Victoria II: Heart of Darkness interview

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.