Determinism in EU4(and prior titles), and a message to Paradox Development Studio

Determinism in EU4(and prior titles), and a message to Paradox Development Studio

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Shinkuro Yukinari

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Over the years of playing various Paradox titles, I have noticed an interesting aspect that people never really mention when discussing Paradox games, in particular the EU games. Given how EU4's development cycle is very likely coming to an end with patch 1.30 and EU5 announcement likely lurking around the corner, it could be useful to talk about this concept now, as EU series have delved into this concept a lot in particular.

What is Determinism?
Determinism is a philosophical concept with various interpretations. For the purposes of this topic, I will use this:
"Future events are predetermined to occur, whether it be due to fate or due to existing and/or prior conditions"
I understand if you have disagreements with this definition, not to mention that there are various types of Determinism. For the sake of simplicity whilst maintaining the point I wish to convey personally, I will rely on this definition.

How does Determinism apply to games prior?
Back in the days of EU1 and EU2, those games were highly scripted through many, many events. Even centuries down the line, certain major events were determined to happen.
  • Rise of Prussia
  • War of Spanish Succession
  • Time of Troubles(Smutnoe Vremya)
  • Dutch revolts(and suffering monthly revolt risk of 40%)
  • Emperor Chongzen's suicide and downfall of Ming China
  • Fall of the Native American civilizations
All of those were scripted to occur, with, at most, minor chances of avoidance.
Even the country leaders, generals and admirals were scripted. Every leader and his reign was predetermined before the game even began, and you could even check such in the files.
For a history enthusiast like myself, playing these games felt amazing. It felt like living through events in history. Reading the flavour text of each event was a joy. My first games in EU1/EU2/FTG, not to mention AGCEEP mod, were wonderful memories due to the flavour they had.
After a few games though, it felt rather repetitive.
  • Ottomans will always blob to insane proportions and then start decaying under awful rulers and scripted events.
  • Austria will almost always integrate Bohemia and become a powerhouse due to events.
  • The Commonwealth will form and get absolutely destroyed in the 1700s as the Partitions were scripted.
Straying from the historical path or playing nations that died before the end date often felt punishing, being stuck without any strong Generals and having the same, often abysmal, ruler for hundreds of years, setting you back dearly.
Playing EU3, on the other hand, felt much more liberating in this regard.
The game was very flexible, introducing ideas which anyone could pick, allowing you to customize your Empire in meaningful ways. We got randomly generated rulers as well!
That being said, there were still scripted events, as you can see here: https://eu3.paradoxwikis.com/Events
Not to mention the inevitable and blatant tech disparity which was inevitably going to happen, often to extreme levels, as AI would be unlikely to undertake Westernization, let alone succeed without driving their country to ruin.

What about determinism in EU4?
I am certain you can already think of a couple examples off the bat, but let me name a few before I proceed.
  • Iberian Wedding
  • Burgundian Inheritance
  • Time of Troubles
  • Count's Feud
  • French Revolution
  • Even recently you see deterministic occurences introduced, with Crisis of the Ming Dynasty
These occurences, while having some degree of flexibility, are either predetermined to occur or require extreme measures to avoid their occurence, giving a false feeling of flexibility.
Here is one case of determinism which you might not have thought of, and which I personally think is harmful to a game like EU in the long run.
National ideas!
Unlike in EU3, where you exclusively picked from a Generic Pool of ideas, allowing you to customize to your hearts' content, in EU4 you also get a passive set of National Ideas which are often incredibly powerful.
  • Prussia's ideas make their army nigh-on-unbeatable.
    France with Elan is an absolute monster early game.
  • Ottomans are set to blob like wild.
  • Russia is bound to colonise Siberia and wield massive armies.
This, in turn, has made alternate playstyles both unlikely to occur and unlikely for the player to go for.
Have you ever considered playing France as a tall and peaceful,trade oriented nation? Or Prussia as a naval power?
Unlikely. When you think of Prussia, you think of their army and stacking Discipline. This is mainly due to their national ideas.
Why play Prussia as a naval power when Denmark or Venice are much better choices?
Why play Venice as an army Juggernaut when you could pick Prussia or a Nepalese prince instead?
These questions arise quite often, just think of any country.
We see Determinism rearing up still, 20 years later, in a different way, but with a similar outcome.

