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Have You Played... Populous?

Flattened Earth society

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

Wikipedia tells me I was eight years old when Populous [GOG page] came out and it was my birthday or Christmas present around that time. I’d have been nine at most when I first played it so at least some of the blame for my current predicament must lie at its feet.

Populous is a god game. Some would argue it’s the first god game and it was certainly the first that I played. You can unleash mighty powers on the landscape to aid your people, or to vanquish their enemies, but Populous is not concerned with theological dispute or the nature of the divine.

The way I played it, as a kid, made me look like a tiny version of Richard Dreyfuss sculpting his potatoes in Close Encounters. What Populous taught me very quickly is that gods are essentially responsible for laying the groundwork so that people can breed and build. The isometric landscape is full of peaks and valleys, all pleasingly angular, and you click on the corners of a tile and cause it to rise or fall. Flatten out enough land and people build there.

Flatten even more of the surrounding land and their houses became more impressive.

It’s the simplest input for immediately rewarding output, and at a young age, I thought I was seeing civilizations rise as I clicked rather than simply accruing enough points to smash the other tribes.

Whatever its complexities, or lack thereof, Populous taught me to love that feedback loop. I smooth and flatten and prod and stroke, and the screen and its world become more complex, more colourful and more impressive.

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Adam Smith

former Deputy Editor

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