At times, it feels almost as if Swedish publisher Paradox Interactive exists in its own parallel games industry bubble.
Every year it holds its own convention, inviting media to take an early-look at its biggest upcoming games. And every year I'm surprised to find it remains mostly untouched by the pervasive trends of the games industry at large.
While other developers and publishers fret with the implementation of free-to-play, attempt to grow their audiences with run-of-the-mill first-person shooters, or cash-in on the mobile audience with throwaway apps, Paradox is comfortable doing what it has always done, and doing it well.
It isn't overreaching at all, it's making the educated safe bets. On the one hand this means the company is always playing in the same wheelhouse, and the majority of what Paradox had to show during its 2014 convention was essentially more of the same. But on the other hand, this strategy has maintained the loyalty of its core fans, and kept an iron grip on the grand strategy genre.
While, according to its own charts, the audience for its games is growing, the games Paradox has published are clearly designed for the nichiest of niches.
That doesn't look like it's going to change very much, and when you head over to the Paradox Plaza sub-Reddit, or its official forum, you'll find thousands of fans that wouldn't have it any other way.
"Some people dedicate their lives to watching sports, or skydiving, or collecting stamps. People that play Paradox Games dedicate their lives to playing it," CEO Fredrik Wester said during his opening speech., where the exec also set out the mission statement for the company.
"That gamer lifestyle summarises not only who our gamers are, but also who we are at Paradox. I play every single game we publish, and I play a lot. I played 150 hours of War of the Roses, and that's very important because I want people to feel the passion that comes from the company reaches out to the gamers.
"We want to make games that tell stories. Or rather, I should say, games where gamer's tell stories about what they did in the game. Our games are not for everyone, and that's a statement I am happy to make. We're not after an audience of 100 million people, we're after the people that want to play our games, get deeply involved with them, engage for hours and hours."
Although Paradox is maintaining a laser focus on the grand strategy genre, 2014 will also mark the arrival of a number of new initiatives. The most interesting among them includes a new studio dedicated entirely to supporting the modding community.
"If you play the Game of Thrones mod for Crusader Kings 2, it's a great experience. We want to help people like that to make even better mods in the future so we can keep providing an even better service," the publisher explained.
Additionally, it's also setting its sights on more platforms: "We're now building a new mobile team internally to continue our expansion onto mobile platforms. We're also happy to confirm that we're moving onto the new console generation and 2014 will see releases from Paradox on both [the Xbox One and PS4] based on our existing brands and new ones."
Though it would not provide specifics, Paradox also teased that it is working on "two very high-profile developers" creating new titles.
"But, as always, we're maintaining our focus on PC. That's where we come from, that's where we will always be, and we have absolutely no intention of leaving the PC platform."
So, what games does the publisher have in store for release? Here's an overview of the best titles it showed during Paradox Convention 2014.
War of the Vikings
Available to play now through Steam Early Access, War of the Vikings is a multiplayer combat game developed by Fatshark, the studio behind War of the Roses. Like its spiritual successor it scratches that Counter-Strike itch with its team-based multiplayer that demands high-skill play.
Players are cast as either a Viking or a Saxon and have the freedom to customise their character by specifying everything from the style of hair on their faces and the type of armour they wear, to the specific design of emblems on their shield. Like many other modern multiplayer games, perks can be selected to craft a gameplay experiences more attuned to the style you favour.
Like Counter-Strike, the feel and behaviour of weapons change drastically, so before you become a crack shot with the bow and arrow, you'll have to spend some time figuring out the arc of shots. Similarly, close quarters combat is an incredibly high-skill ceiling. Sword swings are achieved through gestures, as are blocks and countering. To stand your ground a player will need to be able to identify the direction an attack is coming from then react accordingly. It's difficult at first, but deeply satisfying once you start to get into the swing of it.
At Paradox Convention developer Fatshark provided updates on what the team is currently working on for the game. First of the new content revealed was female characters.
"We try to keep things steeped in fact," explained producer Gordon Van Dyke, "with a lot of it you have to speculate a little because there's limited information about it, and misleading information. But there is evidence and record of men and women training for battle in Norse culture from childhood. It wasn't separated as it was in Christian patriarchal groups, women had the choice to go into combat.
"We wanted to emphasise that, we made our female warriors look like they love to fight, she wants to go out and kick ass. We wanted her to be properly dressed and not dressed for Comic-Con.
"With the Saxons there was less chance of female warriors, but we wanted to make something. Although they would have been uncommon, they would have come from money, think Aria from Game of Thrones, so we made her look like a warrior and look wealthy too."
Van Dyke also explained what players of the current Early Access build can look forward to seeing very soon. The biggest addition is player progression, in which players accrue experience points to level up and unlock new tiers. These new tiers offer cosmetic unlocks for the player to use.
"These are purely cosmetic, we want players to be able to identify cosmetically if a player unlocks and uses some of that gear. I'll know a player is a level 60 character because he might, for example, have a giant grey beard you'll know he knows what he's doing and has been playing for a long time.
"We want those visual cues, and the world to speak to the player and give more feedback than we did in War of the Roses."
Coins are also tied into the progression. By earning these players will be able to unlock the items contained within tiers. Coins are awarded based on how long the player has spent in the game, with ten being given for every minute of play.
"It means a player that's new isn't going to be disadvantaged in getting new gear and changing their characters just because they're not as learned as the experienced players."
A second system being introduced to the Early Access version is "Renown". As a player gains experience, they also gain Renown points, up to level ten. These enhance the amount of coins that can be earned per minute. Players that play longer will be able to earn more coins as they go on, but the amount "will never be excessive".
The game provides a time window which players have to reach the next experience milestone and unlock another Renown level, but this is usually lenient enough for someone to take a break from the game and come back later without being punished for it.
Battle chatter has also been introduced into the game. These are triggered by in-game events and are designed to give feedback to the player to let them know what is happening in the battlefield without being intrusive. By calling out when an archer is nearby, the team has managed to avoid including extra UI and overwhelming the player.
Finally, a tutorial has been included to introduce mechanics to newcomers: "Our core goal is to explain how it all works so that a new player knows how he or she lost. We don't want them to just rage quit, our game is difficult but we want them to understand and improve so they won't lose in that situation as much".
The new content is available now in Early Access, but the team has targeted an early March release for the full version. War of the Vikings will be available in three editions: standard, Blood Eagle and Valhalla, which has a lifetime pass.