It's telling that each of the sessions here at the Paradox Convention is meant to last 30 minutes, but the presentation of Pride of Nations lasts an hour. It's a staggering game, epic in scale and minute in detail.
PoN is a simultaneous turn-based strategy game originally designed for simulation of conflicts for previous Paradox games like Rise of Prussia. Their ambition with their new game is to move to a much wider simulation. They still have the military aspects, but also economy, diplomacy, social, and more.
The game begins with the player taking control of a major power. In the example game we're being shown by the game's producer, Philippe Thibaut, he's taken control of England. Each campaign runs between 1850 and 1920, with each individual turn covering just two weeks. That makes a full game 1600 turns long, and even the developer admits he's never finished a game.
At this point in history, Victoria and Albie are the Royals, and Lord John Russell is the Prime Minister. You win the game by gaining a certain number of prestige points, by conquering different regions, building monopolies in trades, and leading your country through dynamic missions the game creates for you. For example, for the next ten years, Britain must be the world's number one producer of steel.
These missions are neat idea for providing players a focused metric for you success, especially in a game that's so complex. Even in the hour I sit with the game, it's hard to get a sense of what it's actually like to play. There are so many distinct parts to running your nation and trying to advance. Let's run through the areas I'm shown.
It's important for every nation to be working on discovering new regions. When you look at the map of Africa near the start, only afew small coastal regions are shown. The rest of the map looks like fudge because you haven't explored those areas yet. To discover these regions you send out expeditionary forces, but it becomes a race against rival countries trying to explore the same places. It's a land grab, where discovering and controlling a region first gives you greater number of actions to perform in those areas. If you're Britain and France reach Africa first, then they might colonise them and set up trade regions before you can get started.
Philippe explains that the military system is quite simple, but it's hard to believe him. The game has over 6000 historical leaders that can direct your troops. Clicking through the menus, you can get detailed breakdowns for the stats of every unit in your entire army. There are dozens of regiments currently under Britain's control in the game we're being shown.
There's a research tree. You don't just put money in and get results back; instead, your money is spent to produce and propogate the inventions of scientists once they're made. If someone invents a new musket, you have to decide whether to give it to your armies, or wait another five or ten years till you reach the next invention and get that instead. There are two currencies too: state funds, and private capital. Your economy is driven by the latter, because in this era of history state money was used to pay armies, and not fund private businesses. Based on the type of population you have, it'll change which kind of money you get. In Britain, with its rich aristocracy, you have a lot of private capital. If you're playing as Russia, however, not so much.
We're shown the commerce screen; there are six different taxes you can tweak. Every menu we're shown is filled with numbers and icons.
It also simulates your population, telling you whether your people are happy or miserable, and whether they like your policies. We're next shown the construction screen, where you can build iron or coal mines, mineral or nitrate quarries, gold or gems fields. This is just under one submenu. You can also build other industry buildings, military buildings, railroads or ports.
To help create conflict, the game has an engine for dynamically generating crises. Events will happen around the world that force a dramatic confrontation between countries: say, for example, an American boat explodes near Cuba. The countries involved, and their allies, are pitted into a negotiation mini-game that works like poker. Everyone puts their stakes on the table, and tries to pressure their opponents into doing what they want. If it doesn't work, war could break out.
In other words, the rules stop you from creating war at will, but if you can manipulate circumstances well enough, you can generate war at the point when you want it to happen.
If two large countries with lots of allies go to war, it could begin a Great War. If that happens, the game's victory conditions change: you don't just need a lot of prestige, but a victorious power of that war. This is designed to stop players quitting halfway through because they've decided they will win no matter what. Like the real world did after World War 1, the world can change dramatically and very suddenly.
To help people hop into the game, there are specific Battle Scenarios you can play. If you just want to play the Russian/Japanese war, you can select a scenario where the map is limited down to just those regions of the world effected. But the main game doesn't start slow and then grow from there. If you choose a country like Britain, you already have a huge empire to manage. They are amongst the hardest country to control. On the other hand, it can be slightly easier if you start with a country like Australia, which have a smaller territory to manage.
Each country has its own style. If you choose Russia, the country is basically a giant farm with nothing but peasants, and it can take a long time to build an industry. But you also have the largest army in the world, meaning few people will try to attack you.
The countries you don't control also have their own objective. When the game begins, America exists only as the East Coast. The AI knows they need to conquer the west coast, unite the country, and attempt to prevent civil war. The idea is that each individual action and area of the game's simulation is simple to control and understand, but that when all these elements are combined, you gain an appreciation for how complicated it is to run a country. "You are not God," explains Philippe. "You are Prime Minister."
At this point we're shown a screen that gives you details of your country, covering Research, Religion, Education, Trade, Economy, Nationalism, Government, Army, Bureaucracy, Society, Power Projection and Organisation. Just looking at the stats is giving me a nosebleed.
Oh god, Philippe just turned on the weather overlay, showing how hot or cold it is in each area. This influences the military model, where your soldiers if not properly equipped could find themselves dying in the snow.
All of this detail is an obvious concern when it comes to making a game accessible, but I'm quickly realising while looking at the games here that it doesnt mater. Not everthing has to be accesible, and the amount of detail in Pride of Nations is staggering. In terms of scale, this is as impressive as any open world in something like Grand Theft Auto IV. It just doesn't look as good.