Interview: Johan Andersson On Hearts Of Iron 3

By Tim Stone on May 31st, 2009 at 1:00 am.

The best way to learn about Paradox’s rapidly approaching grand-strategy leviathan Hearts of Iron 3? Sit down with a gallon mug of tea and a family-size packet of custard creams and plough through the fascinating 30-part developer diary. If you’ve already done that, or don’t have the patience/dunkable biscuitry to take on such a task, try the following Q&A in which Lead Designer and Man of History Johan Andersson fields questions on subjects as diverse as HoI3, gulags, and HoI3.

RPS: In the late nineties you went from making fluffy console games for Funcom to incredibly deep historical PC strategy for Paradox. What happened?

Johan: I was rather happy at Funcom, as I grew there from a rookie programmer to a lead programmer, while working on some really interesting games. However, as I always loved playing strategy games, I had this vision of one day making one myself. One day I saw an advert for programmers in my old hometown to work on a game called Europa Universalis. Since I owned the boardgame, it was an easy decision and I sent my CV there, and was hired within a week. Before the game was released, I was in charge of the project and have since then been doing this type of games.

RPS: Where did the interest in history come from?

Johan: I loved reading books and looking at maps as a child. History was the only subject in school that was close to storytelling, so it started there. Then I just kept reading and reading whenever I could, through all the libraries.

RPS: Most of the big names in strategy game design seem to have been weaned on Avalon Hill boardgames. What were your formative gaming influences?

Johan: I played lots and lots of Avalon Hill game as a teenager with my friends. We started with games like Diplomacy and Axis & Allies, but then spent an insane amount of time playing Advanced Civilization. I also spent those early teenage years making my own games on my c64, trying to hide that fact at school where I was trying to be oh so cool. I also spent a lot of time playing games like Pirates, Bards Tale III, Storm Across Europe and other similar classics.

RPS: Is coding still important to you or could you drift quite happily into a purely design role?

Johan: I’m currently in charge of the design process at Paradox, but we’re a small outfit with an inhouse team of about eight to ten people working directly on the project. This means that the design tasks are not filling a full day, and since I know thing or two about programming, I tend to help out there as well. I don’t think someone can do a good job being a pure designer on a game, as you never really understand the impact of your design until you actually develop them.

RPS: Would it be fair to describe HoI3 as a re-engineered HoI2? Reading the dev diaries I get the feeling you were basically happy with the scope and feel of HoI2, but felt that most aspects of it had room for improvement.

Johan: That is rather close to the truth. What we did was take our new Clausewitz engine, and then write a Hearts of Iron game on it, while taking into account all experiences we’ve had in making strategy games so far. We liked the scope of Hoi2, and feel that it was a really fine game for its time. The luxury of writing a sequel basically from scratch means that you can break down every feature in detail and even change their dependencies without major impacts on development.

RPS: You’ve quadrupled the number of provinces. Was that done purely to intimidate uninitiated reviewers and annoy your Chief Province Namer, or were there other reasons?

Johan: It was all because our marketing department’s love of big numbers! No seriously, we thought a big increase in the number of provinces would increase the playability when it comes to the manoeuvre part of warfare. So far our testing has proven us right, and the game is much improved for that situation. Our researcher had to spend months designing the map and naming it though, so she may not have been entirely happy with that decision.

RPS: Was the shift to 3D a difficult decision?

Johan: No, it was a rather easy decision that I wish we had taken it earlier. Going 3d meant we could do another type of architecture where we could support more screen resolutions, and develop our maps in a quicker way. The biggest advantage from going 3d though was the ability to offload more to the GPU. With the machine advances during the last decade this gives us the biggest benefits in development when it comes to gameplay and AI.

RPS: Added elements like the command hierarchy and designer divisions are going to please a lot of grogs, but aren’t you concerned this kind of detail will scare off newcomers?

Johan: That is a very good question. Can I get back to you with a good answer in about a year? I’m not sure it will scare away newcomers though, as I think detail never does. It is bad interfaces and/or lack of immediate fun that scare away new people from a game. We’re focusing a lot of that, and I sincerely hope that we’ve done a good job.

