Regal Counsel: Crusader Kings II Interview

By Adam Smith on May 8th, 2012 at 4:00 pm.

Having fathered both bastards and imperial legacies, Adam still refuses to release his grip on Crusader Kings II. To learn more about his latest love, he communed with project lead Henrik Fåhraeus and asked about future plans, the difficulty of incorporating RPG elements into an epic historical strategy game and the features that didn’t make the cut. Upon learning that one of those features was ‘relics and other loot’, Adam sheds a solitary tear for what might have been, and then goes on to learn that the shape of a beard is not genetically inherited, causing him to reconsider the sorry state of his own chin furniture.

RPS: The original Crusader Kings was an unexpected delight and one that I never fully expected a sequel to. What was the background to the first game and what led to development of a sequel?

Fåhraeus: Our ambition has always been to cover all eras of recorded history with our grand strategy games. Pushing the timeline back into the Middle Ages from Europa Universalis was a natural step, just like we did in the other direction with Victoria and Hearts of Iron. Besides, at the time we all (Johan Andersson, Joakim Bergqwist and I) wanted to try our hands at a more character driven RPG-like game, and the feudal era is perfect for that.

Doing a sequel was almost inevitable after we developed the Clausewitz engine, especially since the first game had so much unrealized potential.

RPS: Archaeologist/historian Ian Morris argues that history is driven by “maps and chaps”. Most grand strategy games are more about maps than chaps. Crusader Kings II is different – what challenges does the focus on individuals bring from a development perspective?

Fåhraeus: Injecting RPG elements into strategy games is risky, as proven by other developers (no names). You have to be careful not to compromise the epic scale and/or the satisfaction of territorial expansion. Crusader Kings II should feel familiar to Europa Unversalis players, yet provide a deeper immersion into the lives and fates of your ruler and dynasty. It’s a tricky balance – at one point we went a little overboard with events, which slowed down the flow of the game too much with the minutiae of feudal life.

RPS: I’ve described the game as an ‘alternate history simulator’. How much do you see the appeal of the game in terms of the historical narratives it creates?

Fåhraeus: I think that’s really at the heart of all our games – take a historical starting point and see where you can go from there. Of course, unlike games like Victoria or Europa Universalis, in Crusader Kings II the player is less of a “guiding spirit of the nation” and more of an actual feudal era despot. The historical narrative is more about your dynasty than your actual country or state.

RPS: Was the decision not to allow control of Pagan and Muslim factions driven by a reluctance to impose the Christian dynastic model on those families?

Fåhraeus: In part yes, although the Muslim Iqta system could probably be shoehorned into the rough model of feudalism. There was a clear trend towards hereditary land holdings in the Muslim world too. It’s perhaps not so much about the dynastic model as such, but more an issue of adapting graphics and text to provide the right kind of immersion.

Of course, we also think playing a Muslim or Pagan deserves some unique new gameplay mechanics, such as polygamy. Most importantly though, it was never part of our ambition – we just wanted to do everything the original CK did, only better.

RPS: Is there any intention to provide a full treatment of those factions through DLC?

Fåhraeus: Yes. (smiles)

RPS: I spent weeks listening to Andreas Waldetoft’s music, because the game was always on in the background while I was working at my computer. It’s easy to think of the game has numbers, a map and some menus, but how important is the aesthetic, including the music and the map design?

Fåhraeus: Even I was surprised by how much the pretty new map helps with the immersion (the huge map upgrade was not originally planned.) As for the music, Waldetoft’s work has always been excellent. Obviously, it is preferable to have pretty graphics and grade A music and sound effects. You can make do without them if it’s your first game and you are a small developer – as proven by games like Dwarf Fortress (which I love) – but if you want to reach broader markets, you really do need these kinds of resources.

RPS: The game deals with sensitive issues, from the crusades themselves to religion, sexuality and infanticide. Would you agree that it’s a much more mature and adult game than a shooter with lots of exploding people and an ’18′ certificate?

