back to article Populous

So I just re watched Cabin in the Woods (spoiler alert) and when the big glowing god hand explodes out of the earth in the last frame, I was left with a niggle at the back of my subconscious. Populous 1989 Bullfrog Productions Divine intervention It wasn't till later in the pub that I remembered my formative god/hand …


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  1. Ben Tasker Silver badge

    I'd forgotten about Populous

    I used to love that game, though not as much as Red Alert

  2. Mark Wilson
    Thumb Up

    Wasted Time

    Oh how many hours did I waste playing this on my old Zenith Supersport 286e, which I still have kicking around somewhere. Probably second only to Bards Tale.

  3. Stu

    £15 - 25

    They're taking the smeg, it's over 20 years old and I already paid £30 for it (was it?) back then for my Atari ST!

    Guh, it's like the DVD to Blu-Ray tax.

    1. mike2R

      Re: £15 - 25

      GoG has Populous 1 and Populous 2 at $5.99 USD each.

      They also have something called Populous: The Beginning at the same price, that was apparently made in 1998, has some good reviews from GoG users, and I don't ever remember hearing about...

      I feel a purchase coming on... I've already played their version of Populous 2 and it is every bit as good as I remember it.

      1. Alex Walsh

        Re: £15 - 25

        Populous: The Beginning was one of those games that couldn't run with all the bells and whistles on full when it came out IIRC. They guestimated the oompf required to run it maxed out would be available by release and got it a bit wrong

  4. MrPSB

    Populous can be found for around 4 quid from

    1. error handler
      Thumb Up is absolutely excellent

      Although if you're old enough to remember Populous from the first time around I would be very very careful about browsing their catalogue.

      The last time I had a poke around on their website I spent fifty quid and then didn't get anything done for a month afterwards because I was playing RollerCoaster Tycoon.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not one shot from the Legoworld pack?

    I am disappointed - not one screen shot from the Legoworld expansion pack? All the world becomes the thin, wide Lego blocks - great fun.

    And playing Populous gives such great insight to the motivations behind the major religions' "breed breed breed" mindset.

    1. Thorne

      Re: Not one shot from the Legoworld pack?

      Yes but at least in Populous the invisible sky people do stuff. Can't tell if religion's invisible sky people do stuff. Mostly seems to be nutters doing stuff in the name of the invisible sky person. If god is so powerful he can do his own smiting (just like on Populous)

  6. Jedit

    "the inspiration for Black and White"

    Yes, I expect that Peter Molyneux was a heavy influence on Black and White creator Peter Molyneux.

    I'm also failing to see the connection between Populous and Settlers of Catan, as they have no mechanics in common. The only link is the goal of "start with a village and make more", which is so generic as to be no link at all.

    1. 1Rafayal

      Re: "the inspiration for Black and White"


      Also, mentioning Black & White isn't such a good thing to do when drawing comparisons. I remember getting that game when it first came out after waiting slavishly for it. Definitely one of the most over-rated games ever.

  7. not_equal_to_null


    I've recently been introduced to Catan, and it's awesomely good fun with a few mates and vast quantities of wine.

    WAIT! I'm only 25. What the hell is happening to me? HELP!

    1. auburnman

      Re: Catan!

      It's all downhill from there. Cardigans and comfy slippers and early nights await...

      Or maybe I'm just being bitter because I hit the 'renew' date this year.

    2. Jedit

      "I've recently been introduced to Catan, and it's awesomely good fun"

      Don't worry, you've only just been introduced to it. SoC is a great gateway game, but it does pall realtively quickly once you realise the game is 70% luck after the initial setup. You'll soon want to move on. If you want something more thoughtful go for Caylus, but if you prefer the light style give Dominion a go.

      I'm also failing to see what anyone finds wrong in playing strategic games with heavy elements of planning and negotiation. You can get good jobs with those skills.

  8. offal

    This game got me sacked first time round

    I'm simply not going to risk it again

  9. Andy 70
    Thumb Up

    breakthrough into link up gaming

    two amiga 500's one properly wired 25 pin null modem cable, and countless hours lost. getting annoyed when the other player hits the armageddon button before you're ready.

    or single player, and big maps being left to run overnight and during school hours - to be picked up when i got home and should have been doing homework. good times. not much homework done though ;)

    1. Lee Dowling Silver badge

      Re: breakthrough into link up gaming

      Not related to this particular game alone, but I still contend that I had the following system running for multiplay in DOS days:

      A parallel cable and serial cable between each of three computers (you could use anything, but you had to "daisy-chain" the connection so needed two suitable ports on each machine), some ancient DOS packet driver that I can't find any more than turned the Heath-Robinson cable connection into a "proper" network, and multiplayer DOS IPX games (e.g. Doom, etc.) - and later even proper TCP/IP - running over it as if it were a LAN.

      Worked *perfectly* and I still have the cables somewhere - we bought extra-long ones to make it work between rooms and had all sorts of adaptors to make sure the 9-pin serial ports could be used with the 25-pin on the other computer etc. Eventually ousted by our own 10Base2 BNC network (that we had to install ISA network cards for that cost more than all the previous system had cost!), and then onto 10/100BaseT. But we were playing "network" games during this era over parallel and serial cables (which were also cheaper than buying pre-cut runs of 10Base2 cable, especially when people were throwing them away most of the time!) and a handful of adaptors.

