The Settlers II 10th Anniversary Interview
|Release Date:||September 22, 2006 (UK)|
|Question by:||Craig Dudley (Mani)|
Hi Thomas, thank you for agreeing to take time out of you busy schedule and to answer some questions, could you please introduce yourself and your role at Funatics?
I'm Thomas Friedmann, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Funatics. For Settlers II 10th Anniversary I also took the role of the Project Manager.
The first three Settlers games are very well thought of by many people, me included, why did the second game in particular get chosen for a remake?
The Settlers series has been very successful, and we keep in close contact with many of our fans in the forums. While we were working on Setters - Heritage of Kings, we discussed various aspects of the series with fans and did polls. It turned out that Settlers II still had lots of fans, with many people saying it was just about their favorite game of all times. Regularly, a majority of Settlers fans would vote for Settlers II as the best game in the series. Also, there was the Tenth Anniversary of the release coming up ...
Another crucial point: It actually made sense to do a re-make since there is currently no other game that can deliver the kind of gameplay we're offering. If the Settlers gameplay had remained static over the years, as with many other game series, a remake would have made no sense at all: If, say, you have a game called "Game Series", and "Game Series 7" is basically just "Game Series 1" with fancier graphics and extra units, no one is going to want a remake of an earlier part of the series. It was different with Settlers, since the Settlers gameplay had very much evolved away from the construction/economy focus with Settlers III and Settlers IV.
So we got together and discussed what set Settlers II apart from other games. Some of the main elements would be the very clear focus on building up your economy and transport system, plus of course its cute cuddly look. We now had a task set out for us: Re-create the captivating gameplay and atmosphere of Settlers II and, obviously, also make it look really good on a contemporary PC.
How much time did you spend re-playing Settlers II before beginning this project?
You mean over the past ten years? A lot :) Of course, we all played Settlers II again for a few months while working out how we wanted to do the remake, and to think about possibilities for new elements.
Also, we actually still had all the source code for the game - so we could just take a peek at exactly how we'd set things up back then. So we could actually do both - we'd play Settlers II to see how certain aspects of the game played, and we were able to extract some pretty useful balancing and economy basics to use as a foundation for Settlers II: 10th Anniversary.
Did any of your team work at Blue Byte during the original games' development?
Thomas Häuser, our lead programmer, had been Project Lead and Lead Programmer on the original Settlers II, and had designed and created most of the gameplay elements. Our lead artist Thorsten Kneissl, back in 1996, had done the intro, some graphics, and testing. I myself was also on the Settlers II project back then, in a (project management) support role. So, erm, definitely yes - plus we've been close friends and working together for way more than a decade now.
Settlers III was easily my favourite game in the series, is there any possibility of this being remade too? Bear in mind that if you say no, I'll probably stamp my feet and cry.
Erm. How could I say no to that? But seriously, we'll have to see. Currently, we're working on some different ideas, but who knows what the future might hold?
Settlers games have always had the reputation of not really being serious strategy titles, though having played them all I know differently, why do you think this might be?
Maybe it's the Wusel Factor that gets to them? At least, that's what gaming mags here called it ... the German verb wuseln means something like busting around, scurrying, like a swarm of small creatures moving in a seemingly chaotic pattern, or also something inefficient and cute, like the movements of, say, a puppy dog trying to move fast. So what's the "Wusel factor" that we are so well-known for? It basically means is that it's highly enjoyable just watching your Settlers walk around and do their jobs, as they look really cute and everything they do is animated in detail. You can even set your camera to follow one settler and check your world out from his perspective. But despite its deceptively cute looks, Settlers II is quite a complex world simulation, and you'll need a viable long-term strategy to do well in competitive matches.
So if you're just looking for a couple of fun hours of a stress-free world simulation, like many of our fans do, you can just set up a Sandbox game - a Multiplayer match without victory conditions or enemies - and just tinker with your village. Set up a couple of buildings, watch the guys in yellow hardhats waiting for stone and wooden boards to arrive and then hammering away, and then see your settlers at work in your new building. There's a strong "Oh, look how cute" element here, and it's fascinating to zoom in and check out the animations and tweak and tune your settlement so it'll perform even better. You can even follow each individual Settler around and see the world through their eyes. The game is very easily accessible, and we've seen young children really enjoying themselves building up a village and watching, for example, their farmer, miller and baker working together to make bread. But despite the game being so cute and full of fun animations, you're not just watching some computerized doll house. You're building up a strong economy and an army, and especially in multiplayer mode this can get very competitive indeed. If you're a hardcore strategy player - and we have plenty of those among our fans - you'll concentrate on crushing the enemy as quickly and efficiently as possible, which is a complex and challenging task especially in Multiplayer mode. Yes, Settlers II is very much a serious strategy game at heart, but one that anyone can have fun with - it just has a very broad appeal really.