Thoughts and suggestions about future cases of determinism
Back at the start of the thread, I used a particular interpretation of Determinism. This is intentional.
Determinism by fate is how we could describe determinism dominating EU1/2. You are bound to have the same leaders no matter what. Events and choices are also extremely likely to be the same.
Personally, I think this should either be optional, or it should not exist. It is lazy game design and hurts long-term playability. As much as I enjoyed reading the flavour of historical events, it makes for a less enjoyable game in the long run.
Determinism by conditions is much more preferable. AI makes logical choices in events. There is a logical line of occurences which leads to the next one.
Victoria 2 uses this type of Determinism a lot. Rather than leaving mechanics behind random chance, for example revolts and crises, in Victoria 2 it's almost inevitable that people will rise up, and you will understand why it is so, what chain of events led to this.
  • Are they hungry?
  • Are they nationalists trapped in a foreign country?
  • Are they Liberals or Communists in an Autocratic Monarchy, pushing for reform?
  • How Socially Conscious is your population as well?
These mechanics are complex and random chance is a minor factor. In EU4 it's extremely simplified and mostly subject to random chance.
That being said, absolute determinism by conditions makes for poor and unrealistic game design as well.
It makes things repetitive, much like with Fate, albeit in a more nuanced and complex way.
It's also unrealistic, as not everyone will think the same. Think about the current political landscape, the troubles of the world, how we perceive them and possible solutions.

Paradox,
for future titles, EU5 in particular,

  1. Try and avoid Determinism by fate as much as possible.
  2. Make mechanics more flexible and open rather than limiting them arbitrarily(Dharma government reforms were a wonderful addition, and they should be expanded!).
  3. Major Historical Events should not be arbitrarily dictated unless it's the beginning of the game.
  4. No one should be awarded or punished for being, rather it should be done for doing.
  5. Random chance is necessary for variety, but it should not mask poor design, instead it should emphasize and make the world we create and observe more natural.
Kind regards,
A long-time fan.
 

grommile

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Here is one case of determinism which you might not have thought of, and which I personally think is harmful to a game like EU in the long run.
You must be new here :)

The determinism of National Ideas and the problems therewith are well known among the forum regulars.

People just have differing opinions on how severe the problems are.
 

Shinkuro Yukinari

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You must be new here :)

The determinism of National Ideas and the problems therewith are well known among the forum regulars.

People just have differing opinions on how severe the problems are.
I will be honest, I do not remember the last time someone complained about National Ideas as a concept here on the forums.
 

korawit13

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1.I think EU4 is not deterministic. Every run of the games are quiet unique except the events trigger. If you play the total war, you will be appricated of EU4.
2. I agree with you that Dharma needs to be improve. It is like someone just read from a book and implement it. [I do not know they did or not] I felt really offensed because I practice Dharma faith.
3. It is a historical game afterall. If you would like a possiblilty game, I suggest Stalleris is very fun game.
4. It is a history game not everyone win situation.
5. A poor design for me right now is the missionary conversion is very bad because if I fight a rebel everyday how I can conquer.
 

Lavilledieu

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I understand this as "the determinism level in eu4 is almost perfect". But I want you to think about something else: it looks like instead of adding a lot as event or decision, they've now added a lot into missions.

On topic of national ideas: most countries have ideas that are flexible in play style, and are a very soft way of pushing you towards a more historical play style, and works well for nations with nearly no historical flavor. However, there is currently quite an imbalance here. The historical strong nations have strong ideas, to help them perform as they did historically. But to make playing a minor at least a bit rewarding, lots of minors have also received strong ideas. And that creates now a weird situation where idea sets have almost totally random strength. It also doesn't help that some modifiers are almost useless or way too situational.
 

Shinkuro Yukinari

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I understand this as "the determinism level in eu4 is almost perfect". But I want you to think about something else: it looks like instead of adding a lot as event or decision, they've now added a lot into missions.
I do not think EU4 does a very good job with managing determinism by fate. I implied towards it when I said that:
We see Determinism rearing up still, 20 years later, in a different way, but with a similar outcome.
As for Missions, I didn't want to talk much about them because:
  1. They are rather obvious. You are pushed towards playing historically due to the massive benefits in doing so. Same as with historical events in EU1/2
  2. The generic mission tree on the other hand is alright, albeit very unrewarding compared to the nation-specific trees.
  3. I would then have to diverge into HOI4, as it's the clear inspiration for this concept, and I wanted to focus on EU4
On topic of national ideas: most countries have ideas that are flexible in play style, and are a very soft way of pushing you towards a more historical play style, and works well for nations with nearly no historical flavor. However, there is currently quite an imbalance here. The historical strong nations have strong ideas, to help them perform as they did historically. But to make playing a minor at least a bit rewarding, lots of minors have also received strong ideas. And that creates now a weird situation where idea sets have almost totally random strength. It also doesn't help that some modifiers are almost useless or way too situational.
With few exceptions, nations that achieved greatness historically were to some extent poised to become great back in 1444. I do not think they need so much of a push as +20% army morale as a 2nd national idea to do what they did historically.
France, England, Castille, Poland, Ottomans, even Muscovy as the strongest of the Russian Principalities were already to some extent in a surefire position to become great. Determinism via existing conditions, rather than Fate. When we add ideas on top, it's unnecessarily rigging the game in favour of them.
Only exception I can think of now is Brandenburg/Prussia, who was nothing exceptional back in 1444.
I agree that national ideas have become incredibly chaotic due to having to manage around the insanely overpowered major national ideas, on top of(again) forcing determinism via fate.
 

