Stronghold 2 Q&A
Interview By: dapsycho | Posted: 27/01/2005
Stronghold 2 is the third game in the Stronghold series. Can you tell us how the franchise has developed over the course of these three titles, and what new features we can expect from Stronghold 2?
Stronghold was the first product produced by Firefly and there was a lot to juggle between setting up the company, producing the game and pushing a new brand. Given that, we are very happy with the final products and commercial success of the Stronghold series.
With that said, we had a lot more we wanted to do with the original games, which we now have time to do in Stronghold 2.
One big addition for Stronghold 2 is the depiction of 'living like a lord'. In Stronghold we had limited time. I think we did a good job on the resource chains and were very happy with the siege combat. What we weren't able to do partly because of technology and partly because of production time was to explore the grittiness of peasant life and pageantry of the nobles in medieval times. We now are going to explore, and visually show, what it was like to live in a castle in medieval times. We are now doing that in spades with the introduction of systems such as Feasts, Jousting Tournaments, Holy Days, Marriages, Fairs, Trials, etc... These will be very visual with a huge amount of detail and animation.
One of the other things we want to do is improve on some of the systems from the original game. We are taking feedback from Stronghold community and going through each of the original game systems to see how we can improve them. Examples of this are the religion and ale system in Stronghold. These systems didn't reach their full potential or were not used often, because they were a little techy and hidden from the player. Players would have to go into reports screens to get feedback from these systems. Now, for example, the religion system has a full church service, which the characters in the game will attend. It is a long service and it interrupts their normal job/duties, but at the end, the player receives a large popularity bonus which will float off the roof of the church. The service and the reward are very visual. The same goes for ale. After characters drink at the inn a popularly bonus will float off and the character will stagger away drunk for a while, unable to work.
Other additions to the game is a new mode, which is an extension of our skirmish play, a new crime system, a health and disease system as well as lots of new cool weaponry to crush your enemies with.
The game provides an extremely detailed picture of medieval life. How important was the educational aspect of the game for you guys?
The medieval period is very interesting to us and the end result is that we do a lot of research for the game. How people in that time period farmed, what they ate, the medicines they used, the types of armour and siege equipment employed and so on. We try hard to incorporate as much historical accuracy as we can and believe we have a lot of educational value for a non-educational game. With that said, where the game play and historical realism conflict we choose the game play every time. The first goal is to make the game fun, second is to keep the game accurate and give the player a flavour of living in medieval times.
Additionally, do you see the game as being an accurate educational tool?
As referenced above, parts of the game are very accurate while others only loosely follow what happened in the period.
How important do you view the transition to 3D, and what has this shift in perspective added to the game?
In the past all of the games we worked on were in 2D. We knew going to 3D would be a lot work and didn't want to start down that road unless we knew it would make Stronghold 2 a better game. We set out (a little tentatively at first) and built a completely new 3D engine. I think 3D has come a long way in the last few years and we have the benefit of working with a more mature 3D industry, 3D cards etc.. We are happy to say that not only have we been able to retain the amount of detail we had from 2D, but have also realized a huge amount of gameplay benefits.
First for a castle building game, having 3D controls just feels right. Smooth scrolling, zoom and rotate add a lot from where we were in 2D. The Castle feels more solid. It's much easier to navigate and build.
Another great benefit is the amount of animation we can add to the game. Animation data is almost free in 3D compared to a 2d game. The only limitation is the amount of motion capture and artist animations we have created. We are now able to give game characters much more animations and personality. All of this will only increase the realism in the game.
Combat also gets a big boost from being in 3D. We can now have much more realistic physics and particle systems during combat with smoke trails, fire effects, walls exploding, guys falling and being thrown off walls by rock impacts, etc.. Very cool!
Lastly, a big technical leap is how we treat buildings. In Stronghold 2 you can open virtually every building in the game and see what is going on inside. For combat this means that units can fight not only on the outside, but also the inside of buildings. The keep, for example, has four levels that units can be fighting on at one time. Units will have to fight their way through the keep, up the stairs to the top in order to take a castle. The same with towers, units will have to fight their way up the stairs (Errol Flynn style) to reach the top. Technically the routing on this is a very hard thing to do. It adds a lot to gameplay and as far as we know we are the only game to do this.
How long did the research process take, and was there a big team dedicated to ensuring total accuracy throughout?
This is the fifth medieval title, we've worked on dating back to 1992. The Firefly Team is very passionate about the period and a lot of research has gone into the game in all areas - gameply, art, and music.
Were any surprises unearthed during the course of this investigation?
During development we took the Firefly team out to visit Warwick castle. While there we met up with a knight. No kidding his job is that of a knight! He visits various castles wearing full authentic armour and tells people about life in the medieval period. One of the interesting stories he told us was that kids were made to wear armour from a very young age. By the time they were full grown, knights they could move very quickly, unlike what you see in the movies. He said that some knights could actually do a cartwheel in full armour! He knew a lot about medieval fighting, some of which will be implemented in the game.
