Friday, August 27, 2021

Stronghold: Summary and Rating

My halfling emperor has defeated all enemies!
     
Stronghold
United States
Stormfront Studios (developer); Strategic Simulations, Inc. (publisher)
Released 1993 for DOS, 1994 for FM Towns and PC-98
Date Started: 8 August 2021
Date Finished: 16 August 2021
Total Hours: 21
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate (2.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later) 
      
To wrap up my coverage of Stronghold, I'll discuss my experience playing a game on "Hostile" mode with a halfling ruler and dwarf, mage, fighter, and cleric vassals.
      
This is what a fully-upgraded halfling stronghold looks like, by the way.
       
I started the usual way, building farms and housing and claiming trees and mines. As my income grew, I expanded into granaries (you need a lot of food storage to get through winters), vaults, and some training institutions. My character got promoted to duke just on city-building alone.
  
Eventually, I started to notice enemy units to my east, and I went through the army-building process described above. The enemy faction was giant bats. I fought them to their "stronghold" (a cave) and destroyed it. Ultimately, that's what you need to do to defeat any faction. I found out the hard way that destroying a stronghold will immediately cause any random units of that faction to make a beeline for your stronghold in revenge. You need to prepare for this by having units in between (and it's very hard to send units to multiple different locations) or by cleaning up most of the random units before attacking the stronghold. This is usually pretty easy because enemies tend to have only a single unit on most rectangles except their strongholds. I found that if I set a destination for my army that would take them through the middle of a bunch of enemy forces, they would generally clear a path of destruction in between, wiping out those single units.
     
Big battle in front of an evil cleric's stronghold.
    
While I was finishing up with the giant bats, I ran afoul of another faction of "evil clerics" in the same area. They had low-level undead in their armies, but they were easy to defeat, particularly with my own clerics turning undead.
  
I set up a tower and immediately noticed a third faction in the northeast corner. I started sending my army against its outlying units, and there encountered my first problem. This was a faction of wights. Wights can only be turned by the highest-level clerics, and they can only be damaged by magic weapons or spells. The only way to get magic weapons into your party is by building forges and upgrading them at least once. I hadn't built any. I immediately had my dwarf, fighter, and cleric factions work on forges (mages don't get that option), but building them takes a long time, and you have to not only build them but then improve them one level so they start spitting out +1 weapons. Even then, they only distribute them to units at a rate of one per turn, and the distribution seems to be random.
       
Well, that's going to be a problem.
     
For a couple of entire seasons, I fought straggling wights with my mages doing most of the damage and the other units just serving as cannon fodder to keep the mages alive. Eventually, +1 clubs, short swords, and bows started appearing in the hands of my units, and I could do some serious damage. I pressed forward and destroyed the wight fortress. This entire time, I had been sending new units to the battlefront, but as I mentioned, a lot of them deserted and claimed parcels of land on their own. I manually unassigned some of these units, but others I just sighed and left them where they were, creating a string of occupied territory between my central kingdom and the areas I'd conquered.
   
I figured while my army was already in the field, I might as well focus on them and clear as many other enemy factions as I could. My kingdom was already built as much as it really needed to be. I had a solid income coming in and plenty of places to store gold and food. I had training facilities and equipment facilities for each type of unit, plus an arena that supposedly improves all factions faster. I was spending money to upgrade random facilities, trees, and farmland just so it wouldn't go to waste.
       
This was just a vanity project.
      
The army was in the northeast corner, so I picked a random square in the mid-north corner and sent them there, then moved them towards the northwest corner. You understand that while the main army was doing this, new units were traveling from my central kingdom to join them in these destination squares. As I got close to new factions, I started seeing their units. I cleared out two strongholds of dire wolves, one of giant toads, and one of evil fighters. I began to wonder how many damned factions there were on the map. My main character was crowned emperor--enough to win a "lawful" version of the game--during this process.
      
This halfling truly bows to no one.
   
All of a sudden, I was in serious trouble. One of my guard towers to the west of the kingdom was wiped out by a party of obsidian statues. They literally seemed to come out of nowhere (and in more than one sense; I've never seen them in a previous D&D game). I realized with horror that there was a line of them extending westward heading for my kingdom, and specifically my mage's keep.
   
