Sengoku Developer Interview

Conducted By Adam Ames


TPG hooked up with Thomas Johansson (above), developer on the Japanese inspired strategy title, Sengoku.  You will read about how Sengoku was initially created, his thoughts on the PC gaming industry, life as a PC developer and much more.  Here is the first course:

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being a smaller PC developer?

Paradox Interactive has, however, always been a small developer with small development teams. That does of course present its very own set of problems since you have less flexibility to move resources around as the situation dictates. Another thing that makes being in a small team more difficult is that your total amount of knowledge and experience becomes smaller, when you encounter a new problem the probability that someone around you knows the answer becomes smaller. But small teams has a lot of advantages as well – for example everybody works very focused, all share the same vision and it´s easy to communicate and make changes and adjustments along the way of the project.

Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role with the development of Sengoku.

I’m the project lead and a programmer on the project. I’ve been with Paradox since 2004 and worked on all our internal titles since Hearts of Iron II, first as a programmer and later as lead programmer and project lead.

How did you get started in developing PC games?

I have always been interested in computers and computer games, ever since I got my C64. When I was at university, studying computer science, I got in contact with Paradox Games and they quickly turned into my favorite past time. I also participated in a couple of Paradoxes beta tests. A few years later when I was looking for a job I saw that paradox needed programmers. I applied and have been here ever since.

Where did the idea for Sengoku come from?

Before I started working at Paradox they made a game called Crusader Kings. This game had a really innovative twist for a grand strategy game, you were not playing a country or a faction but a character and a dynasty. A lot of us felt that there was so much more cool stuff you could do with that, but we never got around to seriously planning a sequel until recently. When the planning started though, some of us that really wanted to do a Japanese game saw our chance, medieval Europe is after all a rather similar period to Japan during the Sengoku era. So we started doing something we hadn’t tried before, we started to develop two games in parallel while trying to maximize the synergy effects between the two.

What are some of the successes and failures you learned from in developing Sengoku?

In Sengoku we tried to stream line our features and focus on making a more competitive game. This turned out quite well and enabled us to make a more understandable interface and especially a more competitive AI. In this game the AI really plays to win and some fans even accuse the AI of cheating, something that it definitely doesn’t do.

On the failure account that it turned out to be much more difficult than anticipated to use the synergy with Crusader Kings 2 and the longer we went on the more the two games diverged. This led to a lot of extra hours that we hadn’t planned for…

In its current form, how close is Sengoku to your initial vision?

Our vision of the game was constantly changing during the project but at the core our idea was to create a more focused and competitive game than Paradoxes earlier titles and with that I think we succeeded.

Some devs admitted their games were too hard upon release because they became experts as they developed the game.  Talk about setting the difficulty levels for Sengoku and if you faced a similar challenge.

I don’t really think the game was too hard on release. After the release I’ve been told that some fans found it a little hard but there are two things I think one needs to realize here. First the game is smaller in scope than earlier paradox titles; this brings with it a slower rate of progress than most of our players are used to. Second, as it is a bit of a Paradox trademark that you can “play as any country” some new players tend to pick small countries (or clans in Sengoku) believing that the game becomes easier to learn that way, instead they get eaten by the big countries. In the second point I think we have a challenge ahead of us to try to communicate to the players the real difficulty of playing a certain country, both taking actual difficulty and complexity into account.

Were there any challenges you faced in ensuring Sengoku would run on the various PC system configurations?

I think these challenges surfaces in any PC game project where you constantly face a wide-spread of configurations and can end up in a situation where a major hardware manufacturer releases a new driver that does something weird with your game. The only way to combat this is to make sure you have a wide array of testing machines and/or varying system configurations among your beta testers.

8.  Please talk about developing the art style, level design and music for Sengoku.

We usually have a very informal way of designing these things. The project lead, the designer and the lead artist/music creator sit down and discuss the project and its goals. The artist then goes off and creates say the main interface or one complete song, for example. After that we get together and discuss the result and after that it’s up to the artist to create the rest.

