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Victoria 2 – “Because we can”

November 11th, 2009 by Troy Goodfellow · 7 Comments · History, Paradox

Fun fact: My review of Victoria for Computer Games Magazine was the first review I was ever paid for.

Chris King’s opening developer’s diary for Paradox’s upcoming Victoria 2 tries to explain the thinking behind making the game in the first place, and the reasoning is still a little unclear to me.

There are two main reasons for this, first up was Victoria Revolutions. Now it itself it wasn’t a blockbuster, those of you who follow game sales charts will notice it wasn’t quite able to shift games like World of Warcraft or the Sims of the top of the charts, but as an expansion it had its following. So one idea bounced around was a second expansion to Victoria and ideas were generated. All this came to nought because as a company we decided to not work with the old engine again, but the ideas remained.

So the first reason is that they had all these ideas left over from another expansion and wanted to do something with them.

Meanwhile the new engine is cranking out games and the code base for the new engine is steadily expanding. With this foundation projects that we did not consider possible a few years ago suddenly became doable. So when it came to decide which game to do after Hearts of Iron 3, there were these ideas sitting around for an expansion to Victoria. These ideas looked pretty cool but more was going to be needed. However, here was the kernel of what we believe is a great game. The rest is history.

And the second reason is that the new engine means that they have an excuse to put these ideas into place.

I imagine the future developer diaries will have a lot to add to this post by unveiling just what ideas were so pressing that they had to see the light of day, still, as a rationale for developing a game, “because we can” is necessary condition but not really sufficient. Is this just a matter of adding things that they thought of while Victoria: Revolutions was still a going concern or is there a real attempt to address the many issues that kept Victoria one of the “niche-iest” of their stable of niche titles?

I should really reinstall Victoria and see how well I am remembering my issues with it. But here are some of the challenges facing King and the Paradox team as they move forward:

1) The Pax Britannica: Though there were certainly some major wars in the short century covered by the series, this was not a period typified by repeated great power conflict. Britain held the counterweight to pretty much any action on the continent, and military energies were more likely to be directed against colonial populations or a nation’s own citizens. But for strategy gamers, the military option is often the most attractive – we have been conditioned to be empire builders, and not just lording it over distant colonials.

2) Domestic Relations: Much of the conflict in the Victorian Age was domestic. You had a Civil War in the USA, of course, but you also had revolts, rebellions, unification movements, fights for liberalization, the continuing March of the Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment forces, etc. The first Victoria had a quite sophisticated political model that was sadly buried under layers of menus and numbers whose relationships to each other were never as clear as they should have been. To its credit, Paradox is much better at UI and transparency now than they were five years ago. This is the time period perfect for the Decision model that the developer introduced in EU 3: In Nomine.

3) Industrial Revolution Tycoon: Victoria: Revolutions made some major steps in reflecting the rapid expansion of railways and factories in this period. There were still problems with the trade market system. In general, however, the construction of a fine furniture factory in Victoria was still less interesting than building a road to a gold mine in Civ 4. How do you make the corporate and scientific transformation of the period as fascinating as the political stuff? Paradox never quite managed it but considering how integral this material is to the game, they should come up with something besides the promise that your Uhlans will be able to cross Poland by rail if they need to.

4) White Man’s Burden: The scientific and technological revolution made the colonization of Africa and imperial wars in the Far East possible. But here, Paradox faces the same problem of history that it always does. The player knows how and when the century ends, so they move very quickly and end up settling Deepest Darkest Africa by the 1850s when the big scramble was decades later. The player also knew the rules for colonization better than the computer opponents so it was generally pretty easy to squeeze an enemy out. Then there’s the anomalous position of India in this era – the crown jewel of the British Empire was de jure independent but under the protection of the East India Company until the Indian Mutiny.

