Fans have been waiting almost a decade for word on a new instalment in Paradox Interactive's much-loved society building series, Victoria, but that day has finally arrived with the announcement of Victoria 3. It's still early days for this newest entry in the sprawling Industrial-Revolution-era grand strategy series, but we recently had the opportunity to chat with Victoria 3's game director Martin Anward and game designer Mikael Andersson to find out a little more.
For those players who might not be familiar with the Victoria franchise, given the previous game is nearly a decade old, let's start simply. What is Victoria?
Mikael Andersson: So Victoria is our society builder franchise. All our grand strategy games have some sort of niche and the historical period they're in, but they also have a specific slant. So Crusader Kings, that's like an RPG. For Victoria, though, it's more like a management game.
Victoria is primarily about building up your economic strength and then feeling your way through this industrialisation process of the 19th century - the changes that occur as you do that, both in terms of your own personal power and of the changing politics of your country. That gives you political challenges you have to deal with, as well diplomatic challenges on the world stage. So in brief, it's a society builder. It's set in the Victorian era, and it is about this incredible change that is happening during this period.
You've touched on it a little there, but for players who're perhaps more familiar with Paradox games like Crusader Kings 3 or Europa Universalis 4, how does Victoria feel different in terms of moment-by-moment play?
Martin Anward: I would say the big difference in terms of moment-to-moment play is about the main actions you're taking around core loop. So where Europa Universalis 4 is very much about clever diplomacy - like preparing for your next territorial acquisition and building strength for the next war - and Crusader Kings 3 is about managing your dynasty, preparing your heirs, and just generally interacting with other characters, Victoria is all about gardening your country.
And by that, I mean making small changes and adjustments, but also bigger changes, to your nation and its people. So for instance, constructing industries, changing the priority of where your economy is passing laws, setting focusses, and just tweaking and guiding and building up the machinery of your state and your country.
That's not to say diplomacy and conflict and war aren't part of the game; diplomacy, especially, is a big part of the era, but everything in the game is in context to what's going on inside your borders and with your people. You're supposed to be able to play the game entirely without ever going to war and still have a lot of fun, so everything isn't just about the preparation for the next conflict or necessarily about growing your political borders. It's a lot more about what's going on in your nation.
It's been over a decade since Victoria 2. Why did now feel like the right time to revive the franchise?
Martin Anward: Basically, whenever we start up a project at Paradox, what it always begin with is a champion. Someone comes and says, 'I want to do this, I want to do this game, I want the design to be like this.' It might be a little bit of a boring answer, but in actuality, there is no sort of special story in that sense. It's basically we had a champion, we had the design, and we had a pitch, it got approved, and then the game was put into production.
Even though it's different in the sense of all the hype and expectation, and how it's sort of become this legendary thing, we didn't start it just to start Victoria 3 - we started it because we wanted to build this game, because we were excited to build this game.
What will returning players find in Victoria 3 that still makes it feel like Victoria, but that brings something new to the experience?
Mikael Andersson: So the the obvious answer here is the POPs. They're core to the franchise, and it wouldn't be a Victoria game without the POPs. Victoria is all about managing your people and fulfilling their needs, and ensuring that when they get ideas you navigate those ideas successfully. So that is for sure making a comeback.
One thing that brings something new to Victoria 3, though, is interest groups. Previous titles had political parties which POPs would support, but interest groups fill a different kind of role, or they fill the same kind of niche, but they work in a different way. You have much more direct interaction with interest groups and they're represented by leaders that have their own personalities and ideologies that will try to get their their agendas through.
So putting this interest group interface between the POPs and the player means you have much more scalable political gameplay. Just because you're playing a big nation doesn't mean you suddenly have millions and millions of POPs you have to manage. You still have the same interest groups that serve the same kind of purpose in every country.
Martin Anward: I think that's a great example. POPs are something returning from previous Victorias that work in a very similar way, but they also have more to them, with simulated dependence - which is where we actually simulate the entire world's population instead of a quarter of the world's population, because the previous games only simulated the workforce.