What was the most impressive castle you visited during the developmental process and why?
Of the many we visited, Warwick was the most complete - some of the other we visited were in major disrepair or had completely crumbled. It was easily the most impressive and it was easy to imagine it at the height of its glory.
Was there any particular inspiration behind the story of the game, or behind any of the characters?
It's vaguely based on the historical events from the Vikings through to the battle of Agincourt. Although the characters aren't historically accurate there are a few that, let's say, conform to the ruthlessness of the time.
The trailer for the game is quite bleak. Is this ultimately a story about defence against insurmountable odds?
In a lot of ways that's one of the elements that we think makes us unique. Unlike a standard RTS, in Stronghold 2 the game is absolutely about building customizable castles that can be used as a great killing machine. Castle defenders taking on odds of three, four, even five to one and winning!
Even though there's precious little competition, what do you think Stronghold 2 can offer the gamer over its rivals?
In a nutshell the goal of Stronghold 2 is to be the ultimate castle and sieging game. If players want to build castles and try out some medieval combat they won't be disappointed. There will be lots of gameplay and replayability with various ways to play the game. On the campaign/storyline portion of the game, there will be a very clear direction for the player at the start of the game. If they want full-on combat with story line they can play the Kingmaker campaign. This is a new way to play the game as an extension of skirmish play – details of which have yet to be announced! If they want a calmer game with a full storyline more focused on pageantry and castle design they will be directed to the castle sim campaign. Other modes supported are sandbox, attack and defend famous historical castles, skirmish mode with up to seven A.I. opponents and eight-player multiplayer. Of course a full map and scenario editor will be supported once again.
Stronghold 2 has been described as 'the most accurate depiction of siege warfare and castle life ever portrayed in a computer game'. Can you comment on this statement, and possibly tell us how this was achieved?
In most RTS style games, a castle is used as just another obstacle. There is no life to it and usually no building in it. Stronghold 2 is all about building, living in, defending and sieging castles. With that aim, the first thing we needed was a very in-depth and flexible castle building system. We have created what we believe to be the ultimate castle construction set. This includes castles structures such as; gatehouses, moats, horded towers, arrow slits, multiple keeps and keeps sizes, wooden walls, various thicknesses of walls, secret gates, etc... On the sim side of the game, examples are pig farming, jousting, feasting, church services, crime and torture devices, rats and disease, the lords bed chamber, eel farming and all of the standard resource chains you would expect. On the combat side we have doubled the number of unit types as well as the offensive and defensive siege equipment used in the game. All of these systems meld together to create what we feel is the most accurate depiction of siege warfare and castle life ever portrayed in a computer game.
Do you feel that there is room for improvement in Stronghold 2, and if so are there any plans for a Stronghold 3?
It's a little early to talk about that now. Suffice to say, we have lots of ideas where to take future Stronghold games.
Can you give us a brief description of the types of characters in the game, and how they impact on the action?
We do start at the end of the reign of terror of the Vikings. One of the characters you will meet very early on is 'Olaf Grimtooth' the last of the great Viking warlords. There are eight other characters good and bad who all intertwine in a epic tale of treachery and valour. More to be revealed on this later...
We've heard a lot of talk about the new honour system. Any chance you could give us a quick overview of this?
Honour is a new resource in the game. You can gain honour by living like a lord. Some of the ways you can acquire it are through jousting tournaments, holding feasts, having manuscripts produced, providing fancy dresses for your lady, etc.. Honour can then be spent in several ways, one if which is producing knights. As for the others, they tie into new game modes which we can't talk about yet!
There's an obvious element of humour to the game. Do you think this is necessary as a means of taking the edge off of what's considered to be a pretty grim period of history?
We think it helps. Again, it's a game, so we feel a little humour can't hurt! It certainly gives the team a laugh during times that can otherwise be very stressful especially towards the end of the project. Fans of the Stronghold series, also seem to enjoy it.
How about with the new crime and punishment elements. Did you have to tone these down at all?
One big change to this system is that we now show the punishment being administered. This was a big request from the fan base. We have kept this toned down again, but it a little more realistic than the original game. We don't want to make this part of the game gruesome, although in reality it was gruesome in medieval times.
What's the approximate size of the game maps?
The map size is slightly larger then in the original game. The idea is that in a eight player game, there is combat almost straight off.
How are you approaching the combat this time round? Especially in relation to the increased size of the maps.
The maps are bigger in relation to the troops, but at the same time the walls and towers are larger and more in scale to the troop size. In effect this leaves the player with relatively the same game area to build their castle as in the original game. The positive effect of this is that the castles look much more realistic in scale compare to the original game. At the same time the castles are still close enough to each other to set a good pace for the combat.
If computer game developers were able to travel back in time (a lá The Spaceman and King Arthur), what role do you think they'd play in the mediaeval court?
Undoubtedly (due to their social skills and personal aroma during crunch time) the gong farmer!