There was a green hill by a river. Wolves on the other side and deers among the trees. A no man’s land, a land of nature. Pretty nice scenery for a trip. And then a tribe came into the scene with a guy in a full suit of armour. They gathered by the wooden castle-like house and soon after it was a crowded settlement. We didn’t need to see the actual year information to know that we were about to build a medieval stronghold. The music had already told it.
In 2001 they were a little indie game developer and Stronghold was their first game ever.
For Firefly Studios it was like setting a new settlement as well. In 2001 they were a little indie game developer and Stronghold was their first game ever. The team, led by a game designer Simon Bradbury, collected inspirations from titles like Age Of Empires, Command & Conquer or the Caesar series. But first of all they wanted to create a medieval city builder, so they combined a real-time strategy with a decent town founding simulator. Obviously Stronghold’s never depicted living in the middle ages so detailed as Kingdom’s Come: Deliverance, but there was something really special about managing the town in their rules, using tools from a thousand years ago.
Robert Euvino, the Stronghold composer, was interested in jazz, which involves a lot of 7th and 9th chords, but he found it too complex for the medieval sound he was looking for. What was music like a millennium ago? Well, we don’t really know. There are just a few real scores from the time that survived, for church purposes, so usually the folk music we hear in films about kings and knights is just an artist’s impression. Euvino went a similar way. His main instrument is the keyboard, but in fact, the only keyboard instrument until the 15th century had been the organ. And it’s most widely considered as a church instrument. So, like Euvino said in one of his interviews: “It required me to arrange using certain instruments we typically associate with the middle ages, even if historically they aren’t accurate”.
When Euvino found his medieval scale he worked within it trying to achieve different emotions for different events in the game: triumph, defeat, serenity, suspense. He collaborated with the Firefly’s programming team that coded his music to make it flow through the game with one song smoothly transitioning into another one. It was especially tricky during battles. There was a battle tune. When the player was about to win, a “detour” piece of music started playing to drive everything to the triumphant sound seamlessly. But then, if the player suddenly started losing, the code needed to reevaluate everything.
Stronghold and its successor, Stronghold: Crusader (2002), attracted many fans of real-time strategies around the world, making it a strong brand. It’s been sold in 7 million copies and Metactricis evaluated it for 81/100 points.