Populous:the computer game

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In 1989, the computer games company Bullfrog released populous, a game where you literally played god. As a deity, the object was to defeat other gods, by leading your followings to victory against your enemy's through the use of divine powers, and deciding what strategies they should employ.

The aim of the game

Populous is made up of a number of levels, each with a different opponent, and a different landscape to fight over. You start each level with several followers and must help them grow in numbers, and kill off all the followers of the enemy deity, either by getting your followers to fight them, or using your powers to kill them off.

The main game has 989 levels of increasing difficulty, that you must tackle in order. However, if you do particular well on one level, you can skip levels, going from level 1 to 5, say.

The gaming world

By default the game is set on

The world the game is set on is made up of a few different types of terrain. Much of many of the levels start with much of the world covered in sea, which cannot be crossed. The land can be traversed, but varies in how hospitable it is. Ordinary land can be built on by your followers (provided it is flat), there are also rocks on some of the land, that means the land cannot be built on until they are removed. Also swamp land is inhospitable, drowning followers who walk on it.

The followers

The life of a follower is fairly simple, consisting of wandering the world, building a home, breeding, fighting other follows, and dying. One settler on the map can represent hundreds or even thousands.

As the settlers wander the world, they will set up a house as soon as they find a plot of suitable flat land. The house will then produce further settlers, who will leave when it is full. They will also fight with enemy settlers they find. A fight in the open will lead to one settler killing the other. A fight in a house will result in a fight between those in the house and the attackers, and will result in the winner claiming ownership of the house. The winner will still lose some strength (representing casualties of the battle) Also two settlers can combine into one, hence that one settler will represent multiple setters.

The priorities of the settlers depend on the strategy you command them to follow. In settling mode, they will prioritise setting up new houses, so they grow in numbers faster. In fighting mode they will attack nearby enemy followers and houses.. In combining mode settlers will look for fellow follows to join with. These are only prioritise, so under the fighting strategy followers will still build houses if they find flat land, although if there are enemies in the area they will prefer to fight than settle

The exception to this is the 'go to Papal Magnet' strategy. The Papal Magnet is a symbol of you that is placed somewhere in the world. If commanded to do so, your followers will go directly towards the Papal Magnet to the exclusion of all other concerns. They will not attempt to settle, or fight anyone who isn't in the direct line from the follower to the magnet.

The first follow to reach the magnet will become a leader (assuming there is not one already. The leader will then gain strength as further followers join him. Your leader doesn't have special powers as such (although he can be turned into a knight, more on this later), but if you get a lot of followers to join him, can be a particularly strong follower.

Using the magnet is usually a way of making a strong leader. However, it can be used to directly command your followers to spread out in a particular direction, to colonize certain bits of land, or to attack enemies in a certain location. Using the magnet has the advantage of the followers not being distracted by other concerns, so it allows you to influence your followers directly.

Followers will die either in combat, or if they walk into swamps, or are dumped in the sea by divine powers.

Divine Powers

Divine powers are the main way that you can directly influence the life of your followers (and those of your enemy). They range from the fairly undramatic, such as raising or lowering land (undramatic from the god's point of view, that is), to the end of the world. The use of such powers is limited by how much mana you have god. Mana is divine power that comes directly from your followers, so you gain it more quickly if you have more followers. It is used up when you use your divine powers. Below is a list of these powers, in order of the mana needed:

Raising and lowering land

Raising a lowering land is your most common task, and is need to provide flat land for your followers to settle on, and remove obstactles. You can also dump enemy followers in the sea by removing the land under them, and this can be particularly effective if the sea kills people instantly, as it could be used to kill a leader, for example. This isn't always possible, however, as the game may be set up so you can only raise or lower land close to your own followers. This power uses very little mana.

Place the Papal Magnet

Placing the Papal Magnet can be very useful as mentioned before. It can only be done, however, if you have enough mana, and you have a leader already. This means it is risky to place the magnet in enemy terrortory, as then if you lose your leader you must wait until someone reaches the magnet before you get a new one, and you can't move the magnet until then.


Earthquakes are the cheapest way of disrupting the lives of your enemy's followers. An earthquake will disrupt the land over a small area, causing land to fall into the sea, and other sections to rise up. This may kill enemy followers in the sea, but the main use of this is usually to destroy the houses of settlers. There is no material cost to this, but whilst your opponent is busy making the land flat again, (s)he has less time to spend elsewhere.


Creating a swamp is a more deadly alternative to the earthquake. This power fills the area targeted will swamp land that kills those who walk into it, thus reducing the enemy population, as well as providing land that cannot be built on, until the land is turned back to normal. This power is more effective on land ready for settling, as swamp can only be placed on flat empty land.


This power gives your leader the status of knight. Knights set off in the direction of the enemy, to kill enemy followers and burn down their houses. Land surrounding each house is then not available for building on until it is turned back into normal land, by raising and lowering it. The knight is useful in attacking the enemy, reducing their population, and causing land to be temporarily unbuildable. A Knight doesn't respond to your strategy, but will simply focus on fighting the enemy.

The Knight is not invincible, his strength is determined by the strenght of the leader who is promoted to knight. Thus it is usually better to wait until your leader has become strong by comining many settlers with the leader. Also, creating the Knight leaves you without a leader, so a new leader must be created from stratch, who will start off quite a bit weaker than the previous one.


The Volcano conjured up by this power is not an active one, but really more of a mountain. Use of this power raises the height of the target area to make it into a large mountain, with obstancles such as rocks distributed around the top. This means your opponent must spend time re-flattening the land, before it can be used again.


The flood is a particularly dramatic power, that raises the sea level, causing lower level settlements to be destroyed whilst followers will be drowned. This can be very decisive as it can remove vast amounts of land, and population, in one go. This is conpensated for by the flood requiring very large amounts of manna


Armageddon triggers a last decisive battle between good and evil. All followers leave their houses, and head for the centre of the world and fight until only one side is left. Once this power is triggered, neither god has any influence on precedings, there is just a straight fight between the followers, with no divine powers used. This is a useful way of ending a game, if you thing that your combined followers can defeat your enemy's, as victory is useful particularly swift.

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