Hearts of Iron 3 Interview (PC)

For the uninitiated, Hearts of Iron is a heavily statistic-based strategy series based upon the Europa Universalis engine that allows you to engage in the battles before and after World War II as well as the war itself as any of the participating nations.

We went to Stockholm to chat with grand strategy veteran, Johan Andersson, lead programmer on the Hearts of Iron and Europa Universalis series about the forthcoming sequel. Read on to find out why Britain’s his favourite nation to play as in Hearts of Iron and why he’ll never make another console game.

Strategy Informer: If you could start us off by just telling us a little about the game and why you decided now was the time to release a sequel.

Johan Andersson: Hearts of Iron III is a grand strategy war game set during World War II is a quick description of the game. I’d say the reason we wanted a sequel – I can’t remember when Hearts of Iron II was made – was it five or six years ago, something like that? (It was four). Since it was released we’ve always had ideas and discussions in the office or after work, like “this would be a cool feature” and eventually we had all these cool features written down and documented at the office. About a year, year and a half ago we were thinking, “what game shall we make?” Well we had this amount of ideas to make a new Hearts of Iron game, so we thought, “let’s make Hearts of Iron III!”

Johan Andersson, lead programmer, Paradox Interactive.
There are some 15,000 territories in Hearts of Iron III compared to roughly 3000 in the previous game.

Strategy Informer: You said in the presentation earlier today that everything is “more, more, more.” In the previous games there were a lot of numbers and statistics to digest as well as a huge amount of comprehensive historical depth. Do you think players will embrace even more of this kind of thing or find it quite daunting?

Johan Andersson: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think a lot of players find numbers and data a bit too much at once, but when they’ve learned it they think, “oh, this is cool.” Say for example, Football Manager – not the easiest thing – but they have even more data than us, but people love having all that data. And the thing we’re working on – the other thing I mentioned is that players will incorporate experience into their learning curve – but what we want to make sure of is that players aren’t scared away by the numbers and the data so we present them in a way that they feel they can handle this. Then they’ll discover something else and something else and be able to handle that too until they can eventually handle everything.

Strategy Informer: You have 15,000 territories in this game as opposed to almost 3000 in Hearts of Iron II. Have you made sure that all of this is easy to manage too?

Johan Andersson: Well, the territories aren’t really something you manage. They’re basically the locations for your troops and areas you occupy. You don’t really go round each territory managing things. Take the Soviet Union for example – 5000 territories – you don’t want to have to go around there having to do manual orders in every little city. It’s more like, where do you have money, where do you place your troops, where is the infrastructure strongest, where is best to conduct your attacks from?

Strategy Informer: Do you think with the sheer amount going on you need to have your wits about you and be sharp at all times or are you able to play the game casually at your own pace if you want to?

Johan Andersson: Well, it depends. I mean if you’re playing a competitive multiplayer game against other people you might want to be at your sharpest, but then you can also just sit down and pick a side, play a little bit for half an hour or so. Or you could sit on the lawn with your mates and drink a few beers while you’re playing. I mean, it’s not as if your life is ruined just because you lose at a computer game anyway.

Strategy Informer: Right. So, what’s your favourite feature in the new game?

Johan Andersson: (Long pause, considering answer) I’ve had this question quite a lot today and I’ve given a different answer every time. (Pause) I kind of like the espionage system - but if you ask me again later I might have changed my mind – but I like the espionage system in that it’s very important when you’re thinking what you want to do with your spy networks more than just placing your spy networks. It’s very strategic.

Hearts of Iron III is ‘hardcore grand strategy’ according to Andersson. We’re not inclined to disagree.
Using the diplomacy triangle, you can simultaneously see who are your closest allies and which are your opposing nations.

Strategy Informer: Is there any scope for future expansion or is this the definitive game that you’ve put together?

Johan Andersson: Until the game is in the stores I’m one-hundred percent committed that this is the definitive game that we’re making etcetera, but I know how demanding this industry can be, so it’s probably going to be a few months after release before people will start saying we have a big consumer base now and we can earn more money by making expansions. But I absolutely hate when people start doing expansions before they’ve even finished their games because you have to have the focus on your game and you have to be one-hundred percent certain that you’ve put everything in you can to make this game great otherwise you’re just ripping-off your customers.

Strategy Informer: The first two games were critically well-received (we gave Hearts of Iron II a very healthy 8.7) and did quite well commercially, so did the success of the previous games have you feeling the pressure a bit when you came round to making Hearts of Iron III?

Johan Andersson: Yeah, we have to! I mean, we average 85 or 86 percent on Game Rankings and the last games sold a few hundred thousand copies, so yeah, if we’re averaging like 70 percent and we get less sales, I’ll be like, “oh, shit! What did we do wrong?” So, yeah there’s pressure, but then again if I don’t want that pressure then I might as well go and flip burgers.

Strategy Informer: You have quite a vocal community. What new features have you implemented based on the feedback from that community?

Johan Andersson: I’m not sure what we’ve got from the community or not, because a lot of things are discussions we have, so it’s hard. I can’t really say what we’ve implemented through talking with our community. We do have our development diary and our forums so, if people are excited by certain things or less excited by others, we get an idea of what kind of things they like.

Strategy Informer: What were your influences when you set out making your first Hearts of Iron game?