I immediately recalled my army, but it was too late. The obsidian statues blew through my outer defenses. By painstakingly swapping new Level 1 units for some of my more experienced ones, I was able to halt them on a hill one square to the south of the mage's keep, where a pitched battle began. A few fighter, cleric, and mage units held them off long enough for my field units to start returning to the square.
   
The resulting battle lasted literal years of game time. I think the seasons changed nine times. During most this time, I had every new unit join the battle, but otherwise the kingdom went on as normal. (You don't have to click within a rectangle and watch the battle for the battle to continue; I'm not sure if it makes any difference if you do.) I continued making upgrades, including to my main stronghold. I upgraded forges and armories. 
     
This battle would not end.
    
One of my commenters wanted me to comment on combat sounds. The game is otherwise relatively sparse with sound. Where it's not sparse, it's annoying. For instance, when you click on one of your leaders to view his statistics, there's an obnoxious pause while the game loads a sound file--either a cheer, silence, or jeers depending on his favorability with the populace. But in combat, the sounds are pretty good. There are clanks and thuds for weapons and lots of sounds associated with spell effects, including a satisfying zap when a mage fires off a lightning bolt. Unfortunately, I think these sounds contribute to frequent stuttering during combat. There are some other oddities, too. I think there might be a maximum number of characters that the game can depict on a single screen. Very often, my army would clear out the enemy forces but still show as "in combat." I would click off the screen and return, and there would be half a dozen more enemies there.
  
Slowly, the tide started to turn in their favor. The game had been going on so long by this point (about 10 hours of real time) that I almost welcomed a loss. I could still say I "won" with the previous character but also had the experience of combat. But I sucked it up and started taking units from built rectangles and sending them into combat. Immediately, the structures started to decay, and ultimately I lost most of them. As even those units fell, I started taking more and more. By the time I eventually turned the tide, I had deconstructed fully half my kingdom, including key facilities like vaults and forges.
       
Things got pretty grim for a while.
    
The one positive from the experience was the army that remained was mostly higher-level units. My thoughts immediately turned to revenge. I sent everyone I had westward, towards where I assumed the obsidian statues were coming from. About the same time, a faction of trolls started attacking from the south, so I had to permanently station some units on their path of approach to deal with them, which mostly worked. I also let new units occasionally establish themselves in the rectangles from which I'd taken the veteran units, thus slowly rebuilding my kingdom. Fortunately, I had plenty of income still, and because I was already emperor, I didn't really need to keep anyone happy.
   
Before I found the obsidian statues, I cleared out a faction of minotaurs. The statues themselves weren't as hard on their home turf as they'd been on mine, but the final battle still took so long that I established a series of outposts on the west side of the map. Outposts allow you to spawn new factions in areas other than the central kingdom. It's not quite the same thing as "vectoring" in Warlords because you can't control what percentage of new units spawn there, but it's better than nothing.
  
Destroying the obsidian statues' stronghold was the highlight of the game. I then sent my army southeast into troll territory and destroyed them. From my guard towers in their territory, I identified the final faction, which was a bunch of goblins in the southeast. They swiftly fell before my horde of Level 6-8 units.
      
On this map, you can see my kingdom in the center and my field units entering the goblin kingdom to the southeast.
     
"All enemies destroyed," the game told me, as I settled back in satisfaction, ready to finally write this entry. That satisfaction turned to rage when the message changed: "Next wave of enemies appear." Seriously!? Destroying 12 other kingdoms wasn't enough?! The neutral or chaotic hero really gets a raw deal in this game.
      
Next what now?
    
The "second wave" consisted of a smaller number of more difficult enemies, including more obsidian statues, more giant toads, fire giants, and the dreaded Lord Mindark. Some of their strongholds spawned right next to rectangles I was already occupying, leading to immediate combat.
   
