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Three Moves Ahead Episode 79: Victoria 2

August 25th, 2010 by Troy Goodfellow · 20 Comments · Paradox, Podcast, Three Moves Ahead


Rob Zacny’s sound goes in and out, but when it works you can hear him, Troy and Julian talk about the latest grand strategy game from Paradox. Why does it make Julian angry? Do you have to force the politics to make them interesting? What does the game get right and wrong about the nineteenth century?

A reminder about the upcoming question show and a preview of coming attractions.

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Rob’s review at Gameshark


20 Comments so far ↓

  • Chris King

    I just listened to this I feel the need to flame Rob a bit here. Playing as Prussia you never checked your conditions for forming Germany or the NGF? In both cases you need all of the cores of those countries to either be owned by you or in your sphere. Makes sphere of influence absolutely vital as Prussia and kicking Austria out of the Great Power ranks to try and hover up thier sphere a very nice tactic. Austria has the same conditions for the trying to be Germany btw.

    Oh and by the way Sphere countries buy your stuff first and sell to you first as well, giving you a neat economic bonus.

  • Rob Zacny

    I saw the conditions for Germany, but they seemed de-coupled from what was happening in the game, and I rapidly grew too busy to be particularly concerned with either economic bonuses or which German statelet was in my sphere of influence.

    Economically, as we discuss in the show there is a tremendous amount of information and it’s tough to isolate the impact of single variables. As Prussia (and a number of other countries) I went through a brief period of economic difficulty before watching revenues roll in that basically let me put the entire economy on auto-pilot. Was Frankurt am Main in my sphere? Yeah, but I didn’t feel it made a lot of difference. I certainly didn’t feel concerned enough to diplomatically fight over it with Austria.

    Especially because Austria was at my throat the entire game. From 1839 to 1862, I was fighting pretty much constantly. Creating Germany and making friends with small German kingdoms became a tertiary concern when I was fighting and occupying half of them.

    Either way, Germany ended up forming almost as deus ex machina. While France, Austria, Russia, Sicily, and Britain poured into Brandenburg, I got a message saying that a liberal pan-German parliament had convened, voted to form Germany, and wanted me to head it up. This was an odd, borderline surreal moment, but I had nothing better to do than get my ass kicked. So I said sure.

    The best part about this is that the moment I became Germany, everyone stopped being at war with me. I brought peace to Europe (temporarily) by hiding Prussia inside Germany.

    Anyway, to go back to a point you raised earlier, I think gamers do want these living dynamic worlds. I even want living dynamic worlds. But I think they pose a problem from a gameplay standpoint. It’s harder to find a clear role for the player in such a world, and it’s something I struggled against playing Victoria II.

  • Skyrider

    Having no prior experience with the ‘Victoria’ series of games, I was pretty neutral at the outset of this podcast. Now, having listened, I could utterly feel the frustration in Julian’s tone, and I actually saw the word ‘frustrated’ in Rob’s written review. Troy, you were probably closest to the middle ground in the tone of your comments, but even you seemed to resort to the melancholy angle of , ‘there’s always hope for the inevitable add-on.’

    Based on other reviews of the game, in addition to the comments on the podcast, I sense the ‘Victoria’ games are afflicted with Everything-Plus-the-Kitchen-Sink syndrome, and I have been disappointed by these kinds of games in the past. I will take a pass on this one. For me, full retail price comes with the expectation of “full retail satisfaction.”

    As a side note, I can empathize with Julian’s agony and sense of being duped after making the time investment in what sounded like a solid effort by the developer on the documentation front.

  • Chris King

    Well Germany forming via Liberal Pan-Nationalists almost happened http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_Parliament , that’s why we included it in. Like you guys said in your Podcast we put a lot of effort into trying to capture what was happening during the time period. So when Pan-Nationalists break a country inside a cultural union they offer the crown the largest great power inside the Union (excluding Austria).

    As Prussia my prefered strategy is gun for Denmark to get Sleiswig, using my Union CB so no bad boy there. Then get Holstine in my sphere. Next stop is Hanover and then after that a big push to get Saxony out of Austria’s sphere and into mine. Then providing you haven’t lost your initial sphere you can become the NGF and your dozens of little statelets become one nice country. Then the battle ground will shift to the three larger South German Minors which are slightly more worth while prizes. Certainly to me the fight over Frankfurt is important, it is vital avenue for Prussian expansion.

    On a more general level I use my sphere for two things, I am targeting larger countries to bring into my internal market to help me economically or I am picking strategic tragets were I am seeking to block other countries expansion. I find as Great Britain staying in the fight for Hanover after Queen Victoria comes to throne can frustrate a Prussian player no end. As a mechanic it goes to whole new level in multiplayer.