5) The time frame: The core problem is that this is a game that takes place over less than a hundred years but sees remarkably rapid change. Napoleon could move his armies only a little more quickly than Alexander the Great. Foch had taxis, trains and steamships. Your nation evolves from largely agrarian societies to urban middle class nations that offered the possibility of upward mobility and the resultant demands for power sharing. But because the time frame is so compressed, you can’t do the gradual approach available to the centuries long EU, Rome and CK games. (Hearts of Iron also sees rapid change in weaponry in a short period, but that’s a game where it’s all about the war so it’s easy to do. No need to deal with women working in factories or the legacy of the New Deal or Chinese government dysfunction.) But you also need to balance the effects of the rapid changes to forestall the runaway winner problem.


7 Comments so far ↓

  • Jason Lefkowitz

    I should really reinstall Victoria and see how well I am remembering my issues with it.

    I’ve often described Victoria to friends as less of a game and more of an interactive textbook of classical Marxism; the game’s focus on class interaction and use of class consciousness as a central gameplay mechanism is straight out of Marx, for instance. Which is interesting if you’re a political/economic/historical nerd like me, but for the rest of the world, not so much.

    That being said, if your experience was primarily with vanilla Victoria, it’s worth revisiting the game just to see the changes they made in the expansion pack, Victoria: Revolutions, which were pretty sweeping and (IMHO) made for a much more engaging and playable game overall.

    One example is how they reworked the economic model. In vanilla Victoria, you waste lots of time micromanaging your economy, choosing what factories and what railroads to build where. In Revolutions, if you choose to drive your economy in a laissez-faire direction, you no longer have to worry about building railroads and factories yourself; local capitalists in every province will do it on their own — and you can encourage them to build more by establishing policies that increase their wealth, and thus their available capital to invest.

    However, this freedom (and the increased production that usually comes with it) comes at a price — the capitalists decide what factories to build, and their priorities often don’t align with yours. It’s hard to cheer the news of a new glass factory going up somewhere when you’re in dire need of less profitable but more strategically valuable outputs, like, say, ammunition. But if you want the ability to dictate what gets made, you have to move away from laissez-faire, angering the capitalists and losing their investment in your economy. It’s a much more nuanced and interesting set of economic decisions than the original Victoria provided.

  • Kynes

    Much like many Paradox games, I really enjoyed the idea of Victoria, and tried my hardest to get into it. I followed the many starting scenarios on the forums, worked my way through as a few different nations of my choosing, but the game never did click. As fascinating as the framework was and the various interactions between the different game elements, the menu system was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I go back to it every so often, but with it often taking upwards of 5-7 clicks to get anywhere I forget what I originally meant to do by the time I navigate the labyrinthine menus.

  • Kynes

    That’s probably why I’m looking forward so much to Vicky 2. With all the experience Paradox has gained in UI development, and after using the excellent EU3:IN UI for many hours, I’m expecting good things from their next outing.

  • Tom Grant

    Troy, very interesting and persuasive analysis of the problems developing a strategy game for this period. They may not be insurmountable, but anyone building such a game would be well advised to think through the issues you raise.

  • Rob Zacny

    Good analysis, but I think you may accidentally have just sold me the game.

    They challenges you cite are difficult, but they are also interesting opportunities. Most games have done a pretty sorry job of modeling political order in changing societies, and with EU3 you can just start to see an more convincing approach taking shape. Perhaps a game where warfare is taking a definite back seat to technological, social, philosophical, and political changes can finally make the work of government as engaging as the movement of armies.

    The state-manager, as opposed to the empire-builder, could be a great genre if someone can keep it from feeling like a bureaucracy sim.

  • Sarkus

    You forgot the part where the company’s CEO has admitted on the forums that he doesn’t expect Victoria 2 to be profitable.

    The whole thing is a head scratcher. This is a company that can’t release games complete to begin with, and now they are taking a shot at one that almost no one believes will make money? Somebody explain the logic to me.

  • Jon Shafer

    Well, they’re kind of out of eras to adapt their primary game engine to. At this point they’ve got antiquity up through the Cold War covered, three times over in some spots. It’s possible they’ve hit a design wall and they may see a Victoria 2 as the best opportunity for a new game without doing something COMPLETELY different. The devil you know, they say.