The first morning of E3, I sat down to talk with Fredrik Wester, CEO of Paradox Interactive. Paradox has, in the past, generally specialised in careful, strategic games with historical settings. But their upcoming titles all deviate from that scheme in some way.
While The War of the Roses is historical, it's anything but a strategy game. The action-packed sword-swinging game aims to give players 15th century weaponry and then let them wreak medieval melee mayhem. Then there's A Game of Dwarves, an underground, bearded, management sim.
But Paradox's biggest upcoming title plumbs the culture of an era that it can still be hard to think of as "historical": the 1980s. The Showdown Effect is much more inspired by League of Legends than by any battles of old. It's also become the first game to have TwitchTV integration built into it from the start, meaning that any player, while playing, can click the "stream" button in-game and immediately be broadcasting live.
With three such different games on deck, I wondered what Wester had to say about each. The answer is, lots.
I first asked Wester what he was at E3 to show off. He excitedly leaped into an explanation of the partnership with TwitchTV over The Showdown Effect, saying: "That's huge for us as a company, because Twitch is so big and they have like 50 million users or something." He added, "We'll probably place it at 10 dollars; anyone can buy it. I'll see if we need to finance it further by adding hats, like Team Fortress 2. We'll see."
When I asked about the social element of TwitchTV, Wester gave a passionate answer explaining how, for a certain kind of multiplayer game, watching matches is almost as important as playing them. And then he explained the heart and soul of the game:
I think you want to play with your friends, but you also really want to show people what you're doing. Yeah, TwitchTV is doing something totally new. I don't think people understand how new it really is, because it looks like an old stream. But my first thought when I heard of TwitchTV was, "how stupid can it be to watch someone else play a game?" And then I looked it up and watched League of Legends for one and a half hours. I ended up being glued to the screen.
So it has an appeal to it, especially if it's good players who can show you new things. So, I'm a League of Legends player, as well, and it's like, "Oh, yeah! He's doing that, that's a very smart move," so it's entertaining and it's educational if you're into that game. And I think Showdown Effect is perfect because there are so many special moves you can make, like slide on the floor while you're shooting in all different directions or, I don't know, jump through glass ceilings, you can do a lot of things that are very... artistic.
So if you watch a really good player play Showdown Effect, you're going to have a great time. And you're going to learn something new. "I didn't know that if you had a jetpack and you jumped two times in a row, you could fly like Superman! While you're shooting!"
Wester also hurried to explain that he and everyone at Paradox really want people to be able to jump into The Showdown Effect, describing it as a "pick up and play game," standing in contrast to Paradox's more deliberate, strategic titles. "Showdown is a new direction for us, which is: get in, you instantly know what to do. You just shoot the people, and you jump, and you run. Take the elevator between different floors, and you shoot the people."
But through watching streams, players may discover special fighting combinations or techniques that aren't immediately evident, and learn to mimic them. "I think people will find out after a while their play style, and how they like to kill people," Wester cheerfully explained.
E3 is one of the few venues in the world where two people can laugh over murder in a Starbucks, and no one nearby even bats an eye.
The Showdown Effect is deliberately over-the-top to an almost cartoonish extent, drawn from the explosion of action movies that in some ways helped define the 1980s. I asked what, if any, movies were particular inspirations. Wester replied: "Die Hard! Great movie. Lethal Weapon, even though it has a comedy backdrop is still over-the-top action. Any Arnold Schwarzenegger movie they made in the 1980s."
He then struggled to keep a straight face as he continued, "Dolph Lundgren is a great actor from our native Sweden — well, I wouldn't say a great actor, but he starred in some great movies including Universal Soldier, which has a great script."
At that point, he broke out laughing and begged me not to take him seriously about Universal Soldier. I agreed. But having landed on actors, it was easier for Wester to continue:
Commando is a great movie as well, Schwarzenegger... all the Stallone movies, Van Damme... it's easier to point out specific actors because they starred in all those movies.
So these actors... Jet Li, for example, or Jackie Chan... So the characters are modelled after the typical action heroes. Like a beefy boxing type... you have the disillusioned cop, you have the kung fu master, you have eight different stereotypes of action heroes that you can choose from to begin with. And then you can equip your action hero with different helmets. Actually a War of the Roses style helmet. You can have possibly lightsabers, depending on what LucasArts has to say about that... (laughing) I haven't asked them yet.
Does he find it likely that LucasArts will agree to the lightsabers? Well, no. "They have a thing about protecting their property," he admitted, but quickly added, "I respect that." Paradox and Mojang have a good relationship, though, as neighbours in Sweden. Wester joked about needing to add a blocky action hero, or perhaps a Creeper.
We ended up talking briefly then about scale. War of the Roses will support up to 64 players in a fight, because as a medieval melee game, it makes sense to have a battlefield absolutely teeming with combatants. As for Showdown, though, the team was still undecided between 4v4 and 5v5. I could tell where Wester's sympathies lay. "I think four is a magic number in gaming," he mused, referring to Left 4 Dead 2 among other games. "Although the MOBA-style games always have five on a team. It's frustrating, because it can be hard to find five friends to play with."
We then briefly discussed archery in War of the Roses, which ended up with both of us mimicking archers drawing and anchoring right there in Starbucks, in order to convey how the camera shifts dynamically from a third-person view (preferable for melee) to a first-person view (preferable for shooting) as you draw.
After another laugh I asked if there was anything else, and Wester began very quickly to talk about A Game of Dwarves. "It's more of a management sim in the style of Dungeon Keeper" than it is like Dwarf Fortress, he explained. "I see dwarf fortress as an in-depth simulator, and this is more of a management style game."
"It's going to be awesome," he cheered, then added, "It's my little baby. I named myself franchise manager for that little franchise, so I hope we're going to see a lot of cool things coming out of that as well." He reiterated that it was, "Dungeon Keeper, not Dwarf Fortress," but then mused:
I love Dwarf Fortress. I love it because it's such a great concept. I don't really understand how to play it. And people say it's a bad interface, I'm not sure the interface is the thing, it's just that there are so many things to do and so many things to manage, I'm not really sure where to start. It sounds funny to say it, as a hardcore publisher, but I'm too soft to play a game like that.
So A Game of Dwarves would take the idea and make a more accessible game out of it? Wester considered that a fair way to phrase it. "Everybody loves dwarves," he added. "It's a general thing. I mean, no one loves elves, because they're more fascist. Dwarves are more like... hmm. Maybe dwarves are more communist. Nobody likes them either. Oh well. I like dwarves."
Perhaps someday Paradox will make A Game of Elves. It can use one of their World War II engines. In the meantime, A Game of Dwarves and War of the Roses are due out in the last quarter of this year, with The Showdown Effect hopefully not to follow too long after.