More ideas for innovation

I’ve spoken before about the work of Peter Molyneux, of which that list includes Populous.

Now, it occurred to me that the general concept of Populous could also use a little revisiting.


I’m aware that a number of the deity idioms are covered in Black & White, but I found myself less enthusiastic about the micromanagement aspects that were introduced.

My take on it is that if you’re a deity, you don’t really need to mess about, or at least should have the option.

If you’re powerful enough to send fire and lightning, you don’t really need to raise and lower land just to earn favour. Or, failing that, you could demonstrate your power and majesty and lord it over your subjects.

So that’d be the first thing I’d do: scale back the need for land levelling, or at least remove the micromanagerial aspect from it, that you don’t need to manage every vertex of land.

The second thing I’d do is build it for an iPad or similarly sized tablet.

Not just because I happen to own one, but because there’s a very visceral appeal. You’re supposed to be a deity, you don’t view the world through a tidy interface, you simply view the world from on high, and presumably issue commands with a wave or gesture.

The thing is, it’s straightforward fodder for touchscreen devices: swipe to move around the world, pinch to zoom could easily cover land levelling. Then everything is is pure gestures, a single finger down the screen for a lightning bolt. Two finger drag for fire and so on.

That is, after all, the bit people remember from Populous: sending fire and earthquakes and general divine intervention, not messing about raising and lowering land to appease people.

I’ve seen a Populous type game done on iPad, but sadly the author felt that encouraging people to tap to level land, buy again it has the micromanagement aspect, one tap for each point of land. It would be playable with a mouse but not on a touch surface with such little effect per tap.

The idea isn’t bad but the implementation lets it down a touch.

I don’t know if I’ll find the time to implement this, but I certainly would like to play it.

I do know that I’d take more cues in gameplay from the original Populous rather than its sequel, mostly because while the extra powers on offer do increase the game’s longevity, they do actually complicate the game without really making a great deal of difference, especially in a gesture based setup.

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6 Responses to More ideas for innovation

  1. Adonis says:

    Maybe I played the ‘wrong’ way, but flattening is all I remember from the game.

    More people =more ‘mana’ – so that was most of what I was doing. I’d set off a Titan or two in the most effective area/direction, but mostly I was a home-deity. Mostly because the computer opponents were so busy being phlegmwads and trying to make my area unlivable – any time directly attacking usually meant coming back to a lone settlement on a mountain.

    A very quick way to tone down the micromanagement, but keep the mechanic in the game would be to set a threshold for ‘home-maintenance’. The computer does it for you, but leaves as much energy as you set left. Perhaps even dividing the pool into two separate bars, that require a cooldown before re-adjusting.

  2. Arantor says:

    No, you played it very much the right way, because number of people, particularly number of people in big houses, is pretty much directly your source of power in Populous (especially in the first one)

    That’s what I thought should be changed: you spend a whole lot of time trying to please your sheep-like followers into giving you energy instead of really using your divine powers.

    I can see the logic of a home-maintenance type deal, but there is a part of me that thinks the entire mechanic would be better served by the game not *requiring* it but making it optional.

    I’m thinking that as the deity, you’d have the choice of both carrot and stick, that you could use the carrot to make their land more fertile, or flatten it out better (but more fertile, really) – or use the stick to frighten them into following you. I’d also possibly consider having some kind of interaction model where they try to worship you in some fashion and you have the option of responding to it directly (might make an interesting challenge, that if you don’t respond quickly enough, they lose faith in you)

  3. Adonis says:

    I think the idea of being a God, but having limited power is kind of odd. For game balance reasons it works, but it’s often painful trying to maintain an energy pool.

    One could have it recharge over time, independent of other factors, but that’s just putting a time cap on things. It’s also undermining the difficulty of having to do anything else for your power. At which point it basically becomes a slightly faster Facebook game.

    You could have it recharge based on how effectively you use the power, but that really punishes experimentation (and tormenting specific individuals at the exclusion of others)

    If it’s based on variety of power use, that would strongly encourage the player to cycle through everything, regardless of effect or desire.

  4. Arantor says:

    I think the idea of being a God, but having limited power is kind of odd. For game balance reasons it works, but it’s often painful trying to maintain an energy pool.

    That’s exactly it: it’s pure game balance, because it’s certainly not for aesthetic or immersive reasons.

    One could have it recharge over time, independent of other factors, but that’s just putting a time cap on things.

    Time based doesn’t really work. The trick is really to find something that caps your power without reducing it to a click-fest (which is really not a lot better than a Facebook game either)

    You could have it recharge based on how effectively you use the power, but that really punishes experimentation (and tormenting specific individuals at the exclusion of others)

    That’s really what I was thinking about, actually, it being based on your effective use of power, with the purpose to either engender good feelings (fertilising crops) or fear (smiting).

    I don’t think it has to punish experimentation, rather that bad combinations just shouldn’t be rewarded, which then gets you back to the time-based regen, but make it slow enough that it’s not useful on its own, and make sure that you’re never left without enough power to do *something*. At times in Populous, I found myself in the midst of expansion and without even enough power to raise and lower land for a short while.

    If it’s based on variety of power use, that would strongly encourage the player to cycle through everything, regardless of effect or desire.

    Not on pure power use. Pure power use doesn’t engender experimentation to find the right combinations.

    For example, the first deity in Populous II is one Epimetheus. The blurb about him tells you that he’s not great with the elements. Now, if you just defeat him by bringing out a Perseus to march in and torch his cities (or, typically invoking Armageddon), you’ll win but you won’t be rewarded with much in the way of experience.

    But, if you creatively make use of your elemental powers (fire, especially lightning), you can really cream off the experience by comparison, so there’s some force at work involving that idea, but I’d love to see it expanded.

    I know you’ve also thought about “non-You” temples, i.e. where the populace builds temples to other gods, and if the closer they are, the more pronounced their effect. And if people are happy, they won’t build temples to other gods (and if you smash them down, they’ll remain in fear of you)

    I think that could be an interesting mechanic, but provided that it’s not taken to extremes; I imagine it could easily turn into bouts of Whack-A-Mole type playing, which isn’t really what a deity would expect to do. However, selective smiting of what amount to enemy buildings could certainly do wonders for the faith of your followers – depending on what sort of deity you want to be.

  5. Adonis says:

    Ideally, it would take a while (and need a good reason) for any temple to be made and be upgraded.

    There’d be a rather obvious leadup as well. People gathering in other courtyards with thought bubbles with other Gods in them, declined attendance at yours (etc)…

  6. Arantor says:

    *nods* I think that would be pretty interesting, actually, especially if while they were gathered, and thinking about other gods, you could demonstrate them with a display of mighty power. It might not be as good as fawning over them but it might break up the gameplay a bit, instead of it being a land levelling simulator.

    The real trick is balance, preventing it being a game of watching their emotions and just ‘encouraging’ them to be favourable to you, and using all that godlike power.

    Also, another idea that would break it up: the different pantheons. You could establish some kind of nexus where the pantheons all sit aside each other, and that you could take on Zeus and the Greek gods one time, and Odin and the Norse gods another time. It wouldn’t just fluff and backgrounds, it’d change the landscapes you get, and even the choice of powers you get to play with.

    While it occurs to me, were I to build off a hybrid of Pop/Pop II, I’d remove Pop II’s walls power, because they’re totally abusable. Notionally, they’re designed to be built around your cities to protect them from the heroes – but the engine doesn’t stop you building them around your enemies, including their heroes, which would summarily prevent them from attacking you.

    That’s something to factor in, ways that powers have power not originally envisaged, or intended.

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