I had a high-level army already in the field, though, and my kingdom was by now restored to full power. I was having to stop every few minutes to spend tens of thousands of accumulated gold on new buildings and upgrades I didn't even need. Upgrade some random farmland for 3,000! Turn a tree into a forest for 4,000 (how, exactly?)! Make that forge capable of +2 weapons for 8,000! Build another arena!
    
I can't remember what these enemies are.
      
Thus, the only difficulty was the time it takes to send units from one place to another. I revved up DOSBox considerably during this period. As the army reached each kingdom, though, they were pretty swiftly victorious. I destroyed the fire giants last. Steeling myself for a "third wave," I was happy to see that the game, in fact, ended there. I could continue playing, but my score wouldn't be recorded beyond what I'd already accomplished.
    
Major rewards for destroying Mindark's stronghold. Too bad it's the end of the game.
        
In retrospect, that I was able to win twice in succession, including on "Hostile" difficulty, suggests that perhaps the game is a bit too easy. Then again, I never faced medusas, red dragons, stone giants, or vampires, all of which the manual says are possible. Perhaps you need to play custom difficulty to generate those, or perhaps I just got lucky. Because I found it relatively easy, there are a lot of aspects of the game that I didn't explore, a lot of buildings that I never tried, and a lot of variables that I never optimized. For instance, I didn't overly worry which race claimed a mine, tree, or farm even though dwarves, elves, and halflings do better with those things, respectively. I didn't fiddle much with the "pyramids" (which adjust the proportion of time spent on various activities). I never had one hero build a location and then transfer it to a different hero. I never did much with walls or even bridges. 
     
I wish I could put these two against each other.
         
I wouldn't say that I "enjoyed" the game--I don't really like city simulators--but I found it remarkably addictive. The character who won on "Hostile" took about 14 hours, and I'm sorry to say that I played most of that in a single day, from about 14:00 to about 04:00. There never seemed to be any good place to stop. I've had the same feeling with Warlords and other strategy games. I've never played Civilization, but I've heard players say that it's almost impossible not to binge. Afterwards, I saw city blocks in my dreams. I felt vaguely ill, like a mental hangover, the next day. There are times after playing an RPG in which I don't feel like it was a great use of time, but I rarely feel so utterly drained.

     
In a GIMLET, I give the game:
   
  • 1 point for the game world. There isn't much to the story. You're not even told what planet you're on.
  • 3 points for character creation and development. The specific assemblage of "characters" makes a big difference in gameplay, and I like the way that units can get experience through training instead of just combat. 
    
The only "leveling" that matters is in random units, like this one.
    
  • 0 points for no NPC interaction.
  • 3 points for encounters and foes. The enemies are D&D standard, with their strengths and weaknesses well-programmed. There are no other types of encounters or puzzles.
  • 3 points for magic and combat. There are a lot of factors in combat, but you don't control any of them except what units to bring. This makes combat more strategic than tactical.
     
A battle before the obsidian statue stronghold.
     
  • 1 point for equipment. You have no control over specific inventories, just what your kingdom in general is capable of producing.
  • 5 points for the economy. It's one of the most vital parts of the game. It lacks a certain complexity, though, and about 3/4 of the way through any game you're spending money just to spend it.
  • 2 points for a main quest, or at least a main objective.
       
Destroying the evil Mindark is the closest the game has to a "main quest."
       
  • 1 point for graphics, sound, and interface. I found the graphics too small and the sound too sparse, but the interface is the biggest problem. There are some things that work well, but these are overwhelmed by the deficiencies--no ability to control individual units, no ability to mass-unassign units, no ability to stack units, no ability to see developed and undeveloped parcels, and more.
  • 7 points for gameplay. Games take a bit too long, but beyond that it's hard to find much to complain about. There's a lot of challenge and replayability packed into each session, particularly with the initial game options.
   
That gives us a final score of 26, which sounds low, but this is a city-simulator/strategy game being rated with RPG criteria. 
      
Note that SSI called it a "kingdom simulator."
    
Computer Gaming World tackled this one in November 1993, with H. E. Dille giving it a positive review, though noting that once you master the strengths and weaknesses of various characters, it's nearly impossible to lose. My experience bears this out. 
  