      Not saying it was fast or you could rely on it for massive file transfer (we did file transfer and proper networking, but we didn't use it for that), but for gaming it was fabulous. And Windows 3.1 let you use DOS packet drivers too so we didn't even upgrade for that.

      Damn, that was a long time ago, but we were so happy to have a "proper" network because of that driver. I'd give the author a pint if I could find him now.

  10. Scott Green
    Thumb Up

    Oh my stars

    Played this to death, had the expansion pack as well, lost far too many hours to this game..

  11. Anthony Hulse

    Preferred the sequel myself

    Tidal waves and volcanoes in that were much cooler, and nothing beat the feeling of giving your opponent masses of trees only to torch the lot (along with half his cities) with one firestorm attack :-)

    1. Richard Wharram

      Re: Preferred the sequel myself

      Oooh yes, exactly that :D Great fun two player.

      The only poor mechanic P2 introduced is that you could lightning enemy heroes forever, making them a bit useless except to lock up your opponent's ability to micro.

  12. NukEvil


    I used to play Populous a lot on the SNES, IIRC. It may have been the NES, I dunno.

    The thing I loved most about the game was the music played on the title screen. It would start out simple, then it would get more complicated, finally reaching a "peak" where you could feel your civilization was at the height of its power, then something bad happened and the "sad" music would start. I remember hacking the Rise of Nations game's population limits so I and a friend I played with could have thousands of units/population on the map at one time (instead of maybe 150 or so, our computers could handle it), and I would start humming the Populous peak music whenever thousands of my stealth bombers would fly over the enemy army as it was attacking my friend's capital, obliterating the enemy army and saving my friend from annihilation.

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Memories...

      NES, or at least, mine was. Might have been a version for SNES but I never saw it.

      Still have my NES and SNES. I dig 'em out every so often for some Old School fun.

  13. Thomas Kenyon

    A lot of people didn't like the sequel, I loved it and played it right the way to the end.

    As opposed to black and white 2 which was a terrible sequel.

    1. Yag

      I liked both games too, and I find the sequel better.

      At least it was not a simple matter of building flat land at med/high altitude for your goons and triggering flood once in a while to eradicate the opposition...

  14. The Serpent

    I always remember being quite disappointed by this game, especially in light of the reviews it got. They seemed to think it would affect your gaming life forever so I was expecting wonders. However I recall a good, colourful layout but with animations not out of place on my C64. The music was moody enough but then again, Shadow of the Best was published in 1989 too and there is no comparision there. Once you figured out it was just a case of keeping enough power to flatten land (the lowest cost ability), keep an eye on your opponent's progress, let your power level rise till you can initiate armageddon and then, as long as your progress bar is noticably longer, scrap it out in the middle of the map. Job done, next level, do it all again but be a bit quicker.

  15. swaygeo

    Made me cry

    Got convinced to buy this for my SEGA master system by much older (and far brighter) brother.

    Alas at the age of 7 I found it all too difficult and cried because I'd saved all my money to buy it! Worked it out eventually though and loved it :D

  16. big_Jim
    Paris Hilton

    The only good thing about Black and White was it gave an entirely new meaning the phrase "spanking my monkey"

    1. auburnman

      I had a cow that stubbornly refused to learn to not eat villagers no matter how often I lamped it. The one thing I remember from B&W was that if you smacked your Avatar at the right speed and angle you could sweep the legs out from under them and make them faceplant into the ground. I got plenty of practise at this due to the aforementioned follower-scoffing.

  17. EddieD

    Played to death

    I loved this game...simple, yet utterly absorbing...

  18. DiskJunky

    Game reviews

    How come we still haven't seen game reviews on other systems? Missing so far (I think) are

    Sega MasterSystem

    Sega Megadrive




    Atari Lynx

    Playstation (I'm adding this as it's of the same era as the n64)

    There are a very wide range of titles to choose from and it wouldn't take much to whip out an emulator and try a few of the "top 10" on any given system. Anyone remember the original Super Mario Land on the GameBoy? God, the hours lost on that thing and those "NOOO!" moments when the damn batteries ran out (you were luck to get 4 hours out of 'em)

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Game reviews

      I think we've had some Spectrum titles in ACR. I'm sure one find more console-heavy nostalgia trips else where on the net.... (what machine first hosted Solid Snake? Which game first featured Sonic the Hedgehog?)

      My vote is for Time Bandits on the Atari ST, has nothing to do with the Terry Gilliam film. I downloaded the PC version recently, but it has a bug that stops you shooting (quite a big bug for a top-down shooter!). It could be played two-player co-op, and if one player died, they could accompany the other player as a ghost.

  19. Furbian

    ... and then there was Populous: The Beginning...