    One of our goals for the game design was to try and put you in the position of the ruler of the country. We felt that rulers weren’t too concerned with the day to day nuts and bolts of the economic system. They would be interested in what is happening and intervene from time to time, but not micro every single detail. So we tried to display the information in a way it would be there so you can see why things are happening. The far more important information is on the POP screen of who can get all the things they need. Well that is my attitude anyway, perhaps feedback will show that we should have allowed players to be more hands on. At the end of the day it is worth pushing the boundaries a bit to see what works.

    The Austria thing I agree with here. We have done a lot of work on the AI war logic for the next patch, to make the AI much better at assessing what are the odds of it winning. So Austria is now much less trigger happy. This is a good thing, because reagular pan-German wars is not what we are after.

    I would say that the role the player takes is the same one you take in Victoria, EU3, HoI3, and to a lesser extent CK. You are the guiding hand of that country/dynasty. The problem is finding the right level of interaction between player and the game. To see this done wrong, fire up a copy of Victoria and pick a country like Russia or Great Britain. The game is simply hell to play because there is simply too much you have to do. We are trying to find that right level of the ammount of interaction and the result. Victoria definately had too much, so in Victoria 2 we made a lot of effort to scale it back a lot. Perhaps we swung too far the other way.Time will tell.

  • Troy

    Skyrider, I think I should go a little further in my praise – the nature of conversations is that sometimes you get caught up in the moments.

    Victoria 2 does a lot of things right. Even if the data is overwhelming, the interface is excellent. If you invest the time, you will find something to experiment with and enjoy. The world it shows needs to be more dynamic and needs to resist your influence a little more – and clearer decision points would be welcome.

    The design team took an unfriendly and unholy mess of a title and simplified it as much as they could and still keep that core Victoria experience. It needs better signposts and more of a shove here and there to get you to take risks – if my economy is kicking ass, why bother with colonial adventures?

    But even if this is not a great game, they are on to something.

  • Panzeh

    I tend to think Victoria 2 relies far too heavily on automation of over-complex systems. When I see this, I think, these decisions can be more meaningful, more transparent, with an elegant abstraction ala Imperialism I/II.

  • Rob Zacny

    Well, Skyrider, I haven’t heard the episode, so I’m not sure what had to be edited out or which versions of what I said we ended up using. We had the recording session from hell and we ended up repeating a lot of what we said. Being forced to take breaks and repeat yourself changes what you’re saying. But like Troy, I do worry we sounded a little too harsh about Victoria II.

    Couple that with the Metacritic’s insane interpretation of my review (a B- is a 67 now?), and I’m feeling a little defensive.

    I said Victoria 2 frustrates me as a strategy game. But, one, I’m used to frustration in videogaming. That’s a fairly mild complaint.

    Second, and more importantly, Victoria 2 is not a pure strategy game. It’s trying something considerably more complicated an nuanced. My reactions to that, as a player, are also complicated. I gave it a reservedly positive review because I think it’s a fascinating game, even if it is really hard to come to grips with.

    I will say this: if you liked HOI or EU, I suspect Vicki deserves a spot in your collection at some point. If those aren’t your kind of game, then avoid Victoria. Because in some ways, it’s Paradox turned up to 11.

  • Struggling with Victoria | RobZacny.com

    […] the Metacritic score is emblematic of a problem I’m having when I talk about Victoria II: I keep coming across as more negative than I strictly want to be. I know why this is, of course. […]

  • Rusty

    “If those aren’t your kind of game, then avoid Victoria.”

    And even if they are, reserve judgment till after the first pat… expansion.

  • Jimmy Brown

    Rob sounds very interesting Auto-Tuned. You should add a backbeat.

  • Ginger Yellow

    If anything, the podcast made me want to play Victoria II even more. But my crash heavy experience with the demo means I’m going to wait for a while (sorry Chris).

  • Skyrider

    Well, it’s good of both you and Rob to take the time to post some expanded info on your thoughts of the game, and to explain some of the difficulties encountered on the day you recorded. I can appreciate some of that may have “splashed” onto the tone of the review. It helps refocus some of the uncertainty that I had after listening then reading one of the reviews.


