Monday, August 11, 2008

Gaming Memories: Populous

Populous released in 1990, was the first video game I bought for my Sega Genesis console which I bought with my first month's salary at my first job.

Back in those days, there wasn't any internet (or at least it was a rarity for one to access to it in my part of the world). And gaming mags were costly imports wrapped up tightly in plastic in bookstores where the sales people watch kids like hawks.

I guess I selected the game because it seemed rather interesting to play a god. I didn't know exactly what it was about other than what was said at the back of the box. It was a god game with an interesting looking cover. Castles on fire, the ground breaking up, little people helplessly walking upon the dangerous terrain.

The game starts you off with a Settler. The moment he finds flat land, he builds a hut. (You are the one doing the land flattening). It was kinda fun to neaten up the place: flattening hills, raising land to cover water, making rocks disappear by sinking them right into water. Soon the settler's hut becomes a house, with enough land the house becomes a rocky house, then a fort, and to end, a large castle. If you reduce the castle by removing a piece of land nearby, another settler pops out and repeats the process. The representations were minimal but effective.

Your AI opponent is doing the same thing with his settlers on the other side of the map. The objective of the game is populate the world with your own and utterly destroy the other population. (A goal that might be shocking in its implications to some today if you think about it. But of course, people didn't think much about videogames then as they do today.)

You are given a repertoire of godly powers, which are powered by manna earned from having a population of "worshippers". Your population worships you, thus supplying you with "manna". The powers include being able to set off natural disasters like earthquake, volcano and floods. Earthquake was just disruptive at best, but several activations of "Volcano" can really destroy the land your enemy's people walk on. Flood can wipe out anything on ground level.

What you do to others, the AI controlled enemy deity can also do to you. So you work at quickly flattening the land, so your worshipers can make settlements and grow in numbers. You can assign a leader who can lead a crusade or make people follow him to wherever you want. You can control your people's stance.

The final battle aptly called "Armageddon" causes all the houses and castles to vanish and causes all the people to gather around their leaders, and then two peoples will march towards each other and fight to the death. It was always about population. So, if you had overwhelming numbers, you will always win.

Although the strategy was pretty much the same for every map, it was a lot of fun to play back then.

Populous had a few sequels later on which didn't seem to do very well. But the game probably inspired such games as Settlers and Age of Empires. Civilization plays close to Populous at the start, but is a much more sophisticated game minus the god-powers. Such games in this genre have become more complex and now requires players to employ various strategies and tactics to win.

Populous page at MobyGames


MC said...

I remember having Populous for the SNES... when they added a few new kinds of worlds to lord over (like the Cake Worlds, Napoleonic France) and made it almost 1000 levels (I swear, it is true).

I really loved that game... and it was good value for the money invested on my part.

GatheringDust said...

Candies and cake from what I see at the Mobygames archive. Something else there looks like Japan land with the cat.

The sega version had about 500 maps and it was indeed one of the best value games of that time.

- Ravenblack

ps: glad to see you.