Skip to main content
© Antoine

POPULOUS by Richard Karsmakers

I would like to dedicate this separate article to Miranda (girl),
Jason Becker (guitarist), Einstein (scientist), Pioneer (audio
equipment manufacturer), Stefan (chief editor), Chester (dog) and
the Bullfrog Team ("Populous" programmers), for in some way or
another creating an extremely inspiring atmosphere that resulted
in me writing this.


Once upon a time there was a world. A world where everybody
lived happily and where there was no war; indeed, a world where
people just lived, hunted, harvested, ate, slept, and multiplied.
In this world it was that a man called Zantar lived. He was
ruler of a tribe a hundred people in size, and a very thriving
tribe it was indeed. Among them were some excellent huntsmen, and
they even had some primitive means of using the power of running
water to help them with various tasks they would otherwise have
to perform solely with their own physical power.

Zantar lived on an island. Sometimes, he used to go out at
sunset to wonder what might be beyond the sea. Where did the sun
set? Was there perhaps another island and, if there was one,
would there also be people there? Zantar was very eager to learn
about possible other people's technology, and teach them his own
knowledge.
Yet he had no means of finding out whether there actually was
something there. If his folk were to build ships to explore, only
The Divine Ynnor would know what would happen: They might even
fall off the flat earths (these people had a scientist called
Sendatsuh, who believed the earth was a rather intricate complex
of six flat discs, each a copy of the other, after he had once
seen himself looking at his image in the water of the sea -
looking rather dumbfounded)!

On this sunny mid-spring day, he had had to call together the
Council of the Elders, for something inexplicable had happened:
When taking his morning's stroll through the hills, he had
discovered a large Ankh, partly hidden by some burnt bushes. Next
to the Ankh lay an enormous Skull hewn out of stone. Its eyes
gleamed with a red light that would intensify as the sun shone
its morning rays on them.
He found it rather frightening, especially because the
surroundings of the objects had been totally blackened for about
900 square teefs (1 teef = 1/3rd yard = approx. 1/3 metre).
The elders sat silent in Zantar's wooden hut. There were six in
total: Sendatsuh the Scientific One, Nrøjbrot the Ancient One,
Nafets the Earnest One, Sacul the Extensive One, Seec the
Fortuitous One and, last, Zantar the Wise One.
"Blackened is the end," quoted Nafets, "thus soundeth the
Prophecy."
"Winter it will send," Zantar added, "yes, Earnest One, hard
times are bound to be nigh."
"Throwing all you see," said Sacul, as if adding yet another
quote to the words just spoken, "into Obscurity!" With the last
words, he heaved his hands to the sky.
"Woe! Woe!" Nrøjbrot and Sendatsuh chanted, "the end is nigh!"
"Quiet, fools!" Zantar cried, "as of yet, Ynnor the Divine One
has shown us nothing that would point to it, and..."

At that very instant, a crack split open the sky, and a
deafening thunder followed within a second after it.
"Woe! Woe!" everybody now cried in unison, "Reficul the Evil One
is upon us!"
Only Zantar was still silent, seemingly in deep thought.
The others now began to lament a song of Old, not ever sung
before and seemingly reserved for the Most Evil of occasions:

"Fire
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Colour our world blackened
Blackened!"


A desperate knocking could suddenly be heard on the heavy wooden
door of Zantar's abode.
"Come in!" he hoarsely yelled after waiting for the chanting to
cease.
A boy came in, dressed in a tattered O'Neil jacket.
"The horizon has changed, Mr. Wise One! There is now land! And
it's coming towards our shores!"
Zantar looked as if he had a sudden vision: A vision, strange
and unconnected though it may seem, of an enormous ship filled
with a thick black fluid crashing into the shores of a distant
land covered with frozen water. He saw dying Sea Otters, dying
Sea Birds, dying Seals, all covered with the thick black fluid.
He saw mankind not doing anything at all about it; just a few
volunteers helped the animals, tears in their eyes. He saw the
whole world perish eventually.
He discarded the vision as a ridiculous one; surely, mankind
would never be able to build such enormous ships? And, if they
could, mankind would surely not sit and watch nature decay in
case of a disaster?
"Ridiculous," he said, reacting to both his vision and the boy's
statement, and hurried outside to follow the lad that dashed back
to the coast.