Lightwell

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Your appreciation of determinism will usually scale with how much your favored nation benefits from it. If you're playing as a Native American, you'll likely want Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the Americas to get butterflied away in the first 40-50 years of the game. If you're Venetian, Asian, or East African you'll want that, and for the Europeans to just continue trading with the West Africans instead of rounding the Cape. If you're Siberian or Chinese, you'll want Russia to avoid forming, etc.

Ultimately, this game is built on determinism, and without it, the basic premise that controls many of the game's mechanics falls apart. Trade is brought towards Zanzibar and the Cape instead of Beijing because of this fact. West/Central Africans start as technologically inferior because of determinism (prevents them from colonizing). Half of Indonesia is practically open ground for this reason. The Mandate of Heaven exists almost entirely to punish the holder because of determinism.

Remove determinism and you get something that goes against the Eurowank.
 

tribunus_plebis

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Personally I miss the "Determinism" of EU1/2 as I prefer historical development (plus, they were highly educational games!). Of course it's fun to alter some things here and there, but without completely derailing from historical course. For me the full sandbox aspect has brought some interesting elements, but for the most part annoying frustrations (Protestant Italy, Spain expelling all non-Castilian cultures from Europe/Full English Britain, Netherlands and Prussia rarely forming, etc. etc.) thus forcing me to use the console to fix the mess and keep some historical sense (so no way I can enjoy a game in Ironman).

I believe what CK2 did in its introduction of optional game rules at Start Game is a good way both to please historical puritans and sandbox players, as you're able to choose if you'd like those "deterministic" triggered events to happen (like Black Death, 4th Crusade, etc.).
 

Owompa

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No offense but wouldn’t the game have less replayability if the only difference between nations were their color and how big they were at game start?

Missions and national ideas are IMO what make trying different starts fun and rewarding.
 

grommile

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. If you're playing as a Native American, you'll likely want
the Europeans to turn up soon enough to not leave you twiddling your thumbs with literally nothing to do for fifty years after you've eaten your neighbours (and completed your religious reforms if Incan/Mesoamerican).
 

ChiRho

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I do agree that determinism is a problem in Eu4; however, I do like missions and national ideas. I think missions do a good job rewarding people for playing with historical accuracy, and there are enough alternate history routes mixed in to make the gameplay more diverse; missions do not actually punish people for not pursuing them allowing for people to play how they want. Also, national ideas give each nation a unique flavor. One of my biggest problems with Imperator Rome (they might have changed it since then) is the lack of flavor between the different nations. Playing as the Helvetii felt the same as playing as Epirus. National ideas allow nations like Scotland to feel and play differently than Milan.

I think the main problem with Eu4 determinism is the lucky nations mechanic. While there is a setting to randomize the lucky nations to produce more unique alt-history worlds, it is incompatible with Ironman mode. Unfortunately, I am an Ironman only player and have never seen a world drastically change without my own intervention.
 

Lightwell

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the Europeans to turn up soon enough to not leave you twiddling your thumbs with literally nothing to do for fifty years after you've eaten your neighbours (and completed your religious reforms if Incan/Mesoamerican).
TBH, the Reforms mechanic is honestly terrible for the same reason a linear tech system is terrible.
 

TheMeInTeam

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I will be honest, I do not remember the last time someone complained about National Ideas as a concept here on the forums.
I have done so, multiple times. I'm sure I've mentioned in a post even this year, in reference to landlocked Britain or Portugal still unlocking naval "national ideas" even if they haven't had a coastal province or ship in a century.

I have also long argued against "determinism by fate", though I used different terminology to describe it. I will also point out that "determinism by fate" is not and *can't* be historical. Events in real history had causal relations to previous events. Remove that, and you've removed any credence of calling the event "historical"!

Your appreciation of determinism will usually scale with how much your favored nation benefits from it. If you're playing as a Native American, you'll likely want Christopher Columbus and the discovery of the Americas to get butterflied away in the first 40-50 years of the game.
If you are a good player in the western hemisphere you want Europe to show up as early as the AI can manage, and likely earlier than that. Otherwise, your "gameplay" will involve using tricks to get institutions w/o Europe or waiting for ~60-100 years while doing nothing. Usually the former, even though many dishonest patches have attempted to prevent that in EU 4's history. Seems they're leaving it alone for now which is appreciated.

Though a chunk of us don't just want every nation we play to be strong right away. I'd rather have internally consistent mechanics that obey causal interactions within the game's scenarios.

