Over the weekend at PDXCON, Paradox Interactive revealed the first major expansion for their hit character-driven grand strategy game Crusader Kings 3. Yes, there was the Northern Lords ‘flavour pack’ a few months ago, but Royal Court will see Paradox start to tinker with and expand on the core gameplay, adding a new royal court for you to preside over and shaking up the way that cultures work in the game as well.
Catch our preview of the Royal Court expansion here, but we also spoke to Alexander Oltner, CK3 Game Director, to find out more.
TSA: Looking back on CK3’s launch, how was it to ship the game and have such a great reaction, both critically and from your fans?
Alexander Oltner: It felt really good and it was such a joyous moment when we realised just how much people loved the game. It was always in the back of your head “Are they going to like it or not?”
I guess the most awkward part of it was working from home. One of the biggest things we’ve ever done and we never really got to get to get together and say “good job” to each other.
TSA: Yeah, I guess that has definitely been one of the biggest things over the last year for developers, the lack of celebration that everyone can have after a game’s release.
Alex: It still feels like we only just released the game a few weeks ago, but it’s been over a year almost… I guess? Time is relative!
TSA: Um, it’s like seven or eight months, I think.
Alex: Time flies and not in a good way… but anyway, we love the response to the game. It’s fantastic to see so many people enjoying it.
TSA: Looking back on the game at the time of its launch, what were you happiest with about the game and also where did you think you think you could improve the most? Perhaps you’ve been able to address some of that already through patches, the Northern Lords content…
Alex: The happiest is going to be a very broad thing, I think, because it really felt like this was the first grand strategy game released that felt like a modern game through and through. Like this was a game where we actually succeeded in making a user interface that was nice and usable, where we made a conscious effort to not do hidden mechanics, so the player knows what they’re doing, but preserving that very core CK feeling of this extreme amount of drama, fun things, and massive amounts of personal interconnectivity. Being able to marry those felt, at moments, like an impossible task.
As for improvement points, this is essentially a game that can be improved forever. There’s so many things, and it feels good to add things that we really want to have, such as the ruler designer, which came shortly after the game was released. It allowed players to have this element of creativity before you start the game, something we know players love.
We want to improve the UI, to add back features people love, we want to rework things, explore new territories… there’s so many things we want to do.
TSA: Obviously the Royal Court has now been announced, but what was the driving inspiration behind this new expansion? Was it something as obvious as Game of Thrones? Maybe the tinder-esque kingdom game Reigns?
Alex: It’s a very interesting question, I think. Firstly, we wanted to do something that we’d never done before, and when you think about it, this form of content where you’re in your throne room and you’re ruling, it’s heavily implied everywhere in the game, but it’s never been made into a proper mechanic.
At most you got to read a line of text saying “I’m perched on my throne thinking about [X]”, and really is there anything more medieval than a ruler on their throne surrounded by their subjects? That’s really the driving force, because it is quintessentially medieval. It’s very historically immersive, but it also ties heavily into characters, which is what CK is all about. Having these characters actually physically be close to you and not just in a list somewhere makes a world of difference to how you feel about them. Then we can weave in all of these new mechanics and enhance these playstyles, like having collectors who love to collect artefacts or certain types of people for certain types of positions in their court.
TSA: You’re adding a bunch of new lower tier roles that you can assign to people in your court, but is there a risk that you could end up with too many characters to keep track of, grabbing your attention and putting demands on you?
Alex: It’s an interesting reflection, because we aren’t really adding that many more people; they were always there, really. We had guests who would wander in, but it was essentially an invisible system and maybe you didn’t really care about it and review your guests – I know I didn’t always do that unless I know I need someone specifically.
We wanted to add value to the characters, so that’s why we have inspirations, why we have court physicians. We have all these people hanging around anyway, so why not make something of them? Why not make this character your Keeper of the Swans? Why not care about this guest, because they want to make something epic that only you can sponsor?
This kind of micromanagement isn’t necessarily detrimental to the overall experience, because there’s more characters that are of interest to you. You care if someone murders the inventor of something that was made for you.
I think one thing that’s important to note is that you don’t have to assign court positions if you don’t want to. It might even be a legitimate strategy, because they cost money. The same with inspired people, they cost money and don’t work for free.
You can’t really ignore your Grandeur – well, you can, but you probably shouldn’t – because lots of these new mechanics tie into Grandeur, but you can sort of pick and choose what you care about yourself.
TSA: Sticking with these court positions, you described things like the court champion, food taster, court tutor… will you have a court jester?
Alex: Yes! And that’s actually one of the more fun ones, I think. It’s easy to come up with content for a jester, right?