RPS: Can you give a few examples of the improved AI? What kind of behaviours are we likely to see that we won’t have seen before?

Johan: The AI will pursue strategic objectives, and make clear advances towards them along the front. The new delegation system will show this in detail.

RPS: That’s a feature I’m really looking forward to trying. Let’s say I hand over control of an entire theatre to an underling. How much shepherding will they need?

Johan: That depends entirely on you. You can give the AI control over units at any level from theatre down to single corps, and then just basically tell them their objectives and which stance they should take. Let’s say you’re playing Germany in 1944 and have two theatres, the west and the east. You could tell your eastern front HQ that Königsberg, Warsaw & Buchurest are the objectives, and it should be defensive. It will try to hold these objectives primarily, and maybe fall back instead of getting slaughtered.

RPS: How deep will HoI3 delve into the intelligence side of things? Will I be able to set up my own Bletchley Park or cultivate battlefield illusionists like Jasper Maskelyne?

Johan: It will not be possible to do such things. We do have different levels of fog of war, and different aspects of information you can get from your opponents. All of this depending on both technology and how much leadership you are willing to spend on espionage.

RPS: I trust I’ll still be able to turn Costa Rica into a global superpower?

Johan: Eh, I doubt you’ll be able to do that, unless you are really an expert and know how to abuse some cheats. It is much harder though than in the previous incarnations of the series, as some limitations have been added, like a manpower tax on your current mobilised troops as an example.

RPS: Have you purloined any ideas from mods like HSR or drawn from other Paradox creations like the Europa Universalis series?

Johan: I don’t really play or follow many mods myself, but we usually take in experienced mod makers in our beta team. We also constantly reuse concept and learn from experiences in developing our other game-series. The outliner is something we first added into EU3, and have been something we’ve had in every game since then, as it’s such a good improvement to the interface.

RPS: In your games I can send millions of my countrymen off to die in senseless wars and bomb enemies back to the stone age with nuclear weapons, but I can’t use slave labour or set up gulags. Isn’t there an inconsistency there?

Johan: Depends I guess. Violence and warfare is more of a socially accepted aspect to have in a game than slave labor.

RPS: AGEOD have a lot in common with Paradox. Do you regard them as competitors or compadres?

Johan: They make a different type of game than we do, as they focus more on operational games covering a limited period and map, with just a focus on fighting the actual war. With some better interfaces, I think they could get up to the same sales numbers as we have.

RPS: Any upcoming wargames you’re particularly looking forward to playing?

Johan: To be honest, I do not really play all that many wargames in my spare time. I guess I get enough of that at the office. When I play games for fun, I play MMO’s for the social aspect.  However, I really think that East India Company will be something special, and I wish I had more time with it

RPS: What’s next for Paradox?

Johan: New games? To be honest, I got no clue on what we’ll do after HoI3, as no game design is written yet. Might be a Victoria 2 for all that I know…

RPS: Thanks Johan

Hearts of Iron 3 is due for release in August 2009

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40 Comments »

  1. Psychopomp says:

    Jump fail :P

    I’ve tried playing HOI2, but it’s breaking my brain at every attempt…

  2. Ploddish says:

    You accidentally the WHOLE front page?

    This is far too dangerous.

  3. sigma83 says:

    Jump fail! Great sounding game tho, if you’re into the turn based things.

  4. Vinraith says:

    Paradox games are generally lovely, though the HoI series is probably my least favorite. That’s not because it’s badly done, far from it, but the tight constraints of time, and the world situation leading up to WW2, provide far less flexibility for alternate historical outcomes than the set ups in their other games (the EU series, Crusader Kings etc). Since I like taking minor powers and making them major, and since that’s nigh impossible in the shadow of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, a waning but still massive British empire and of course the wartime U.S., I find it’s just not my cup of tea.

    All that said, for people that enjoy playing a major power through the period, they’re superb games constructed with a scale and depth unlike any other WW2 strategy games I’ve seen.

