Stronghold 3: losing a battle, winning the war

Stronghold 3: losing a battle, winning the war


Stronghold 3's rocky start was a shock to many of its fans. Since its release, Firefly has worked frantically to stabilize the game and released patches that both fix and improve the game.

Playing Stronghold 3 when it was first released was a frustrating experience. The AI seemed to be spending more time looking for their “I” than they did fighting the enemy, selecting your units in no way guaranteed you were sending all of them into battle, manning a wall required clicking somewhere just above the target and starting a multiplayer game would fail more often than not… the list of bugs at launch goes on and on. In our review, we concluded the game was simply not ready for release. What caused the game to be released in this state, what happened?

Firefly is known for offering great after-launch support but seeing the state in which the game was released, it must have been difficult for fans to see a quick enough turnaround. Inevitably many were disappointed, even angry, as were the critics. Why not postpone the game’s release a few weeks? It doesn’t seem worth the bad word of mouth.

We’re seven patches down the line and Stronghold has been stabilized, though still not perfect. We talk to Simon Bradbury, Lead Designer on Stronghold 3, to find out why Stronghold 3 had such a horrific launch, what has been done so far to get the game stable and what Firefly has in store for us.

Hooked Gamers: Stronghold has had a very strong following ever since its first release and many were eagerly awaiting its 3rd instalment. I think it’s fair to say that many of its fans would not have minded waiting a couple of months longer to get the game they wanted though. Why was the game released in the state it was in?

Simon Bradbury: That’s a hard question and one without a simple single answer, but it does need answering.

Firstly and perhaps most stupidly, pride. We have always been a small team, slightly undersized perhaps for the task of Stronghold 3, but we have always released games on time. We were already 8 months late and that was making us very cross indeed. Stupid I know, but this leads on to a more important second reason which is burn out.

We had already been working flat out for 6 months prior to the original February gold master date, so after another 8 months of long hours and grind, we were all out. At that point something needed to change. We needed to move into a different mode, to stand back from the project and look at it objectively. The way to do that was to release an imperfect game.

A third, more predictable reason – It was also a financial decision. We get paid a fixed amount to develop a game for our publisher and at the point of release we were already 8 months late and hurting.

Compare the situation to Blizzard’s recent announcement regarding “major changes” to Diablo 3. Despite the game’s impressive open beta, which lead many to believe its release was just around the corner, the company is clearly in no rush to release that product. Don’t get me wrong – We admire (and are jealous of) them for such a move and it’s just like Wilson says, “No one will remember if the game is late, only if it’s great”, but Firefly aren’t in a position where we can afford to take however long we want with a game.

Ideally we would have delayed and done the fine-tuning before release, but we just couldn’t afford a second delay. It also wasn’t actually all our decision to make. Whilst we own the Stronghold name, we only develop the game. We work to a contract making the game for someone else, who in turn has their own pressures and reasons as regards timing. So there you go. Not a simple answer, but hopefully one that shares a little of what we were thinking at the time.