Populous (video game)

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Populous cover.jpg
European cover art by David John Rowe [1]
Developer(s) Bullfrog Productions
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Acclaim Entertainment
Designer(s) Peter Molyneux
Glenn Corpes
Kevin Donkin
Les Edgar
Composer(s) David Hanlon
Rob Hubbard
Series Populous   Blue pencil.svg
Release5 June 1989
Genre(s) God game
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Populous is a video game developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts, released originally for the Amiga in 1989, and is regarded by many as the first god game. [2] [3] With over four million copies sold, Populous is one of the best-selling PC games of all time.

Video game electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device such as a TV screen or computer monitor

A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a two- or three-dimensional video display device such as a TV screen, virtual reality headset or computer monitor. Since the 1980s, video games have become an increasingly important part of the entertainment industry, and whether they are also a form of art is a matter of dispute.

Bullfrog Productions

Bullfrog Productions Limited was a British video game developer based in Guildford, England. Founded in 1987 by Peter Molyneux and Les Edgar, the company gained recognition in 1989 for their third release, Populous, and is also well known for titles such as Theme Park, Magic Carpet, Syndicate, and Dungeon Keeper. Bullfrog's name was derived from an ornament in the offices of Edgar's and Molyneux's other enterprise, Taurus Impact Systems, Bullfrog's precursor where Molyneux and Edgar were developing business software. Bullfrog Productions was founded as a separate entity after Commodore mistook Taurus for a similarly named company.

Electronic Arts American interactive entertainment company

Electronic Arts Inc. (EA) is an American video game company headquartered in Redwood City, California. It is the second-largest gaming company in the Americas and Europe by revenue and market capitalization after Activision Blizzard and ahead of Take-Two Interactive and Ubisoft as of March 2018.


The player assumes the role of a deity, who must lead followers through direction, manipulation, and divine intervention, with the goal of eliminating the followers led by the opposite deity. Played from an isometric perspective, the game consists of more than 500 levels, with each level being a piece of land which contains the player's followers and the enemy's followers. The player is tasked with defeating the enemy followers and increasing their own followers' population using a series of divine powers before moving on to the next level. The game was designed by Peter Molyneux, and Bullfrog developed a gameplay prototype via a board game they invented using Lego.

Isometric video game graphics are graphics employed in video games and pixel art where the viewpoint is angled to reveal facets of the environment that would not be visible from a top-down perspective or side view, thereby producing a three-dimensional effect. Despite the name, isometric computer graphics are not necessarily truly isometric—i.e., the x, y, and z axes are not necessarily oriented 120° to each other. Instead, a variety of angles are used; some form of parallel projection, such as dimetric projection with a 2:1 pixel ratio, is the most common. The terms "3/4 perspective", "2.5D", and "pseudo-3D" are also sometimes used, although these terms can possess slightly different meanings in other contexts.

Peter Molyneux English video game designer and game programmer

Peter Douglas Molyneux is an English video game designer and programmer. He created the god games Populous, Dungeon Keeper, and Black & White, as well as Theme Park, the Fable series, Curiosity – What's Inside the Cube?, and Godus. He currently works at 22Cans as the founder.

Lego Construction toy

Lego is a line of plastic construction toys that are manufactured by The Lego Group, a privately held company based in Billund, Denmark. The company's flagship product, Lego, consists of colourful interlocking plastic bricks accompanying an array of gears, figurines called minifigures, and various other parts. Lego pieces can be assembled and connected in many ways to construct objects, including vehicles, buildings, and working robots. Anything constructed can be taken apart again, and the pieces reused to make new things.

The game received critical acclaim upon release, with critics praising the game's graphics, design, sounds and replay value. It was nominated for multiple year-end accolades, including Game of the Year from several gaming publications. The game was ported to many other computer systems and was later supported with multiple expansion packs. It is the first game in the Populous series, preceding Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods and Populous: The Beginning .

Populous is a series of video games developed by Bullfrog Productions and published by Electronic Arts. The first game in the series, Populous, was released in 1989. At the time, it was hailed as revolutionary, and it coined the term "god game".

<i>Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods</i> computer game

Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods is a 1991 strategy video game in the Populous series for the Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS-based computers, developed by Bullfrog Productions. Populous II was remade and remastered for the Nintendo DS in 2008. Populous II is a direct sequel to Bullfrog's earlier game Populous and is one of the company's most notable games.

<i>Populous: The Beginning</i> video game

Populous: The Beginning is a real-time strategy video game and is the third entry in the Populous video game series, developed by Bullfrog Productions. The game was released in 1998 on Microsoft Windows, and in 1999 for the PlayStation. Unlike earlier games in the series, which cast the player in the role of a god influencing loyal followers, The Beginning took a radical departure and placed the player in the role of a shaman, who directly leads her tribe against opponents. Throughout the twenty-five missions of the campaign, the player leads their tribe across a solar system, dominating enemy tribes and tapping new sources of magic, with the ultimate goal of the shaman attaining godhood herself.


