Ahead of the release of Conquest of Paradise on January 14th, I spoke to Paradox Development Studio Lead Johann Andersson about the changes that the America-centric expansion will bring to Europa Universalis IV. As well as discussing the randomisation of the Americas, a first for the series, we talked about changes to the mechanics that govern Native American and colonial nations. Beyond the meaty mechanical conversation there are some thoughts on cultural representation in historical strategy. Perfect Friday evening reading, I say.
RPS: Hello! Let’s jump straight into the big change in Conquest of Paradise, which is the randomised nature of The New World. That’s completely new territory for a Paradox grand strategy game, right?
Andersson: Yes it is.
RPS: Can you go into some detail as to how the generation works and how much variety is possible?
Andersson: It’s a bunch of techie stuff and I’m not the programmer who made it…but here goes. The variation is enormous because it’s all using an integer as a seed. There are billions of them and I’ve seen so many different worlds. There can be a group of continents or a bunch of islands – it’s all completely different every time.
I think there’s a way you can actually share the seed because it’s in the save game, so you could pass that seed to somebody else and share the world. If I recall correctly.
RPS: And what about the climate and overall structure? Does it always stick to an Earth style layout, with poles at the top?
Andersson: Yeah, it has a properly simulated climate. So humidity is simulated, making rivers flow down from mountains where rain has fallen. There are deserts at the middle of continents or behind mountains. There are also different styles of provinces, depending on how much vegetation there is, a province might be particularly good place to live. And there are larger provinces, which might be full of good resources, and smaller ones as well. So you could find a large desert province.
There’s also distribution of trade goods and tax values – these depend on what we refer to as the ‘region’ that has been randomised there. So you might find a Caribbean region but it won’t necessary be a bunch of islands. It will always be somewhere a little North of the equator though, and will have sugar and tobacco, and be fairly rich. The Alaskan region, on the other hand, will be in the North and will be colder but you might find fur.
RPS: And Sarah Palin. Is the regional seeding a way to make sure there’s always value in the New World so that people don’t end travelling half way around the globe to find a big rock with a twig on it?
Andersson: Yeah. There’s always a lot of worthwhile stuff in the New World. We were toying with the idea of having it be barren sometimes or maybe even not having a New World at all.
RPS: So explorers end up going the whole way around and finding a route to India?
Andersson: Yes, exactly. But we decided that was no fun. Imagine spending all the money to mount an expedition and finding nothing more than a big ocean?
RPS: I guess that would be a problem if somebody wanted to play as a Native American Nation as well. They’d be Atlanteans or start in R’lyeh. If somebody does play as an American nation, do they see the whole New World straight away?
Andersson: No, they just know a little bit around their home province and have to explore.
RPS: What are the major changes to the way those nations play?
Andersson: They’ve gotten so much cool stuff. Originally they were a pale imitation of the European nations, with slow-moving tech and worse units. That was it. Actually, the tech wasn’t just slow it made glaciers look fast. The tech is still slow as hell but they’re not supposed to concentrate on that.
Instead they have a mechanic called migration. Basically, if you’re an OPM (one province minor for those who don’t know the jargon), you can continue migrating around as a tribe. Moving from place to place, with new randomised trade goods in the new place. That gives you monarch power to accumulate and spend on other things.
Staying small and migrating as you build up your power and identity is a good way to play. It fits historically. The Miami tribe began somewhere around Michigan and were forced to move by the Iroquois, and they ended up somewhere in the South-East in a city that took their tribe’s name. That’s a cool mechanic.
RPS: And that migration is created to find goods but also due to conflict between Native American Nations?
Andersson: Yes. Unlike Europeans, they cannot fabricate claims on one another. Instead, they have a special CB (casus belli) that allows them to attack any other Native American nation. They don’t claim any territory if they win but they get a lot of power and prestige, basically by humiliating the opponent. They weren’t so much about empire building but having power worked in a different way.
There are fifteen different native advancements that you spend power on. You have full freedom to select which one and if you get all fifteen and are neighbour to a colonising power from Europe, you have the ability to reform your government. When you do that, you ditch all native mechanics. You’re still on crappy native tech but you get a huge advantage in that you copy up to one or two tech levels below the European neighbour. So in the 1600s that can boost you to seven or eight techs in each category instantly.
RPS: The other big change in terms of government types is with the colonial nations. They can separate from the home nation and become separate nations in the new world?
Andersson: Yes. We divided the North and South Americas into what we call colonial regions – Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Brazil etc – and if you have five provinces in one of those, it is no longer directly controlled from the motherland. Instead, a colonial nation is formed that is subject to the home nation.
That country acts independently, although they can’t have full diplomatic relations with other nations, but they can execute colonial wars on their own without involving the European powers, and the same with natives. But here’s the catch for the home nation – they can squeeze the colonies for money, charging them tax on their income, beginning at 10%. Diplomatic power can increase that rate – I think it’s 25 power for a 2.5% raise in tariffs.
That’s good, obviously, in a financial sense. But it increases the liberty desire of the colony as well. If you played the old Sid Meier game Colonization then you’ll remember the liberty bells, which built up and allowed you to declare independence. Liberty desire is a little bit like that – when the colonial nation has 50% liberty desire it can declare independence because they don’t want the taxation or the replacement of governors with corrupt officials, or other things.
When the desire reaches 100% they automatically start a war. And other European powers can get involved – like France did with Britain in the real world. You can support the independence of another nation’s colonies and as soon as the rebellious people take up arms against the crown, supporters of their independence will declare war and back them up. So you’ve got to be careful not to exploit them too much.
RPS: Say I’m playing as Portugal and I’ve started a colonial nation in the new world, and that nation rebels and wants independence. Can I switch across and control that nation instead?
