specific atmosphere, what are some of the challenges you face?

(Answered by Andreas Waldetoft, composer at Paradox Development Studio)

Andreas Waldetoft: The hardest part of making music to grand strategy games is actually that the games are so open and free for the gamers. When composing, you don’t know what the player will do or what will happen, so you can’t really compose like you would if you made a movie or a more linear game. That means that the atmosphere is the most important feature of the music.

PDS games are mostly historic, so you have to lend some of that eras particular harmony and instrumentation to get the right mood. We have a music system that can change the music to whatever happens, the only problem is the amount of music you need to have it truly dynamic. I have composed around 3.5h of music for CK2 and I feel it’s still not enough to be as dynamic as I’d like. And in most Paradox Development Studios’ games you can choose any country in the world, so making music for all cultures would also mean a lot of music.

The hardest part of all this is that the music will be played for possibly hundreds of hours because of the replayability of PDS games, so I try to not overuse the same themes in many songs like you would if you made something more linear.

SS: What future games do you have planned? 

Johan Andersson: So now we have announced our upcoming games from Paradox Development Studio! Our game projects in the making that are announced are our WWII grand strategy game Hearts of Iron IV and the tactical RPG Runemaster based on Nordic Mythology, Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India expansion opening up a whole new part of the map as well as Europa Universalis IV: Wealth of Nations expansion focused on enhancing the trade aspects of the game.

Hearts of Iron IV

Hearts of Iron IV (ETA: Q1 2015) - Paradox Development Studio, Paradox Interactive

SS: With each new game being  more in-depth than the last one and covering more of history in more detail, do you think there will ever be a universal grand strategy game? On a side note, what about the future of the grand strategy genre?

Johan Andersson: Ha! Why would we want to remake Civilization? ;) I can honestly say that you won’t get a universal grand strategy game from us. All the different eras offer different challenges, and for us to create one single game would either give a very fragmented experience or simply not make history justice. And the future, well, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the future of grand strategy games. We can see a constant stream of new gamers finding their way into sandbox strategy. I personally feel that gamers are becoming more dedicated and passionate when they find a game or a game series they love and a studio they trust – they keep supporting it and thereby helping the games develop and make even greater games. And it is up to us devs to prove them right and surprise them as well :) Always in motion is the future.

SS: Thank you for your time.

Hearts of Iron IV is slated to release in Q1 2015. The ETA for the tactical fantasy RPG Runemaster is end of 2014. Crusader Kings II: Rajas of India expansion is announced for Spring 2014 and the Europa Universalis IV: Wealth of Nations expansion should arrive in Q2 2014. We’ll keep following the developments of Paradox Development Studio and its grand strategy titles.

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  1. David Carron says:

    Should I just give up on Sword of the Stars II getting fixed?

    The ratio of the potential in that game to what was actual vomited onto the screen saddens me.

    • Adam Solo says:

      Allow me to just point out that Sword of the Stars 2 is a Paradox Interactive / Kerberos Productions title, not a Paradox Development Studio one.

    • Paul Fowler says:

      Man I wish there were mod tools for that game. The combat could be amazing but so many odd design choices for that game made it really lackluster. An overhaul of the game could be amazing I think.

    • LuckyLuigi says:

      Last I heard a key developer was on tour in a rock band. So I would not get my hopes up. That said, they did fulfill their promise to create a ‘working’ release (took them a year). It is playable and the combat looks glorious. Yet many flaws remain.

      • Paul Fowler says:

        Yep, I certainly will give them that. And they added in the expansion for free as well. Though like you said flaws do remain.

        If that game had mod tools I’d be spending crazy amounts of time with it.

  2. Lens Flares Suck says:

    Know why I’m buying Runemaster? I saw a screen shot and it DID NOT have 87 tiny little icons all over the screen.

    There was a big piece of gold and over it a number and you could easily READ IT.

    Remember when games were 320×200? The interface HAD TO BE simple and readable.

    There’s a reason people like those old games. They’re fun, not work.

  3. Njordin says:

    I absolutely love paradox. looking forward to hoi4 !

    • Simão A. Zaidan says:

      I am Brazilian, I love Paradox, I am passionate about Hearts of Iron series, and not wait to buy the HOI IV. I just want you give more attention to Brazil in the game, because here has a lot more features than just rubber. Besides Brazil also fought in World War II, German submarines sank off its coast and sent troops to Italy where the FEB made ​​thousands of German prisoners.
      I love to play Germany and already spent hundreds of hours playing.
      Congratulations on develop HOI IV, but please consider that the improvements made by the MOD Black Ice I think they should be enjoyed.
      I would like to help test the HOI IV if you need a hand.
      It would be great also one of HOI IV manual in Portuguese from Brazil!
      Best regards!

  4. hakkarin says:

    “Ha! Why would we want to remake Civilization? ;) I can honestly say that you won’t get a universal grand strategy game from us. All the different eras offer different challenges, and for us to create one single game would either give a very fragmented experience or simply not make history justice.”