Along the coastline, about thirty men stood gazing at what was
happening at the horizon. Indeed, it seemed that another
coastline had been created there, and it seemed to draw near at
quite an astounding speed.
The Scientific One, still panting from running after Zantar,
gazed with profound wonder.
"This can't be," he exclaimed, "I have been working on a General
Relativity Theory with regard to quarks and interplanetary bonds,
but I was sure of the fact that our (flat) worlds are expanding
rather than diminishing in size. Must make a mental note to work
that one out some day."
After having said that, he continued gazing at what his
Relativity Theory considered to be quite impossible.
"Nothing is impossible," said the boy wearing the tattered
O'Neil jacket. He had a striking resemblance to someone that
would later be known as Einstein (in his younger years), but of
course these people didn't know that nor did they know of the
things this Einstein fellow would turn out to do some day, and
therefore they didn't heed this remark, nor some others the boy
brought up (some quite interesting ones pertaining anti-quarks,
the space-time continuum in conjunction with the fourth
dimension, light speed, the relative Doppler effect, H-Bombs,
etc.).
"Hack off!" Zantar the Wise One said.
Would he have had a tail, the boy would have had it between his
legs as he slunk off.

"Just imagine," Zantar phylosophized to Sendatsuh, "just imagine
that there is an entire new civilisation there, a civilization
that we can learn from and that we can teach our knowledge..."
He sighed as he said it. The Scientific One just nodded
approvingly.
"For one," he said, "they either know how to reverse my
Relativity Theory, or they know how to harvest land from the
sea."
In spite of the fact that Sendatsuh clearly acted as if he had
thought long on how to put that which he just said in the
appropriate words, the Wise One didn't react. Obviously, Zantar
didn't realise what severe consequences it could have to the
world if either of these two statements turned out to be true.
When a reaction turned out not be coming within the next couple
of seconds, the Scientific One added: "Somehow, I think the
latter is highly unlikely."
Zantar nodded. Sendatsuh began thinking aloud about adding a
conditional minus sign to his Theory.

By noon, there were only a hundred yards between their shores
and those of the land that was coming towards them. They now saw
that pieces of land were just pulled from the sea,
instantaneously transforming from sea bottom to earth soil. At
times, a seemingly random process of lowering a part back into
the vast ocean could be witnessed.
"Impossible!" Zantar could hear the Scientific One mumble at
times next to him.
"Hack off!" the Wise One would each time whisper. Obviously, he
was preparing some kind of speech in case a representative of the
other civilisation (if there was one) might enter his domain.
After another quarter of an hour or so, it happened. The shores
touched, and the process stopped at the very moment.

From behind the hills, someone emerged. The someone was wearing
a red jacket with leopard design. Other people emerged from
behind the hills as well. They all wore the same clothes, yet the
one that had appeared first wore a cap with a badge knitted on
it.
The badge portrayed a small skull; a skull with small red eyes,
that glowed in the noon sun.
Zantar beamed with pride as he realised how many representatives
there were to hear his speech. Finally, his thoughts turned out
to be true: There was indeed a civilisation beyond the sea, and
they had sought to visit his tribe! They had even brought
their hunting tools with them!
Hunting tools?
Every single one of the people emerging from behind the hills
was wielding a blunt object in his hand, some of formidable
dimensions and no doubt equally formidable weights. Come to think
of it, the impact of one of those objects upon any animal's head
would probably be quite formidable, too.
There were now at least fifty of them, standing on the highest
hills. They left a certain menacing impression by their posture
and the look in their eyes.

The leader held his hands to his mouth and cried something to
his followers in a tongue not even Sacul the Intensive One could
interpret. He could only shake his head when Zantar looked at
him, raising his Wise Eyebrows inquiringly.
Next, the leader turned to Zantar's folk. By now, all members of
the tribe were gathered; women, children and men. Even Nrøjbrot
the Ancient One had now caught up with the rest, and was leaning
heavily on his staff, panting. A tawse hung on his belt.
"What's up?" he puffed.
"Just hack off!" Zantar replied.
The Ancient One looked irritated to the rabble on the new piece
of land. His free hand gently caressed his tawse.
The leader now began to speak.
"My name is Noruas!" he cried, "Woe me! Woe me!"
He waited a couple of moments to see what his spectator's
reactions were. Which were none; that is, if you don't count the
look in their eyes that they usually gave to naughty little
children. Nrøjbrot caressed his tawse with some more enthusiasm
now. A specific look settled in his eyes; a look that had not
been there since he last chastised Zantar when he had been a
naughty boy once again.
Noruas, who was slightly set back by this utter lack of proper
response, considered the time ripe to pull open all registers. He
breathed in deeply, then started to chant loudly in a low voice:

"Blackened is the End
Winter it will send
Throwing all you see
Into obscurity!"