PC's are clearly much more capable than they were when Settlers II first came out, other than graphically, is the remake enhanced in any way, are larger maps possible for example?
Well, we had all the original code of Settlers II, but quite obviously you can't recycle ten-years-old code on a modern machine. So the engine for the new game was written from scratch, using the latest in 3D technology to make the game look really good, and all the art and sounds and stuff is also new. For the basic gameplay mechanics, we knew the fans wanted some minor changes, but definitely no major departures from the Settlers II gameplay. Overall, there's about a zillion small improvements, but we took great care to preserve the time-tested and captivating basic feel of its predecessor. For example, the feedback and control system is much better now, so everything is easier to access - e.g. you can click on a line in the statistics overview and you'll center the camera on the next building of that type.
Two of the main changes that Settlers II veterans will notice immediately: Controls for the military were improved. You can now upgrade military buildings to increase the number of troops you can station there, or clear military buildings so the soldiers will go somewhere else where you are more likely to need them. That may not sound too spectacular, but it vastly improves the control you have over your soldiers while preserving the indirect control system we have for the military.
Multiplayer games in Settlers 2 were limited to two players on the same computer; do we get any better multiplayer options this time around?
Multiplayer in the old Settlers II meant split-screen, with two mice on one computer. Settlers II: 10th Anniversary has a true Lan/Internet MP mode for up to six players, with custom-designed maps, different victory conditions to choose from, and a challenging AI.
Would you have an idea as to whether we are ever likely to see a sixth game in the Settlers series?
At the moment we're concentrating on the early design work on a completely different project, so for the moment, there's little that I can say apart from "wait and see".
Finally, how do you feel a remake of The Settlers II will stand up in today's crowded RTS market?
We're fairly optimistic, since there is no other RTS out there offering the same kind of gameplay and appeal as Settlers.
The appeal? We found that we have a widely varying fan base - there's youngsters who love our game, quite a lot of female Settlers fans, and many strategy fans (including some rather hardcore military-sim fanatics) who are really into competitive, efficiency-oriented battle. There's something in the game for all of them. One reason may be that too many cute games are just kid's games that are so simple that the kids get bored stiff after a couple of hours. Serious strategy games are often presented in a way that is seen as unsuitable for youngsters, and unattractive to casual (and some female) gamers. Settlers II: 10th Anniversary is flexible enough to offer both "fun for anyone" and "great fun for strategy players": You can either choose to just fiddle around with a cute little village for a while - that's fun and just about anyone can play it. Or you can do the hardcore strategist thing and crush the enemy with a steel avalanche of, erm, really cute soldiers, and if you do that the game gets highly complex and competitive, and really captivating in Multiplayer matches especially.
What sets our game apart gameplay-wise? You simply can't find this kind of economy system with indirect military control anywhere else. Most strategy games demand mid- to short-term strategies: Build units, win the battle, reorganize, repeat. Settlers II is completely different in that respect: You need to think more in the long term, because the game focuses so much on building up efficient production circuits and logistics. For example, to attack an enemy border post in Settlers II, you can't just click on a barracks, produce ten soldiers and send them to attack. You'll have to prepare for the attack much earlier: To create soldiers, you need weapons and beer. So you'll need a farm for corn, a well that gives you water, and a brewery for the beer. Next, you'll need coal and iron mines, a smelter's hut to make iron bars, and a smith to turn these into weapons. Your miners will only work if you feed them, so you'll need to produce bread: Farms for corn, a mill to turn corn into flour, another well for water, and a baker who uses the flour and water to make bread. All these buildings are constructed using wood and stone, so you'll need a quarry and a woodcutters' and a sawmill. Still sounds easy? All these goods - each bushel of grain, each bag of flour, etc - are carried along your roads by your carriers and donkeys, so you need to prevent bottlenecks to maintain efficiency. And you'll need to consider which military buildings to place where, and how many soldiers to station there, and how to produce enough gold to promote your soldiers. Especially in Multiplayer mode, you need to decide on a strategy and consider how to reach your goals soon as the match starts.
So overall, Settlers II: 10th Anniversary appeals to almost anyone: Casual gamers who are looking for a cute city-building game will love Settlers II: 10th Anniversary, just building up their village and checking out all the little details. For more serious gamers, the game has great appeal: It's very challenging and huge fun building up your settlement into an efficient economy that supports strong soldiers, and sending your army to crush your mates' puny villages. So overall, we're very optimistic that we'll not only reach the audience we originally aimed for - people who loved and still love Settlers II - but also reach many players who haven't played Settlers before, but want to give the unique economy-focused Settlers II gameplay a try.
My thanks to Thomas for spending the time to give us some excellent answers. And, as a final note, if you have never tried an early Settlers game, you really should, I very much doubt that you will regret it.