Firefly Studios have just announced Stronghold Crusader 2 in partnership with Gambitious, a newly launched entry into the crowdfunding market place.
So far Firefly have embarked on the development of this game without a publisher backing them. Freshly independent they’ve been able to survive and work thanks to their existing bank balance, but are teaming up with Gambitious in order to secure that second line of funding from fans and investors. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll all have heard of Kickstarter, and Gambitious is roughly a gaming oriented version of this letting you effectively pre-pay for the game, get in on betas, give feedback and so on.
With Crusader 2 we’ll see the Stronghold castle based RTS series returning to a popular offshoot from the main franchise, taking players back to the desert for some crusading battles and skirmishes with the Caliphs whilst bringing the title back up to date. There will naturally be a nice 3D engine pushing the visuals, with real time physics handling the destruction. New units, like the Templar Knight and Slave Driver, combine with new dynamic events, such as Tornados and Locust Swarms adding to the existing units and gameplay brought forward from the original.
You’ll be able to see more information revealed on the teaser site and facebook page, leading into the funding campaign going live on Gambitious towards the end of September. But for today’s announcement I had the opportunity to pose a few questions about the game, its development and decision behind teaming up with Gambitious to the Lead Designer, Simon Bradbury:
Lead Designer, Simon Bradbury doing his best "look into the distance".
TSA: Why have you come back to the Stronghold Crusader offshoot a whole decade after the original was launched?
SB: We’ve wanted to create a worthy sequel to Stronghold Crusader for almost 10 years now! Before the age of self-publishing that just wasn’t possible, we were usually at the mercy of what a publisher wanted us to make. In the past as publishers had been the ones paying us to make the game, they would typically want a new blockbuster or a sequel to the core game series. They had been less interested in what was only considered an offshoot of the main franchise. The difference with Crusader 2 is that we really do want to make it! The time is right and we finally have the freedom to do the original game justice.
TSA: With such a beloved title, how big a challenge is it to stay faithful to the original whilst still bringing it bang up to date?
SB: That’s the challenge. It’s safe to say that the original game is the fan favourite within the Stronghold community, however it’s also regarded more widely as an incredibly solid title – a “good old game”. It’s fair to say that the team hasn’t stopped playing the original Crusader and has a good grasp of what made it shine back in 2002 and what we need to transfer across in terms of the playability and fun factor from that game over to Crusader 2. We’ve learnt a lot about what it takes to successfully do that and achieve a balance between old and new, with the most important thing being creating a fun game that does justice to the original.
There will of course be the usual additions typical of a big sequel – so new units like the cruel Slave Driver, new beefed up AI opponents, dynamic on-map events like the Locust Swarm and of course improved graphics. But we’re also adding things that help achieve a balance between classic and new Stronghold gameplay. Walls are a good example – they will be beautifully presented in 3D with procedural destruction and real-time physics, but players will build them using the same grid-based system as in the old games. We’re hoping to make these kinds of changes throughout the game, so that the gameplay will be familiar and intuitive but also relevant and exciting for players. The focus really is on bringing the classic gameplay of the original 2D Stronghold games into the third dimension.
Naturally at this stage a lot of what we'll see is concept sketches and early renders.
TSA: What’s it like to be changing your business, going Indie and pursuing this project on your own terms?
SB: Liberating. Refreshing. Exciting. New. Scary. Fun. It’s a mix of emotions, but the important thing is that it allows us to work on the games we want to work on and hopefully to deliver the games our fans want to play.
With more and more developers ‘going Indie’ and taking the self-publishing route I’ll admit that the definition of Indie is changing. I’m sure some would argue that an Indie studio is 1-5 people, while others would say that Indies can be as big as 20 or 30. At the moment we are around 25. We would be smaller, if not for the support team of our free-to-play MMO Stronghold Kingdoms. That makes up about a third of the company. For us, going Indie – and the best thing about being Indie – is the ability to suggest a feature in the morning, make the change, upload a new build and see it implemented by the afternoon. We already do this working on Stronghold Kingdoms and we’ll have that same freedom working on Crusader 2. No interference, no worrying about how our priorities align with that of our publisher. Just design, implement, improve.
TSA: When everyone and their dog seems to be putting their projects onto Kickstarter, why have you gone with the newer Gambitious instead? What do they offer above and beyond Kickstarter?
SB: When the suggestion of crowdfunding was made, the first thing we did was look for a European platform to host the project. The Stronghold games have always been popular in Europe, particularly in Germany where the original game outsold Grand Theft Auto 3 over the Christmas period in 2001. So when Gambitious was suggested to us by some old friends it seemed like a perfect fit.
The design of the Gambitious crowdfunding campaign also suits us better. We’re a small developer without the resources or funds to give away huge numbers of physical rewards for pledges – We certainly can’t afford to give away as much as Double Fine! But that’s alright because we’re more focused on digital rewards and community stuff, so the limit of five rewards tiers works well. The ability to extend the campaign beyond one month is also great, given that we’re a small outfit that takes a bit longer to spread the news. We did consider websites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but I think these are going to be the first of many such platforms.
TSA: Finally, what platforms are you be aiming for and when are you hoping to get a full release?
SB: We’re PC developers first and foremost so PC will be our focus, at least for the first release late next year. We have outsourced Mac versions of our games in the past but for now we’re just concentrating on making the best PC game possible.
Thanks to Simon for taking the time to answer a few questions about Firefly’s upcoming project. Stronghold Crusader 2 is set to hit Gambitious towards the end of September, with a release planned for the end of 2013. I leave you with a few more examples of the concept art and renders for the game.