Q&A: Stronghold

We speak with Eric Ouellette of FireFly Studios about the upcoming medieval siege warfare game.

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We had a chance to talk with FireFly Studios founder Eric Ouellette about the upcoming game Stronghold, which will be published by GodGames later this year. The game will be based on medieval siege warfare, and it will combine city building and real-time strategy elements. We asked Ouellette about the game, including how it will combine the city building and real-time strategy elements, what kind of combat will be used in the game, and the current status of the game. Ouellette also shared some information about the history of the London-based development studio.

GameSpot: First, can you tell us a little more about FireFly Studios? When was the company founded, and how many people currently work at FireFly?

FireFly Studios: FireFly Studios is a London-based company that was formed in August 1999. The founders are Simon Bradbury, Eric Ouellette, and David Lester. We currently have 14 people working for the company.

GS: What previous experience did the founders have?

FS: Previously the founders of FireFly worked together on the Lords of the Realm and Caesar series (published by Sierra) and did all of the game design, programming, and game production for these titles.

GS: Is Stronghold the studio's first game? Are there any other projects in the works?

FS: This is the first product we have done under the FireFly Studios name. We have a second title in the works, but we haven't announced the project yet.

GS: How much progress has been made on Stronghold since we saw it last November?

FS: A lot of work has been done since November. We have finished all the systems for the game. The siege equipment, the siege engines and military units, the animal ecosystem, the resource systems, and the food systems are all finished. The map editor and scenario editor are done as well.

GS: What is the team working on now?

FS: We are currently working on the enemy siege AI. Once the AI is implemented, we'll merge all the systems together and build the campaign and sandbox maps.

GS: How historically accurate are you trying to make Stronghold? How are you balancing the combination of realism and fun in the game?

FS: We find the medieval period fascinating. Previously we worked on The Lords of the Realm series set in the medieval period, and now with Stronghold we wanted to add a lot more "gritty" realism to the medieval aspect of the game. We researched everything in great detail, from the mechanics of a trebuchet down to what people ate. The game is set between the 11th and 14th centuries, and it takes players through the evolution of castles, from building wooden palisades to Norman keeps up through Edwardian killing machines. Most of the time being historically accurate doesn't clash with the game being fun. If it does, fun wins!

GS: Tell us a little more about combat in the game. Is it all siege warfare? In addition to defending the castle, will players be able to launch attacks?

FS: Since it's a game about castles, Stronghold's combat and siege-warfare elements focus mainly on defense. Most of the player's time will be spent building the best castle possible and repelling siege attacks. However, some of the missions in the campaign will allow the players to lay siege to and capture enemy castles. Also, in the builder mode, players will be allowed to defend or attack prebuilt historical castles. Of course, they will be able to attack and defend in multiplayer as well.

GS: What kind of resource management is used in the game?

FS: Stronghold is at the core a sim and therefore has a rich economy. The main variable in managing your castle economy is popularity. Your popularity rating determines how many people will come and work at your castle. The higher your popularity, the faster people will immigrate into your lands. If your popularity falls too low, people will leave your lands to find work elsewhere. Some of the factors affecting popularity are: How well are you feeding your people? Are you starving them on very little food or giving them extra rations? How many food types are you feeding them? Are you feeding the people just wheat or apples and cheese as well? How high is the tax rate? Is there disease in the castle? Have you built enough churches or given out free ale lately?

The resources in the game are stone, iron, wood, pitch, and gold (collected from taxes). Being a sim, we tried to make the resource collection very visual. For example, a woodcutter fells a tree that falls down. He then cuts up the tree into logs and delivers them to his hut. Next he saws the logs into planks and carries them to the storehouse in the castle. This is the simplest example of a resource chain in the game. It is visually very rich, but the only action the player had to do was place the woodcutters hut. The game manages the rest.

GS: Has it been difficult managing the combination of city building and real-time strategy?

FS: FireFly Studios' Stronghold is a unique cross between a city builder such as Caesar III and a real-time strategy game (RTS) like Age of Empires. Set in medieval Europe, players establish settlements, build and manage castles, and engage in siege warfare. The game incorporates much more building and "community managing" than a traditional RTS, yet it allows for a more intense combat experience than city builders have featured in the past.

What we think will give people a fresh gaming experience on the RTS side are the medieval combat elements. The siege warfare will be a lot more in-depth than we have seen in the RTS genre to date. We are incorporating a lot of warfare elements that were unique to the period, such as storming ladder men, moats, tunneling, boiling oil, trebuchets, killing pits, and so on. We really want to bring out the flavor of what it was like to wage siege warfare in medieval times.

With that said, no, we haven't had much of a problem combining the two. We combined these elements to good effect in the past with the Caesar series. The big difference in Stronghold is that the combat is much more detailed and a much bigger part of the game.

GS: How will Stronghold's multiplayer mode work?

FS: The game will support eight players over a local area network or the Internet. The sim elements of the game should give the multiplayer gaming experience a new feel. Not only will people be able to build castles and conduct RTS-style sieges against other players, but they will also have a castle community to manage, including making sure their people are well fed, raising taxes, providing drink, entertaining the people, and providing religion. Castle management and design will be a big part in determining how well players do in the multiplayer game. The best players will be those who are good at designing castles and laying out defenses while keeping a high popularity rating with their people, not merely those who are the fastest with the mouse during combat.

GS: What has been the biggest challenge so far in developing the game, and what challenges still lie ahead?

FS: The last big challenge is making the enemy siege AI work really well. We are confident that we can do a good job on this, though. In some ways, it is easier than open-field battles, because there is a point of reference for the enemy to attack (the castle) and the player is always facing overwhelming odds. Having five-, 10-, or 20-to-one odds as a natural occurrence definitely helps the attackers.

GS: Is the game still on track to be released near the end of 2001?

FS: Yes, the game is on schedule and should be on the store shelves in October.

GS: Thanks for your time.

For more information about Stronghold, take a look at our previous coverage of the game.

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