I do agree that determinism is a problem in Eu4; however, I do like missions and national ideas.
Missions are very reasonable. I would like to see *dynamic* missions, that are contingent on where you're located and your surroundings. Might be too hard to do well, but that'd be amazing.

National ideas not so much. It was not pre-ordained that Portugal would be a naval power in 1700 as of 1444. It wasn't even pre-ordained that they would still exist. They had to work for it. They did, and succeeded. The game has mechanisms for that, w/o involving NIs.

Is there a way to change the development spread at 1444?
There is actually, though I think it's DLC-gated. Same stuff that lets you make random nations throughout the world in pre-game settings.
 

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f you are a good player in the western hemisphere you want Europe to show up as early as the AI can manage, and likely earlier than that. Otherwise, your "gameplay" will involve using tricks to get institutions w/o Europe or waiting for ~60-100 years while doing nothing. Usually the former, even though many dishonest patches have attempted to prevent that in EU 4's history. Seems they're leaving it alone for now which is appreciated.

Though a chunk of us don't just want every nation we play to be strong right away. I'd rather have internally consistent mechanics that obey causal interactions within the game's scenarios.
I'm not talking about the game as it is. I mean creating the ideal circumstance for your country IRL, then representing that in the game. Natives wouldn't want Columbus to land. Neither would the Africans subjected to enslavement.
 
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TheMeInTeam

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I'm not talking about the game as it is. I mean creating the ideal circumstance for your country IRL, then representing that in the game. Natives wouldn't want Columbus to land. Neither would the Africans subjected to enslavement.
The Africans aren't a comparable example, since some Africans were very willing to participate in slavery...by capturing and selling other groups as slaves.

The disease hit in western hemisphere is a major wrench, but contact would happen EVENTUALLY and unless it happened extremely late and with an implausibly benevolent empire running the show it's unlikely western hemisphere gets past the disease issue in history (unlike in the game, where ironically you CAN avoid disease issue completely despite that you can't do things that were reasonably attainable to natives).
 

Lavilledieu

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I think the main problem with Eu4 determinism is the lucky nations mechanic. While there is a setting to randomize the lucky nations to produce more unique alt-history worlds, it is incompatible with Ironman mode. Unfortunately, I am an Ironman only player and have never seen a world drastically change without my own intervention.
This is indeed a large problem. It was probably needed at game launch, when even the important nations had only a little bit of content, and thus needed some sort of buff to not make the game totally sandbox/random. But now, most of these nations have received special attention in patches and DLC, and received buffs in a lot of departments: missions, national ideas, events, decisions, governments, starting dev and provinces, unique regiments, ... I consider the lucky nation mechanic outdated and no longer needed to make the historical big nations perform well.
 

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The Africans aren't a comparable example, since some Africans were very willing to participate in slavery...by capturing and selling other groups as slaves.
Firstly, slavery within the parts of Africa the slaves were coming from was usually much more bearable than plantation life. Chattel slavery is a completely different institution in that regard.
Secondly, the protections you'd enjoy as a slave generally meant that you were adopted into the family, or your family could stir up trouble if something happened to you. With war captives, you'd be held for a time, but you could expect to be released within 5-10 years.
Finally, the number of slaves increased as a direct result of Europeans entering the market and increasing the demand for slaves, funding and arming slave hunters. Any slave who would've otherwise been a free man would definitely be casting their vote in favor of Europeans just not showing up to begin with.

The disease hit in western hemisphere is a major wrench, but contact would happen EVENTUALLY and unless it happened extremely late and with an implausibly benevolent empire running the show it's unlikely western hemisphere gets past the disease issue in history (unlike in the game, where ironically you CAN avoid disease issue completely despite that you can't do things that were reasonably attainable to natives).
The diseases would hit and cause a mess, but they wouldn't necessarily come at the same time as a conquest of the region by a foreign power. They may even receive aid if they're on friendly trading terms with people from the Old World.
 

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First time I've seen someone complain about NI sets. I understand your whole "it's determinism" point but it'd be retarded to say we should give France and England the same opportunities about navy. The NI are a way to illustrate a nation's main whereabouts and achievements in history, I think they're very welcomed.
 

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First time I've seen someone complain about NI sets. I understand your whole "it's determinism" point but it'd be retarded to say we should give France and England the same opportunities about navy. The NI are a way to illustrate a nation's main whereabouts and achievements in history, I think they're very welcomed.
These discussions about deterministic NIs have been around for at least 5 years, less so in the last 2 years, because we had enough other issues to complain about :rolleyes:

Indeed the introduction of age objectives+abilities might have come more or less directly from those discussions about the failures of NIs. And then the mission system further down the line. Now we have 3 systems in parallel. We could complain about that, but it's also true that this makes (deterministic-by-fate) NIs less important vis-a-vis the 2 other game mechanics (which are less deterministic).