  • Joffré

    A thing that amused me, and part of what I like so much about this game (but can understand being frustrating if you haven’t spent a lot of time figuring out mechanics) is how two completely disparate complaints about “I don’t know what this does” from two points in the podcast were actually the answer to one another.
    I don’t have a good grasp of who said who, but early on, while discussing the economic system somebody mentioned that their ammunition factory wasn’t able to produce because they could never get supplied with a particular resource. Later, and I think it might have been the same person, there was a complaint during the discussion of the sphere of influence system that, as a Great Power, there wasn’t an apparent point to bringing nations into your sphere.
    The two things are, in fact, completely interconnected – I haven’t read the manual, so I’m not sure if it’s spelled out in there, though. When you go to the trade screen, you can see the total world supply and total world demand for each individual trade good, and they, of course, pretty much never line up – sometimes there’s a shortfall and you can’t buy the resources you need, sometimes a glut and you can’t sell the things you’re producing. How the game decides to allocate the resources is tied to the Sphere system: as a Great Power, you get first dibs on the resources produced by the nations in your sphere of influence, and you get priority access to their markets when they’re looking to buy goods from the world market. So, if there isn’t enough sulphur to go around for everybody, the game wants the Great Powers to fight over who gets sulphur producing nations in their spheres, and, conversely, if the supply of luxury furniture outstrips the demand, you can figure out who is the buyers are, get them in your sphere of influence, and shut the other Powers out of the market.
    It’s basically a really interesting modelisation of economic imperialism.

  • Chris King

    The crash issue leaves me scratching my head. If we have a serious CTD issue our forum tends to gives us a couple of subtle hints that it is there. Quite often the first clue is when the place bursts into flames. We aren’t getting that, this this gives us the problem of how to track this crash in order to resolve it. I am pretty stumped at the moment.

  • Ginger Yellow

    Well, in my case they haven’t been CTDs per se. There have been two types: one where the screen furniture goes flickery, for want of a better word, and the mouse can move but can’t click. The other was just a total freeze. In both cases the only way to get out of it was Alt-F4. I’m on Win7 with a n ATI 4890 if that’s any help.

    It’s possible it’s been ironed out in the final release, but the demo was nigh on unplayable for me.

  • Chris King

    Trying to tech support in this kind of environment is not the easiest. However, the concensus around the office is that these kinds of wierdness are usually caused by the Graphics Card overheating. Having no idea about your system from where I am sitting it is simply a first stab at an idea.

  • Rob Zacny

    Joffre, I’m not sure the sphere system is the answer to my problem, because I was constantly looking at the sulfur market and it was in low demand throughout my game. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there was a surplus available. That’s why I found the input shortages so baffling: from everything I could see, there was plenty of sulfur to go around. It just wasn’t making it to my ammo factory.

  • Ginger Yellow

    Sure, Chris. I don’t want you to waste time QAing my demo when you havie paying customers to sort out. I’m pretty sure it’s not an overheating issue though. Part of the reason I have the card I do is that it runs a lot cooler than my old 8800TX – I haven’t had any overheating issues with other games.

  • Mind Elemental

    When Julian made his “I will receive so much hate mail…” declaration, did anyone else think he’d mention MOO3?

  • Rusty

    Doesn’t one of the problems spring from the reviewers all starting their experience with a Great Power? While EUx and HoIx have always been relatively easier to jump straight into in this respect, the detail and simulationist approach of Vx has always presented a steeper learning curve. While perhaps not as true for V2 as the original, I have found it considerably easier to come to a GP after playing a few games as a lesser power: one of the South American countries is always a good starting point, and Sardinia-Piedmont remains the best introduction to continental European play. Indeed, in V1, I found the best games were often those of the minor power seeking regional expansion while dodging GP wrath and BB wars.

    That said, the deus ex aspeect to a lot of events is a recurring problem for all of Paradox’s historical grand strategy games. HoI3 began with an event-light model that was designed to avoid HoI2’s tendency towards repetitive gameplay – but that promptly alienated those players who want to refight WW2 (with prior knowledge). So SF restored the event rigidity (to a degree) – and alienated those players who preferred a broader military-political simulation with the flexibility to explore alternate history. Now, stricter event-driven games are easier to manage and develop – you don’t have to stress-test the fundamental systems (particularly diplomacy) in the same way – but when you lack the over-arching structure of a global conflict within which to operate, event-driven play can begin to seem arbitrary (at best) and downright gamey (at worst). A nationalist-liberal Germany forming from a Frankfurt parliament headed by Prussian constitutional monarchy is a reasonably plausible alternative history, and some players will want to have that as a ‘possible-every-game’ option, which can only be done with fairly strict event implementation. And some players find that crude or insufficiently explained in-game. Perhaps the best solution – other than mods, which, as ever, will be the long-term saviour of the game – is to have a definite choice at start up: do you want to play a strict historical game, where real history events are priveleged; a broadly historical game, where plausible alternative events have increased weight; or a simulation largely free from specific events (you might get a ‘Liberal Revolution’ but you won’t get an ‘1848 Revolution’) where you have free reign to unite Europe under the Magyar banner, or whatever. V2 tries to cover all the bases, and, perhaps inevitably, ends up falling between them.