I'm Catalack, the producer of all things DLC for all PDS in-house titles. This time I've been invited to talk a bit about the production process of our DLC's - that is; content packs, unit packs, music packs... any type of pack really. These are usually released alongside the expansions and most of the time involves cosmetic content.
How DLC's are born
First off there is always the brain picking. This is the part where I hunt down the designers for what type of content they actually want to accompany the next expansion. In EU4's case this usually means Johan, Wiz and in more recent times DDRJake. This step has a varying degree of difficulty since some projects have a detailed wish list with ideas already, and some don't. Sometimes it requires making designers sit down and iron out details over an after work beer. EU4 has a well thought out plan for future content packs though, so it's usually no sweat. CK2 on the other hand…
It does also happen that I put together my own suggestions for what should go into the packs. These suggestions still need to be looked at by the designer, but it usually means less work for them.
It can look something like this:
Brand Team Says Yay or Nay
When the designer or product owner has given their thumbs up on the content, it's off to the Brand Team for a final confirmation before production starts. This is the part of the company where all the different parts of the organisation syncs up. Devs, sales, marketing, production etc, and it's the final threshold for any type of content that will at some point reach our customers and players. The Brand Teams at Paradox are usually very quick to respond to any type of situation and while we agree with each other most of the time, it has happened that some content needs to be cut or altered for various reasons.
When a pack has been approved by all relevant instances, it's time to decide who does what. We have a couple of really talented in house artists and composers, as well as third party studios who sometimes help out when our in-house resources are too strained working on main expansions rather than cosmetic DLC.
Usually the work is split between both in house people and outsourcing.
Worth to mention here is that we try to also make use if our dedicated community, as we have several third party content creators who are fans and modders. Collaborating with them gives us both an excuse to pay them for their dedication, as well as opportunities to work with people who actually knows our games, rather than a random outsourcing studio who might have the technical know how, but not be familiar with games such as ours. I'm amazed at what some of them go through for the sake of making our games better. Cudos.
This is a topic I expect many of you are interested in! Content production always begins with extensive research and mock ups. Both me and each content creator put in a lot of time on doing the research for each piece of content created. We have a lot of history buffs both among artists and scripters, so this step usually goes pretty smoothly.
The only problem is when sources lead back to... our own games and wiki.
Here's an example of what a mock up can look like:
One of my personal favorites. The Cossacks was really fun to work with.
Good sources can sometimes be really hard to come by, and can affect the end result negatively, as we saw recently with the Mare Nostrum Content Pack.
We recently hired an artist specifically for the purpose of keeping track of outsourced material and DLC creation. I'm happy @Carlberg has joined the team!
When the art happens
After the mockups are approved, 3D work starts. This is sometimes a challenge since we have to balance the restrictions of Clausewits with a proper level of details to make units quickly recognizable at a distance - since most people play with camera zoomed out.
Final prep and the deep dark depths that is the Steam Backend
When all content is done and delivered, I package it and make sure everything works in game. Then I leave it in our QA departments capable hands, and wait for release to come around.
That is when I must enter the Steam backend jungle. If you ever apply for a job where the job description says "experience with steam backend", turn around and run. Unless the position is at Valve because then I urge you to please take the job and update the steam backend and make it a bit more user friendly!
Anyway, here I set up all relevant depots and give them fake names to prevent data mining/leaks among other things.
Coming up with fake names is one of the highlights of this step:
Not to worry, just before release I give them their proper names!
It’s usually around this time that we also post renders on the forums and get some feedback from you guys.
And after release, the whole process starts all over again! I usually have all of the different projects up and running at the same time, and so I'm always in the beginning, middle or end of any one DLC cycle.
And never once is it boring.