Most of the court positions have a passive modifier, and the court jester, for example, reduces your stress in a way, and that’s determined by their skills. That’s the boring mechanical part of a court position. Then they have a salary, and for the court jester itself, if you give that position to you vassal, then they’re going to be upset. [laughs] If you give it to someone that’s lowborn, they’re going to be like “Yes! That’s a great job! Great pay and I get to be close to the king!”
TSA: [laughs] I’m sure there will also be some narrative moments where they can accidentally insult a visiting king or something?
Alex: I mean, I’m pushing a lot for jester content. I can write down your idea, if you like? A jester insulting a foreign king sounds fantastic!
TSA: Yeah, so they were doing a monkey impression and threw poo and hit the visiting king, or something? [laughs] Oh, you’re really writing it down. OK!
Alex: Why not? I have an idea, and I’m not promising this will be in the expansion, but what if your jester tried too hard to be funny and just appeared during the least suitable moment? On the battlefield: “Here, my king! Look at me!” juggling skulls or something.
TSA: Or maybe while you’re trying to romance your queen? He’s been hiding in the wardrobe and just bursts out?
Alex: [laughs] No promises! Your court position holders will frequently appear in flavour text, and the court tutor, as in the press demo, can appear in learn language schemes and boost you along.
TSA: That’s another area where I was coming up with language-based pranks, and you immediately delivered in the presentation. [laughs]
TSA: With the court, how much direct customisation do you have over its appearance? You’ve got the four cultural designs, but is that quite restrained and something you’ll expand on?
Alex: We decided on four different styles of court to keep it realistic, but also to appropriately represent the areas of the world that had these prestigious courts. From India to the Middle East, to Europe and the Mediterranean.
They won’t look the same, the rooms, and there will be an element of randomisation. There’s different kinds of stonework, arches and trimming, sometimes there’s a fireplace, sometimes there’s not… it makes every room look different even though they are in a style.
The customisation you as the player get to interact with is through the artefacts. You slot in artefacts, you might even get artefacts from another culture, which would look interesting if you get an Indian statue and place it in your Western court.
TSA: And would something like that come with added prestige and grandeur if you have something exotic from far away lands?
Alex: I’m not sure if it will specifically know if it’s foreign or not, but all artefacts that you place in your room will affect grandeur as this base element, and some other effects, of course, because that’s always fun. What sort of thing do you get? Prestige or renown?
TSA: Moving on to the cultural changes, which you can shift and combine, I wonder how you would describe it in relation to the Religions and Faiths system, and how that can also create different branches? Is it similar conceptually, or a completely different structure?
Alex: It’s not that similar in practice. There are probably more differences than there are similarities. The similarities are probably there in the way you choose to do it, even though the conditions are completely different.
Doing a cultural hybridisation looks completely different from doing a cultural divergence. In a divergence, you replace traditions and ethos, while in a hybridisation, you choose between the two cultures, so the interfaces are completely different.
If one culture was stoic and the other bellicose, you can freely choose which one you want, and then you have to pick traditions from both until you have six or less. It’s the same with pillars and everything in between.
If you’re a player who likes playing historically and want to keep on a historical path, divergences and hybridisations happened all the time. Even if you’re not the kind of player that wants to stop being Catholic or something, you might want to diverge or hybridise because that’s what makes sense for what you want to do, and you might do it several times through a game, whereas you’ll often create one Faith an then stick with it for the rest of the game.
TSA: So, I’ve done a little historical research – I loaded up Wikipedia quickly – and was wondering if you could have a scenario similar to William the Conqueror, who invaded and became King of England, started hybridising Norman and Anglo-Saxon cultures in the country, but did so while keeping Normandy under the French crown. Can you straddle two cultures like this? Or are you having to do something across all your lands?
Alex: It’s across your whole kingdom. Not necessarily due to limitations in the culture system, but rather we don’t really represent the situation that Normandy was in. That’s something we discussed in developing the base game, and arrived at the conclusion that it’s too complex to really understand where you’re the King of England, but also the vassal of France, but only for these titles?
If Normandy is under English control, it might turn to a new culture if hybridisation should happen, but it’s a tradeoff. And then again, I think English culture still has a special condition to spread…
TSA: Yeah, English culture is definitely a pretty special condition… [laughs]
Alex: [laughs] I think, however, that you might see another combination of culture and languages, than historically. It’s essentially based on AI randomisation, so you might have an English culture that speaks French.
Thanks to Alex for taking the time to chat with us about Crusader Kings 3: Royal Court. Head here to catch our written preview, with the expansion due out sometime later this year.