Posts Tagged ‘Paradox Interactive’

Today I’m going to talk to you about Grand-Strategy games. I like Grand-Strategy games. Typically they can be lighter on things like graphics and visuals, but they possess so much depth and potential options that it provides a nice counter-balance. Plus as someone with an active imagination, I also get a kick out of visualising events in my head anyway. One of the leaders in grand-strategy is a company called Paradox Interactive, and they’ve got several key franchises, each focusing on a different theme. Hearts of Iron for warfare, Victoria for Economy, Crusader Kings focuses on the human aspect of ruling a kingdom and politics, and Europa Universalis is blend of everything.

I went to see them in Iceland recently, and they’ve got a lot of great titles in their line-up for these games – expansions for Victoria 2 and Crusader Kings II, Europa Universalis IV, March of the Eagles, a Hearts of Iron spin-off called East vs. West (Which looks amazing). You’ll be able to see my coverage of these games dotted around the place, mainly on Strategy Informer, but it’s caused me to have a bit of a relapse into some of the older games – especially Victoria 2.

Victoria 2 is in itself a bit of a paradox – essentially it’s a game that focuses on the industrial revolution, so the economy system is very robust. You have a detailed population interface, with everyone having different jobs and you have to make sure you provide for all their needs. You can open different types of factories, which all require different types of resources that you can either find from within your nation or export from elsewhere. This is backed up by a very hands-on political system, where you have different parties and philosophies that your people with vote on (some political parties, for example, won’t let you build your own factories, letting the private investors do it for you). There’s also the diplomatic stage, where you compete with other great powers to draw minor nations into your sphere of influence, which gives you priority over trade. Essentially, they didn’t want this game to be a wargame, like the previous title they release – Hearts of Iron III.

The funny thing is though, as the name suggest, the game is set within the backdrop of the late 19th century colonial era. The scramble for Africa is accurately represented through a colonisation interface, there are the eastern nations you can interact with, and there were a lot of wars during this period. The 1871 Franco-Prussian War, the Prussian-Austrian War, the Zulu war in South Africa… the game’s time span stretches all the way to 1935, so you’ve got the First World War in there as well. None of these events are prescribed in the game – there are tools and systems in place for such events to happen. It’s strange then that they’d focus the game so much on economy, during a time where there was a fair share of fighting. And it’s not like you can sit back and avoid the fighting either. In order to be a great power, you need to have high prestige, a good industry, and a large army, and an easy way to get prestige is to fight wars. The military side of things though is rather tame – you can build three different types of units – Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery, and there are several variations you can get as you climb up the tech tree. (Tanks and Aeroplanes do appear very late in the game as well, although they don’t fit quite as neatly.)

Armies can be controlled by generals, and there are plenty of military techs you can research to make your military more efficient, but when it comes down to it a war is all about making sure your army stack is bigger than the other guys… like how Civilization used to be. At the time, it was a bit of a let down from the wonderful deep combat systems of Hearts of Iron III, and now, playing through it again, I can’t help but think it’d benefit loads from the developments made in March of the Eagles.

What I so like about Victoria 2 though is the long-term goals you can achieve. Crusader Kings II is good for this as well, in a way, as you can form De Jure Kingdoms and Empires eventually if you conquer/vassalise the right people. Victoria 2 has similar system in place for certain countries. Choose any of the Italian states, for example, and provided you can reach Great Power status you can work on bringing the rest into your sphere of influence (or just out-right conquer them), and then form the nation of Italy. Play as either Austria or Prussia (or any of the other German states, I think, although it’s much harder with them), and you can initially form the South or North German Confederation respectively, and then go on to create the German Empire. Austria also has the option to become Austria-Hungary, as it did in history. There are other ones as well for other key nations, some interesting, some not… Denmark or Sweden, for example can form an a-historical ‘Scandinavian’ nation, which I did once, although since the expansion it’s harder as you essentially have to fight Prussia for a particular territory, and you have to work really hard or get some powerful friends to become stronger than Sweden.

