Populous

aka: Populous Gaiden
Moby ID: 613
DOS Specs
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Description official descriptions

You play a god, gaming against other gods in a celestial game of conquest. To win, you must help your chosen people take over the world and wipe out the vermin who worship that other god.

Each god starts out with a single human, dumped into the middle of the wilderness. Sometimes there is inhabitable land in sight, sometimes not. To get a chance to win, you must change the landscape, creating flat land for your followers to build on. The more followers you have, the more powerful you will be, so take care of them. Build as fast as you can, because the other god is doing the same.

When you have enough followers, you can make the leader of your people into a hero. He will then go around the land you have built, literally taking strength from the people into himself, and working his way toward the enemy. When he gets there, he will engage in holy warfare upon your enemy's people. He will burn; he will kill. And he won't stop until they're all dead... or he is.

But you don't have to let your people have all the fun; the gods have other tools as well. You can drown your enemies one at a time with your land-lowering powers, submerge their towns in swamps, or raise a volcano in the middle of their best farmland. Even better, you can flood the land and drain all the people who didn't build on high ground.

And when you win, you'll have 500 more worlds to conquer. A god's play is just never done.

Spellings

  • ポピュラス - Japanese spelling
  • ポピュラス外伝 - Japanese Game Boy spelling

Groups +

Screenshots

Promos

Credits (DOS version)

20 People

Original Concept
Game Design
Programming
Game Graphics
Game Music and Sound
Title Music
Producer
Associate Producer
Technical Director
Product Manager
Undetermined
Betatesting
Package Design
Hand Illustration
Lightning
Cover Art
Earth Photo: Original Copyright 1988 by
  • Rand McNally & Co.

Reviews

Critics

Average score: 86% (based on 48 ratings)

Players

Average score: 3.6 out of 5 (based on 175 ratings with 1 reviews)

The Molyneaux god-complex begins here, for better and for worse.

The Good
The Molyneaux god-complex begins here, for the better.

The game concept is a very intriguing one: prove yourself the deity of deities by assuming godly powers and aiding the Good little computer people in their life-or-death struggle with the Evil little computer people. You do this across a large number of worlds with striking, and strikingly different-looking, terrain types: grassy, snowy, desert, lava, etc. In addition to raising and lowering the level of the terrain, you have the power to cause floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes. You can dub some of your "walkers" (the name for your constantly wandering little computer people) knights who will equip shield and sword and go forth and wreak much havoc against the enemy, killing them and burning their homes and castles. It can all be quite a lot of fun to watch…but only sort of, and only for a while (more on this later).

Populous is a technically well-executed, polished piece of software. For its day, the graphics and music/sound are quite nice. Actually, the background music gets annoying fast, but at least it is easily turned off.



The Bad
The Molyneaux god-complex begins here, for the worse.

Populous laid the groundwork for a whole series of Molyneaux games released by Bullfrog and Lionhead, and undoubtedly influenced a lot of the god sims and real-time strategy games that followed it. This is really not such a good thing. Peter Molyneaux has himself often been lauded by the fawning gaming press as a "Game Design God." Personally, I'm not sure exactly how he ever earned such respect. From Populous to Black & White, it seems like none of his games has ever lived up to the hype.

There are many annoying things about Populous that make it a failure. I'll list just a few for now. First, the icon-based interface is obscure and difficult to get a hang of. Why they couldn't have included a few actual words in the game (in ANY language!) is beyond me, but it sure would have helped me out a lot. Now, once you get past the interface, you notice that the close-up view of the world you are currently playing is always restricted to a very small area. I suspect this was necessary, given technical limitations at the time, in order to display the large and colorful sprites that undoubtedly sold many copies of this game. Still, it's another annoyance. It also rudely reminds me that I am a mere mortal playing a game, and not, in fact, an omniscient deity.

But of course, how long can you feel like a deity if the awesome power you will use the most during the game is [drumroll]…raising and lowering land? Yes! That's right! You too can become an all-conquering, omnipotent deity through…um, better landscaping??? It's not only pitifully un-godlike work, but also very repetitive after just a short amount of time. Yet you will spend most of your time doing it, in every single level you play in the game. It isn't even very user-friendly, as at least some of the terrain types make it difficult (for me, anyway) to tell WHAT the level of the terrain is in a given area! Very frustrating stuff, indeed.