Fåhraeus: It is more mature in the sense that it is more cerebral and requires a whole other degree of planning and patience. However, what is seen as taboo or risque varies from culture to culture. Here in Sweden, for example, graphic violence is considered a lot more disturbing than nudity or a sexual narrative (though younger people are probably more desensitized to both.)

RPS: Have you seen anything particularly interesting or impressive from the modding community yet?

Fåhraeus: I am very interested in the Game of Thrones mod, though unfortunately I have not had time to check in on it lately.

RPS: I’m fascinated by the artificial intelligence in the game, and suspect it’s far cleverer than I am. Am I the only person who would like a ‘spectator mode’, where I don’t assign human control to any dynasty and just get to watch, with full access to every detail?

Fåhraeus: You can actually do that. Start a game and type ‘observe’ in the console. You can also disable the fog of war with ‘fow’.

RPS: (recovering from having mind blown) I remember downloading a tool that let me take a Crusader Kings save game into Europa Universalis, then to transfer that to Victoria and on into Hearts of Iron. It’s a totally mad and all-consuming idea but, again, it appeals to my love of alternate history. Do you ever consider complete compatibility across all the titles, or would it be too difficult to transfer data across successfully?

Fåhraeus: I am not optimistic about transferring save games from one game to another. After all, most players never even finish their grand campaigns. There are so many technical problems, and in most cases you would already have achieved world conquest or something similar in the previous game.

Instead, I would love to make one huge game covering all of recorded history, with new periods provided as expansion packs. You would have the rules and gameplay change dynamically as technology and politics evolved. It’s just a pipe dream, but… it’s beautiful.

RPS: How deep does genetic inheritance run? I’m primarily interested in how it affects facial hair. “The beards of the fathers” and all that.

Fåhraeus: Hair color and facial features are hereditary, but haircut and beard shape are not; they are more like clothes.

RPS: I found an interview in which you listed some of your favourite computer games: Lords of Midnight, Warlords, Civilization, Ultima VII: The Black Gate, Master of Magic, UFO: Enemy Unknown and Mass Effect. My question is this – why did you steal my list of favourite games and then add Mass Effect on the end?

Fåhraeus: Haha, well, some people grow into more complex and mature games with age, but I guess I’m past all that and starting to regress into childhood again. Seriously though, I think Bioware achieved something special with the immersive story and universe they built for Mass Effect. It’s just a shame it’s so linear and action heavy; the sequels even more so. I had hoped they would take it in the opposite direction, towards a game like Star Control II, with meaningful planetary exploration, ship combat and upgrades, etc.

RPS: You must be pleased with the critical response but is there anything that you’d like to expand on or elements that didn’t make it into the game?

Fåhraeus: We have so many ideas kicking around I could probably spend the next five years improving on Crusader Kings II. Fortunately, a lot of them are likely to appear in patches and DLC down the line. I would love an annual chronicle, relics and other loot, more (but rare) narrative events, tribute, clans and tribes, and a more developed plot system, just to name a few off the top of my head.

RPS: Thanks for your time.

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50 Comments »

  1. Calculon says:

    Crusader Kings II has been by far the biggest hit/most enjoyable game of the year for me thus far. I had never previously played other titles by Paradox, but Im a big fan of strategic games such as Civ, MOO, even good old fashioned Chess, and look forward to seeing what they will produce in the future.

    I highly reccomend this game to anyone interested in strategic games, and for a good old fashioned LOL (marrying off my youngest son to a 60 year old widowed Queen was oh so fun). Im looking forward to additional DLC for this game like a salivating dog.

    • Duffin says:

      Agreed, I really really enjoyed my time with it. It’s unlike anything I’ve played before and just totally immersed me. It’s not for everyone but for some people this will be THE game for you.

    • Premium User Badge SpakAttack says:

      Agreed too – CK2 is an excellent game. It’s hugely addictive, and I’ve gone to bed late many times because of it!

