The Stronghold series is one of strategy gaming's most venerable and under-appreciated. But that doesn't stop its hardcore fans from taking to the call of the Lord every time a new game pops up. Firefly Studios is hard at work on a sequel to the popular Stronghold Crusader, and we caught up with Nick Tannahill to talk about all things Stronghold Crusader.
Why is now the time to bring players back to Stronghold Crusader?
It’s a funny situation. With the outpouring of support for long-awaited sequels to old favourites on Kickstarter it must seem to many developers like the time is right to return to those franchises. For us it’s more about the fact that we recently became an independent developer and the first thing on our list was to create a sequel to Stronghold Crusader, something we have wanted to do for 10 years now.
After the launch of Stronghold Crusader HD last year we quickly saw that there was still a great deal of interest in the game. There was also the fact that prior to announcing Crusader 2 we couldn’t post anything Stronghold-related to our community without being told they want Crusader 2! Activity around the HD launch also showed us that the wider gaming community remembered Crusader and was interested in a new release. We had been working on the game before this point but that was the point at which we realised the time is right. It gave the project a shot in the arm.
What are some of the features that we can expect in Stronghold Crusader 2?
I think the main thing to expect is a really solid, fast-paced and replayable skirmish game based around castle building and castle destruction! We want players to be able to jump in, build their castle and start attacking their online opponents as quickly and easily as possible. If you’d prefer to play offline against AI you can do that too, as there will be a large number of AI characters to fight against each with their own fighting style and sense of humour. Essentially skirmish will be the core of the game and all other features will be built around that.
We want the player to start a new skirmish match with new human or AI opponents and have a completely different battle each time. You might be attacking a new type of castle with a different range of defences. Different AI characters will taunt you and attack with different strategies. A sand storm may occur, reducing visibility and giving you the opportunity to move in unseen. The list goes on, but the aim is to add features that make each skirmish different from the last.
A decade out from the first game, is there anything in particular that you’re doing differently?
The team is looking to recreate the gameplay formula which players enjoyed in the original game, in terms of design we want to build a game that looks fantastic but also plays with the same pace and fervour as Crusader 1. That said there are plenty of new elements for players to look forward to. The game will be 3D rather than 2D and there will be new units such as the Slave Driver. We’re also looking to give certain units special abilities. The Sergeant at Arms will boost the HP of nearby troops with a healing area of effect ability, while the Dervish can sprint into combat using a special whirlwind charge attack.
We want to capture what made Crusader the game of choice for Stronghold fans. The benefit of self publishing to the player is that the team can concentrate on the core Crusader values and let you get stuck into castle building, sieges and defence. It won’t just be a matter of building up a huge army and rushing the enemy. Castles are famous for being impregnable so you won’t just be able to throw troops at the walls in hopes of success. There will still be that fast-paced RTS gameplay, but we’re hoping the new additions will make for a more strategic and replayable experience. There are also plans for a special campaign that didn’t feature in the first game, but we want that to be a surprise for players.
How has community response been so far?
The community has been wonderful! There’s a 30-page wish list in our forum and lots of love for the project on Facebook and Twitter. As we’re self-publishing we can be as open as we like about the development process and our plans for the game, which allows us to talk to players and journalists freely, without the red tape. Although we don’t have a final release date set we can be completely transparent with the people who care about our games. We can tell them exactly where the game’s at, which features and modes will make it to release and what we’re excited about working on.
The response to Stronghold Crusader HD was fantastic and that positive energy has definitely run over into Crusader 2. Players really appreciated the fact that the HD patch was made available free of charge, which seems like the done thing these days with lots of games getting patches years and even a decade after release. Stronghold HD and Crusader HD will also soon should be released on Steam, where we will also be upgrading everyone who owns the original games to HD for free.
With Stronghold Kingdoms, Firefly has begun self-publishing its games. How has this affected development at the studio in general sense?
It has been a huge learning experience and one we’re still getting used to. We essentially now answer to ourselves and the community. The challenge comes when the responsibility for all the things a publisher would normally take care of, such as advertising and distribution, falls to us to handle. There’s a reason why independent studios often lament the difficulties of running a company, sometimes we just want to make games!
That said we’re getting much better at it and our community has supported us along the way. When you’re working with a publisher it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that your community is your lifeblood. You can only keep making games as long as your fans are playing them. Once you start selling your own games you quickly remember how deeply your core fans care about your work. The actual development process hasn’t changed too much. The difference now is that we set our own targets and milestones and the only concerns we have to consider are our own and those of the fans, because we’re funding the game ourselves.
How does this affect Stronghold Crusader 2 in particular?
It means that we can actually tell people what we’re working on! Our Programming Lead can tweet daily about the features he’s excited about and I can talk to players and press openly about the game. There’s no need for false pretences within Firefly either. We’re a small, borderline indie studio and self publishing means we are able to focus entirely on our own set of priorities. Publishers have their own set of concerns, which must be taken into account when working with one. This new setup should make for games shaped more by community feedback and our design concepts. Essentially we now get to say how long we work on a particular feature for or how much time we spend polishing and balancing a certain part of the game, which is wonderful.
You’ve announced plans to seek partial crowdfunding for the game (through a new platform for games projects called Gambitious). The campaign hasn’t begun yet, but could you tell us a little bit about what we can expect once it goes live?
What we are planning is not too dissimilar from other successful crowdfunding campaigns set later in the development cycle. As I’ve said the great thing about self-publishing is that we can be utterly transparent. We’re hoping to crowdfund exactly what Stronghold players have been asking for, which is a closed beta to polish and refine the game with the help of the people who perhaps know Stronghold best – The community.
In terms of what you can expect from the campaign. There are a ton of updates planned, including cool perks to reward backers, a proper game trailer, community Q&A sessions and much more. Our plan is to build up a completely different, more direct relationship with our fans now that we can speak to them directly. The aim is to achieve that by posting regular updates which reflect and respond to the voices within the backer community. There will be dev diary updates and we are also planning a documentary of sorts, since it’s just the developer and the fans in this there is no reason we can’t talk openly about the game. We want to show the players that we really care about Crusader and we now have the freedom to make the sequel they deserve.
After announcing units both returning and new, showing off concept art, and more, when can the community expect a better peek at Stronghold Crusader 2?
We will be taking Crusader 2 to a certain trade show in the summer! Everyone will be able to get a better insight then. In the meantime we have lots planned to keep fans in the loop. There will be Q&A sessions, live streams, players versus developers online matches and we’re looking into holding a community night. We really do want to use this time to build a close relationship with our community, while we beaver away on the game.