Victoria II: Heart of Darkness interview

T.J. Hafer

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The second expansion for Paradox's 19th/20th Century global grand strategy sandbox, Victoria II , is set to release in just a couple weeks. It's bringing improvements to just about all of the game's rabbit-hole-deep systems, from naval combat to colonization to the complex, dynamic economy and politics. We had our secret police round up Game Designer Chris King to ask about all of these changes, which you can read more about in the official developer diaries .

PC Gamer: Victoria II was originally released over two and a half years ago. What made you decide to go back to it and do a big expansion so long after the fact?

Chris King: Victoria II is, in common with all our games, a labor of love. So we always want to return to games and do more if we can. Since no game is ever completely perfect, there are always things we can do to make them even better. And Victoria II, with its focus on politics and economics, makes it a very interesting game to work with. Plus, if you look at Europa Universalis III and the length time it received expansions, in Paradox Development Studio terms, it isn't really that long…

I guess that the simple answer is that this was the right time to do it. If we have a good idea for an expansion, we always try to make it happen, if we can. The Heart of Darkness expansion focuses on two core features. The new colonization system makes being the first to colonize a province less important, and makes the colonial race more competitive. It also ties colonial empire to naval size making releasing dominions a very useful thing to do. Then we have the new crisis system, which allows the Great Powers to support sides in territorial conflicts and allows a potential peaceful solution to them. It acts as a tie-breaker on colonial races, gives Minor Powers a means of expansion, and also allows states that do not exist a means to come into being.

And of course, we are aware of the fact is that we have reached new gamers with the success of our strategy/RPG Crusader Kings II. So naturally, we hope that new gamers get an opportunity to discover our previous game series, including Victoria II. Because all our games are so radically different in their gameplay, and all gamers have their own favorites. I, personally, love the Victoria series a lot since it offers a focus on political simulation where the population will react to your decisions. It is a challenging game that makes you think in completely different ways when you play, using politics as your primary tools.

Paradox Development Studio has shown a lot of improvements to the new player experience in games like Crusader Kings II and March of the Eagles. But Victoria II is a much more complex game. I've played over 200 hours of Crusader Kings and even I struggled with it at first. Will Heart of Darkness be incorporating anything to help smooth out the learning curve?

We have worked to improve the current information in the interface. Improving the information the player receives from tool tips. We hope that this will assist players of all levels in playing the game, and is one of those things you can do with the constraints of an expansion.

We have also done some tweaks to the economic system to improve its functionality. The Capitalist AI has been made better in its factory selection, and the artisan AI has been improved. So even if this may not make it clearer, we definitely do hope these tweaks will make the system function better, thus giving players more chance to get into the game.

The new Crisis system is described as a way to kick off World War I-style conflicts. Will the player be able to adopt a "watch the world burn" style and try to spark a massive conflict?

With the crisis system, we have given the ability for minor countries to encourage crisis in areas that they have cores. The prime reason for this is to give minor countries a route to expansion. However, it does allow minor countries to kick off a [Great War] crisis (which is what actually happened, when you think about it), and then the world could burn. The only down side is if you are involved in the crisis, you are automatically in the war. So you could spend a lot of time burning with the world.

If I am involved in a crisis as a Minor Power, and the Great Power leading my side tries to offer some of my territory to the enemy in a peace deal, is there a way I can refuse that? Or is there nothing I can really do?

Crisis wars are similar to normal wars in so far as the war leader gets to decide what is handed out as part of a general peace. However, Victoria's peace system means that you can only offer things that the AI countries have set as war goals, so as a Minor Power you will know if you run the risk of losing territory. Secondly, with the ticking system, as long as you protect your threatened territory, you can make it harder for the other side to achieve the war score to force the hand-over.

As a Great Power, am I obligated to become involved in crises on all continents where I have holdings, or only on my home continent?

If you have holdings on a content that a crisis is in, then you will suffer a prestige loss for not stating an interest, unless you are at war.

What core issues with the naval combat led to the reworking of the system coming in Heart of Darkness?

In the old system, the stack with the biggest firepower would usually win the combat. Which made the naval game not about strategy, but just building a big doom stack. With the changes to range closing and the limits on engagements, we make smaller stacks more capable of doing damage to the enemy, and having small, fast ships as well as big ships can give your fleet an edge in combat.

In that same vein, what problems led to the implementation of Ticking War Score and the other land military changes?

With Ticking War Score, we are seeking to help the peace system in Victoria II. With large empires, it is very hard to force them to come to peace. Now, if you hold the target state for the war, then you will get 100% war score and be able to force peace. This will not only make life easier for players, but also help the AI and prevent it fighting on to complete destruction even though it has clearly lost the war.

With mobilization, we have changed how units mobilize. Instead of arriving instantly at low morale, they arrive with maximum morale and staggered over time. The time it takes to mobilize is linked to your infrastructure development, so building those railways will help your country mobilize. The important thing is that you need a standing army to protect your border provinces while the troops mobilize, otherwise you will not receive them.

