Are Your People Populous Enough?

Populous was produced by Bullfrog and published by Electronic Arts in 1989. Personally it was the time influential years for myself, but I think Populous can teach us something beyond nostalgia.

I believe it was Populous that brought the term god-sim into game-lingo. If I recall correctly it was originally intended that the two sides in the game would be God and Devil but this was changed into simply ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Players intention is to keep a good care of his people, which simply consists of leveling out the land and keeping it level and free of boulders. I think this idea is lovely on its own, but there’s one idea in the game that I think deserves more consideration.

It is the way you control your people. Your people have one designated leader that you can order to go from one place to another, but otherwise you control your people as a whole! This is the idea that e.g. Populous: The Beginning (P3 so-to -speak) lost and succumbed to the boring, unwieldy style of painting a group of people and telling them to go somewhere.

In the original Populous it didn’t matter how many people you had, the control method stayed the same and as effective. The player influenced his people with three buttons that either set them to settle new places, stay home and grow stronger or attack the enemy. Compare this with many so-called realtime-strategy games way of laborously giving orders to your troops one, or a group at a time.

I find this kind of indirect control very interesting and one which would work in any type of game.