We spent a couple of days in a castle with Paradox Interactive's line up of games.
As is their custom Paradox Interactive invited a selection of the gaming press to attend their annual convention, and this time the event took place at Häringe Slott, 40 minutes south of their headquarters in Stockholm.
The setting is rather fitting. With games such as King Arthur II, Crusader Kings II, and War of the Roses on the release schedule it is only natural that Paradox Interactive chose a castle out on the Swedish country-side, a 30 minute drive outside of Stockholm, for their annual gaming event. The move back to Sweden, after last year's visit to New York is also fitting, as Paradox have increased their focus on Swedish developers and now have a whopping 11 projects in development internally or at independent Swedish developers out of a total of about 25 projects.
And while that may sound like a lot, the number of games at the event is lower than last year (11 compared to 16), perhaps a sign that Paradox are waiting a bit longer to announce projects these days to develop them further before presenting them publicly. CEO Fredrik Wester called it a year of consolidation, maybe not outwards, but inwards as the publisher tries to realise some of the changes and new ideas they've previously started on. Closer longterm relationships with developer partners, and the new incubator that helps start up Swedish independent developers try and realise their dreams are examples of how Paradox want to evolve their business.
Last year at the convention Paradox made 6-7 new announcements, and several of these games are present at this year's convention. Salem, Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, Naval War: Arctic Circle and Crusader Kings II to name a few. Instead of announcing a similar slate of games, even with more projects on the way than ever before, Paradox took a conservative approach hoping to spread out the announcements over the year. Perhaps a wise decision to focus on games that are on the immediate horizon.
The first announcement came from Paradox France (Ageod), who will make use of the Clausewitz Engine (used by Paradox for games like Hearts of Iron III and Europa Universalis III) moving from 2D to 3D for the first time. Napoleon's Campaigns II is a sequel that aims to deliver a more complete experience than its predecessor as it features a full on campaign rather than separate years or battles. The result is hopefully a more typical grand strategy experience that still maintains the Ageod recipe for a strong tactical combat element. Old fans may feel a bit disheartened by the move away from Ageod's old 2D engine, but we were assured at the event that the engine last used in Pride of Nations may be used for future projects if deemed suitable. The grand strategy genre is still at the core of what Paradox do, and with Crusader Kings II and Victoria II: A House Divided just about to be released from the internal Paradox studio, and with Magna Mundi coming later in the year, fans of the genre are well catered to.
Next of the new announcements was A Game of Dwarves, from Swedish indie outfit Zeal Game Studios, best known for Dwarfs?! a game that saw release on Steam last year. Dubbed as a management in the vein of Dungeon Keeper where you manage and level up dwarves as they delve deeper and deeper. At some point, they will unearth things that should have been kept in the ground and combat ensues. The game is being developed for PC, Mac and PSN, and was the only console project Paradox showed off at the convention, even if there was some hint of a Magicka console version at some point. A Game of Dwarves is still early in development, but is targeted for release later this year.
Naturally, there was also some Magicka news. The not too serious wizard sim has been a storming success for Paradox selling 1.3 million copies of the main game with combined sales of DLC topping 4 million copies. Next up is a new DLC pack called The Other Side of the Coin, which is going to let you play as "the other guys", a vampire called Alucard (or something similar) and his necromancers are out to hunt all good people and lay waste to Vlad's attempts to improve relations with humans, dwarves, and elves. Interestingly, Arrowhead's Johan Pilestedt, stated that the asymmetric multiplayer is something they were keen to try in The Other Side of the Coin as it was something they working on in one of their upcoming projects. For now, Arrowhead, have taken a step back from Magicka, allowing Pieces Interactive to develop future DLC while supervising and making basic design choices. Meanwhile, Arrowhead Game Studios to have grown to 25 individuals as they work on no fewer than three projects that are to be published by Paradox Interactive. The first of these is set to be revealed at GDC in March.
The biggest project Paradox has ever funded, and a dream project thought up by their publishing team, and given to Fatshark (Lead and Gold: Gangs of the Wild West, Hamilton's Great Adventure) to realise - War of the Roses - was the only given a room of its own in the castle. And speaking to everyone involved from the chairman of the board to PR representatives, developers and producers it is evident that this is a project on a scale that we previously haven't seen from Paradox.
War of the Roses comes equipped with detailed graphics courtesy of the Bitsquid engine, a meticulous control scheme that will see players swing and parry in four directions, shoot arrows, ride horses, use lances and when all else fails use your dagger to make your final stand.
The outspoken Paradox CEO, Fredrik Wester, mentioned another game when asked to pick one out of the line up, the Ino-Co developed Warlock: Master of the Arcane. A game that will surely appeal to fans of Civilization and Heroes of Might & Magic, it takes place in Ardania - the universe in which the Majesty games are played out. Moving on hexagon you grow your cities, conquer competing cities, in order to grow your power and ultimately attain the title of Warlock. Compared to Civilization, Warlock puts more emphasis on combat and exploration, as the cities for the most part are automated with little micro management required.
What struck us as the most appealing aspect is the concept of planes where you use magic portals to move up to higher planes (a maximum of six), this is going to keep exploration fresh all the way until the end of the game as you fight powerful dragons and look for loot. Researching spells and using them to further your ambitions is also a vital part of the game. Overall, it's certainly a concept that should appeal to a lot of players, and it is going to be interesting to see whether some of the relaxed and humorous tone of Majesty can be inserted into this kind of strategy title.
Rounding out the Paradox line up on display was three very different games - Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, Naval War: Arctic Circle, and Salem. Gettysburg is a game that mixes real time strategy elements with a third person shooter template, and puts you in a fictional American Civil War where time travellers have interfered and granted the warring factions steampunk-esque technology. There will be everything from tanks to Zeppelins, fighting against standard soldiers as well as soldiers equipped with futuristic weapons. Last year this was positioned as a free-to-play offering, but now it has been adapted to the "Magicka model" with a low entry price ($9.99], and expansions planned for the future. The game will come with four maps and two play modes (one deathmatch for 64 players, the other army skirmish where four players command troops and join the action on the battlefield), as well as a level editor.
Then there is the ultra realistic war game, Naval War: Arctic Circle, that puts such emphasis on realism that combat is a secondary gameplay mechanic, while detecting enemies and avoiding detection for your units is what's mainly on offer. With two campaigns and a huge map (the entire Northern part of the Atlantic ocean), this is a game that will appeal to those seeking realism and attention to detail (all crafts, missiles, planes are faithfully recreated).
Finally, we have Salem. A game where crafting is not something on the side, but the main objective and your foremost reason to play the game. A free-to-play MMO powered by micro-transaction Salem has some kind of strange appeal that peeks people's interest. They have a really smart and unique system for unlocking skills and levelling up your attributes, and as the developers Seatribe pretty much leave it up to the players to shape and form their own civilisation in this frontier land it is hard at this point to see just what a typical play session in Salem will be like. And perhaps that is what we find strangely alluring.
Paradox Interactive has been doing really well over the last few years, growing both revenue and profits at a rapid pace, expanding their operations many times over. In a way, their eagerness to quickly adapt to a digital model has been key to their success (today 97% of Paradox revenue comes from digital), and paired with a keen eye for attractive indie projects such as Mount & Blade and Magicka that has helped propelled them forward. By the sounds of it, there is much more to come from Paradox in the next few years.