In my current play-through, I played as Prussia, with the eventual aim of forming Germany (going through a bit of a Germanic phase right now). The first step – forming the North German Confederation – is the easy part (relatively). You start with most of the key states under your sphere of influence; you only need to fight Austria (and maybe Denmark) for the rest. Provided you get your act together quickly enough, you can attack Austria before they have any chance of forming any decent alliances, and boom, North German Confederation. The hard part was forming Germany though, as the last few key provinces I needed were held by France, who is typically stronger than you, and in my game by the time I got around to looking their way, they had several key alliances which meant I would be fighting a war on multiple fronts. To my shame, I played a game where every so often, I’d start the war to see who joined which side (we shared several allies), and even play it out a bit to see how easy it would be… it didn’t work I, I reloaded to a save I made just before I declared war. Took a couple of goes and some more diplomatic shenanigans before I found a scenario that was favourable.

The ‘Great War’ of 1900-1905 (eventually, wars that contain multiple great powers are called ‘Great Wars’ in the game, to simulate the First World War)  was North German Confederation and my lackeys, Italy, Great Britain and perhaps a couple of others, versus France, Luxembourg, Belgium and Russia. It was the best chance I was going to get, and experience through fighting out the previous attempts gave me ideas to keep the Russians pinned on that front, allowing me to fully concentrate on the French. Essentially, the war boiled down to a massive dog-pile in Strasbourg, with two huge stacks going toe-to-toe for the whole war. Italy proved quite effective in fighting France in the south, while Great Britain kept the French navy at bay and also went for their overseas territories. I used what few stacks weren’t tied up to take out Belgium – which was harder than it should of been –  and support my allies whilst making a play for Paris. Eventually, the French army just broke, and it was only after I’d occupied all of their territories that they finally gave in. Three Cheers for Germany!

It was kind of interesting to watch the balance of power change after that – every nation on the losing side of a Great War has to ‘capitulate’, so they get rid of half their army, and other reparations as well. It removed France and Russia from the Great Power list completely, and at the time of wiring France is in the sphere of influence of The Netherlands, of all places. Russia is in the pocket of Austria, who I’ve just gone to war with as they’ve been sitting pretty gathering strength for too long. So far, the ‘Second Great War’ is going well for me.

All Hail the Fatherland.

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Hello from Sweden! I’d share pictures with you like i did last year, but I’ve finally decided that my camera is rubbish. Except when It’s day time and i’m outside, it’s really hard to get my camera to take decent shots, and it doesn’t handle motion so well. I think I need a new one. It’s a shame though, as it was a present from my Step-dad for my 18th birthday, and it has served me well in the past, but now? I dunno… also, I’m renewing my commitment to hating button-fly jeans. They’re just really annoying.

Paradox Interactive are  really a fascinating publisher, I love coming to see them. Apart from obvious cases like Blizzard, Paradox are a perfect example of not only how PC gaming is alive and well, but of how PC gaming is evolving. They’re best known for their more hardcore niche strategy games (my kind of game), but in recent years they’ve really been expanding into other genres. Mount & Blade, a great little medieval action title made by a small Turkish team was their first non-strategy, and since them they’ve been branching out. Magicka, the surprise hit of last year, was their most successful game ever. Plus they’re all just really nice people, and the CEO -Fredrik Wester – is amazing for interviews  and quotes.

They’re also pretty much the only company I’d consider going to work for right now. In terms of my general life ‘plan’, I can imagine me eventually making the move to PR, or something related, after I’ve had my fill of games writing – but if Paradox rang me up tomorrow and offered me a job, I’d seriously consider taking it. I probably would take it. Good people, good atmosphere, good games. One of my favourite (no ex)game writers is now working for them, having crossed the line last year.

Going to cut this one short as I’ll have to be leaving to go catch my flight soon – suffice to say I’ve had a great time as always, saw some really interesting games, and the coverage will be up on Strategy Informer in the coming days.

Star Wars: Dark Forces
Image via Wikipedia

Well, so far, being 24 isn’t that much different to being 23, although I do feel some cautious optimism about this year. I hope I manage to turn myself around and actually get to doing some of the stuff I said I would do. The ‘events season’ has already started, work wise. Had an event to go to last week, there’s three separate gatherings on Thursday, and one on Friday, and more invites are coming in for the weeks ahead. Not that I’ll be around for the ones this week – I’m off to Stockholm. Youmay  remember around this time last year I went to New York to go see Paradox Interactive? Well now that they’ve crossed the big apple off their ‘to do’ list, they are holding their next mini-convention a little closer to home.

