Crusader Kings II is the sequel to one of the most unconventional and intriguing grand strategy games I've ever had the delight to play. With its focus on intrigue, relationships, and dynasty building, it really stood out from other games in the genre such as the Europa Universalis and Civilization series.
Since its release in 2004, Paradox has further explored this type of gameplay with Europa Universalis Rome and the recently released Sengoku. With Crusader Kings II's closed beta starting soon and its release date of February 7 getting closer, I got a chance to pose some questions to producer Johan Andersson. Let's blow the lid off all this intrigue.
Destructoid: Can you tell our readers who you are and what your role is on the team?
Johan Andersson: I'm Johan Andersson and I'm in charge of all titles developed at Paradox Interactive. On Crusader Kings II, I've been working as the producer, so my job has been making the final call on design, quality and deadlines which means I get to play the game a lot and come up with decisions that the team has to implement. Also, since once upon a time when the grass was green and the air was fresh I was a programmer, I help out with some of the programming when I get a little extra time.
One of the biggest differences between Crusader Kings and other grand strategy games is the importance of individuals and their relationships. Can you tell us how relationships work in CKII and what unique challenges arise when humanizing strategy and history?
Characters have unilateral opinions of each other, depending on many different things, from personality traits to past offenses, to their positions in the line of succession. AI characters tend to act in accordance with these opinions, and they also unlock various events. Humanizing strategy and history feels entirely natural in the medieval period, where rulers largely acted on their emotions -- it would be harder (and less appropriate) in a game like Victoria II, which is about Realpolitik, CKII is still a strategy game first and foremost, but the ambition is to make players feel like they are role-playing a character rather than being some kind of guiding national spirit.
Historical accuracy is clearly important in the series, is it difficult to find a balance between accuracy and player freedom?
We firmly believe that while historical accuracy is of vital importance, it should never trump gameplay. This does not mean we add things like Flaming Pigs as a military unit in a historical game. We take great pride in having historical setups when the game starts, in content being historical, and getting the historical immersion from the game. However, when a game starts, we give players a "blank state" where they can change history to what they want, in a truly believable world. The game should feel historically plausible, while giving players freedom to do what they want to do.
Since CK was released Europa Universalis Rome and Sengoku have come out. Are there any features from those games which have made their way over to CKII?
Off the top of my head, this is what we took from those games: From EU Rome, we took the entire concept of imprisoning characters, executing them and banishing them. This felt like it would fit naturally in a medieval setting, after all, who doesn't think of damp dungeons when they see a castle? Another interesting thing we took from EU Rome was the idea that characters have ambitions they want to fulfill. From Sengoku we took the concept of characters plotting to fulfill their ambitions and to destroy others'. Another important lesson from Sengoku was the experience we got in improving and changing the interfaces, it has given us some very solid ground to stand on.
Will there be separate campaigns in CKII as well as the main campaign, or will it be a historical sandbox like the original?
The original had three separate starting dates, while CKII will feature what is technically almost 100,000 different historical starting dates, and each of these has hundreds of playable characters. In this sequel, you can start with any Christian count, duke, king or emperor in Europe or the Middle East at any given date from 1066 to 1337. We are giving players a huge historical sandbox with endless replayability.
The original game had a multiplayer mode, will that be returning and if so can you tell us a little bit about it?
All our games support multiplayer over direct-IP or LAN and through our own matchmaking server. The game supports up to 32 players playing together in the same campaign. Since this is a game that is not finished in a few hours, players usually schedule set times to meet up and continue their campaign. This is kind of similar to how people raid in MMOs. Of course, playing against other humans takes the game to a whole other level of fun. Think of how ruthless, conniving and backstabbing you can be towards and AI player, and then imagine 30 other humans behaving like that...
Are there any other changes returning players can expect?
There have been quite a lot of changes in the game compared to the original one. Some of the most major changes include the revision of combat, where you can now have more control of how your army will fight, as you can arrange who goes on flanks and in the center before battles. We also have more direct actions for your court, so that you can send them on tasks for you instead of just giving you bonuses. The final thing I'd like to mention is the enhancement of the feudal structure where we added Emperors at the top Barons at the bottom, to bring the feudal ranks up to five.
Beta sign ups started on the 11th, when will the beta start?
That part of the beta will start in early November if the stars are right and what is dead can eternally lie...
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