Overall, it's a much better game than I would have expected given the circumstances of its development and release. It was authorized by SSI in the waning days of their D&D license. In addition to the last of the reliable Gold Box games, this period resulted in a flurry of unconventional titles, including Spelljammer: Pirates of Realmspace (1992), Fantasy Empires (1993), Dungeon Hack (1993), and Menzoberranzan (1994). I haven't played most of these. The general consensus seems to be that they're mostly misfires, maybe with a few good ideas, but to me Stronghold is more solid (again, for its proper genre) than the rest. Of the developers SSI used, Stormfront always seems to have done at least a competent job.
    
In 2017, Christopher Weaver, the founder of Bethesda, interviewed Don Daglow, project director for Stronghold, for the Smithsonian Institution. In the interview, Daglow takes credit for the conception of Stronghold. He had been musing about a combination of SimCity and Dungeons & Dragons, but he held off development on it until he came up with the concept of the 3D side view to make it look less like SimCity specifically. He goes on about the 3D in a 2000s GameBanshee interview, too (it "was an optical illusion created in 2D with display panes and careful use of camera angles!"). I find it amusing what elements developers think matter. To me, the 3D view is the least interesting part of Stronghold. It would have been easier to work with each plot if you had seen it from the top down, like SimCity, and thus better understood the positioning of terrain elements. Anyway, Stormfront pitched the game to SSI, got the green light, and the result is in front of us.
     
There's a part of me that wants to start a new campaign, so I'd better get away from this time suck fast. Dark Sun recently appeared on the upcoming list, so we'll have a new D&D game fairly quickly.

74 comments:

  1. Living Statue is a monster type in basic d&d, and one of the few that were not also in the AD&D Monster Manual.

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    1. For whatever reasons, AD&D simplified a varied list of constructs into "almost entirely golems."

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  2. A compelling concept (simcity + D&D/fantasy, or perhaps more like CaesarII + fantasy?). I wonder if there is a recent example of this sub-subgenre?

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    1. There are many, although they are indie, some of them in early access or abandoned.

      Distant Kingdoms, Gord, Dice Legacy, Becastled, even Dust to the End is similar.

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    2. I guess Dwarf Fortress and Rimworld kinda count?

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    3. Not sure how "recent" it has to be, but the Majesty games sound like direct successors of this one.

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    4. Yeah these entries got me back into trying to beat Majesty 2, very much the successor series to Stronghold. I had forgotten how much worse Majesty 2 is to the first one though, there's a reason I never finished it although I want to get to playing the monster factions at the very least this time.

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    5. There's also another example, that's also an officially licensed D&D product, from close to the same time: Birthright: Gorgon's Alliance, released in 1996.

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    6. Lords of Midnight (on Sir Clive's Speccy) might be considered a very early variant.

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    7. Birthright is definitely the closest thing. It was a strategy game with battles and alliances between kingdoms, and then included Eye of Beholder-style dungeon romps where you build a party with your liege and his/her allies to find artifacts to help in the overworld battles

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  3. I find myself really liking the premise of the game. A world with factions of giant bats whose fortress is a cave, evil clerics with undead, and unstoppable wights that can only be harmed by mystical weapons is pretty cool. Units being sent off, finding good land in the countryside, and deciding, "screw this getting killed for some king who thinks we're deplorable - we're going to settle here and make the land bloom."

    I've never played Civilization

    What, really? Wow. That was The Game That Changed It All. So freaking detailed and well done, and a great manual that explained it all and taught you about history along the way. Took me weeks to digest the thing. I learned so much from playing.

    Moreover while fully playable with the keyboard, and I certainly did, it's the game that made me see the utility of a mouse and I finally went out and purchased one. My friend who also loved DOS games came over, saw me playing with a mouse, and was convinced. He bought one too. Previous to this, to us a mouse was just a doodad, maybe nice to have but not necessary. It was firmly in the realm with the light pen and paddle controllers. Afterwards...well, we all know how that turned out.

    I played most of that in a single day, from about 14:00 to about 04:00.

    Afterwards, I saw city blocks in my dreams. I felt vaguely ill, like a mental hangover, the next day.


