Hearts of Iron IV Fights On - An Interview with Dan Lind04 Nov 2016 0
Hearts of Iron IV has recently had its first expansion announced – Together for Victory. Using high-level insider connections here at Wargamer, I was recently able to catch up with HOIIV Game Director Dan Lind – aka podcat – from Paradox Interactive. A few questions and answers later, I learned how arguably the studio/publisher’s flagship game has evolved into the Grand Strategy title it is today.
Wargamer: The original HoI has been described – by yourselves included – as the ‘original’ grand strategy PC game. How do you follow up on something like that?
Dan Lind: The first game in a genre will give you an outline, but it is what follows that paints the full picture. The Grand Strategy genre would not be what it is today if it didn’t innovate on itself.
Wargamer: How would you say that HoI has ‘evolved’ or changed from the original to IV? I.e., assuming you deliberately set out to improve upon certain aspects, what were your goals, and how have successive iterations measured up, in your opinion?
Dan Lind: Each new game has looked back at its predecessors and tried to improve what worked well, while at the same time changing what didn’t work out so well. With Hearts of Iron IV we wanted to improve areas we felt were overly complicated and micro intensive for little reward and add deeper mechanics and interaction, with an emphasis on preparation and planning where things had room for player attention. As an example, one of the improvements we made was to change production to make actual vehicles and weapons instead of abstract strength values. This allows the players to tailor their industrial output to match their military needs. They will also face the same challenges that leaders in real life did, with equipment shortages and the resupplying of exhausted units being significant factors. The system, despite introducing new challenges for the player to tackle in interesting ways, does it in a way that doesn’t get in the way of fighting the war.
Wargamer: You made it relatively clear early on that you would be making HoI IV as a ‘sandbox global history’ game; can you explain the reasoning behind this?
Dan Lind: Every game that we have made has, for all intents and purposes, become alternate history the moment the player un-pauses the game. With Hearts of Iron IV we wanted to give the player more tools to explore those what-if scenarios.
Wargamer: How would you respond to those who want more or less the opposite, i.e., a WWII ‘simulator’?
Dan Lind: There is always a gray zone between what is historically accurate and what is alternate history. The more historically accurate a game is the narrower in focus it has to be. There are some great games that stick to the historical accuracy really well, but they are usually limited in what you can do. With Hearts of Iron IV, we wanted to make a game where you had the freedom to shape history in more diverse ways, but that does come at the cost of leaning more towards alternate history.
Wargamer: Knowing that it’s impossible to please 100% of the customers 100% of the time, what is your goal? How do you ride an untamed horse that wants to take you in different directions?
Dan Lind: By making it our councillor. In all seriousness, though, we listen to the feedback from our players, and in a sense that is a bit like having that untamed horse as a councillor ;)
Wargamer: How do you ultimately decide what direction to take different elements of the game? Is it mostly predetermined; if not, how much? Presuming you factor in customer feedback, is it up to an in-house consensus; a ‘lead’ designer/producer (or other job title)?
Dan Lind: We call the lead designers Game Directors these days, and as GD your job is ultimately to steer the game in the direction you want it to go. We roughly look one or two expansion ahead, but the further away the fuzzier things get. We don’t want to lock anything in until quite late so that we can take in as much up to date feedback from the current work, for example.
Usually a final decision on features is made based on feedback from the team (with emphasis on QA, who clock up crazy number of hours in our games as well as other designers), and by listening to players of course, both on our own forum as well as other places online (or sometimes when they swing by the office).
Wargamer: What is the most difficult or frustrating aspect of recreating a game like HoI, that has such a ‘fanatical’ following?
Dan Lind: People tend to have quite rose-tinted glasses when it comes to their old “loves”, which can make explaining why you changed a previous mechanic quite difficult. For me it’s mostly a question about what you yourself stated, you can’t please 100% of players 100% of the time, and especially with a game with such a big dedicated group of players you need to make choices where you know no matter which decision you make some of those players will disagree. Making games is very much a balancing act and you constantly must make leaps of faith and tough choices to succeed.
Wargamer: Is there anything else you’d like to clarify or comment on?
Dan Lind: With our detail-oriented and militarily versed fans, I am surprised nobody has noticed our Morse code sounds in-game are more than random noise...
Sounds like a lot of good news for HoI fans! In case you missed it above, Patch 1.3 ‘Torch’ will be released on an as yet unannounced date alongside the first DLC/expansion – TwitchTV link here (ff to about 11:30) – that will be but the first of three (previously two).
Speaking (writing) as a personal fan of the series since its inauguration, anyone who still doubts that Paradox fulfills its promises hasn’t been paying attention. A developer able to publish several different games with ‘II, III, or IV’ in their titles must be doing something right. While that doesn’t mean everyone will be pleased with their decisions, as I tried to clarify with this Q&A, that’s simply impossible. At the same time, I take them at their word; that they listen to fans/players, and take into account – if not incorporate; because, didn’t we just say that’s impossible? – everything they hear or read. Then, they implement as the majority (and good business!) wills. I hope you learned something – I did! Now, who out there knows Morse code…?
[NOTE: Screenshots shamelessly plundered generously loaned from Paradox Dev Diaries.]