    P.S. Hey, Johan, make CK2 next!

  5. Fenchurch says:

    @Vinraith: You could always play with the difficulty low but the enemy AI on high, or use the level editor to give yourself a fighting chance! The forums are full of After Action Reports about the most unlikely nations getting nukes or battleships. x-D

  6. Captain Haplo says:

    Ohhh man. God I love the Paradox historical games.

    Hearts of Iron 2 was a great game. It’s not quite as deep as EU or Victoria (certainly not Victoria, that game is bananas- in the good way) but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a robust World War 2 game, and especially fun if following on from a Mega-Paradox run (Crusader Kings->Eu2/3->Victoria->Hearts of Iron 2, since there are mods and such that allow you to convert save games from one game to the other, allowing you 900 years’ worth of action).

    On that note, I wonder if it’ll be possible to export Vicky games to HoI3. Will they be compatible? I hope so, although I wouldn’t be too upset if they didn’t- there’s always HoI2.

  7. me, ehem. says:

    Off topic: do you play much Steel Beasts online, Tim?

  8. PsyW says:

    ‘Dunkable Biscuitry’ is a phrase of pure excellence. I would actually kill for a gallon of tea and some custard creams at this time.

    Interesting interview. Taking modders into the beta process is, I think, a good concept as they’ll often refine a game after release – take Operation Flashpoint as an example. Involving them pre-release seems like it could have some benefits in refining elements such as the interface.

  9. Joseph says:

    I like how this takes up the whole front page.

    Is the game pictured above an all-2D-pics-and-text strategy?

  10. Tworak says:

    Tim Stone living life to the FULLEST, confirmed.

  11. Vinraith says:

    @Fenchurch

    This is true. :)

    I tend to play Pdox games on “hard” though, because doing something wantonly ahistorical should never be easy. Like I said, it’s more a restriction of the time period in the case of HoI than anything about the game. Playing the way I’d normally play SHOULD be insanely difficult within the window afforded, after all.

    I’ll stick to CK and EU3 (with Magna Mundi) for my Pdox gaming needs for now, though I rpobably won’t be able to resist giving HoI3 a look when it comes out.

    What’s your opinion of Rome, if you have one?

  12. A rather confused Bear says:

    Too march smart leaves bear mildly sad.
    My best friend plays HOI2 all the time between classes
    And I’m all @___@

  13. mark says:

    I haven’t read the article yet…but damn I hate it when someone does that. I’d kill for a custard cream right now.

  14. Captain Haplo says:

    Don’t worry, Bear, you aren’t alone. The games, from an outsider’s point of view, are utterly incomprehensible. I know, I experienced the same thing with each and everyone of the games. You actually have to force yourself to learn. Once you do, though, it’s a lot of fun.

  15. Mister Adequate says:

    Seconding what Captain Haplo said. It took me a long long looonnng time to get into HoI2. I’ve convinced two friends to play it – one got into it fairly fast, the other just never wrapped his head around it.

    Oh, and the Cold War mod is a wonderful thing for giving yourself more scope for ahistorical hilarity.

  16. Pijama says:

    YOU ALL REMAIN SILENT PLEASE AS I FREAK OUT.

    VICTORIA 2? O_O

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

    *collapse and faint*

  17. Real Horrorshow says:

    Looks really boring.

    P.S. Why does the entire article appear on the main page?

  18. freetup says:

    @ pijama: I wish it were true but I think he is just doing it to get you Vicky players all riled up :P

    This game will be great because of the mods. I played vanilla HOI2 about 3 times before I slapped every mod on it I could. I even worked on one because it was so easy to mod. If HOI3 is even easier to mod, I think it will be one of the best strategy games out there.

  19. Lukasz says:

    I have never played Vicky, EU (touched it for like 20 minutes) or HoI.

    But this game is my cup of liquid biscuits. Buying on release!

  20. Dood says:

    Hearts of Iron is so PC, it fills me with glee.

  21. YourFriendlyPedant says:

    Tim, Jasper Maskelyne was a fraud.

