I am a long-time fan of Hearts of Iron, a grand strategy series in which players control all aspects of a World War II nation, from armies and fleets to research, production, and diplomacy. So when developer Paradox Development Studio took the wraps off the upcoming Hearts of Iron IV, I was eager to find out more. Read on for my email Q&A with project lead Dan Lind, in which I ask about his vision for the project and how it will fit into the series:
Peter Sahui: Hello Dan — welcome to the site!
It’s been five years since Hearts of Iron III launched, and in your first developer diary, you talk about lessons learned from Crusader Kings 2, Europa Universalis 4, and HOI3. What inspiration have you drawn from other sources — other games, books, etc.?
Dan Lind, Project Lead: As you know, Hearts of Iron is, like most Paradox Development Studio titles, a grand strategy game in an open sandbox and victory is determined by the goals you set up for yourself during the WWII time-span. The Hearts of Iron series is all about taking control of your nation in the years around World War II and leading it to victory – a wargame where you have to look at the entire war and take decisions in a multiple of aspects to reach victory. So Hearts of Iron IV is at its core is not a pure old-fashioned wargame.
Therefore, to be frank, there are not a lot of other grand strategy wargames to look at unfortunately. But I’m personally fan of World of Tanks as well as War Thunder and I hope we can bring in more of their flavor and attention to detail. My team also really liked Unity of Command when we tried it since it is a pretty different game that shows how you can make a fun historical strategy game and still keep things easy to understand. When it comes to books, we have tried to have both a top-down and bottom-up approach. So we take a lot of inspiration from Winston Churchill’s books on WWII as well as writings by Otto Carius (a famous German tank commander) as well as memoirs of Russian artillerymen.
PS: In your opinion, which aspects or theatres of WW2 did Hearts of Iron III represent best, and where do you think Hearts of Iron IV has most room to improve?
DL: I think Hearts of Iron III had a very solid land combat system and the eastern front felt pretty good. I think where you will see most of the improvement is going to be the strategic warfare – the battle of Britain never felt like a nail biter and we aim to change that this time. The strategic air war is going to have a much bigger place in Hearts of Iron IV. The previous game also worked very well as long as the player stuck reasonably close to history, but if you ventured outside the AI’s parameters it couldn’t always cope with that. With Hearts of Iron IV, we plan to give the player a lot more freedom, where the AI is set up to be able to respond in situations that might be very different from history. Because a big problem with historical games is that people know what happened, especially in such a well-documented period as World War II. The leaders of those days did not know what would happen next and this is something that we need to deal with without losing the sense of realism that people have come to appreciate about our games. A lot of things will require gradual changes and actually living through events, which should give a much better historical feel as well as creating a game where it is easier to try out alternate paths of history and not feel that the only road to success is following whatever plan Eisenhower had. So we want less railroading and more historical feel in Hearts of Iron IV.
Also Hearts of Iron III could either be played with full manual control, where micromanagement would be pretty heavy or with AI assistance, where your control over the systems you surrendered to the AI was very limited. Now we are developing a planning system in Hearts of Iron IV that gives you greater control, because we want to give you time to look at the bigger picture. In my opinion, this also adds a lot of immersion, since it feels more like I am guiding a military campaign. But for the micro-managers out there – relax, you can still do very detailed plans and update them in real-time!
PS: I’d like to ask about one feature that has been announced — battle plans. How will allies feature in this system? Will we be able to give orders to allies, take full control of their militaries a la Hearts of Iron II, or see allies’ plans?
DL: Since Hearts of Iron IV still is pre-alpha, it is still very early to discuss details… But yes, you will be able to see allies’ plans and also to invite them to participate in plans you draw up (an invasion of Normandy for example). :)
To compare, Hearts of Iron III let you set objectives – but it was hard to know exactly if the Ai was going to go through with it or not. In Hearts of Iron IV, the AI will let you know if it goes along with the plan, and if it can spare troops so you will be able to rely on outside help. Unfortunately you probably won’t see complete military control in the Hearts of Iron II style. The reason is that I think it would be quite immersion breaking and open up to all sorts of exploits where you sacrifice other nation’s armies to further your own goals in very unrealistic ways.
PS: Speaking of which, I felt that Hearts of Iron II and III were very different games that represented two quite different design philosophies (and full disclosure, Hearts of Iron II is still perhaps my favourite Paradox game after all these years). Where do you see room to build on Hearts of Iron II? And what lessons did you learn when going from Hearts of Iron II to Hearts of Iron III?
DL: The biggest lesson we learned going from Hearts of Iron II to Hearts of Iron III was the fact that more isn’t always better than less. If we are increasing the complexity of the gameplay, then we really need to give players the right tools to work with the new features and give them understanding enough to grasp the potential of the new tools.
On the other hand, going back to Hearts of Iron II, I feel that the map detail is very limited and that makes warfare less interesting than in Hearts of Iron III. So now when we are designing Hearts of Iron IV, we have looked at what worked really well in the two previous games, taken ideas from both games and combined it with new ideas that will hopefully satisfy players of both games and create a completely new WW2 experience.
PS: What are the odds of seeing Hearts of Iron IV features pop up in other Paradox Development Studio games? I’d love to see battle plans in any future Victoria 3!
DL: Ha, well let´s start at focusing on Hearts of Iron IV before making any commitments for future games ;) Our first goal focusing on Hearts of Iron IV is to do something similar to what we did with Crusader Kings II and Europa Universalis IV – keep the flavor and complexity of the game intact while making the game more streamlined with improved interfaces.
But it is not impossible that we will incorporate features in our other games in the future!
I obviously can´t promise anything at this early stage, but we quite often use game features that work really well when we make sequels or expansions.
PS: Are there any plans to release a converter DLC along the lines of the CK2->EU4 converter?
DL: The logical converter would be Victoria 2 to Hearts of Iron IV, but the problem is that Victoria 2 is running a much older engine so making a converter is unfortunately nearly impossible. So I don’t think that will happen until there is a Victoria sequel. I did jokingly suggest a CK2->HoI4 converter last week, but it might be a tad nutty, and I’m pretty sure nobody took that seriously ;D
PS: Thank you for your time.
Hearts of Iron IV is due out in 2015 — I plan to conduct a more detailed interview closer to then, so stay tuned! All images in this article were supplied by Paradox.