    This was an already great game perfected. Both were just amazing ground breakers, but the second one was spectacular with the followers suffering all sorts of torments, being swept up in the air by hurricanes, being set on fire, drowning etc. The best was the preacher type character, who would cause the opposing sides followers to sit down listen, and then swap sides.

  20. TRT Silver badge

    Ah, I spent many, many hours on my Amiga playing this game.

    Until I discovered Settlers. :-)

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Peter Molyneux's Populous my arse! All of the initial work was done by Glenn Corpes. Molyneux's only influence was for some of the game play! He certainly doesn't deserve the credit!

    1. Sean Timarco Baggaley
      Thumb Up

      Agreed. That emperor has no clothes.

      People prattle on about Peter Molyneux as if he were some robed prophet of game design who handed down tablets of his wisdom from a throne to minions who did the grunt-work of actually making it work. (And how often his hagiographers forget his utter flops. "Hi-Octane", anyone? "Fusion"? "Project Milo"?)

      In 1990, Bullfrog was still a handful of people in a flat above a shop in Guildford, not far from the railway station. They worked together. As a team. Molyneux was a programmer, not a "Game Designer"—which, as a formal job title, barely even existed in the (British) computer games industry back then. You usually had a bunch of ideas and just tried different gameplay mechanics, making stuff up and occasionally relying on serendipity, refining it all as you went along until you got something that worked and played well. Games simply did not spring fully-formed from the brow of a single "game designer" unless that designer was also a lone developer.

      "Populous" was no exception: Its core mechanic came from an isometric map editor (by said Glenn Corpes), which already included the land-modifying mechanic. A number of ex-Bullfrog employees have said this, which makes a mockery of the "Peter Molyneux designed Populous" myth that this article perpetuates.

      Molyneux's self-promotion skills have allowed him to wrap an all-too-willing bunch of fawning games media "journalists" around his little finger. It's great PR for both him and his company, sure, but he's also the reason there's a "Bloaty Head Syndrome" in "Theme Hospital".

      Game design is bastard hard at the best of times: you're often having to deal with variables that are well outside your control—publishers interfere; marketing people make idiotic suggestions; an unexpected buyout of a major IP rights-holder results in projects cancelled almost overnight, and so on.

      To professionals who have actually worked in the games industry, Peter Molyneux's primary achievements are his business acumen, his exceptional self-promotion skills—at least Steve Jobs gave credit where it was due—but, worst of all, his appalling habit of hyperbolic over-promising, poor project management, and disappointing under-delivery.

      When I read hagiographical pieces like this one, the sheer scale of such wilful ignorance is staggering. It's a shame too, as "Populous" was indeed a fine game for its day.

      Molyneux may have been the group's front-man, but Bullfrog's successes were team efforts.

      This article is flat-out insulting. Give the entire Bullfrog team the credit they deserve, please.

  22. 0laf Silver badge
    Big Brother


    I lost days to this and the music used to freak my Mum out.

    The sequel was great too. I liked most god games like Megalomania and Utopia

  23. Lotus.Geek

    I absolutely LOVED this game on the Amiga...

    I was a huge fan of the Amiga - it was vastly ahead of its time. This post reminded me of the other outstanding games for the Amiga - many CinemaWare games such as It Came from the Desert (based on 1950's horror movies - in this one giant ants begin attacking a small desert town). There was also a great Feudal Japan game - Lord of the Rising Sun.

    And let's not forget arguably the most popular title of all time on the Amiga - Psygnosis' Lemmings. I cannot begin to estimate the countless hours I spent playing that game. Also, Lemmings - like so many other Amiga-originated titles - was lightyears better in graphics, speed, and playability when compared to their PC counterparts.

    Incidentally, I still have an original Psygnosis owl-head button, which was the face of their logo.

    Thanks for the memories!


    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Psygnosis - Latin for "won't load"

      My problem with Psygnosis titles of the time was the execution protection - err, I mean, copy protection, err, no I don't, execution protection.

      You would have a valid, purchased, eight-ways-from-Sunday legal copy, and it wouldn't load most of the time due to the copy protection.

      My friends and I had a saying: "Psygnosis - Latin for 'won't load'".

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Psygnosis - Latin for "won't load"

        We haven't forgotton Lemmings. Surprised not to see more classic mousey-point games on phones and tablets.

  24. Alex Walsh

    I liked Populous but LOVED Powermonger :)

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    From Dust..

    If you can stand the terrible UbiDRM (or are willing to take measures to get rid of it) then From Dust makes for a decent (albeit far too short and lacking in a sandbox mode) spiritual successor to the Populous series, granting the basic ability to raise / lower land to help people get from A to B as well as numerous other god-like powers, but with liquids actually flowing all over the place. It's not a battle style game like this, just you against the elements but it still felt a lot like it could have been part of the series.

  26. Jamie 8
    Thumb Down

    Spoiler not necessary

    Cabin in the Woods has only just been released on DVD. Posting a spoiler 'above the fold' in the RSS feed is bad form.

  27. Spoonsinger

    Ahh, those were the days,

    before Molyneux went mental and started all this "The Cube" rubbish. Write/produce something good FFS!!, You know you can do it. Just get a grip of your ego.

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