    I take it you read The War Magician? One of my favourite childhood books too. Pity it was a work of fiction despite the author claiming:

    “The events described in this book are true. Everything Jasper Maskelyne is credited with doing he actually accomplished. Some of the characters are composites, and the names of others have been changed for legal reasons.”

    This site is worth half an hour if you are interested:

    http://www.maskelynemagic.com

  22. theleif says:

    Give it to me baby.

  23. Fenchurch says:

    @Vinraith

    True, I guess perverting democracies into dictatorships is another way of edging history into interesting directions there too. I played a massive multiplayer game on LAN with me as fascist America. The Royal Navy crushed my puny Atlantic fleet. x-D

    As for Rome: Total War = I unlocked the “unplayable” factions and conquered central Europe as Thrace, good times!

  24. dadioflex says:

    Psychopomp says:”I’ve tried playing HOI2, but it’s breaking my brain at every attempt…”

    That was pretty much my own experience with it.

  25. Marar says:

    It’s Bucharest, not Buchurest.

  26. Nimic says:

    I wasn’t a huge HoI fan (never tried HoI2), but HoI3 looks to be terribly good. With my newfound interest of Stalinist Russia, I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself.

    Originally I’m more of a EU/CK fan.

  27. Pijama says:

    @freetup: I am a believer of the Second Coming of the Ubercomplex Strategy Queen. It shall happen, one way or another. >:|

  28. Vinraith says:

    @Fenchurch

    I was insufficiently precise, there, I was wondering what you thought of EU: Rome. For Rome: TW fun I recommend you look up the Europa Barborum mod.

  29. Jambe says:

    Nice to know they take modders into the beta process. God knows that’s great for bug-squashing; gamers who know the genre a company’s previous games are undoubtedly a huge and often untapped resource for developers! I’m pretty sure a game like Empire: Total War would’ve been much better had CA been sensible like Paradox.

  30. Nimic says:

    That’s a pretty amusing comment there, Jambe, considering Paradox games were until very recently infamous for their incredibly buggy state on release :P

    I has to be said though, that they won’t stop patching a game until it’s bug free and complete, and then they will probably continue patching it to improve it.

  31. Nats says:

    I liked the scenarios in HOI2 but the full campaign was just too much like hard work. I hope HOI3s delegation features fix this but I am not particularly enamoured with the screenshots I have seen of the game HOI2 looks better. At the moment I would say HOI3s biggest competitor is Military History Commander: Europe At War which is magically good.

  32. Chris says:

    @sigma83

    The HOI series is not turn based, it’s RT.

    Love the HOI Series. Never really liked EU or any of the other paradox franchises tho.

  33. lesslucid says:

    Yeah, I think it’s pretty much necessary at this point to treat this as an official announcement of Vicky 2.

  34. Bilety lotnicze says:

    Cant wait for the game to come out. Big fan of hoi series. Really the only game that offers so much in terms of detail and management of your country in WW2. Hopefully the patch that comes out the day the game gets released (as usual) will not mess anything up like in some of their previous releases..

  35. Some guy says:

    Alone the fact that Vicky 2 was apparently the first game that sprung into his mind is reason enough to be excited.

    Oh, and HoI 3 seems to get awesome.

  36. scud says:

    The main reason i like hearts of iron series is that the game is modable(dont know if thats a word), like you can have 1914 world war one cold war and the war on terror but i still like the world war 2 because its such a challenge on furious and i like it because movement is attack which means you throw your soldiers at the front line rather than earlier ones where you had to go dead into the province but a shame is that i cant play hoi 3 on my pc cause its underpowered

  37. master of the films says:

    wow this is an odd looking game, I havn’t heard of it b4 i use to play guildwars and diablo

  38. Weeds says:

    I wasn’t a huge HoI fan (never tried HoI2), but HoI3 looks to be terribly good. With my newfound interest of Stalinist Russia, I don’t think I’ll be able to contain myself.

    Originally I’m more of a EU/CK fan.

    Jenny

  39. watch cartoons online free says:

    i dont know if this game is really worth trying for me, dont look like my style of game

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