Screenshot of the Amiga version Amiga Populous.png
Screenshot of the Amiga version

The main action window in Populous is viewed from an isometric perspective, and it is set in a "tabletop" on which are set the command icons, the world map (depicted as an open book) and a slider bar that measures the level of the player's divine power or "mana".

Isometric projection method for the visual representation of three-dimensional objects in two dimensions

Isometric projection is a method for visually representing three-dimensional objects in two dimensions in technical and engineering drawings. It is an axonometric projection in which the three coordinate axes appear equally foreshortened and the angle between any two of them is 120 degrees.

A slider or track bar is a graphical control element with which a user may set a value by moving an indicator, usually in a horizontal fashion. In some cases user may also click on a point on the slider to change the setting. It is different from a scrollbar in that it is not continuous but used to adjust a value without changing the format of the display or the other information on the screen.

The game consists of 500 levels, and each level represents an area of land on which live the player's followers and the enemy followers. In order to progress to the next level the player must increase the number of their followers such that they can wipe out the enemy followers. This is done by using a series of divine powers. There are a number of different landscapes the world (depicted on the page in the book) can be, such as desert, rock and lava, snow and ice, etc. and the type of landscape is not merely aesthetic: it affects the development of the player's and enemy's followers.

The most basic power is raising and lowering land. This is primarily done in order to provide flat land for the player's followers to build on (though it is also possible to remove land from around the enemy's followers). As the player's followers build more houses they create more followers, and this increases the player's mana level.

Increasing the mana level unlocks additional divine powers that allow the player to interact further with the landscape and the population. The powers include the ability to cause earthquakes and floods, create swamps and volcanoes, and turn ordinary followers into more powerful knights. [4]

Earthquake Shaking of the surface of the earth caused by a sudden release of energy in the crust

An earthquake is the shaking of the surface of the Earth, resulting from the sudden release of energy in the Earth's lithosphere that creates seismic waves. Earthquakes can range in size from those that are so weak that they cannot be felt to those violent enough to toss people around and destroy whole cities. The seismicity, or seismic activity, of an area is the frequency, type and size of earthquakes experienced over a period of time. The word tremor is also used for non-earthquake seismic rumbling.

Flood Overflow of water that submerges land that is not normally submerged

A flood is an overflow of water that submerges land that is usually dry. In the sense of "flowing water", the word may also be applied to the inflow of the tide. Floods are an area of study of the discipline hydrology and are of significant concern in agriculture, civil engineering and public health.

Swamp A forested wetland

A swamp is a wetland that is forested. Many swamps occur along large rivers where they are critically dependent upon natural water level fluctuations. Other swamps occur on the shores of large lakes. Some swamps have hammocks, or dry-land protrusions, covered by aquatic vegetation, or vegetation that tolerates periodic inundation or soil saturation. The two main types of swamp are "true" or swamp forests and "transitional" or shrub swamps. In the boreal regions of Canada, the word swamp is colloquially used for what is more correctly termed a bog, fen, or muskeg. The water of a swamp may be fresh water, brackish water or seawater. Some of the world's largest swamps are found along major rivers such as the Amazon, the Mississippi, and the Congo.


In this game the player adopts the role of a deity and assumes the responsibility of shepherding people by direction, manipulation, and divine intervention. The player has the ability to shape the landscape and grow their civilisation – and their divine power – with the overall aim of having their followers conquer an enemy force, which is led by an opposing deity. [4]


Peter Molyneux led development, inspired by Bullfrog's artist Glenn Corpes having drawn isometric blocks after playing David Braben's Virus. [5] [6]

Initially Molyneux developed an isometric landscape, then populated it with little people that he called "peeps", but there was no game; all that happened was that the peeps wandered around the landscape until they reached a barrier such as water. He developed the raise/lower terrain gameplay mechanic simply as a way of helping the peeps to move around. Then, as a way of reducing the number of peeps on the screen, he decided that if a peep encountered a piece of blank, flat land, it would build a house, and that a larger area of land would enable a peep to build a larger house. Thus the core mechanics – god-like intervention and the desire for peeps to expand – were created. [5] [6]

The endgame – of creating a final battle to force the two sides to enter a final conflict – developed as a result of the developmental games going on for hours and having no firm end. [5] [6]

Bullfrog attempted to prototype the gameplay via a board game they invented using Lego, and Molyneux admits that whilst it didn't help the developers to balance the game at all, it provided a useful media angle to help publicise the game. [5] [7]

During the test phase the testers requested a cheat code to skip the end of the game, as there was insufficient time to play through all 500 levels, and it was only at this point that Bullfrog realised that they had not included any kind of ending to the game. The team quickly repurposed an interstitial page from between levels and used it as the final screen. [5]

After demoing the game to over a dozen publishers, Bullfrog eventually gained the interest of Electronic Arts, who had a gap in their spring release schedule and was willing to take a chance on the game. Bullfrog accepted their offer, although Molyneux later described the contract as "pretty atrocious:" 10% royalties on units sold, rising to 12% after one million units sold, with only a small up-front payment. [5]

Expansion packs

Bullfrog produced Populous World Editor, which gave users the ability to modify the appearance of characters, cities, and terrain. [8] An expansion pack called Populous: The Promised Lands added five new types of landscape (the geometric Silly Land, Wild West, Lego style Block Land, Revolution Française, and computer themed Bit Plains). In addition, another expansion disk called Populous: The Final Frontier added a single new landscape-type and was released as a cover disk for The One .