Andersson: Yes. You could just return to the lobby and switch across there! But if you have a colonial nation you can grant independence rather than waiting for a war, and when you do that you’ll be given the option of switching to that nation instead of your original nation.
RPS: With the way that you’re predicting the New World as an unknown entity – that seems like the theme of exploration overtaking the historical map for the first time in a Paradox game. It’s a more realistic take on the discovery of the unknown while obviously involving a huge deviation from reality in another way. Is that something you’ve been interested in doing for a long time?
Andersson: The funny thing is that when we doing the original design for EU III back in 2005, part of the reason that we designed the map code as we did is that we wanted the option for a randomised map. But the development time meant that we didn’t have a chance to finish it. With EU IV, we wanted to do it as well but couldn’t get it ready for launch so I said – we’ll do it for the first piece of DLC. And here we are.
RPS: It makes perfect sense to me to change the basis of the game on that level in order to fit with the sense of history rather than the fact of it. Are there other places that you could change the game so fundamentally in order to reflect a historical theme?
Andersson: Not necessarily in the mechanical way. And not that I have at the top of my head. I have a big desk behind me with lots of world design ideas but none that we’re looking at right now.
RPS: I’m a fan of the idea of dynamic colony names.
Andersson: Yes. In our current multiplayer game, I am playing as Morocco and I outmanoeuvred Portugal and managed to colonise Brazil. So later I was trying to work out the Arabic name for New Granada, so now we have the possibility of the game creating the accurate name for you, but you can pick for yourself as well if you want.
RPS: Now that the European nations don’t know what they’re going to find when they head West, are they at a slight disadvantage – in that the Native American Nations know that the Europeans are on their way?
RPS: Was that a conscious decision?
Andersson: No. Definitely not.
RPS: What’s the best way for them to prepare for the colonists’ arrival though?
Andersson: To form a federation under one leader and be as powerful as possible. Might makes right in our game.
RPS: With Sons of Abraham and now this expansion, you’re touching on areas of history where specific cultures were treated badly. Do you have conversations about whether the bleakest aspects of that should be included in the game? Do you doubt whether you should put them in?
Andersson: We don’t really think of it like that. I’m of the opinion – and this will sound really nasty – that groups of people - whether corporate, national or tribal – aren’t very…nice. They’re about protection for those that they care about and they are against everybody else. There have been so many ruthless events in history – the interesting fact here is that there are no high horses in our games. We don’t make judgements. Nobody is good or evil, and we try to be as objective as possible. We try to tell stuff how it was.
We get people complaining about the representation of the slave trade – the fact that we even have trade goods called slaves – but they don’t complain about 200,000 soldiers being put to death. There’s so much that is horrible in these games and so much that people don’t consider to be.
RPS: In an odd way, CK II has wider cultural representation than just about any other game on my hard drive. When you look at Civ, it doesn’t really represent cultures – they’re neutralised, except for a very gamey ability. CK II developed different cultural types and gave them their own beliefs and character, and you’ve said that the Native Americans were a pale imitation of Eurpeans before, but now have their own cultural mechanics.
Andersson: What makes people from different parts of the world different to one another is nothing to do with their skin colour, or their preferences for certain things, is their cultural heritage. If you make every culture the same it’s not particularly helpful.
RPS: Sons of Abraham captures a set of cultural traits and beliefs about a group of people that are a snapshot of that historic moment. There’s honesty in the bleakness of it.
Andersson: The easiest one for me to relate this to – and I’ll go to CK II here – was with the Sword of Islam expansion. Originally, every Islamic ruler worked like a Christian leader with no special mechanics. But it was so much fun to dive into the research and to find ways to make them different that also reflected something of the people and the time.
Like when family members go on Hajj, that was a learning experience. It’s so much fun to develop. You realise that there are so differences in value – certain cultures value a thing and think it is good, but another culture might not value that same thing at all. They might even think it is bad.
We currently live in a world in which culture is streamlining across Western Europe and North America. It’s easy to assume that everyone is the same and has the same beliefs. But go back a thousand years, in this part of the world, and the morals of a Pagan – and I don’t like that word – are entirely different to those of their neighbouring cultures. Mercy isn’t seen as something good, for example.
You want to show that in the game without making stereotypes or caricatures of culture. We want people to feel like they’re playing a different culture rather than paying two dollars for a green skin that is the Babylonians. I can’t remember what the power they had but it’s +1 something and a new skin basically.
RPS: Do you think that by the time we reach EU IV’s time period, the streamlining of culture has already begun? That ideas of virtue, vice and majesty were becoming more homogenised?
Andersson: Yes. I think that organised religion has a lot to do with standardisation of beliefs.
RPS: Does that make it harder to find the different corners to expand on in DLC?
Andersson: I don’t think so. EU IV is a different kind of game to CK II. It’s broader.
RPS: The games have always seemed to characterise their periods well – CK II is about personality and feudalism, while EU IV is about nation- and empire-building.
Andersson: In EU IV the map is far more important than in CK II. In CK, you play your family and relations, and technically it doesn’t always matter if your realm is in Poland or Spain – there are some external impacts like the Sunset Invasion or the Mongols. The difference doesn’t really matter. Characters are the playfield. In EU IV the map is the playfield. It’s about who owns which province and that makes for a very different focus in-game.
RPS: EU IV has much more of a traditional strategy focus of map control, with trade routes and colonies. Is that something that the future DLC will concentrate on – the map itself?
Andersson: Definitely. The map is everything. When we’re doing future expansions – and we’ll probably do at least a few more, hopefully lots – we’re thinking of a concept and a part of the world that fits that concept to expand upon. Obviously, Conquest of Paradise has the American focus and colonisation. The next one…I can’t really talk about!
RPS: Thanks for your time!