As I mention below, the Hearts of Iron derivative market will soon be even fuller than it already is. As a partial attempt to help some confused Paradoxians navigate the confusing and crowded spinoff market I sent some questions to Rayan Nezzar, of the Darkest Hour team, to find out what his product is, how it came about, and what he believes makes it worth your time.
What's your experience been with the new Paradox engine-licensing deal? Have they been pretty hands-off, or have they offered a lot of assistance to you?
Paradox Interactive gave us an extraordinary opportunity and we are truly grateful to them. We were given the chance to build our game using their Europa Engine, which was the basis for their successful games Hearts of Iron, Europa Universalis and Victoria.
That being said, we are a completely independent development team with our own ideas and goals. Therefore we did not ask for their assistance during the development stage.
However, now that the release date of Darkest Hour is approaching, they are supporting us on the marketing and publishing side.
Is there anything wrong with 'vanilla' Hearts of Iron 2, which you're trying to fix?
Just as with any released software, there were some bugs that ought to be fixed. Bug fixing is indeed a never ending fight. For instance, the AI code that oversaw the spying missions and the strategic bombing had some flaws and needed attention.
But we also felt that although Hearts of Iron II was a great game, there were still some voids waiting to be filled. Darkest Hour is not merely an improvement, but rather a new episode in the Hearts of Iron saga. While we did correct some remaining bugs, we also implemented many new mechanisms and dramatically expanded the database. We drew, for instance, a new map from scratch, with realistic borders and distances between provinces. We also implemented a dynamic diplomatic system with decisions, territorial claims, and floating historical events that allow players to have a real impact on the course of history. Not to mention that Darkest Hour takes the Hearts of Iron series into unknown territory: World War One!
Which parts of the original game are the strongest and which of those strengths are you trying to augment?
Hearts of Iron II is surely one of the best grand strategy historical games. Its strongest point is the immersion it offers to the player, who must face the challenge of leading a country during WWII by managing its diplomacy, intelligence, economy, technological research and obviously its armies. Darkest Hour seeks to improve this experience, by refining and enhancing its mechanisms and adding new concepts such as claims, decisions and mobilization. We have completely redesigned the tech tree and the map and we have also worked to improve game performance, especially in long running games. We then aimed at providing an AI that is able to achieve plausible and historical outcomes on its own.
What has been the biggest challenge relating to the expanded timeline (particularly back to 1914)?
The biggest challenges of the expanded timeline were the different combat mechanics and the changes in warfare between the two World Wars. Our tech tree covers the period ranging from WWI to the onset of the Cold War.
Regarding the Great War scenario, the player will have to carefully plan his campaign and not lead his armies to slaughter. Manpower reserves are limited and new units take some time to be trained. Moreover, it is difficult to achieve breakthroughs, air superiority, and naval supremacy, because revolutionary technologies such as tanks and aircraft carriers are not yet available. The first interceptors and tactical bombers can already be built at the beginning of the Great War, but they need further upgrading to be really effective.
The HOI-based game market will be very full shortly. What do you expect will distinguish your game from the others- both those in development and those already released?
First and foremost, we seek to release a functional and complete game from day one. We also have plans to add new content through patches. Following our “By fans for the fans” credo, we will continue to listen to the community as we did during the development. In fact, many features we introduced in Darkest Hour have been loudly requested for years by Paradox Interactive fans. In addition, many former Hearts of Iron modders joined Darkest Hour development team and contributed to the game.
Darkest Hour brings the Europa Engine into World War One territory, which was relatively unknown to Paradox Interactive games. We implemented mechanisms that actually put players in the position of heads of state and give them the chance to turn the tide of history. We believe such immersion through diplomatic, economic and military fateful decisions is rather innovative and adds another dimension to the game. And we are also confident that players will be quite pleased with the challenge offered by our revamped artificial intelligence system.