    Considering that they created a save game converter for Crusader Kings 2 that exported the save into EU4 and hints that the same would probably apply once Victoria 3 gets made I don’t think a universial game is needed anyways. Players will just finish a saved game from one game and then export it into the next one.

  5. Zethnar says:

    It’s a shame they aren’t looking in to making a Sci-Fi grand strategy. I’d love to see something like Crusader Kings, but set in a sort of Dunesque or Battletechish feudal space civilization. Even some kind of near future post-apocalyptic setting would be cool.

    Still, can’t fault them for making what sells rather than risking time and money on a concept that might not.

    • Scero says:

      could always try to mod crusader kings :P When I think about it… it should be possible. Instead of having sea sector, you have space sectors (heh..) and instead of landmasses you have planets. Each planet could be a duchy, consisting of a few counties, each system could be a kingdom, and then you can join together a number of systems to form an interstellar empire.

  6. calimerostv says:

    What about EU4 : Rome 2 ? Ancient era is one of the best for strategy games, EU: Rome had lot of flaws but in the heart it was great game, now is time for the greatest game about ancient world, they have experiences from CK2 and EU4, lets do it :)

  7. Drew says:

    With Paradox’s change to Steam only products they have lost alot of thier core market. That being the tech savy gamers that like the detail. These people are also very warry of Steam DRM. And liked the old DRM free platform Paradox used.

    Personaly I have given up on them. And will instead look to Slitherine and AGEOD for this niche. As well as fan made mods to the old paradox titles that offer alot of the features added to the new games.
    Also the HOI3 Vicky 2 fiasco’s made me very warry of buying anything paradox until it has been out for a year and fan fixed the bugs in the original product or paradox put out a DLC to fix them.

    • Jon says:

      I think that Paradox just use Steam as a distribution method and does not have drm in their games. I think once you’ve downloaded the game through steam you can play it without steam and even uninstall Steam if you like. Paradox are very anti DRM having tried it and found it to be useless.

      As for the buggy HOI3, I bought it day one and found problems, but its now excellent. Would I prefer to have waited until it was ‘finished’ before buying it – no way – I loved seeing it grow and change, but its each to their own really. I’d buy hoi4 now if I could!

    • Ermdog says:

      I don’t understand why people keep complaining about DRM. You don’t need to be online to play Steam games, or even have steam open, unless the game actually requires you to be online. Countless times I’ve had to play offline and there has never been an issue loading a game. Now the issues I can think of are people no longer being able to lend their game to friends, having to be online to install the game, and worrying about server crashes. Who lends Pc games out anymore for one, so what you have to be online a few minutes to install a game, and server crashes just may as well be like a power outage, stuff that happens once in a blue moon( I have never experienced server issues).

      As for Paradox losing their “core” market, I would strongly object to that. Steam peaks around 8 million players online at once, everyday. Considering the popularity of Steam and the amount of users, you would be dumb not to try and get your game on Steam. You open your product up to so many players, new and old. GalCiv3 devs stated they will only release their game on Steam, since hardly anyone plays their games otherwise. This goes to show you the amount of users who play though Steam. Unfortunately they are not going to cater to the 1% who don’t like Steam. The thing is Steam adds so much more to the games they sell. Added game achievements, game forums, game cards, and lets not forget the huge sales.

      I’m an oldschool gamer, I remember the days of going to my local Best Buy and buying Pc games all the time. Times have changed, and PC gaming has changed. The days of boxed PC games are behind us and the future lies in online downloads. You may not like it, but its the future of PC gaming

      • Happy Corner says:

        A lot of Steam hate is (ironically like you) old school in nature. Steam was MUCH more annoying when it was newer, and I too hated it at first. It got better, though, and I mellowed out to it in due time. I don’t have any problems with Steam these days, and I do indeed welcome the sales.

    • Robert says:

      The thing is they’re not losing a core part of their market. For the release of Crusader Kings 2, they planned to just release on steam but people on their forums convinced them to release elsewhere as well. The marketshare outside of steam for that game just wasn’t large enough, and that’s why eu4 is only on steam. They do support all 3 OS’s though, which is nice.

  8. Ermdog says:

    Great interview! It was nice getting an insight on Paradox. I am very much looking forward to Runemaster.

  9. towerbooks3192 says:

    Every devs should learn from them. One of the best things about PDS is their patching system. They release patches that fix the vanilla game when an expansion comes out and only blocks the new mechanics brought by the DLC.

  10. Mark Valley says:

    Their work is awesome but I was a little disappointed after reading the last answer: I was really curious to see their approach to an universal grand strategy game.

    I always felt that Civilization’s world was a little bit empty, even at late game with just a few civilizations/countries. Also, i don’t like too much the Civ’s approach where the civs will always get bigger and bigger and latecomers does not have a chance to fight equally.

    I would love to see a game where I can begin a civilization from the scratch at any time on a random world and; after some conquests, falls and “retakens”; the modern world would be rich with lots of countries, cultures, religions, etc…

    I always felt Paradox was the one to build such a game. Maybe some modder could try something like that? Who knows?

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Post category: Interviews