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Iron Harvest taps into two of my favorite things about reading: history and alternative worlds. Here, we’re dealing with another Earth known as 1920+. You might have heard of it — it’s the basis for Scythe, a popular strategy board game.
It’s also part of the works of Polish artist Jakub Różalski. In 1920+, its World War I involved empires that were similar-but-different from our history. And they had mechs, steampunk-influenced machines that wrecked havoc across the continent.
King Art Games ran a Kickstarter for Iron Harvest, raising $1,298,726 in 2018 for this intriguing real-time strategy game. Deep Silver is publishing it for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on September 1. I played around with a demo build some weeks ago, and I did an interview with Deep Silver’s Tobias Stolz-Zwilling. But first, let’s dive into some of the background of the fascinating world of 1920+.
In 1920+, The Great War ended more in a stalemate than in a victory for the Allies. Iron Harvest looks at the states of three nations in Central and Eastern Europe — Polania, Rusviet, and Saxony — and the conflict that erupts from the tensions following the fragile peace.
“Polania is in the process of slowly rebuilding after the war while coping with their occupation by Rusviet forces as part of the truce the three nations agreed to,” Stolz-Zwilling said over email. “Saxony and Rusviet are both struggling with their own internal conflicts. In Saxony, the aristocracy is outraged by the — in their opinion — unfavorable peace treaty signed by the kaiser. In Rusviet, revolutionary forces plan to overthrow the tsar outright.”
One of the most pressing questions in World War I is “What are they fighting for?” The enmeshment of alliances wrecked havoc across the globe, and these three nations in 1920+ are still grappling with this question after their massive conflict.
“‘What are we fighting for’ is the big question each of our nine heroes is trying to answer for themselves during the course of the campaign,” he said. “The distinction between whether a faction is ‘good’ or ‘evil’ is often muddied and not always clear cut. Shades of gray exist on all sides.
“Polanian resistance fighters fight to free their country from Rusviet occupation at any cost, while their government sees their actions as a threat to the fragile peace treaty. In Rusviet, loyalists and revolutionaries clash as anti-monarchy sentiment grows and the unknown forces only known as ‘Fenris’ stoke the conflict even further. Saxony’s monarchy struggles to remain relevant as it comes under criticism in the aftermath of The Great War, with many parties disagreeing on how the empire should be restored to its former glory.”
In our world, Europe’s great powers were too exhausted to fight another major conflict. That’s not the case in 1920+.
“In our world, The Great War didn’t end with a decisive victory for one of the factions. Instead, the leaders of the various factions secretly agreed to a peace agreement that abruptly ended the war,” Stolz-Zwilling said. “Why and how they did this, whether that peace can be maintained, and who or which forces work to destabilize that is what the three campaigns of the game are all about.”
With some context established, let’s dive into the interview. This is an edited transcript:
In the middle of it all
GamesBeat: Why does 1920+ appear to be concentrated in Central and Eastern Europe?
Tobias Stolz-Zwilling: That probably comes from the pen of Jakub Rozalski. He created this artwork. He started these artworks and this universe. Then the board game guys came and said hey, that’s cool, let’s make a game out of it. Then we came and started to turn it into an RTS. Why exactly Jakub Rozalski created this universe is something I can’t answer. However, he’s Polish. He’s painting most of the pictures with this Polish rural flair. If you look at the pictures, you see what’s supposed to be Polish farmland in a way, and probably it’s just the things he grew up with. I remember him saying once that he — not that he likes war, but that he likes these kinds of machines and this setting. He’s interested, very interested, in history. He likes to think about what would happen if they had giant mechs instead of tanks.
GamesBeat: At the end of our WWI, that’s a great time in some ways for Central Europe, because with the fall of Austria-Hungary, all these new nations come about: Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary. Romania gets larger. Here, at the end of The Great Wars, what was the world like?
Stolz-Zwilling: In this world we have several nations existing. We have the kingdom of Saxony, Rusviet, the Nordic tribes, the Japanese are in there. However, the universe is bigger than what’s represented in this game. For the game, unfortunately, the only important or necessary part is Polania itself, because that’s where the fighting takes place. Currently in the game we have the kingdom of Saxony fighting against the Rusviet in the land of Polania, which in this universe, in this game, is something like the repressed People’s Army. How the world exactly looks like is unfortunately out of my knowledge. I can’t tell you more than what’s in the game.
GamesBeat: How did Polania, Saxony, and Rusviet survive the first war?
Stolz-Zwilling: Unfortunately, I can’t tell you about all that.
GamesBeat: In Iron Harvest, are there any naval units, or is it all on land?
Stolz-Zwilling: No, there’s no naval units. The only combat we have is infantry and the giant mechs. But they come in different sizes. We have the small ones, medium, and very big ones. They’ll stomp through every building you see on the map. There are also no air units. However, there might be something like air strikes or artillery strikes from a distance. Special weapons you might use. However, these are still under construction. They won’t appear in the beta at all. It’s something where we have to see if it finds its way into the final game.
GamesBeat: I love the trailer. How did you come about to putting these mechs into these old images, old visions of the great war?
Stolz-Zwilling: It’s cool, right? The idea was, since it’s an alternative universe and there’s no material about that universe, but there is stuff about WWI still, we licensed those old materials. Most of those parts are from somewhere in Poland or Germany, or even some from the French borders. We licensed those and then we adjusted them slightly. We put our video guys onto it and they tried to incorporate the mechs and stuff to make it look like an alternative universe that might have existed.