And that, of course, influences the game in a lot of ways and makes things like women in the workforce, women's rights, and old age pensions more interesting because they're actually impacting POPs instead of having abstract effects, because those POPs weren't actually simulated in previous games.
Which of the lessons Paradox has learned developing and evolving grand strategy games in the 10 years since Victoria 2's release have been folded into Victoria 3?
Martin Anward: I would say probably the most important thing is levels of accessibility and trying to bring our games to more people because they have a pretty steep learning curve, there's a lot to take in. Crusader Kings 3 was, of course, a big pioneer of this, adding things like nested tooltips, important action alerts, and the like.
We're building a deep and complex game - and we want to build a deep and complex game, we don't want to streamline it or dumb it down - but that also means all that extra challenge in making people understand the different sort of tools and ways to approach it. I think's something that's really formed the decisions for this project.
One of the examples we're following is that we really want to make cause-and-effect as obvious as possible in the game. So you know, when you're starting as a new player, there's all this stuff going on, but you don't need to be bombarded with all the information at once, you don't need to understand everything that's going on. But when something goes wrong, you should be able to understand why and what you can do about it, and how you can do something differently next time. You should be able to pick up the game, piece by piece, and learn to adjust to situations like this, as opposed to just, 'My economy collapsed. I don't know why, I guess I'll restart and hope it doesn't collapse next time'.
What are some of the challenges in making the game accessible without compromising the kind of complexity that Paradox titles are known for?
Mikael Andersson: Obviously, there are some enormous challenges in making complex games accessible. The cause-and-effect is a perfect example of this, because a lot of the things in Victoria play out over time - like how the changes you make to your country have an impact on the POPs - but those impacts can be gradual and can transpire over several years.
Having the player be able to understand this cause-and-effect - like, five years later, there's a revolution, what did I do wrong? - you need to be able to make a connection between [actions and outcomes]. We can never really solve that problem perfectly but one of the ways we've been doing that in Victoria 3, for example, is with charts so you can see trends over time.
You can trace back how angry people have been, or what the wealth levels have been in a state across several decades, and try to map that to 'Oh, what was I was doing then?'. The core of Victoria 3 is the expansion of industry, strategic growth, making trade deals to try and improve your country's engine, and you'll be able to [see the impact your decisions had] and learn.
Martin Anward: One of the biggest challenges for us in general is just information overload, because we know that drives some of the players away from our games; you come in and you're bombarded with five alerts, 10 things, and all these countries are trying to talk to you. You, as a player who hasn't played before, you don't know what's important and what's not important, so everything seems equally important, which can result in sort of decision paralysis.
This is for sure one of the major challenges we have to tackle, like signalling to the player, 'This is a problem you need to deal with immediately' versus 'This is something that could [wait]'.
Wrapping things up then, why should players be excited about Victoria 3? What are you hoping to offer newcomers and old hands?
Martin Anward: Why I'm excited and why I took it on as a fan was to create a new experience in the unique niche occupied by Victoria. Because society simulators are something that, as far as I know, barely exist outside the Victoria series, these sorts of grand scope games about politics and economy, where everything is connected and where something as simple as increasing the production of luxury clothes can have knock-on effects on your political system and result in laws being easier to pass. And I believe that is what a lot of people want out of Victoria.
I also think it has something for people outside of existing Victoria fans, because it offers the chance to play a game that is not primarily focused on conflict, but much more focused on management, tweaking, building, and gardening, and on seeing the things you produce, the people living in it, and really getting a sense for this nation you've shaped that wouldn't otherwise exist.
Mikael Andersson: Yeah, one thing that's been really encouraging throughout the development process is seeing the sorts of people in the office who are attracted to this game - not because they're longtime Victoria fans, but because they're really attracted to the idea of creating and shaping their own society, and who're approaching this as one would a city builder, like, 'I just want to make life better for my people'. And there's all kinds of things that happen while they're trying to do that, that will get them involved in the grand strategy of it, and that's just really encouraging to see.