Lets’ talk interface : Old cars and Crusader Kings 2

Maybe it’s better treating some video-games interfaces like web-browsers, rather than traditional video games’ interfaces. 


I had been meaning to write this for more than a few months now. I have made 2 drafts already and had 3 diagrams in Gliffy. I didn’t like either draft I made, but today I decided that enough was enough: Crusader Kings 2 , it’s you and me baby.

First of all let’s establish some foundation for this post:

  • Crusader Kings 2 is a great game.
  • Crusader Kings 2 is a reminder that hardcore can be popular.
  • Crusader Kings 2 reminds me of an old car.

Yeap you read right: An old car. Before you re-read a third time let me explain myself and the “old car effect”

The old car effect

In my family we have an Alfa Romeo 146. I adore that car, but , just like all Italian car it has issues with its hydraulics: In order to get the first gear on you have to get the stick through… the second gear. It sounds and it looks weird. but if you don’t do that, you can’t really put the first gear on to start your car.

It’s old but you still love it!

I do this procedure automatically now but if anyone else tries to drive that car he will have serious issues. Doesn’t matter what they tell me though: I still love that car.

See, almost all old-car owners have a certain number of tricks that they employ when interacting with their cars. Tricks that are hard enough for anyone else unfamiliar enough to perform. The car-owners however perform them automatically and they even ignore any inconvenience that it may cause them. It has become like a second-nature to them. They even love their old cars despite these pitfalls : That’s the “old car effect”.

Crusader Kings 2 in many ways reminds me of this effect.

Back button : The ignored hero of our browsing experience

You all know the “back button” on browsers right? Here is a back button as a reminder :

Back buttons are important for every node-like structure.  Let’s say that the internet is a node-like structure: Pages are nodes , links connect the nodes.

The back button allow you to add temporary vertices between the nodes, based on your history of traversing the diagram.

Let me put it in a less mathematical way: Try to browse the internet without the back button for 10 minutes. You will realize that even familiar web-sites feel weird and clumsy.

  • How do you get to the song you were previously listening on youtube?
  • How do you navigate to page no 2 of reddit from a specific post?
  • How do you get from 1 specific news article to another without navigating to the home page of a news website?

You will realize that don’t know how to get to every page, from every page. Sometimes there is simply no way to do that, at least not directly and ,even if there is, sometimes the way is not a common one: Sometimes the link to the youtube video you were previously watching is on the top of the recommendations sometimes is on the top.

So what all that have to do with Crusader Kings 2? Bear me with me we will do one more detour…

How is Crusader Kings 2 different than other strategy games?

Strategy games on their core are decision making games. Generally all strategy games try to put all the information needed for a specific decision on 1 screen. For example this is the city management screen from Civilization 5:


All the information needed in 1 screen!

On the other hand  when you play Crusader Kings 2 you see something like this:

This is a character sheet. 

Crusader Kings 2 is a rather uniquegame: Its main element is its characters (Kings, lords, wives, bishops etc) , their traits and their relationships.  In a sense it is more of an RPG than a strategy. And what you see here is a practically a character sheet with all this information provided.

Each icon on the picture that you see is practically a link which leads to another character sheet. It’s a structure that reminds us more of the internet node-like theme rather than your average strategy game.

Crusader Kings 2 node structure

You know what else Crusader Kings 2 has unique compared to other strategy games?   You need to look on more than 1 character sheets to make up your mind. Just like you need to look in more than 1 page when you are browsing the internet. What does this mean in other words?

The information needed to reach a decision is not on just 1 screen.


Crusader Kings 2 looks like this information-wise

So now we have established that:

  1. Crusader Kings 2 is different than other strategies
  2. The information needed to reach a decision is not on only 1 screen.
  3. Crusader Kings 2 has a node structure like the internet.
  4. Back buttons are important for anything that has a structure like the internet.

I am pretty sure by now you will have guessed what the issue with Crusader Kings is right?

Crusader Kings 2 doesn’t have a back button

TADA! FINALLY. After 800 words we have reached the heart of the problem. Crusader Kings doesn’t have a Back button. And it needs it. It badly does. Sure there is the equivalent of the Home button which is your character and there are some shortcuts but they cannot replace the functionality of the back button.

You don’t believe me? Load the game and try to get information on people participating on a conspiracy or a faction.

The weird thing about this is that I have never seen anyone else mention this. Crusader Kings players admit that there is a hard learning-curve with the game but I beg to differ: Once you have gotten you mind around inheritance of the game the rest is easy. It’s the interface the main enemy of the new player. The fact, you have to memorize every route between the nodes to get the information you need.

This is  why I mentioned  the “old car effect” at the beginning of this post: Crusader Kings 2 players remind me of these car owner. They have gotten used to the game’s inconvenience that by now they don’t even notice them. If you ask me it’s a shame: The game will become so much more user friendly with this tiny interface addition. Or maybe these inconveniences are what makes the veterans love the game even more: They make it unique.

I will just leave this picture here as wishful thinking XD

Wishful thinking XD

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