    • DigitalParadox says:

      Agreed, before its release I had started playing EU3 to prepare me for Paradox complexity and was getting quite addicted to it, but CK2 just blew me away.

    • Premium User Badge Carra says:

      Yeah, it got me into Paradox games, I’ve spent 120 hours with it so far.

      And after that 70 hours with Victoria 2 and after that 30 hours with EU3…

    • echo_1 says:

      For me, probably the hit of the year. Spent almost 100 hours in my first (!) campaign advancing it for 80 years and counting… the depths you can go to are massive, and I often catch myself probably imagining more than there’s to it actually – which is not bad at all, quite the opposite – the sign of a great game.

      Some clarification on combat system mechanics would be great – because it’s re-eeally not that clear, just ‘these numbers dropping’, despite the fact that I spend a minute every now and then aligning most of my heavy infantry at center and amassing cavalry on flanks, – just for fun and feeling of what’s right, having no idea if it actually affects the outcome…

      I don’t like the idea of ‘tactics’, to be honest, but if the game would take (or does it already?) the placement of various levy types and their ‘RPS’, heh, factors into account – that’d be nice.

  2. Mordsung says:

    I have bought most of the grand strategy games that have come out of Paradox over the years, but I find many of them daunting as my grand strategy experiences is mostly in the Total War series.

    How is CK2 for “ease of use”. Are the menus informative? Is there a good tutorial?

    • Calculon says:

      The tutorial was decent. I found that you just have to “do” with this game and play it, eventually you will get the hang of it. It doesnt take too long at all, and is actually not that complicated.

      Really CK2 is about strategy as much as it is about creating your own story/novel (without having to do all of the irritating bits like coming up with a concept or actually writing). The drama involved in this game, and the AI is extremely impressive. I lost count of the number of times I burst out laughing.

      I think one of my favorite moments was a conundrum I had about having 2 healthy viable (seemingly) male heirs with their own counties each. Upon closer inspection, one was actually retarded, but also the eldest (they were twins). I really wasnt sure what to do as I couldnt have a retarded child destroying my hard work to develop an empire. I was mulling over my options when my fiance who liked to watch the game unfold asked “cant you just kill him?”. I thought…”Can I really do that? Morally? mechanically?” Yes. I could. And I did. I killed my own son. No one found out and the youngest went on to be a spectacular king. Oh Funny.

      • Mordsung says:

        As long as it is more intuitive than HoI3 or EU: Rome.

        I had to look up a strategy guide for EU: Rome just to understand basic aspects of the game. It was very obtuse.

    • Duffin says:

      As Calculon said, the game is not that complicated. It’s just that things are explained poorly and look more obtuse than they actually are. The quickest way to learn is just to play and experiment with things. You’ll pick it up quickly.

    • killias2 says:

      CK2 is about as friendly as Paradox gets. However, I suggest you take the time to learn either CK2 or EU3 (with all expansions!) really well. Just do your best to figure out the eccentricities and invest a bit of time. Once you master one Paradox game, they pretty much all open up for you, and sequels and expansions don’t tend to change much. I mean, I haven’t had much trouble with a Paradox game since my initial difficulties with EU2.

    • Warskull says:

      It has a tutorial that gives you the very basics of play. From there you can play at a very basic level, but the mechanics and some features aren’t really explained. I think Crusader Kings 2 is easier to learn than most Paradox grand strategy games because even if you have no clue what you are doing you can still play around and feel that you are doing significant things.

    • sejano says:

      This was my first Paradox game, and really first strategy game of this kind.

      As all the friendly people above already stated; just play and learn. Also, Google. Saved me from sooo many unwanted heirs.

      • Dances to Podcasts says:

        “Google. Saved me from sooo many unwanted heirs.”

        Ever considered a job in advertising?

    • Premium User Badge JB says:

      +1 to the above advice to “suck it and see” after playing the tutorial. There are lots and lots of helpful tooltips as well, which have been a boon.

      Heh, been a boon.

