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The Surprising Design of Crusader Kings II
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The Surprising Design of Crusader Kings II

January 6, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next


"Very early on during the design phase of Crusader Kings II, I realized that the way we usually model relations between states in our games would not suffice." This is something of an understatement: in Europa Universalis, there are a few hundred nations at most, and most of them never interact with one another. In CKII, there could be hundreds of people who need to interact within a single kingdom, thousands in the game world at any given time, and thousands more people who have died or are yet to be born.

Fåhraeus describes a clear plan for making this work: "What we needed for this sequel was a simple, unified mechanic; easy to understand, yet deep and meaningful. Thus, we came up with the Opinions of Crusader Kings II; one single value summed up from a number of clear reasons why someone would like or dislike you (e.g. holding desired titles, refusing a request, or just plain old personality chemistry.) Opinions are unilateral, meaning the feeling is not necessarily mutual. The AI, of course, relies heavily on the opinion values, meaning it can act intelligently and in character. The end result turned out to be one of my personal favorite features in Crusader Kings II."

These Opinions work on a scale of -100 to +100, and are most commonly used for understanding when vassals might rebel. A powerful duke may hate his emperor, and you'll see why -- maybe the emperor has just acceded to the throne (an immediate -20) or that emperor has seized titles from other vassals and is viewed as a tyrant.

"All these numbers are visible and easy to access via tooltips. As a player, your goal would be to placate that duke, perhaps by granting him more land or sending money, or perhaps to isolate him from his allies by befriending them instead.


With the idea of multiple unilateral opinions set, Fåhraeus started adding them to the game. "The original Crusader Kings... (is) one of progenitor systems of the new Opinion mechanic, though it was far more limited. For Crusader Kings II, we took many of the traits from the original game, but with some modifications. For example, I wanted to have the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Virtues as traits. There are other changes too, of course. For example, some traits are now congenital and can be inherited by your offspring."

What I found fascinating about this is that Fåhraeus simply "wanted" to have those particular traits, so he had them added to the game, and they worked. In fact, they work extremely well at multiple levels: they add a medieval, religious flair to the game, but they also effectively give the characters more personality and set them at odds with one another -- a Lustful duke will automatically be wary of his Chaste queen, even if they get along at every other level.

This is what made me particularly interested in the testing process. My theory was that this was an intense process, with each trait examined and tweaked for optimal performance. I was wrong.

According to Fåhraeus, "...Actually the opinion system never really got much criticism and did not undergo any major revisions from the first implementation in Crusader Kings II, although the testers helped the development and came up with many new opinion modifiers and helped balance their magnitude. In my experience, quite often you know a feature works really well when people who test the game do not talk about it much. Beta testers usually do not bother with praising well-functioning mechanics, being far too busy to find faults in the game."

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Matthew Burns
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I bought this game a little while ago and it is in my "to play" list. This game just looks incredible.

Oh, I should say I have a degree in history and wrote my thesis on economics in England during the 14th century. Hence I am ridiculously bias toward a game like 'Crusader Kings II.' :-)

Dave Long
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I'm surprised by the views of the author that Paradox games are generally "yet another Paradox game". Clearly, while the sequels bear some resemblance to their predecessors, they generally involve substantial improvements and changes to gameplay (generally far more than sequels in other genres, no less, and often more than other franchises in the strategy genre - eg; Total War) - and the differences between Paradox games are huge (equivalent or more than the differences between the Call of Duty and ArmA franchises, say, were we looking at FPS').

Excellent interview though, and great to see CK2 getting commercial success. I haven't played it m'self yet (it's on my must-play list though) - main issue being that Paradox games are often so damn good that it takes me a few hundred hours to 'play them out' before moving on, which means I can take a while getting through them.

Rowan Kaiser
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Well, obviously there are major differences within the Paradox games, and someone who plays them in depth will see those. But I've been seeing a lot of CK2 love from game journalists who haven't played Paradox games before, or maybe they've played an EU game or two. Definitely not the types who would be able to sort out what makes Victoria so different from Hearts Of Iron or whatever.

Dave Long
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Aye, and that's a good thing :). I just find that game journos (and journos/people more broadly) will stereotype stuff they're not so familiar with - the old "all [pick your ethnicity] look the same" thing applied to videogames. Totally agree many journos may think that way, but that's largely due to their limited gaming experience and limited approach to understanding the world around them. Your response happily suggests you don't fall into this camp :).

Dolgion Chuluunbaatar
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Very nice feature. I just recently bought the game on a Steam sale and now feel like a thief. This game is truly unique and innovates in a genre that could really use some new ideas. What amazes me is that there is this elegant dichotomy between roleplaying and strategy and the way these two fit together is just so organical. In some ways, CK2 is a better RPG, or a truer RPG than any of the Skyrims or Mass Effects of the world. You play a medieval lord, and it puts you in exactly these shoes, with all that comes with it: managing your vassals using diplomacy (which really deserves to be called that), governing your duchy/kingdom/empire, making war, worrying about your successor etc etc. All of the important aspects you'd imagine a medieval lords life to consist of are in here, and none of it is scripted (at least if feels that way). This is what I miss in RPGs today. Most are too preoccupied with trying to cram a prewritten story down the player's throat while more or less clumsily trying to allow some player input to shape the flow of the game. I'd much rather play a game that allows me to play out my own stories, enabled by a sophisticated simulation component that powers the core of the game, and facilitates the random outcomes that designers want to allow for. There's few ambitious RPGs like that in the market, and I'm glad and surprised to see this innovation come from left-field in the form of a grand strategy game.

Talat Fakhri
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One of the better Gamasutra article on Game Design. Logged in specially to congratulate!

Rowan Kaiser
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Thank you!

Mark Chen
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It's also really amazing the role-play put into some of the after-action reports on the Paradox forums. e.g. this fascinating and hilarious tale: