Hearts of Iron 2 could be considered to be standing somewhere between Strategy game and a history book. It's a game with more accuracy of history than ever seen before and it's up to you how you choose to
discharge your powers. We had a chance to sit down with game designer Joakim Bergqwist and talk about the current state of the game and how things have turned out so far.
Perhaps you could start by introducing yourself?
- My name is Joakim Bergqwist and I'm currently working as a game designer at Paradox and have done that since 2000. I have a background as a military historian, political scientist and former professional military officer.
Do you have any prior experience to working with game developing besides here with Paradox?
- No, I have been working here for about five years and I have been involved in the development of eight titles.
What is your main task as a game designer?
- My job - in the creative phase - is to visually describe the game, what should be included. Imagine the second World War, how should we go about simulating the financial system and diplomacy during the WW2? What are the historical demands on the story, how are the battles supposed to take place on a strategic level when the map covers the entire world, with air, sea and land powers, things like that.
Describe to us a regular day at work?
- This is fun, it all depends at what stage we're currently working on. Should it be an early stage I'm most likely spending time writing the overall game design and then I'm thinking like you wouldn't believe, pondering and trying to find solutions to different features we would want to include. It is of great importance that features are balanced even if it's only theoretical. It's definitely something that will have your brain working, this would probably conclude what I'm doing in the first part of a project, let's say about a third of the entire developing process.
- After this it's mainly about supporting the programmers and the graphic artists. I also have to visualize my thoughts, it is simply not enough to write a big fat document holding 80 pages and think someone will actually read it. Usually I have to use a white board and try and show what I'm thinking and try to inspire the other team members. It's also equally important to leave some of this stuff to the rest of the team, one's little babies sort of speak, because they will also have to get some creative freedom when they implement features, otherwise it's very likely things will fall apart and it could get very dull and boring for them.
- The third stage, this is where we have reached alpha and beta stage and then it's my job - amongst other things - to try the game, make sure that the features we discussed in the planning stage have come as close as possible to our first ideas. If not, how can we change them so that they will be? Or is it better the way it's currently done? That's basically the third stage, the fourth is more or less all about eliminating bugs in the software. I will mostly focus on historical errors, facts, text and all scripted events and it would be up to the programmers to deal with the brain-cracking bugs of the code.
How much time of the developing process is spent on testing the game?
- It's different for different people, I would say in my case it's probably about 10 per cent, not more. It all depends on what I'm supposed to test. It's not really the most exciting gaming experience you'll get, because you know exactly what you're looking for. Those who gets to participate in the beta phase will have more fun, because they are actually trying out a game. They could be thinking like: "Alrighty then, I'll go for Germany and use them through out the entire game and we'll see what happens", I unfortunately don't have that luxury.
How many beta testers have you had?
- I think we usually have about 200-300, spread across the globe. Then of course there are a certain amout of people who don't contribute with much at all, so it usually ends with a small group of elite people, which will return a lot of feedback.
Do you stick with the same beta testers?
- No, we will try and vary and especially in the stage where we choose the beta testers we try and pick people who have certain background which we would like to use. For example, consider an American book author who has written 30-40 books in the current subject, he is a good person to include for historical correctness.
What are the pros and cons working as a games developer in Sweden today?
- It could be better and it could be worse, these are the two cases according to me and if you want it to be better then it should be the USA. What's better about the USA is that more time is put into the details and that far more money is put into the projects. Sweden is a small country and the game developing business is not big, which makes the circumstances somewhat tougher.
Hearts of Iron 1 was a pretty complicated game, what have you done with the successor to ease the learning stage?
- I think that things like the mission system, where air and sea combat can be done with more automatic control which releases you from the painstaking task of having to poke in every single little province. Same thing goes for the convoy AI and the leadership AI, all very important things which makes a big difference. For example, if I construct a submarine for the USA, I will get a leader which is Sea Wolf, which will have the correct rank for that nation. If I was to construct four at a time then he would not be Rear Admiral but Vice Admiral immediately, the AI will automatically pick the correct one which is a great relief, not having to poke in every single little detail.
What are the major changes in the battle system between Hearts of Iron and its successor?
- Partially it is what we call "movement is attack", which will initiate a battle immediately when you enter a province and not like before, first when a unit has entered the province. This will render a completely different game flow, instead you'll get the feeling of a more StarCraft and RTS-like system where you will have a system where you build frontlines, where you will try and push your way through a frontline and were you will try and deregulate someone on the edge, you could also take your way around him but that will be a tougher thing to accomplish. Also these little orders you can give like "support defence", "support attack" and "reserves" which will completely change the way you for example defend and uphold a frontline. It is like possible to defend France, even though it is difficult as hell. In Hearts of Iron this was more or less impossible to accomplish.
Diplomacy and politics, how "free" is one to act compared to real history, could you go about and do anything?
- Theoretically yes, practically it's much more difficult. In order to declare war you can't be an isolationist. Sweden for example with Per Albin Hansson as leader was very isolationistic. You could move your domestic policy bars one step each year which would make it possible yes, that in 1944 Per Albin could participate in the war. On top of this you have "election events" and they are somewhat random and depending on what you select there it can affect your policy bars even more, at a certain expense like "dissent", dissatisfaction. This would make it possible, with a little bit of luck and if you also know exactly what you want to become, like "I want to become a little clone of the Soviet Union", well then you could accomplish that. Although you would have to have a certain amount of luck.
You mentioned that a completely new graphical interface has been built for the game, care to tell the improvements and changes?
- Earlier you had this sidebar which you worked with quite extensively and pretty much all information were shown there, which would sometimes have you flipping pages over and over again to find what you were looking for. Now there will be a maximum of five pages on screen and every page covers a specific area of the game. This is very good because it makes it very educational, everything that deals with production is on the production page, everything with technology is found on the technology tab, diplomacy has its place and so on. This is one fundamental change in the structure. Then you have parts like selecting units with the button at the top of your screen, land units, sea units, air units, and with a single click you know exactly where you have the units, what province and what else is currently in that province. If you click on a province, you'll be taken to it right away. If you click on a unit, the same thing will happen - so we feel that our interface design should be quite intuitive.