Amid all the madness at this year’s Gamescom I found a moment to sit down with Paradox Studio’s lead game designer Johan Andersson and find out about his perspective on Europa’s vocal community, the future of the series and why he’s nervous about working on another Hearts of Iron game.
Q: If someone reading this interview had never heard of Europa how would you sum up Europa IV in one sentence to sell it to them?
Johan: I can say multiple sentences that I think would sell it.
You change history.
It’s a game where the developers made a game that they wanted to play themselves….It’s hard to describe in one sentence!
Q:[laughs] OK, you can have a couple of sentences
Johan: OK..It’s a living world where you play a country.
It’s not just a game, this is the world and there are hundred of entities that you play against that are acting from their own perspective – not just as random bots against a human.
Q: Obviously there was a massive gap between Europa IV and the previous game in the series. How crucial was fan feedback to the development process?
Johan: That’s one of those questions that has multiple answers… depending on what type of answer you want. Fan feedback is important in identifying what people like in the game series.
Fan feedback is never really good at identifying what people dislike though. Just because ten people are something vocally – repeatedly, it doesn’t mean that everyone is saying this.
Fan feedback is also interesting in measuring volume on what they find interesting. What type of information we give out. What are they reading? Which development diaries are most popular? That affects the [development] process a lot.
Q: What would you say were the main criticisms or feedback that you took from Europa III and got to address in Europa IV?
Johan: We kept most of the concepts [ From Europa III], but changed the mechanics. Then we tweaked [them] a lot..
The process from E3 to EIV can be described as ‘ it’s the same person, but we replaced the skeleton and the skin, and some of the organs work in a different way’
That’s a weird metaphor, but I like it.
Yes we have an economy system – but it works differently. Yes you’ll colonise – but colonization works differently. Yes we have combat and warfare but the combat systems are new.
Basically everywhere how things work have been changed or we decided ‘oh we need to make a new system for that’
Revolution and evolution at the same time – god, I’m speaking in clichés!
We wanted to not have a clean slate to build upon. We have the statue of David and turned it into a painting of Mona Lisa – completely different process but the same rough subject matter.
Q: How big an Influence would you say Crusader Kings had on Europa IV?
Johan: We learned a lot of things when we started working on Crusader Kings, for example we wanted to have no interfaces that take up the entire screen.
If you can’t explain anything in a small box it’s too complicated, not complex. Complexity is good – [over]complication is bad. If it’s too complicated we can’t have it.
We also learned a lot about attachment and stories – because that’s what we think made Crusader Kings II a success, that you had an attachment to it once you played.
You wanted to tell [people] what happened. So what we did in the EIV design was to make sure that countries feel unique, in that there are unique ideas and unique events that happen to them so that there’s as much…. Uniquity? I hope that’s a word [laughs] as we could.
Because that means you feel like ‘Yeah, this is France it’s really, really different than Venice.’ It’s a different feel to play, different tactics – its not just a country with a different colour on another part of the map, they really behave differently. That creates attachment.
Also in crusader 2 we learnt that games that make you want to talkabout what you did. Where you want to tell stories to others like ‘I have a really good son and a really incompetent son and they’re with two separate mothers, and the mother of the younger incompetent son is trying to assassinate me!’
It’s kind of those things that you want to tell people about – that’s something we wanted in E4. All those ebbs and flows and monarchs, with the AI working against you ,coalitions and weird stuff happening – because when people are talking about the game they are doing the creator of the game a huge service.
They are doing word of mouth which is the best marketing activity – ever. People trust their friends, that’s create sales. That’s what mad crusade of kings launch. We had very modest launch numbers – good reviews, but then steady, steady steady sales. We pretty much have the same volume of sales in August – this month as what we have within one months of release. Because they hear about it, they see about it and they buy the game – and that’s what we wanted with E4.
Of course Europa IV has had much bigger starting success , and we hope it can grow even bigger – but we will see what happens.
Q: What plans do you have in regards to expanding the game? Obviously you have a very loyal fanbase and I’m sure they would love to see more content. Is there any planned DLC in the works?
Johan: We haven’t finished the DLC plans, and figured details. We have made two hot fixes so far and aim to have a patch September-ish. That [patch] will give [the players] a lot of free stuff like, lots and lots of improvements to AI, balances and bug fixes and also maybe 15-20 more countries.
We are aiming to have a new expansion and some supporting DLC before Christmas.. if possible. We haven’t finished deciding what to do there yet.
Q: What would you say you are most proud of with Europa IV?
Johan: That’s hard… I like that …people like it.
That’s what I’m most proud of I guess. I love going into the forums and seeing that almost all threads are positive, and people really like the game – that’s what I’m most proud of.
In terms of actual mechanics? I like the monarch power system. If you ask me which actual game feature I’m most proud of I’d probably say that.
I also love the fact that [with Europa IV] we could spend six to seven months just polishing and tweaking it, and making sure that the game was in really good shape for release.
Q: Where do you envision taking the series next a fter Europa IV. Obviously you seem to have adpoted the ‘bigger is better’ mantra and expanded upon previous foundations, but where do you think you can take the series next?
Johan: I don’t think we’re making a sequel any time soon. It’s been six years since the previous installment and six years [ for the game] before [that[. I think we’re going to spend a few years doing expansions and DLC for this one, and then we’ll see what happens. I mean, as long as people are going to keep playing and keep buying DLC and expansions we are going to keep supporting the game with free patches and updates.
So it might be that I’m sitting here six or seven years later like ‘oh we don’t have any plans for Europa V we’re still doing another DLC!’
We’re still doing stuff for Crusader 2… and we still will be for a long time.
Q: Do you have any other projects that you personally would like to work on?
Johan: I have 35 people at the studio. There are five teams – one working on Crusader Kings 2 DLC’s, one’s working on EIV and we will support that one – and three other projects in the pipeline.
So we aren’t doing any announcements [yet]. I think the next one might be announced in January…but we will see, it might be earlier, it might be later but that’s the current plan.
Q: So it sounds like you’re pretty busy then..
Johan: It’s fine. It’s nice, we get to make fun games and we don’t have to crunch.
We get to make fun games, people like them and we get to support our families so… everyone wins.
Q: Talking about fan feedback earlier obviously the Paradox fans specifically seem to be extremely dedicated, was there anything that you changed in Europa IV that you worried would upset the community?
Johan: Not really with the Europa community, they tend to be relatively nice people. I am just a bit worried if we ever make another Hearts Of Iron game what the reactions will be.
The last time we made one, when some people disliked certain design decisions or thought that the game wasn’t bug free enough on release we got so much hate mail. We got death threats.. I don’t really like that. But from EU we’ve never got anything like that.
Q:Is there anything tech wise or experience wise that you feel that you could achieve now that you couldn’t six years ago?
Johan: Well, Europa III didn’t have stellar multiplayer at release. It looked kind of ugly because we weren’t very good at 3D then! But, its never really been about the technology – its always been about the design. Now our technology has been improved quite a lot I can say that.
Europa IV is out now on Steam, and will continue to be supported for a long time if Johan has anything to say about it. More Gamescom Paradox related coverage will be up on Daily Joypad shortly.