Couple of things caught my eye recently. First off (and I should have taken a picture, but oh well) I saw not one, but TWO copies of Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast in a charity shop yesterday. Now, I’ve never played Jedi Knight II, or Jedi Knight for that matter. For some reason those games passed me by and I just never got into them. It’s possible my computer was quite up to snuff at the time, or perhaps they just didn’t appeal to me for one reason or another. Anyway, what I did play, was the game that started the Jedi Knight series (formerly known as – wait for it…) Dark Forces. At worst, it was a Star Wars DOOM-clone, but I remember it fondly, and remember it being quite a tense yet engaging experience as well.

It was released in 1995 would you believe. A long time ago… Brings back memories though, here was a whole series of decent Star Wars games back in those days: Dark Forces, Rebel Assault I & II… and of course the X-Wing and TIE-Fighter games. I even remember later games that I quite liked, such as Force Commander, Rebellion (Supremacy here in the UK), the first Rogue Squadron, the pod-racing N64 game they made after Episode I was released… and a couple of other games as well. There’s no real point to this other than a bit of nostalgia, but I guess they don’t really make them like they used to. There hasn’t been a decent Star Wars flight sim since X-Wing vs. TIE-Figther (never played X-wing: Alliance, so can’t comment), Empire at War was the last great Star Wars RTS, and unless they do end up making Battlefront 3, I don’t see there being a decent shooter either. I’ve already posted some musings about The Old Republic, so there is that, although I would like an official KOTOR III to make up for II‘s shortcomings. There were the Force Unleashed games I guess, but I never played those.

I’m hoping one day Lucas will pull his head out of his ass and stop trying to pander to younger generations so much… well, ok, he can keep doing that as from a franchise perspective I suppose it makes sense, but seriously, just give us Battlefront III already. What could possibly make you think that wouldn’t sell?

Also, saw this article on CVG about a proposed Anti-Piracy bill out in the US. Now, whilst the underlying message is something you really should take notice (the tone is a bit too “The end if nigh” for my liking, but there you go), the latest information is that the bill has actually be shelved because everyone’s realised how shoddy the whole thing really is. What got me thinking though was one specific line –

“Piracy certainly needs to be dealt with, but many are concerned that SOPA isn’t the answer.”

Now, it strikes me that you hear that phrase a lot when it comes to the debate about piracy – no matter what is suggested, nothing seems to be “the answer” and I just can’t help but think at some point the more sensible anti-piracy camp is just going to lose ground. Something has to be the answer, otherwise the issue is never going to be resolved and someone very powerful is eventually going to get fed up and just do the first thing that comes to mind. Then we’re all screwed.

Now, I’m not saying SOPA is the answer (heh) – that piece of legislation can go do one, but maybe on the next idea (assuming it’s not Nazism brought forth to the digital age), there can be some actual compromise instead of “that’s not the answer”. Personally, I don’t think there’s ever going to be an answer that everyone likes, but the sad truth of the matter is that Piracy exists, it’s never going to go away, and so really the moral high-ground is (usually) more with the content makers than it is the content buyers. We should really come off our high horse and realise that consumerism is changing – just because we’ve paid for it doesn’t mean we own it outright. Not saying that’s an acceptable change, but hey, if the masses were really that upset something would have been done about it by now.

Oh yeah, I never really told you guys about my trip to Sweden last week did I? In short, it was really good. The people at Paradox Interactive are great, and there’s a great working atmosphere there. If I was to ever get out of the reporting side of videogames, I’d love to work for a company like Paradox. Also, they bribed me with cocktails and a free meal so all in all it was a great trip.

