After over eight years from the release of Crusader Kings 2, perspective medieval rulers around the world will soon get their hands on Crusader Kings 3.
Considering its predecessor’s legacy, CK3 certainly has a difficult task ahead, marrying the mission to satisfy an extremely hardcore player base with that of earning new fans. Yet, it certainly appears promising.
To know more about the upcoming grand strategy game-meets-dynastic RPG, we talked to product manager Max Weltz from Paradox Interactive.
Giuseppe: Crusader Kings 2 has eight years of updates and expansions under its belt. How did you approach balancing between realistically finishing the game and including many of those features out of the box so that the new game doesn’t feel like two steps ahead and three back?
Max Weltz: As you say, CK2 is a game that has a long tail of content and updates post-launch, both paid and free, with tons of features that have been added. We really wanted to make sure that you get as much of that as possible when CK3 comes live.
We know that not all the features that we have put in CK2 during its lifetime were as good as we wanted them to be, so it’s not all the features that have ever been in CK2 DLC that make it at launch in CK3. we have been very clear on that since the reveal of the game.
We really try to bring all the good stuff and iterate and improve on that, of course. Some of the things we think could have been done better in CK2, we kind of mostly pinned them for later content and later updates, that’s the approach we had.
Giuseppe: Have there been features that the team wanted in that won’t quite make it for release, or on the other hand, things that initially were excluded and that ended up being implemented?
Max Weltz: I’ve been on the project for about two years now, so it’s kind of hard to tell during the long journey of the game’s development exactly what came in and came out. In the last year, I think we had a pretty solid idea of what we wanted to do. There have been fairly few changes there.
Giuseppe: How long has CK3 been in development?
Max Weltz: A number of years. I don’t think we’re saying a specific timeframe, but there has been some overlap [with CK2], of course.
Giuseppe: With PC and consoles becoming closer and closer in terms of performance and architecture, has there been any consideration about expanding Crusader Kings 3 into consoles post-launch? Paradox has been quite active in console development lately, even if I can imagine it’d require some work to make it happen without a mouse.
Max Weltz: Yeah, I agree with you. The performance of consoles has been catching up with PC. There hasn’t been any specific talk, but we’ll see what makes sense from a market perspective. We’re entering generation 5 territory now in the industry so that is an interesting moment.
I also agree with what you said about the mouse. The UI and UX would be a very important point if we were to do CK3 for consoles. Stellaris is on consoles, and a lot of attention has been put into making the UI work well there.
That’s something all grand strategy games would have to go through if they were released on consoles. That’s a key point. At this stage, there is no specific plan, though.
Giuseppe: One of the focuses for the development team was the onboarding of new players. The map is bigger than that of Crusader Kings 2 with much more variety and depth with the baronies displayed. Is that something you were concerned could confuse new players with sort of having too many options and things to keep track of?
Max Weltz: I’d say there are two things there: there is the breadth with the larger map going all the way to Africa and Asia, and I think these are areas that you can choose to interact with, but you can simply focus on Europe as well.
I’m not sure I’d say it can distract new players. I think it more gives them options. You can play a European kingdom at various levels, but you can also go and make your court in Ghana or India if you want to.
It also goes back to what we said about what we had at launch in CK2 versus CK3. It’s a very ambitious title so we wanted to have a lot of content there. I think a larger map speaks to that.
What you brought up in terms of depth with the baronies on the map, is it really distracting to new players? I don’t necessarily think so. I think it’s good to have a representation of some of the things you can interact with. I think it’s helpful rather than distracting.
Giuseppe: This is more personal curiosity: considering that Crusader Kings 3, like CK2, simulates the actions of thousands of characters at any given time, is it challenging to make it actually run and optimize it for an average PC without having performance issues?
Max Weltz: As you said, we have a very rich and complex simulation running there under the hood, and we have a ton of characters appearing, but of course, we also have a talented team that has been doing this for years.
As you point out, this is not something new in CK3. We’ve done it before. There certainly is skill and learnings accrued over the years that have enabled us to do this without suffering too much from overhead or low performance for CK3.
Giuseppe: In the build of the game I played there were two bookmarks for the start date, even if each had a few different options in terms of location and flavor. Are these final for launch or there will be more added?
Max Weltz: Yeah, the bookmarks we have selected are those we saw most players engage within CK2, so that’s what we have looked at when making that decision.
Will we add more later? Maybe, maybe not. That’s not set in stone, but I think we really wanted to focus on doing the best possible job on the bookmarks we saw most of the players starting from.
Giuseppe: Let’s talk a bit about Ironman mode. That’s something pretty much ubiquitous in Paradox games, but I think making players choose between achievements and the ability to have multiple saves involves a small issue in Crusader Kings.
There are pivotal moments in the game in which you may want to have a separate save to go back and make a different choice. For instance, when you have to choose whether to continue to play as your ruler or switch to a Crusade beneficiary in Crusader Kings 2, a player may want to be able to play both options.
I understand the value of letting the player force themselves to accept responsibility for all their choices and mistakes and rewarding them with achievements, but could it be possible to combine this with at least enabling separate saves at pivotal moments that would enrich the experience?
Max Weltz: Is it possible? I strongly suspect yes. Is this the design we want to go for? I can’t really speak to that. That doesn’t sound to me like a necessarily bad suggestion, so I can bring that up to the game director and designers and see what they have to say.
Giuseppe: I can’t even imagine the amount of historical research required to create a game that aims to simulate the entire medieval world. Do you have consultants helping you on this?
Max Weltz: Of course, to help us with our content and historical accuracy we get feedback. You have seen the developer diaries as well. People are happy to chime in on their particular take on history and their knowledge of their local region.
We have a lot of sources. Many are internal as a lot of the Paradox staff are extremely knowledgeable about history. That’s kind of what I like working at Paradox: there isn’t a day in which I don’t learn something while talking with a colleague and it isn’t just about the gaming industry, but in general about history. We have very interesting and elevating conversations.
We have folks in the dev team that have a more literary education and aren’t necessarily programmers by education. We’re tapping a lot of things.
Giuseppe: The new portraits are a big innovation in Crusader Kings 3. Can you speak a little about them? Also, are they final or there is more to come?
Max Weltz: Now we have 3D animated portraits, and I think what’s really great with them is the animation which conveys a lot of specifics about the character themselves and the events they may be placed in. Also their personality and traits. It really helps to bring the world to life.
We also have a system in which the different ethnicities and looks also translate through the family tree. Children will kind of look like a blend of their parents. That’s very good for immersion and for recognizing the different characteristics. We did put a lot of effort into this.
Will there be changes before launch? There will be some minor tweaks here and there as the game isn’t finished yet, but we’ve been iterating and people have been able to see that in the dev diaries since the reveal at PDXcom. The art team is doing a really great job there.
Giuseppe: I know it’s a bit early to talk about DLC, but have you been considering to bring back the ability to customize your starting character’s looks and heraldry?
Max Weltz: We’re definitely discussing what kind of content will come post-launch. I don’t think we’re ready to comment on exactly what we’ll be doing. We have our ideas and we’re keeping an eye out for what the players are telling us. We’ll see when the game launches what the feedback is.
Giuseppe: Paradox has really embraced Discord for Crusader Kings, with a lot of interaction between developers and the community. Of course, this isn’t entirely new, since the devs have always been very active on the forums at least as long as I’ve been around your game. How are you approaching interacting with the players with this new tool?
Max Weltz: The Discord is not meant to replace the forums. It’s a very different medium, right, in terms of the instantaneousness of the response. It also allows us to have specific events like developer Q&As.
That has been very successful and the team enjoys doing it. I think it’s also great for the community to get to ask a lot of questions at once.
It’s also a good place for the community to find each other and engage with each other.
It is a good tool for us, but it’s not going to replace the forums where we can post dev diaries and engage with the players in other ways. Developers are free to go on discord and char with the players as much as they’re free to go to the forums and comment.
I think that’s a strength of Paradox as a company, giving freedom to developers to talk to the players. As you said, it has been going on for years, and it’s great for both the company and the players.
Giuseppe: Crusader Kings 3 certainly appears to appeal to a wider player base compared to CK2, with better tutorials and more onboarding improvements. What kind of audience are you aiming for?
Max Weltz: Yeah, it definitely was a big focus for us on CK3 to make the game more approachable. What’s more important to our approach is that we’re not looking to lower the complexity of the game, nor its richness and depth. It’s all about making sure we elevate the players that are new to CK to the level where they can enjoy interacting with the game.
There are a lot of things that appeal to history enthusiasts in CK. We put a lot of effort into our historical research and in being authentic and that’s definitely something we’re doing.
Also, CK is a grand strategy game, so we appeal to strategy players. We’re character-driven with emergent stories coming out of the events. I think that’s also an appeal for RPG players as the game really lends itself to roleplaying.
I do think there is an opportunity for us to reach an even bigger audience that should enjoy this game.
Giuseppe: During the presentation before our preview, we heard that efforts have been made so that events make more sense and feel less random. That being said, I quite enjoyed the random wackiness of some of the events in Crusader Kings 2. I’ve had memorable moments like catching the Pope having fun with the blacksmith I had hired to create my crown jewels. Will this kind of events that are perhaps a bit “out there” but also very funny still be in the game?
Max Weltz: I think this kind of event if I understand you correctly, are still in there. You’re going to see more events with the tone that we’ve come to love from the Crusader Kings franchise. I’m sure you’ve seen some already in the press demo.
While I cannot confirm whether that particular event you’re talking about is in the game, we’re definitely keeping some of the fun stuff in there.
If you want to know more, you can read our hands-on preview.