Peter Molyneux helped define the “God Game” genre with Populous, developed by his Bullfrog game development house and published by EA in 1989 for Amiga and Atari-ST computers. In the game, players controlled the fates of a race of little people wandering around varying landscapes, smiting them with boiling volcanoes or spreading pestilence across the lands, or nurturing them with flat fertile soil on which to build homes and prosper and multiply. You were either up against a CPU-controlled rival race of beings, or, in an early instance of online play, against another human via dial-up connection.
While the game was a blast to play, after awhile things would inevitably devolve into a “land flattening” simulation, with players scrambling to smooth the landscape faster than his opponent in order to expand housing for his own minions, resulting in higher influence and more and stronger followers.
The repetitiveness of the game was not its only shortcoming. It had a very unwieldy user interface that took up 1/2 of the screen, squeezing the player’s actual view of the landscape for precious screen real-estate. Populous made true believers out of computer gamers and created Molyneux’s name in the industry, but that gigantic block of icons has been a personal cross he’s borne for decades. It eventually fuelled the “gesture-only” interface that powered the UI in his magnum opus god game Black&White, doing away with most on-screen icons but not entirely successfully.
Thus, it comes to pass that Molyneux and 22Cans, an indie development house he begat earlier this year, have launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a new project called Godus, that promises to redefine the god game genre as much as Populous established it 23 years ago. Of course, your excitement level about this venture depends on whether or not you still trust promises coming from Molyneux, who has developed somewhat of a sketchy reputation for promising big, paradigm-shifting game elements while hyping an effort during development, only to fan on the actual implementation of these elements and apologizing afterword when the game is released. Rinse and repeat.
Although, you have to admit that really only those of us who slavishly follow every little detail of the development of his games throw stones over the results. Those people who just walk into the game without knowledge of things promised are generally happy with it. I hope you’ll join me in keeping the faith that Godus and Molyneux aren’t leading us down the garden (of Eden) path once again.
You can check out the Godus Kickstarter project here.
Here’s our Populous gameplay video, for those not as old as Methuselah. For a history of the genesis of EA, consult your local Dot Eaters entry.