  3. Torgen says:

    oh my god.
    I am SO buying CK2 once I get paid, ordering pizza, then setting it to spectator mode. I’ve been putting it off for lack of time, but that’s (unfortunately) about to change.

  4. Sarissofoi says:

    Meh. This game was a really disapointing for me.
    As expected.
    It was fun but when you get how to win its easy as cake.
    Easy and boring or just boring.

    • leeder krenon says:

      “when you get how to win its easy as cake”

      you are playing it wrong. the goal of CK2 is not to win, it is to have fun.

    • FFabian says:

      Yeah this is my problem. After I figured out how to “win” it’s to easy now and I’m bored.

      Don’t get me wrong – I love the game, but it’s no challenge any more and I tried my hand at a few difficult scenarios (early Sicily (Duke with 4 counties), Jerusalem after founding, Georgia, Count in the Byzantine Empire etc.)

    • Pathetic Phallacy says:

      How can the game disappoint when you expect it to disappoint?

      • Sarissofoi says:

        I hope that it will be good but it wasnt. I expect that but still hope die last.

    • Bhazor says:

      You bought a game you knew you wouldn’t like then you were disapointed that you were disapointed with the game?

      Also you’re probably doing it wrong.

      • Sarissofoi says:

        Ye ye tell me more.
        Because I get bored it must be that I play it wrong.
        Problem is that Ck2 is really bad game if you wanna build your story.
        Events system is pretty meh, traits are bland and battle system is a joke.
        Also the heart of the game and it is dynasty building family and court managment economic model and plots and almost everything is a not fun for me.
        There is just tons of retarded designs which kill imersion for me. And if there is no atmosphere there is nof fun for me. Sure it can be just me but hey good for you that you have good times.
        I noticed not that recently that Paradox games dont touch me any more.
        They in reality are shallow and for a ‘historic’ games tey are just unrealistic and gameplay decisions dont make sense.
        But nevermind me and have fun.

    • frenz0rz says:

      Try going from being the Count of Penthievre to the King of France, Aragon, Navarra and Brittany in 200 years, then tell me you’ve had a boring game. Because I certainly didnt.

  5. Duffin says:

    Game was amazing at release (surprising for a Paradox game), but I read that they recently broke it a bit with some poor patches introducing balance problems and bugs (that’s more like it!). Does anyone know if the game is back in a good state? I own it on Steam so I can’t just revert back to the base game.

    • killias2 says:

      Well, they added features we all wanted (like dynamic de jure kingdoms), but that busted up the balancing a bit. I get the feeling that everything is fine again, but you may want to check out the forums.

      • Warskull says:

        1.05e cleaned the bugs back out. It is very playable. They hot fixed most of the bugs with 24 hours of discovery.

        • Drinking with Skeletons says:

          It seems stable to me. The new crusade system is a huge improvement. I’ve currently got a quagmire on the Iberian peninsula from a successful crusade; it seemed like a huge victory at the time, but damned if things aren’t going extremely poorly for my Irish duke now.

          Here’s hoping they handle bugs in such a timely fashion going forward.

        • Gormongous says:

          Except for the “Call Invasion” button going missing. We’ll probably get 1.05f for that in the next few days.

      • Duffin says:

        Things I read specifically include a bug concerning armies and reinforcements / allies that allowed the AI to use Crusading armies against Christian rulers. The bugs were things like some characters getting all stats at 0 for some reason (yikes!), and everyone growing up as an ‘Elusive Shadow’ regardless of education. There were more but those are the most game breaking things that stick in my head. A shame because it felt so polished at release.

        • killias2 says:

          Yeah but, like Warskull said, these issues were actually solved pretty quickly. I guess I just figured the balance concerns, which were less troubling but also harder to solve, were a more fitting topic to discuss.

          • Duffin says:

            Sure your right, I just didn’t want to start a new game to get 5 generations in and then one of those bugs to rear it’s ugly head. Sounds reassuring so I’ll go ahead and start my new game.

