Dec 19th, 2012

If you’ve ever played any of the old god-like genre games like Populous or Black & White, you know how empowering it can be to have a whole civilization at your command. The downside of these games is that they require a computer to be played and they’re fairly old by gaming standards, Black & White 2 is the latest and it came out in 2005.

So what do these games have in common? They’re all the brain-child of a single man: Peter Molyneux. If you’re at all familiar with the gaming industry, that name might be familiar to you. Molyneux has masterminded the previous mentioned games, but he also has the likes of Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate, and perhaps his most well-known series, Fable.

Molyneux was propelled into the limelight with the success of Populous and Dungeon Keeper while at Bullfrog Productions, a company he founded with Les Edgar in 1987. Other successful titles that spawned from the studio included Theme Park, Theme Hospital, and Syndicate. All of these games had a common ground, instead of playing a titular super hero like Duke Nukem or Ranger from Quake, you instead managed several different aspects of the game, similar to a real-time strategy but without all the warfare.

In Populous, you take on the role of an unnamed deity with a small tribe of people that follow you. Through terrain manipulation and other acts of divine intervention, you guide your people to conquer those of an opposing tribe led by a rival deity. The game was an instant success and is widely regarded as the first god game for PC.

After a sequel and several other games, Bullfrog Productions was ultimately acquired by Electronic Arts and shut down. Peter Molyneux was given a team and reshuffled them into Lionhead Studios, where he began work on the spiritual successor to Populous, called Black & White.

In much the same way that Populous revolutionized the god-like genre, Black & White refined it. You still had a tribe of people worshipping you and miracles you could perform to assist them, but added to this game was a mythical beast that became influenced by your actions. If you caused pain and torment for your people, your creature learned from these actions and imitated them. Thus, morality in games was further refined. If you played the hand of a benevolent creator, your creature would shine gold with a halo above his head. If you were more malevolent, your creature would begin to turn red and sprout horns.

If this system sounds familiar to you as a modern gamer, it’s because this same morality system was put into play with Fable, Lionhead Studios’ most successful series to date. Players who chose to “be good” were rewarded with halos, while those who were more evil sprouted horns and scars. While Fable sported this morality aspect, it lost the god-like genre that Molyneux had made so famous.

Returning to the Roots

With GODUS, Molyneux has assembled an entirely new development team after ending his stint at Lionhead Studios. 22Cans was born out of these ashes and so far, the team has put together a single experimental project called Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube. The game premise is simple–the entire world chips away at the same cube until a single person discovers what’s on the inside.

The game is available for both iOS and Android and has enjoyed a moderate amount of buzz, but at its heart it seems like an infrastructure experiment more than anything else. By piquing people’s curiosity, Molyneux and his team are able to test how many concurrent connections to a single database can occur at one time, so they can prepare for something bigger. That something bigger is GODUS.

GODUS will be the return of the god-like genre to both PC and mobile. All the old formulas that made Populous and Black & White such a success will be returning, but with the added aspect of multiplayer. You’ll be able to shape your land and create a habitable living environment for your followers, who generate ‘belief’, which is then used to cast miracles to aid them. By shaping your tribe, you can influence their growth direction, as well as their strengths.

All of this can be done in the single player game, but the real beauty of GODUS is conquering other players through the multiplayer. Imagine a small tribe living on your phone that you cultivate throughout the day and when you get home, you send into brutal warfare against your neighbor. Your tribe emerges victorious and even more resolute in their faith of you, having converted many of your neighbor’s own tribe to follow you. Now you’re much larger and much more well-equipped to take on a larger deity the next day.

It’s an intriguing concept that has never been applied to mobile phones before. The closest we’ve gotten have been tamagotchi-clones for both iOS and Android that allow the user to take care of a single entity, but GODUS allows for the control of an entire village and as your influence expands, even more villages. The world is literally what you create, which is what makes this such a unique opportunity. If any man has the vision to bring this to life on the mobile platform, that man is Peter Molyneux.

So why a Kickstarter for the project? Molyneux left Lionhead Studios that was backed by Microsoft’s funding to form his own studio. As an operating indie developer, receiving funding for a project like this is nearly impossible, as the gaming world is more focused on first person shooters and massive RPGs than it is on something that became popular in 1989.

So far, Kickstarter has spelled the success of several great projects that may not have received funding otherwise, including Tim Schaefer’s new adventure game, Obsidian Entertainment’s new RPG, and even Jordan Weisman’s Shadowrun Returns. Each of these project’s predecessors hail from the 90s, when gaming was more about immersion and story than shooting guys in the head.

If you’ve often complained about mobile games lacking depth, each of these projects hopes to bring that depth to the mobile platform, but none so much as GODUS. If you’re keen on supporting his new project, you can find the Kickstarter page here. It recently reached the goal amount for the basic game to be released on Android, iOS, Mac, and Windows, but there are stretch goals in place should you want to try and contribute more toward those.