    There's a good Addict.

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    1. "I played most of that in a single day, from about 14:00 to about 04:00."

      You're a maniac, you know that ;)

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    2. AlphabeticalAnonymousAugust 27, 2021 at 5:56 PM

      > I've never played Civilization

      This line blew me away, too. I still play a game of Civilization every year or so, and it's one of only three games from my youth of which I still have the original box and packaging. The others are Broderbund's "Ancient Art of War at Sea" (with similiarly long, immersive manual) and, of all things, Sierra's "The Black Cauldron."

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    3. Hate to pile on... but even a doof like me who hasn't played a game since 1995 spent a summer before that enmeshed in Civ. Great game!

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    4. I had a weird hacked version called "multiciv" that allowed a hotseat kind of multiplayer. One of first exposures to modded games...

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    5. Personally, one of the only boxed PC games I have is Civ 2. It's even a later version that more or less works on modern Windows, albeit with a fan patch

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    6. Does it still display the FMV counsel? I absolutely loved Civ 2, and whilst I like the sequels, they never really captured the feelings of Civ 1 and 2.

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    7. Also Chet really need to play Civ — it’s pretty much a masterclass in game design, even if the UI on the first one is a bit clunky compared to modern games. The progressive disclosure going on is absolutely perfect (ie, game systems slowly gets added as you go through the game) and you’re always engaged. Also having the main stats given as a series of icons let’s you quickly understand what’s going on. So much love for it.

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    8. "You're a maniac." After that 14 hour stretch, I haven't played a game since. The next two entries were pre-scheduled before 16 August. I just got back from a long trip to Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. I need to get back into the groove.

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    9. I got PCem up and running for the sole purpose of playing Civilization II in Windows 11. It's still addictive, though it takes a while to adjust to research after coming from VI. Rocketry in 1350 AD? Sure, why not.

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  4. I am going to miss the comments about this not being an rpg.

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    1. Don't worry. Veil of Darkness is coming up :)

      (which is not a CRPG, but I suspect it will be played to completion anyway)

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    2. I always tried to play Veil of Darkness as a pure point n click adventure junkie, but the game does not want to be played by me. I feel totally uncomfortable playing it, as if it had square wheels.

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    3. This game has a great many elements that we'd soon see in the 1994 release of Warcraft: Orcs and Humans. In addition, it (sort of) has individual unit inventories of things like magic weapons, armor upgrades, magic rings, mirrors, and so on. These unit-by-unit inventory upgrades were an approach not later taken (in the same unit-by-unit manner) by Blizzard.

      In Stronghold, mine resources are critical in the early game, but become unnecessary in the later game. Their exhaustion is unpredictable. Blizzard improved this aspect of resource challenges with predictably pre-sized crystal and gas deposits.

      SSI's game truly fails in unit control. Well, it's not a total failure, but here is where this game fails to shine, leading to constant frustration. Individual unit control is effectively non-existent, and only one force per keep is controllable (with the 1 through 5 hotkeys). Contrast this with Blizzard's option to keybind f1-f9 to any single unit or group of units: the value of this flexibility is difficult to overstate.

      If only SSI had play-tested this more, refining and improving unit and army control capabilities: who knows what might have been?

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    4. The thing that annoys me about such comments is that I always deal with the issue in the first entry. Some people must comment without reading.

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  5. I've never had units desert my army and start building somewhere. I think the problem might be the "unassigned" status of new units. If you attract the maximum number of units to a location, unassigned units will be attracted too. Unassigned units will eventually switch to "home" when they have nothing else to do and there is a free plot.

    I always set new units to either "ready" or sent them somewhere and set them to "home", but it is a lot of micromanagement in a large kingdom.

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    1. @Buck: (+1) no, on second thought, (+255)
      "...but it is a lot of micromanagement in a large kingdom."

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    2. Yes, that was the problem. I rarely set any units to "ready." I was always trying to work with unassigned units.

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  6. I think at this point of crpgaddiction you are going to find more games that you enjoy than games that you cannot. You are going to enjoy Dark Sun.