There’s not much to say – I flew out Monday morning, arrived around lunch time, and then spent the afternoon in their offices… then it was pretty much straight out for dinner and some drinks, then got to my hotel and collapsed. Next day, again spent most of the day in their offices, went out for lunch, and then got on a plane back. Speaking of planes, Norwegian Air, the company I flew there and back with, have really nice planes! Spacious, comfy… top of the line, they’ve even started installing internet onto their planes. I pretty much napped there and back, so I didn’t get a chance to try it out, but it sounded cool.

I managed to take some photos, not many, but some, so here’s a small selection:


And let’s not forget who I was there to see:

Zomg, it’s like you’re really there isn’t it? They are on the 11th floor of their building… even though the building doesn’t have eleven floors. They start at 4 and then go up by even numbers (until 11, obviously), it’s very strange. Speaking of strange, for some reason I had this photo on my camera as well:

These weren’t from the Sweden trip… in fact looking at the label I got them from a Co-op somewhere… I can’t even remember where I took this… but I do remember these being some very fine donuts.

Until next time…

This is all you need to know for today. Or perhaps ever:

The guys over at Arrowhead continue to amaze, it has to be said. Sure, it’s a real shame that their debut title Magicka launched in such a buggy state, but unlike previous examples I’d like to think they were just as surprised as the rest of us, and hopefully it won’t happen again. After all, there wasn’t any indication of how buggy it would be during any of the preview sessions.

The bit about this group though is their sense of humour. Some of it is, at times, very… Swedish? I suppose? Doesn’t translate well, but in general they are a very fun loving group, and this latest trailer proves it. I’ve had a lot of fun with Magicka, and I’ll probably have a lot of fun with this as well. Make sure you watch the trailer right to the very end. The final promo image is amazeballs.

Oh sod it, here’s another video as well:

There’s quite a few like this. As brilliant as they, one can’t help but comment if only they’d spent as much time on QA as they’d done on these gems. But hey, I’ve forgiven them, so we’ll move on.

Until next time.

Or rather, very early morning shift (6am, to be precise), even though it’ll be 11am by the time most of you read this. Although, time zones being what they are, it’s always night somewhere. This is something I used to do over at Strategy Informer, where for a good few weeks I’d find myself working on late on one thing or another, and so I’d engage in the community aspect of our site and just blog about something.

Since it was night time, I usually called it the ‘Night Shift’. That just made me want to blog properly though, which lead me here. My sleeping patterns have been weird this week… saying that, it’s mainly me playing games for far  longer than I should, and then trying to deal with the aftermath. Ended up with a lot of late-for-work guilt this week… same again happened tonight, but instead of trying to ‘deal’ I decided to just power through the night and catch an early night Friday. It’s my weird way of trying to ‘reset’ my sleeping habits… although I should probably work on my gaming habits too.

Around trying to play Magicka (poor thing is still ever so slightly buggy), I’ve been getting stuck in to Sword of the Stars. Feel free to switch off here as it’s a very hardcore space-based 4X Strategy game, with both Real time and Turn based elements. The ‘4X’ part stands for “explore, expand, exploit and exterminate”, and basically applies to strategy games that have empire management in them, although it goes a bit beyond that. Basically a lot of depth, and a lot detail, but if you like that sort of thing it can be a lot of fun. The phrase was coined in 1993 by Alan Emrich, who was a games designer but who also wrote about videogames as well.

At the recent Paradox Convention I told you about, they were showing off the sequel – Sword of the Stars II, so I thought I’d do some ‘research’ so I could better appreciate where the game was coming from. Considering it’s only four years old, it could have aged better, but it’s a very enjoyable game. Talking with the lead designer was really fascinating – the vision he has for his game… it’s going to very micro-management heavy I think, but to be honest so long as it’s not frivolous then I don’t really mind.

The original has some frivolous micro-management in it, unfortunately. One of the great things about this game is that you get to design your own ships using interchangeable sections and weapons, as you get new/updated tech, you get to update the designs or create yet more. It can be a bit tedious thought to upgrade all your ship designs simply because they can now have a slightly more powerful laser. If I wanted to swap that laser out for something else – fine, but considering it’s an upgrade of an existing weapon, I’d kind of like the design to update itself.

Anyway, that’s what’s kept me up all night… I should get me one of those ‘life’ things everyone keeps going on about, I hear they’re fun.

Until next time.