Ticking War Score first appeared in Crusader Kings II, and we feel that the feature works very well. Rather than trying to conquer a huge state like Russia or the UK, you only need to capture your war targets to win. The first time you see it in action, the penny drops very quickly, since winning wars involves targeting the region the war is about.

What counts as "Connected to your capital" for the purposes of building big ships, now that you can only build larger ships in those provinces? As Japan, would China or Korea count, if I hold part of that? Is it based on continent, the same way "Encourage Migration" determines what is "overseas?"

Connected to you capital is anywhere you could move a unit to on land from your capital without entering another country. So in the case of Japan, neither China nor Korea count as connected to you Capital.

Does the new naval coordination penalty actually encourage you to fight with smaller fleets, or is it meant just to limit the power of "ganging up" with a much larger stack in a naval battle?

It is there to prevent ganging up. The penalty does not affect an even fight, no matter how large the fleets are.

What is the reasoning behind not allowing naval retreats before you come in firing range? What kind of behavior are you trying to curtail with that?

What we assume is that the commander of the fleet won't know just how bad a situation is until he is close enough to see the enemy fleet. The main reason we do this is to prevent you sending out unescorted transports, and then always retreating if the enemy catches you.

You've made a lot of changes to the roles of different units. Can you give us an example of what the composition of a balanced early, mid, and late-game army now looks like? How does this change in offensive vs. defensive situations?

In general for Victoria II: Heart of Darkness, you need a certain percentage of your army to be composed of non-infantry units, so that you need a certain number of cavalry (early and mid-game) or tanks (late game) in your army to be effective at capturing an enemy province. Broadly speaking, we have sought to make units more specialized rather than some units always being better than others. For example Guards have lost [effectiveness], defensively.

With the changes to how attrition works, will large armies in hostile territory be taking more or less overall attrition, on average?

We have reduced the general level of attrition to allow larger armies to operate in hostile territory. Also, units coming home through neutral territory after wars no longer suffer any attrition, in order to make the peace less costly than the war.

The new colony system is pretty in-depth, and opens up a lot of new potential strategies. What have you guys done to balance the benefits of Protectorates, Colonies, States, and Dominions? Is it viable to have a mix?

One of our goals is to make the releasing of Dominions a vital strategy for colonial countries. As the scramble for Africa intensifies, you do not want to tie up points in your empire, so countries like Britain should want to release dominions to get points to win its share of the scramble.

Have you observed a wider variety of nations getting big colonies with the changes to how the colonization-enabling techs work?

In my most recent game, Russia carved out its own little piece of Africa. So yes, you do get to see a wider variety of outcomes over a number of games.

How dramatic or noticeable is it? Do the "big colonizers" like France and the Netherlands still do really well? Which nations that didn't get colonies before are getting the most?

The Netherlands does much better with these changes, and France is obviously still strong. However, the bigger change is that it is much more equal between countries. So, as long as you have not managed to lose your navy in the early wars, then you are in the game.

What happens to the colonies of a nation that has their fleet wiped out?

The still keep them, but they cannot colonize anymore, or create states, or upgrade colonies.

Does Great Power or Secondary Power status have any effect on your position in a colonial influence race, other than the obvious larger navy and economy and so on?

Nope!

Does investing points in colonies work like GP influence (setting a priority and generating points), or do you simply spend out of a common pool?

You spend out of a common pool.

What are the key differences between a Dominion and a regular sphered nation?

A Dominion is much harder to remove from your sphere and you gain full control of their army in a war.

Do you have to be a Great Power to create dominions?

Nope, just need colonial territory. So, as Belgium, you can have the Congo as a Dominion if you so wished.

Will we see a lot of effects on the global economy with the new factory throughput bonuses? Does it affect the weight Capitalists give to building certain factory types?

The Capitalists are aware of these bonuses when they come to choose which factories to build. The goal of these changes is to make the economy flow more logically.

You guys are introducing a new system that allows uncivilized nations to gain research points by attacking their more advanced neighbors. Which nations will be the most fun to take advantage of this with? Can I finally make a warmongering Hawaiian empire that rains Polynesian fury upon the hubris-driven Westerners?

Hawaii is a challenge to use this system due to poor location and size. However a Northern Indian minor state or one out of Central Asia is defiantly good candidates for this.

For someone who has put hundreds of hours into Victoria II, what are the biggest differences they're going to notice, overall?

I would say the Crisis system. It began as a smaller idea, and during development, we started seeing the true potential that the system offered, and we increased the amount of focus on it. Because with the crisis system, we're going to see smaller countries expand much more, and also more, new countries appear. It will make Victoria II less about the Great Powers than previously, and much more dynamic.

A change in our Ruling Party has forced us to release Chris from our interrogation chamber, but we appreciate the information he's left behind. For more on Victoria II and the Heart of Darkness expansion, you can check out the official site .

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