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  7. Oh man Dark Sun is finally in the upcoming games list.

    I have been waiting for that one since quite a while.

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  8. "I can't remember what these enemies are."

    Angry Pollywogs?

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    1. Yeah, when I saw that picture, I was also thinking that cockatrices looked like that in this game.

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  9. " I find it amusing what elements developers think matter. To me, the 3D view is the least interesting part of Stronghold. It would have been easier to work with each plot if you had seen it from the top down, like SimCity, and thus better understood the positioning of terrain elements. "

    Given the era, there might well have been a fear of legal trouble. The "Look and feel" portion of software copywright has still not been definitively settled, and in 1993 it was probably still a major concern.

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    1. To add to this, it wasn't until the following year that the infamous Capcom v. Data East lawsuit ended up setting a precedent that you can't actually copyright the idea of a game genre. So they would have had good reason to be wary at the time.

      Nowadays you can just copy a game outright and throw it up on Steam or the App Store and claim it as your own work, and as long as you didn't actually steal any of the assets or code (and give it a legally distinct name) you're good to go.

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    2. Didn't stop plenty of clone games from appearing before 1993. But Stronghold with an isometric view would still be a very different game - and SimCity 2000 with its isometric view only appeared in 1993, too.

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  10. "... I was able to halt them on a hill one square to the south of the mage's keep..."

    How upset would you have been if one had made it through to your Mage's castle? It should have been survivable. Even if you had lost all of your mages, your other forces should have stopped them, then you could have rebuilt and regrouped.

    But instead, you'd have got a "Error 27 restarting." Hope you've saved recently!

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    1. Yuck. Yeah, I'm glad I didn't experience that.

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  11. It's interesting to compare SSI's Stronghold to Blizzard's Warcraft which was released only one year later. So many elements are common to both products. Aside from SSI's very limited unit and force control tools, I think you've put your finger of the biggest differentiator, right here:

    "1 point for the game world. There isn't much to the story."

    This was a mistake Blizzard wouldn't make. In many ways similar to the much later Wing Commander franchise, Blizzard understood and demonstrated how to weld together a set of disparate replays within a common game engine, building and charting a compelling story arc throughout repeating scenarios with layers of increasing complexity. In the words of the immortal bard, "The play's the thing!" Humans naturally respond to stories, and even though Stronghold displays many interesting and compelling qualities, the lack of a narrative arc highlights the contentious ground, as Sun Tzu would call it, which Stronghold regrettably failed to occupy.
    What a fascinating contrast between these two quite similar products from SSI and Blizzard. Where is SSI today?

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    1. Considering the current fiasco with Blizzard, I feel like SSI going out fairly quietly was better in the end

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    2. I would say Warcraft is really just a fantasy version of Dune II whilst this is Sim City meets D&D. Beyond the fantasy theme and that there’s some resources, there’s not really much similarity between these at all.

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    3. I was referring to the seminal 1993 release of Warcraft: Orcs & Humans rather than the 2003 World of Warcraft MMORPG. Beyond the fantasy theme, marshaling multiple types of resources, constructing buildings to activate unit "tech" upgrades, exploration through the fog of war, and of course war itself using multiple distinct units each with their own unique contributions to the campaign, I can agree that there's really not much similarity between these at all.

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    4. I don't see that much SimCity in Stronghold either, with its rather primitive simulation aspects. SimCity has many variables, and part of the game is constantly rebuilding and optimizing existing structures. You manage traffic, pollution, changing demands, new technologies. Your initial industrial zones will almost certainly be moved elsewhere later in the game. In Stroghold you really only manage gold, food and population, and once you've built something there isn't really any reason to do anything with it except for applying upgrades.

      In that aspect, I'd say it is closer to the base management games mentioned. But your base lasts the entire game - unlike the missions in base building games, where you start from scratch again most of the time.

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    5. Considering the success of several very story-light strategy games, I don't think having a (linearly told) story is that important.

      I'm thinking of games like Civilization, Total War, Paradox grand strategies, Dominions, Dwarf Fortress, Rimworld, etc etc.