If there is all of this repetition, you must be wondering: At least it's wonderful that this game is in real-time, and you can watch the cool action unfold, right? Well, no, not really. You see, Populous suffers from the same problem that seemingly every real-time strategy title that followed it has. Because events are constantly unfolding in real time, prompting you to constantly act and react, you can never afford to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of it all. Granted, your walkers don't do much worth paying attention to most of the time (but that's just another shortcoming of the game!), but sometimes they do, like when you knight them and send them out to kill and burn the enemy. Do you get to watch? Well, no, not if you want to win the game. You'll just have to trust that those knights are out there doing their job while you tend to the important "godly" task of raising and lowering land so your little computer people can breed more strong, healthy walkers, who can later be knighted and then ignored by you while you…well, you get the idea.

Again, this problem isn't unique to Populous. It's a feature in countless real-time strategy games. Still, I've always considered this to be a fatal flaw with games of this genre. It's my game, and I paid hard-earned, legal tender money for it, so shouldn't I get to watch and take part in the action during the most crucial parts of the game? Give credit to Will Wright (SimCity) and Sid Meier (Civilization) for coming up with different yet equally effective solutions to the real-time god-game dilemma. (SimCity lets you act/react while the game is paused, so you can then afford to sit back and watch things unfold for a while in real-time; Civilization abandons real-time completely for a turn-based format.)

To recap: once you get over the hump of figuring out and memorizing what all the little icons mean, you find out that the actual gameplay is pretty shallow and that you will mainly do the same boring things over and over. The few cool things going on are missed by you because the "realism" loved by Molyneaux and his minions requires that every game be real-time. Some would call this fun. I call it a rip-off.



The Bottom Line
If you were thrilled with, and then disappointed by Black & White, well, just know that it was déjà vu all over again for Populous players.

DOS · by PCGamer77 (3158) · 2005

Trivia

1001 Video Games

Populous appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.

Cross-platform multiplayer

One of the few games produced during the first 15 years of the PC gaming industry that allowed modem or serial-cable gameplay across different platforms (ie the PC version could play a game over a modem with the Amiga version).

Development

  • During the design phase, LEGO was used to build landscapes so that the game could be visualized before it was programmed.
  • This was one of the few games of it's time to be written mostly in C. Most games of the time on the Atari ST and Amiga were written in 100% machine-code.
  • At one stage during development, a nasty hard-drive crash deleted most of the game. Fortunately, this did not stop the developers from starting anew. In fact, this was a blessing in disguise, as the new implementation was much faster than the old implementation.
  • It was only decided that Populous would be about gods when somebody from a magazine came over, looked at it and said "so it's a bit like being a god". Before that, there was no plot to explain what was going on, and after that comment, the whole plot had a direction.

Unreleased versions

64'er magazine released some mysterious shots of an apparent Commodore 64 conversion in 1991, and Paul Hughes was also asked to produce an official C64 version, but neither of these were ultimately finished.

Simon Cooke attempted to convert the game to the SAM Coupé system in 1991, but this also went unreleased.

Awards

  • Amiga Power
    • May 1991 (Issue #00) - #6 in the "All Time Top 100 Amiga Games"
  • Computer Gaming World
    • September 1990 (Issue #74) - Strategy Game of the Year
    • November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) - #30 in the “150 Best Games of All Time” list
  • EMAP
    • Golden Joystick Rewards 1990: Winner Most Original Game.
  • GameStar (Germany)
    • Issue 12/1999 - #23 in the "100 Most Important PC Games of the Nineties" ranking
  • Power Play
    • Issue 01/1990 - Best Computer Gaming in 1989
    • Issue 01/1990 - Best Game Idea in 1989
    • Issue 01/1990 - Best Strategy Game in 1989
  • ST Format
    • January 1990 (Issue #06) - Included in the list 50 Games of the Year
    • May 1990 (Issue #10) - Included in the list "ST Format's 30 Kick-Ass Classics"
    • August 1991 (Issue #8) – #14 Top Atari ST Classic Games (Editorial staff vote)

Information also contributed by ElectricMonk and PCGamer77

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Identifiers +

  • MobyGames ID: 613
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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Terok Nor.

SNES, Genesis added by PCGamer77. SEGA Master System added by Tibes80. TurboGrafx-16 added by Dietmar Uschkoreit. Macintosh added by Parf. Game Boy added by DillyDylan. Windows added by MAT. Atari ST added by Belboz. Amiga added by Rantanplan.

Additional contributors: Trixter, Martin Smith, j.raido 【雷堂嬢太朗】, Patrick Bregger, Rik Hideto, Jo ST, FatherJack.

Game added December 23, 1999. Last modified February 12, 2024.