  6. Bhazor says:

    Anyone know how to get this working on a netbook?
    The problem is the game has a minimum resolution of 1024×748 and my screen is only 1280×720.
    Any recent changes in supported display formats among the recent patches?

  7. Zwebbie says:

    I’ve been doubting whether to buy CKII or not since it came out. On one hand, I regularly read CKII AARs and I enjoy them greatly. On the other, I’ve finished the 20 years of the demo four times now, and didn’t really have fun in any; it seemed that the intricate plotting and clever marriages were only a marginal part of the game and that sending armies here and there and doing menial tasks took up a far greater amount of time. Plus, all the individual characters are great, but it’s damn nigh impossible to keep track of everyone who is in your court, let alone people in other courts, let alone their personalities with ten different traits. I understand a short demo has its limitations on long term plans, but it felt a bit like it’s 10% genius and 90% Europa Universalis Light to me.

    • ryth says:

      Have to agree to you on this. I played 2 full games and since then have retired it and returned to playing Eu3. While fun, I just didn’t find it as compelling or deep as Eu3 but I was really expecting the opposite.

      With that in mind my next venture is Vic2, but as with when I first started playing Eu3 I’m feeling totally lost even after having read a few AARs.

    • thebigJ_A says:

      By r-clicking a character, then r-clicking AGAIN on one of the buttons (yeah, they didn’t make it obvious), you can set any character as “of interest”. Then, with some fiddling of the message settings, you can get pop-ups of everything that that character ever does. You can then pare back on the info you don’t care about.

      It makes keeping track easy.

  8. DogKiller says:

    As a person with a general interest in the Medieval period, I really, really, really like this game. It’s like an ultimate form of wish fulfilment where I can act out the play fantasies of being a feudal ruler I had at the age of six. I never really took to Medieval Total War 2, because it never had the depth I desired. The only other Medieval kind of game I want now is the Mount & Blade system converted to a variety of Medieval period timelines. I’m glad to hear Paradox will be expanding on it with DLC and further patches. It’s one of the few games where I probably will cough up for such content.

  9. Nameless1 says:

    Nice interview.
    Need GoT mod.

    • Gormongous says:

      It’s on its way, though exactly when is hard to tell, since the thread on the Paradox forum is consumed in the dumbest argument ever, debating whether northerners are innately better soldiers than southerners.

  10. huskywolf says:

    http://citadel.prophpbb.com/

    forum for the GOT Mod

  11. wodin says:

    Apart from more events and plots, as much as possible, I’d like to see the combat enhanced abit, so you can choose you tactics etc before and during the fight. As the moment it’s the one with the most troops o pile in seems to win and it’s just a case of watching the numbers drop. Where if some tactics or other enhancements came along that made combat abit more in depth (as an option) I’d be happy. Although Paradox seems to only do very abstract hands off combat on the whole in their games.

    Sill the beauty of the story telling RPG bit is superb and should be enhanced and added to as much as possible.

    Once I realised that you shouldn’t worry about being in control in the game and just let it flow I really enjoyed it. Sometimes I just let things happily tick by for several years and not bat an eye lid, then decide to get upto something for abit, then sit back again etc etc.

    I’d like relicsloot and annual chronicle, how about a doomsday book aswell! I’d also like to see a fantasy DLC pack, or a myth pack, so you can be king Arthur and send out grail knights etc etc. Or throw in fantasy creatures! or how about Vampires in Translyvania where you can be bit and turned etc.

  12. S Jay says:

    WHAT, YOU DON’T ASK DETAILS ABOUT DLC PLANS?!?!?!?!?!?

  13. hungrytales says:

    “I found an interview in which you listed some of your favourite computer games: Lords of Midnight, Warlords, Civilization (…)”

    There’s a solid remake of Warlords in the making that nobody seems to know anything of. It’s called Warbarons and, incidentally, it has been also developed by Swedes, which, I guess, is a fact that should be considered as a sole and all-sufficient recommendation in light of the above interview.