      But in those strategy games there is enough mechanical complexity that you forge your own "stories" in a way. The most obvious example is Crusader Kings where you play as a ruler (an actual person) rather than abstractly controlling a nation, and you arrange marriages and alliances and a lot more interpersonal stuff.

      There is no story as such, but the mechanics and AI work together to deliver a gameplay experience that makes people want to tell the events that happened in their playthrough because of how fun and unexpected they can be.

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    6. "What's more fun than being told a story? Telling your own story." Advice that stuck with me from a game dev workshop. Emergent storytelling is a powerful thing, just ask all those tabletop RPGers out there.

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    7. If you're going to expect the player to tell his own story, I think you still have to start with the equivalent of a "writing prompt." I don't think Stronghold provides even that.

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    8. A story structure or prompt even if it takes a back seat definitely helps, although many of the roguelikes/roguelites this blog might be concerned with can probably manage it with just a deep layering of game mechanics that interact with each other in unexpected ways. What does it matter the motivations of the big bad or the hero, when it comes to the weird sequences of events in roguelikes that are worth telling a story about? The story doesn't have to be like fan fiction, it just has to be interesting.

      That said, what I love about Alpha Centauri (for example) is that it beautifully sets up both options.

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  12. "I felt vaguely ill, like a mental hangover"

    Haha, yep.

    When you hit Master of Magic you'll experience Civ's infamous 'just-one-more-turn'. Same developer, same basic structure, with the management aspects dialled down a bit in favour of exploration and combat.

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    1. For me it's Alpha Centauri (a Civ derivative) that is always my 'just-one-more-turn'! Such an addictive style and genre of game.

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    2. Alpha Centauri is my favourite (it's by Sid Meier and Brian Reynolds, so I'd consider it a side branch of the series). For me, it adds just the right elements to the game, and the overall athmosphere is amazing.

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    3. The main problem with AC is that boreholes are just too powerful followed by forests. To the point where after the early game there’s no reason not to just terraform to those over every tile. But beyond that, absolutely amazing game.

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    4. For me it's uh... the Civ 4 mod Caveman 2 Cosmos.

      Don't judge me, I love games with an overly bloated feature list.

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    5. Just one more spell, then I'll go to bed...ooo...unicorns, the Special Forces of Life magic. Okay, I'll go to bed after Unicorns are research. Is that Create Artifact? Okay, after Create Artifact I'll...

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  13. This sounds like an epic campaign! Just thinking about it: a years-long battle against an implacable enemy, a valiant defense on the outskirts of your empire! And just when you think you've won, the True Enemy attacks! It's like a classic fantasy novel (most of them, really). I'm sure you made it sound more exciting than it actually was, but you've convinced me to return to Stronghold and play it "properly."

    And for the love of God, play some Civilization! Just make sure you set aside a huge chunk of time for it.

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    1. I'm torn. Of course I want the Addict to experience the glory that is Civilization. But then I fear we'll go for months without updates to this blog.

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    2. No gamer can say they've lived until they've been threatened with nuclear devastation by Gandhi.

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  14. Don Daglow will always have a special place in my heart as the creator of Utopia for Intellivision. Many, many, many hours spent playing that with my entire family.

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  15. "so I'd better get away from this time suck fast"
    Time sink?

    If these aren't helpful, please give me a heads up, and I'll stop. And play Civilization! ;-)

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    1. You know, regarding Chet I'm under the impression that many of you tell him to play a game is a guaranteed way to make him definitely avoid it like the plague. Like a certain "(New) Rebirth of the Goddess" series of (mostly) console games.

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    2. Yeah, realistically, he'll always do what he wants, which is for the best for all involved.

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    3. In fairness, that's probably the best outcome in the end, unless we want to end up with Civ Addict.

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  16. If you want a minor Dark Sun party creation tip that might mitigate one of your pet peeves... zhygvpynff nyy lbhe abauhzna punenpgref

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  17. Civ II is the worst "just one more turn" game I've ever experienced. I feel like the Dr Johnson quote from Blackadder 3 regarding his diary, which I won't quote here to keep it family friendly.