Outside of creating the game itself, what is the toughest aspect of being a smaller PC developer?

Paradox Interactive has, however, always been a small developer with small development teams. That does of course present its very own set of problems since you have less flexibility to move resources around as the situation dictates. Another thing that makes being in a small team more difficult is that your total amount of knowledge and experience becomes smaller, when you encounter a new problem the probability that someone around you knows the answer becomes smaller. But small teams has a lot of advantages as well – for example everybody works very focused, all share the same vision and it´s easy to communicate and make changes and adjustments along the way of the project.

For the most part, big budget studios no longer release PC demos while almost every indie developer does.  Why do you think this trend is occurring?  Tell us why released a demo for Sengoku and the difficulties in doing so.

I guess that for a niche or indie developer it is harder to sell the game on name recognition and marketing alone, so a demo is simply a possibility for the game to sell itself. The Paradox development studio decided some years back that we should always make a demo for all our games. One reason for that is that when we are coming from a smaller customer’s base and want to reach a wider audience, a demo will convince customers we would not otherwise reach. A demo is also a quality assurance for the gamers – they get to play a part of the game for free and see if they enjoy it.  Simple as that.

How important is it to get instant feedback about Sengoku from users through online message boards and other social networking sites?

Our forum is extremely important for us, we communicate directly with our gamers there. The forum has been up and running since 2001 and we have a good mix of both new and old fans where we get lots of good ideas and feedback from our 340 000 gamers registered on our forum. Of course we use twitter and Facebook as well, but for The Paradox development studio the forum is the most important place for us to talk to the people who enjoy our games.

How much value do you place on the opinions of those who review Sengoku professionally?

Reviews, and especially now that you have sites like Metacritic, are of course very important since its one of the ways the customers decide if a game is worth the cost.

What are your thoughts on how the PC gaming industry as a whole are dealing with the problem of intrusive DRM and piracy?

I think there are a lot of solutions to the problem out there, some good and some bad. I think the best ones that doesn’t really feel like a DRM, like an online service for multiplayer or social networking service that requires a unique registration. The offline DRMs out there are usually just annoying to the player and will always get bypassed anyway.

How do you feel about individuals posting videos of Sengoku?

How we handle copyrighted content isn’t really my field. However I know we have a lot of contact with Lets Play channels and we are very open to gamers posting videos of our games. We appreciate gamers that help spread the word and help other gamers get into the gameplay, do video tutorials, video walkthroughs and Lets play videos. We have always encouraged user generated content such as videos, mods and more.

How do you feel about DLC and its current implementation in the PC gaming industry?

I think DLC are the future. Good games usually have a long lifespan and I think it’s an excellent thing that players can get more content for their favorite game and developers gets to do all those things that you really wanted in your game (or realize how cool they would be when you finally see the finished product). As a developer every game is your baby, but financial reality usually forces you to move on to a new product after the old one is finished. DLCs allows us to keep taking care of our favorite games, revisiting, updating and adding content that gamers request.

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about modding of PC games and the relationship developers have with modders.  How do you feel about the online modding community in general and specifically mods created for Sengoku?

Paradox Interactive has always placed modability very highly, so also in Sengoku. The more modable a game is the longer its lifespan. People have come to expect good modability from Paradox and it’s definitely become one of our strengths.

What advice would you give up-and-coming indie PC developers who are trying to break into the business?

Getting your first game out there is usually the most difficult bit; the internet makes it easier though. First you need something to show of course. The more unknown you are from the start, the more people will want to see of your game before becoming interested. Then, set up a web page, social media channels and maybe even a forum and make sure people hear about it. If you can manage to get a following for your game it becomes easier to get publishers interested. -End

We would like to thank Thomas and Paradox Interactive for providing us another great interview.  You can pick up Sengoku during the Steam Holiday Sale for $20.09.

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3 thoughts on “Sengoku Developer Interview

  1. Pingback: Sengoku Developer Interview | truepcgaming | PC Game Downloads & Reviews

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