Johan Andersson: We had made a grand strategy game before (Europa Universalis) so we knew what we wanted in a grand strategy game. So we were like, okay, World War II – what can we do? Well, there’s no grand strategy game ever made on the subject, so we started looking at board games and thinking what can we take from this, what could we make that’s new? And it’s not just board games or computer games; it’s movies, books and so on that we used in researching the game.

Strategy Informer: It’s interesting you say books and movies. Were there any specific examples you looked at?

Johan Andersson: Well, there’re a lot of World War II movies, but to name a few - A Bridge Too Far was a great one that gave us great inspiration, the Band of Brothers TV series is another great insight into World War II and Bridge Over The River Kwai was also good in the depiction of the battle between the Japanese and British. I also kind of like Cross of Iron for the Eastern front perspective – those kind of movies give you the different feels we were looking for. In terms of books, we have a huge library of biographies and so on.

Andersson on the pressure of a HoI sequel: “If I don’t want that pressure then I might as well go and flip burgers.”
All of these stats never hurt Football Manager. HoI III is the most comprehensive World War II strategy game you’re ever likely to play.

Strategy Informer: When you’re playing the game, which is your favourite nation to play as?

Johan Andersson: It depends. We used to play multiplayer in the office and it’s foreign countries that I find the most fun to play. Of course, if certain arch-rivals in the office are playing as allies then I like to pick Germany, but then other times it’s fun to play as Poland if you have a strategy to stop the German player getting to you first. I think that my two favourite ones are France and Britain. France because you either win or you lose completely, but I think Britain is probably my favourite because you’re always in the war and you have all this area - you have Africa, Asia and you’re constantly doing stuff. The difference between playing as Britain and Germany is with Germany you constantly control debate and with Britain you direct it. They’re two completely different games.

Strategy Informer: Would you ever consider making a game like this for home consoles or would you feel too restricted by the limitations this would impose?

Johan Andersson: It’s been fifteen years since I last made a console game so I don’t know exactly what the hardware limitations would be. I haven’t thought about it, but I don’t know. PC games still sell insane amounts and considering how much online distribution is increasing sales; it’s easier to continue making PC games.

Hearts of Iron III is due in the third quarter of 2009 for the PC.


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By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Feb 25, 2009
The last RTS I played is C&C: TW, so this one should bring me back in one piece, playing strategy again.
By JamieSI (SI Core) on Feb 25, 2009
"So, yeah there's pressure, but then again if I don't want that pressure then I might as well go and flip burgers." that part made me laugh out loud.
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 25, 2009
Oh God, if only there were more game developers like him I'd be in seventh heaven with quality gaming assured. "PC games still sell insane amounts" how many other companies will agree instead of watering down the content just to be played on XBox? None?
By Kiam99 (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 25, 2009
Im looking forward to this game and i think he is right. The PC still got an advantage aganist consoles and still sales alot...good to hear someone from the gameing production agrees :)
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Feb 25, 2009
My God, if only my comp would be all rights so that I could sign up for the beta... For me, this game will be the big hit of 2009, along with E:TW.
By Knave (SI Core) on Feb 25, 2009
I really love Paradox games, but I gotta say, when he was talking about expansions and ripping customers off, i couldn't help but think a few paradox expansions should have been patches and not sold as expansions... (I'm looking at you Napoleon's Ambition!)
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 25, 2009
Wasn't Napoleon's Ambition a mod originally?
By JustCommunication (SI Core) on Feb 26, 2009
Wouldn't mind seeing some screens on what the battle engine is like, although I know it won't be to the same scale as say the Total War series.

I have to say, games like this and Europa Universalis have always intrigued, but the very fact they lack an actual battle simulation engine has always put me off slightly. Maybe I have been playing too much Total War, but the battles are half the fun. Who needs statistics?
By V4ndall (SI Veteran Member) on Feb 26, 2009
Hmm isn't the battle going to be a purely stat based estimation as in the earlier games? I like statistics, and lots of them, but as a matter of fact I think that Supreme Ruler 2020 is one step ahead of the HoI series in terms of battles (the whole world is just a large hex map with zones of control, terrain, infrastructure etc. so there are several times more "places" described than 15k regions).
By Nicolas19 (SI Core Veteran) on Feb 26, 2009
I think Supreme Ruler 2020's battle system was no better than HOI's. In spite of this, they always emphasized the warfare part of that game, what is a huge miss in my opinion. HOI series=pure warfare. Supreme Ruler=economics+society. I know all too well that U can't sell a game without bloodshed nowadays.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Feb 26, 2009
He is fat. :|

Seriously, he had enough of us...
By benny180 (SI Core) on Mar 05, 2009
This looks good,i love the depth of games like this,along the line of total war,on that note i wonder what the battles are like,or is it all map based?
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 06, 2009
I thinks this is a map based RTS game, placed in modern times. Nothing we haven't seen before.
Reincarnation I'd say. ;)
By benny180 (SI Core) on Mar 07, 2009
Shame,semmed like the perfect game for a while.
By AdamBoozer (SI Member) on Mar 07, 2009
Looks like it will do about average. I am not going to say anything till this one has made its way around.
By Wowerine (SI Elite) on Mar 07, 2009
Anderson is genius (lazy one). He will make things right. :)