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    1. Ink and Incapability on Wiki for those interested (the bit in italics)

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    2. Yeah, Civ VI didn't quite capture the same magic as Civ II did, though I don't remember III or IV all that well anymore. Pity Civ II isn't available on GoG.

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    3. I concur on Civ II. A true masterpiece. The clone FreeCiv does a decent job of recreating the feel.

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  18. Dark Sun (Shattered Lands) is fantastic and I'm really looking forward to it.

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  19. Oh my goodness, I just experienced a DISASTER, although given the pace and safety of this game, of course it's recoverable.

    If you've played Stronghold, you're familiar with how you tend to direct all the free tactical units to a single square to engage threats. In this case, late enough in the game to have high level, well developed forces, I directed more than 100 units of varying composition to a square where Medusa had built a bridge into my core territory. They easily occupied the square after defeating a single Medusa, then proceeded to salvage the enemy's bridge.

    What happened next? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller, Ferris Bueller?

    The moment the salvage was complete, every single one of my free units -- hundreds of them -- were reported drowned.

    I sighed in resignation and slowly began rebuilding high level, well equipped forces from scratch.

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    1. That is a riot. That must mean that there's no way to dismantle a bridge and survive.

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    2. Was a clown in a washing tub drawn by geese involved?

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  20. Thanks again, CRPGAddict, for bringing us another seven to ten lost days on yet another not-quite-ancient-wonder-of-the-world :)

    My prior comments revealed that I found Stronghold both compelling and frustrating.

    I stuck with it. I learned a bit of the systems and subtleties. After min-maxing and setting up my ideal Stronghold, and letting it run for several days to bring individuals up to a max of about 15th level (except Halflings, Dwarves, and Elves, which were limited to 8th, 12th, and 12th, respectively), I was ready to move out and conquer the world. Not that this level of preparation was require -- it manifestly was not -- but I was chasing that perfect run to see if (for example) the threat scaled as player units leveled.

    During this perhaps 50 hour run, I looked for shortcuts to all the pyramid clicking. There is a technique for setting multiple pyramids across an area to the same setting, but in my version that is bugged and doesn't work. It makes all the right noises, but otherwise has no effect.

    Anyway, after allowing the game to run for an extended period to see how high my units could level, I discovered one very big problem. Player units aren't stable. You can assign a unit to a home square, and it will usually stay, but you can't guarantee that. Over the long term, this has severe repercussions because if no unit is present, your buildings fall into disrepair and ultimately disappear. Once you have your "perfect" sim city build, you don't want to come back six hours later to discover half your city no longer exists.

    The issue that caused me so much angst isn't the monsters -- it's that lack of unit persistence. This is especially noticeable when you first place a keep. Keeps generally spawn with two units. One is already "homed" on the keep square, and the other is free to wander. As often as not, that wandering unit simply disappears in the first few turns after the keep has been placed, and you must wait a few turns before a replacement is spawned. Little did I imagine, this is telegraphing a problem that would come to haunt my Stronghold structures as formerly tended buildings decayed and collapsed.

    If I cared (but I'm so over that), I would conduct another run and home multiple units in each square to see if that solved the problem. However, I decided that since a very unprepared and unleveled mob of heroes can overrun the hostiles, as you Chet and others have easily demonstrated, then to heck with perfection: I'd complete this game which had run for several days, and have enough of Stronghold already.

    I commenced to do exactly that, and was about half way through clearing the first batch of hostiles when Catherine's bug hit. Having failed to learn, I had not saved in a very long time, and was presented with the dreaded "Give Cathryn BOTH numbers" bug, promptly followed by the DOS prompt.

    So, I found the game compelling. I immersed myself in it. I toyed with min-max strategies that were completely unnecessary since absent bugs, a win is virtually guaranteed. Yet the extensive multi-day run-time of a min-max game again exposed lack of play-testing and fatal bugs which really killed enthusiasm for digging further into this project.

    On the plus side, the evidence is in: I'm cured! Halejulia!

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    1. Well, I'm glad you fell into the hole. Without your supplementation, my recount of the game would feel half-finished.

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