Populous: The Third Coming
The return of the god game
by Tom Chick
DEMO: Populous 3
FIRST LOOK: Populous: The Thir ...
FORUM: Populous: The Beginning
NEWS: Populous: The Beginning ...
NEWS: Populous Demo Spell Info ...
NEWS: Bullfrog Uunveils Populo ...
NEWS: Mindscape Confirms Plans ...
NEWS: Bullfrog announces Popul ...
NEWS: Populous: The Beginning
REVIEW: Populous: The Beginnin ...
TIPS: Populous: The Beginning

Part 1 - Another one?
Part 2 - Gimme that ol' time god game!
Part 3 - According to dogma
Part 4 - Thinking globally

uick, what's the earliest real-time strategy game you can think of? If you said Command & Conquer, either you're new to all this computer gaming stuff or your brain needs a little more RAM. If you said Warcraft, give yourself a C for effort. If you said Dune 2, close, but no cigar. The great grandfather of this overpopulated genre is the ten year old Populous, the game that put Bullfrog on the map while Magic Carpet was still just a twinkle in their eyes. Its sequel even featured multiplayer modem games back when 14.4s were cutting edge. Now that everybody and their uncle has thrown their two cents into the genre, Bullfrog is giving this seminal game another incarnation with Populous: The Third Coming.

Shot One Another one?
But isn't there a danger of this title getting lost in the onslaught of real-time strategy games? "The market is very competitive," said Brian Allen, a representative for Bullfrog, "but it doesn't scare us because [real-time strategy] is the hottest genre right now. Also, we found out that Populous has a solid following; a lot of people still remember Populous, which gives us a lot of confidence. Plus, Populous: The Third Coming has technology never seen before, which differentiates it from the competition. And the gameplay will differentiate us, as well as the concept of the god game."

The term "god game" has fallen by the wayside in favor of "real-time strategy," but it was Populous that inspired the original term. The player assumed the role of a god, viewing his people from an isometric overhead view. You moved around a little ankh to attract your people, leading them into battle or unsettled lands. There was the occasional miracle (generally a catastrophe visited on the enemy), but you were otherwise limited to patting down land so your people could build houses and reproduce. You were essentially a voyeur with a bulldozer. The newer games in the genre gave the player direct control over his units, abandoning the deistic model for a more hands-on approach. War replaced religion as the milieu: rather than a player's followers going forth and multiplying, they went forth and kicked some ass. The emphasis on combat sans the traditional turn-based gameplay gave rise to the phrase "real-time strategy," which was more accurate than "god game."

Shot Two Gimme that ol' time god game!
Populous: The Third Coming will restore some of those elements that have been abandoned. For starters, the resource model eschews the hackneyed money, gold, or ore, using instead mana, which comes from the people who worship you. These people will start out as wild men, scampering about drinking from pools and plucking berries out of trees. Onto the scene comes the shaman, the player's main follower, who barks out incantations that sound like something half way between baby talk and speaking in tongues. One of the commands available to her (yes, she's a woman) is Convert, which will attract nearby wild men and make them your followers; their little gray loincloths change color to reflect their allegiance. The more followers you amass, the faster you generate mana. One of the twists is that your shaman uses mana when she converts: you gotta spend mana to make mana. Another twist is that when followers are killed, their little ghosts ascend to heaven and they're quickly reincarnated as neutral wild men, ripe for conversion all over again. Death is apparently not a permanent condition in the world of Populous (when the shaman dies, she too is reincarnated, but only after the player loses a healthy chunk of his mana).

Shot Three The other use for mana is miracles. Natural disasters are the player's main offensive arsenal; this is another element worthy of the term "god game." Swamps, Earthquakes, Lightning, Tornadoes, Meteor Storms, and Volcanoes will all be fondly remembered by Populous veterans. The game-winning floods of the earlier versions (just build all your settlements two tiers above sea level, then use a flood to increase the water level by one tier and drown all your opponents) have been scaled back to Lakes, which can be crossed with Land Bridges. New miracles include the Angel of Death, the plague, and ghost armies. The bulldozing that was such a significant part of the earlier games is now left up to your followers, who will flatten land as needed when assigned to build.

Another godly aspect of the game is the emphasis on conversion and preaching. While killing your enemies' followers is an important part of the game, winning them over to your side where they'll contribute to your mana pool is far more important. Converted wild men can become preachers, who will cause all enemies to sit down and listen to their sermonizing. The members of a preacher's audience won't respond to their god's commands. Once they've heard the Word, there's a chance they'll convert. Preachers can only be attacked by other preachers, so they have a defensive and offensive function.

©1997 Strategy Plus, Inc.