Tales Of A Video Game Addict: Stronghold! - Part 1
Introduction To Stronghold
Perhaps no game better achieved the sensation of having survived impossible odds than the original Stronghold. I remember the Friday I discovered it in college. I was supposed to meet my girlfriend in the city the next day and only had a couple of classes to go Friday morning. So,it goes without saying, those classes were skipped and the day spent building and defending my castle from the barbarian hordes.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Stronghold series, or at least the original game, it had a razor sharp game mechanic that was as simple as it was compelling: build a thriving castle, complete with a balanced feudal agrarian society, and then defend your creation from hordes of enemies.
For a twenty+ year old game, Firefly Studios achieved something quite special with the original Stronghold. It had a castle building mechanic that is best summed up as Simcity meets Rollercoaster tycoon meets FarmVille, all in medieval times. Although the economic progression was fairly linear, the constant balance of taxation, food dispersal, resource management, and expansion timing was fairly compelling in and of itself.
But add in the astonishingly deep building mode, which allowed for a huge amount of customization in your castle's final design, and you had an RTS that really made you feel that every castle was your own. There were a number of play modes available, but usually I would just choose free build on a huge map, spend hours making the feudal society of my dreams, and then spawn in countless hordes to defend against.
The game engine was surprisingly robust for the time, capable of rendering many hundreds of units simultaneously while calculating a broad range of damage effects. In the same way that the best part of Simcity is often spawning giant catastrophes to destroy your city, nothing was more compelling in Stronghold than defending your precious castle from assailants.
Building The Castle
The entire morning passed consumed by the creation of a castle. By noon I had a promising economy and a medium sized stronghold encompassing most of my peasants in wooden balustrades posted with archers. I tested my defenses periodically with small barbarian melees, which were easily dispersed.
Noon to midnight were spent moving from low level feudal lord toward King-fucking-Arthur status. First I saved up my stone to upgrade the wooden balustrades to stone walls. Then I expanded my peasant economy and their structures slowly moved outside the range of my walls. So I decided to make like Gondor and get some defensive layers going.
My castle expanded outward and outward, wall upon wall connected by staggered gates, each filled to overflowing with the trappings of feudal life - horse stables, chicken farms, cheese and bread makers. I began to mine ores and craft metals which I turned into weapons on a massive scale, lining the walls and parapets with archers and preparing a legion of cavalry within my walls to flank and assault any siege weapons.
By midnight I had three expanding layers filled to the brim with death traps - hot oil, pitch and spikes. Any assailant attempting to break through would have to walk through hell, and the crisscross flying death of hundreds of archers. It was time to test my defenses. It was also 2AM.
The Assaulting Army
No mishmash of haphazardly spawned assailants could have a chance of breaking through my defenses. The only way I could really test the waters would be to save my castle and its forces and then create a custom scenario wherein I spent a similar effort designing the forces which would destroy the castle I worked so hard to build.
There was some unit limit in the build of the game I was playing. I don't remember the number precisely, but it was large. Needless to say, the army I designed met that limit. Hundreds of soldiers, including heavily armed Knights, both on foot and horse. What felt like thousands of militiamen and mace wielding ravagers arranged on all sides of the castle. Plus a host of siege weapons, catapults and trebuchet.
I arranged them in formation, three armies - one to the east, one to the west and one to the north. The castle was built so that the third wall was effectively a cliff in the south.
By the time I maxed out the unit count it was 4AM, the amassed armies were gigantic, and I was ready for battle.
Next Time: The Assault On The Outer Wall
In a rare twist, I'm using a demonstrative photo provided by firefly studios at their website here. This is rare for me - but seeing as I've purchased this decades old game no less than three times in my life and am all but shouting its praises here, I don't think anyone will mind.