Review scores
CVG 96% [9]
Famitsu 31 / 40 (SNES) [10]
MegaTech 91% [11]
Raze 89% [12]
Zero 92% [13]
ST/Amiga Format 92% [14]
Your Amiga 93% [15]

Populous was released in March 1989 to almost universal critical acclaim. The game received a 5 out of 5 stars in 1989 in Dragon #150 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. [16] Biff Kritzen of Computer Gaming World gave the game a positive review, noting, "as heavy-handed as the premise sounds, it really is a rather light-hearted game." The simple design and layout were praised, as were the game's colourful graphics. [7] In a 1993 survey of pre 20th-century strategy games the magazine gave the game three stars out of five, calling it a "quasi-arcade game, but with sustained play value". [17] MegaTech magazine said the game had "super graphics and 500 levels. Populous is both highly original and amazingly addictive, with a constant challenge on offer".[ citation needed ]

Compute! named the game to its list of "nine great games for 1989", stating that with "great graphics, a simple-to-learn interface, and almost unlimited variety, Populous is a must buy for 1989". [18] Peter Molyneux estimated that the game accounted for nearly a third of all the revenue of Electronic Arts in that year. [5]

Orson Scott Card in Compute! criticized the game's user interface, but praised the graphics and the ability to "create your own worlds ... you control the world of the game, instead of the other way around". [19] STart in 1990 gave "kudos especially to Peter Molyneux, the creative force behind Populous". The magazine called the Atari ST version "a fascinating, fun and challenging game. It's unlike any other computer game I've ever seen, ever. Don't miss it, unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool arcade gamer who has no time for strategy". [20] Entertainment Weekly picked the game as the #16 greatest game available in 1991, saying: "Talk about big-time role-playing. Most video games posit you as a mere sword-wielding, perilously mortal human; in Populous you're a deity. Slow-paced, intricate, and difficult to learn: You literally have to create entire worlds while all the time battling those pesky forces of evil. " [21]

The game was released in the same month that The Satanic Verses controversy gained publicity in the United States following the publication of The Satanic Verses in the United States. Shortly after release, Bullfrog was contacted by the Daily Mail and was warned that the "good vs evil" nature of the game could lead to them receiving similar fatwā, although this did not materialize. [5]

By October 1997, global sales of Populous had surpassed 3 million units, a commercial performance that PC Gamer US described as "an enormous hit". [22] In total, Populous has sold over four million copies, [23] making it one of the best-selling PC games of all time.


In 1990 Computer Gaming World named Populous as Strategy Game of the Year. [24] In 1996, the magazine named it the 30th best game ever, with the editors calling it "the father of real-time strategy games". [25] In 1991 it won the Origins Award for Best Military or Strategy Computer Game of 1990 [26] 1990 Computer Game of the Year in American video game magazine Video Games & Computer Entertainment ,[ citation needed ] and voted the sixth best game of all time in Amiga Power . [27] In 1992 Mega placed the game at #25 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time. [28] In 1994, PC Gamer US named Populous as the third best computer game ever. The editors hailed it as "unbelievably addictive fun, and one of the most appealing and playable strategy games of all time." [29]

Sequels and spin-offs

In 1990 Bullfrog used the Populous engine to develop Powermonger , a strategic combat-oriented game with similar mechanics to Populous, but with a 3-dimensional graphical interface. In 1991 they developed and released a true sequel, Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods , and in 1998 a further direct sequel, Populous: The Beginning .

Populous was also released on the SNES gaming console, developed by Imagineer as one of the original titles for the console in Japan, [6] and features the addition of a race based on the Three Little Pigs.

Populous DS , a new version of the game (published by Xseed Games in America and Rising Star Games in Europe), was developed by Genki for the Nintendo DS and released November 11, 2008. [30] The game allows the user to shape the in-game landscape using the DS's stylus. It also features a multiplayer mode allowing four players to play over a wireless connection. [31]

Populous has been re-released through Good Old Games and on Origin through the Humble Origin Bundle sale. It runs under DOSBox.

The browser-based game Reprisal was created in 2012 by Electrolyte and Last17 as a homage to Populous. [32] [33]

Godus (formerly Project GODUS) was revealed as a URL on the face of Curiosity – What's Inside the Cube?, and "is aimed to reimagine" Populous. [34]

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