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Title: Populous  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Populous (series), Bullfrog Productions, Powermonger, Chronology of god video games, Orchestral Game Music Concerts
Collection: 1989 Video Games, Acorn Archimedes Games, Amiga Games, Atari St Games, Bullfrog Productions Games, Dos Games, Electronic Arts Games, Game Boy Games, God Games, Humble Bundle Games, Mac Os Games, Master System Games, Nec Pc-9801 Games, Online Games, Origins Award Winners, Populous, Real-Time Strategy Video Games, Sega Genesis Games, Super Nintendo Entertainment System Games, Turbografx-16 Games, Video Games Developed in the United Kingdom, Video Games with Expansion Packs, Video Games with Isometric Graphics
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


European cover art

Developer(s) Bullfrog
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts
Designer(s) Peter Molyneux
Composer(s) Rob Hubbard
Release date(s) June 5, 1989
Genre(s) God game
Real-time strategy
Mode(s) Single player
Two player

Populous is a computer game designed by Peter Molyneux for Bullfrog, released originally for the Amiga in 1989, and is regarded by many as the first god game.[1] It is the first game in the Populous series, preceding Populous II: Trials of the Olympian Gods and Populous: The Beginning.


  • Gameplay 1
  • Synopsis 2
  • Development 3
  • Expansion packs 4
  • Reception 5
    • Awards 5.1
  • Sequels and spin-offs 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


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".

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 his followers such that they can wipe out the enemy followers. This is done by using a series of divine powers.

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 to turn ordinary followers into more powerful knights.[2]


In this game the player adopts the role of a deity and assumes the responsibility to shepherd people by direction, manipulation, and divine intervention. The player has the ability to shape the landscape and grow their civilization – and their divine power – with the overall aim of having their followers conquer an enemy force, which is led by an opposing deity.[2]


Peter Molyneux led development, inspired by Bullfrog's artist Glenn Corpes having drawn isometric blocks after playing David Braben's Virus.[3][4]

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.[3][4]

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.[3][4]

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.[3][5]

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.[3]

Expansion packs

Bullfrog produced Populous World Editor, which gave users the ability to modify the appearance of characters, cities, and terrain.[6] An expansion pack called Populous: The Promised Lands added five new types of landscape. 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
Publication Score
CVG 96%[7]
Famitsu 31 / 40 (SNES)[8]
MegaTech 91%[9]
Raze 89%[10]
Zero 92%[11]
ST/Amiga Format 92%[12]
Your Amiga 93%[13]

Populous was released in March 1989, and received almost universal critical acclaim, although Peter Molyneux notes that it was released at the same time as The Satanic Verses controversy was happening, and that Bullfrog was subsequently contacted by the Daily Mail and warned that the "good vs evil" nature of the game would lead to them receiving a similar fatwā (though in fact this did not materialise).[3]

The game was reviewed in 1989 in Dragon #150 by Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk Lesser in "The Role of Computers" column. The reviewers gave the game 5 out of 5 stars.[14] 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 colorful graphics.[5] 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".[15] 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". Mega placed the game at #25 in their Top Mega Drive Games of All Time.[16]

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".[17] Orson Scott Card in the magazine 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".[18] The game was voted the 6th best game of all time in Amiga Power.[19]


In 1990 Computer Gaming World named Populous as Strategy Game of the Year.[20] In 1991 it won the Origins Award for Best Military or Strategy Computer Game of 1990[21] as well as 1990 Computer Game of the Year in American video game magazine Video Games & Computer Entertainment.

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 1997 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,[4] and features the addition of an unlockable 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.[22] 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.[23]

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 an homage to Populous.[24]

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.[25]


  1. ^ Edge Staff (2007-11-01). "50 greatest game design innovations". Edge. Retrieved 2008-12-28. 
    "IGN Hall of Fame: Populous". IGN. 2008. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
    Ernest Adams (2008). "What's Next for God Games". Designer's Notebook. Retrieved 2013-11-23. 
  2. ^ a b Bullfrog (1989). "Populous user manual" (PDF). Populous.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f Molyneux, Peter (2011). "Classic Game Post-Mortem: Populous". Game Developers Conference (GDC Vault). Archived from the original on 22 January 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  4. ^ a b c d "The Making Of: Populous". The Edge Online. 2012. Archived from the original on 10 July 2012. Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  5. ^ a b Kritzen, Biff (August 1989). "And On The Eighth Day...".  
  6. ^ Eden, Maxwell (July 1992). "The World According To...Max / Electronic Arts' Populous World Editor". Computer Gaming World. pp. 40–41. Retrieved 3 July 2014. 
  7. ^ Rignall, Julian (April 1989). "Populous review". Computer & Video Games 90: 30–32. 
  8. ^ 30 Point Plus: ポピュラス. Weekly Famicom Tsūshin. No.358. Pg.32. 27 October 1995.
  9. ^ MegaTech rating, EMAP, issue 5, page 78, May 1992
  10. ^ Out-of-Print Archive • Mega Drive reviews • Populous
  11. ^ Wilson, David (January 1992). "Populous review (re-release)". Zero 27: 82. 
  12. ^ Higham, Mark (April 1989). "Populous review". ST/Amiga Format 10: 72–73. 
  13. ^ Hamlett, Gordon (July 1989). "Populous review". Your Amiga: 46–47. 
  14. ^ Lesser, Hartley; Lesser, Patricia; Lesser, Kirk (October 1989). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (150): 68–73, 95. 
  15. ^ Brooks, M. Evan (June 1993). "An Annotated Listing of Pre-20th Century Wargames". Computer Gaming World. p. 136. Retrieved 7 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Mega magazine issue 1, page 76, Future Publishing, Oct 1992
  17. ^ Gutman, Dan (July 1989). "Nine for '89". Compute!. p. 19. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  18. ^ Card, Orson Scott (November 1989). "Gameplay". Compute!. p. 88. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
  19. ^ Amiga Power magazine issue 0, Future Publishing, May 1991
  20. ^ "CGW's Game of the Year Awards". Computer Gaming World. September 1990. p. 70. Retrieved 16 November 2013. 
  21. ^ "The 1990 Origins Awards". The Origin Awards. The Game Manufacturers Association. 1990. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 2013-02-22. 
  22. ^ IGN: Populous DS
  23. ^ IGN: Populous DS Preview
  24. ^ Maxwell, Ben (21 May 2012). "Populous reborn in your browser".  
  25. ^ "Project GODUS by 22cans — Kickstarter". Retrieved 2013-08-22. 

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