The reaction to this chanting was reversely proportional to the
one after the stranger called out his name. The sudden panic was
epic (at least in its proportions): All about a hundred tribe
members dashed in about a hundred different directions, yelling a
hundred assorted yells of panic (though mostly "Woe! Woe!", "The
Prophecy has come to pass!" or "Ynnor help us!").
Noruas' tribe now marched forward as well, now with even more
menacing looks in their eyes. They wielded their truncheons as if
desperately wanting to find out what would happen if one'd smash
it on another human's skull.
A satisfied look settled itself upon the face of Noruas, the
Evil One. He laughed a laugh that would later inspire a bit of
Michael Jackson's "Thriller" - though of course even he didn't
realise that then, nor did Michael (strange enough), centuries
later.

Since Zantar's people had only lived in the most serene peace
thinkable, they didn't know what to do against such a threat
other than just running for their lives. Defence was no technique
they mastered well. Not at all, as a matter of fact.
From their hiding places, they looked and saw the Noruasians
take over their land. They saw how their women were hunted down
and raped, how their houses were burnt and how their children and
people of old age were slaughtered. Nrøjbrot was one of the first
to fall, merely using his tawse to try and fight the fierce
opponents. His blood stained the beach red, as did the blood of
all other elders except for Zantar; he was agile enough to run
faster and hide better. Though he didn't care much for being
alive when he saw his people raped and butchered.
The Noruasians stopped their violence when they reached the
giant stone Skull with the large red, glowing eyes. It was as if
they had known the exact location of where it was all the time.
They knelt and started praying and chanting towards the object,
no longer heeding the Zantarians in their suffering. It seemed as
though they had reached an aim.

Another flash of lightning split open the sky, followed by
another roaring thundering sound. The Noruasians look at the sky,
and for the first time fear can be seen in their eyes.
And yet another flash.
And yet another (not quite so delicate) sound of thunder.
Now, Noruas' people were panicing. They were now even panicing
in epic proportions.
Right under their startled feet, a swamp seemed to emerge from
the soil. It was as if someone, maybe a Divine being, had but
pressed a simple button, or clicked a mousepointer on some icon
or another. The swamp just emerged. The Noruasians just drowned.
Never had a chance.

"You have defeated the powers of Darkness," I read aloud from
the screen, "the power of Light has prevailed. You have won the
first level of 'Populous'. You may now proceed to the next."
I take the mousepointer off the 'Swamp' Divine Interaction icon,
and prepare myself for conquering the next map. I take a large
swig of Coke, and put a handful of potato crisps in my mouth.
"This time," I think, "I prefer being the baddie!"

*****

Sometimes, a couple of times per year at the most, a truly
excellent game is launched. Games that do not only combine
playability with addictive gameplay, but that are also
surpassingly original. In the seventies, these games were
"Defender", "Pacman" and "Pong"; in the eighties it were games
like (sorry if I don't mention your favourites) "Little Computer
People" (also on the ST), "Commando" (e.g. Commodore 64),
"Super Sprint" (also on the ST), "Nebulus" (also on the ST),
"Bubble Bobble" (also on the ST), "Arkanoid" (also on the ST),
"Mule" (e.g. Commodore 64), "Lode Runner" (e.g. Commodore 64) and
"Seven Cities of Gold" (e.g. Commodore 64). I am convinced that
you will be able to come up with more, but in spite of that I
don't think the truly innovative games would add up to more than
25 in the last ten years. Which is, of course, a shame. It seems
that the software industry is lagging behind on the hardware
industry.
But I am glad to say that another classic has appeared; a
classic among classics even. I am very proud that I am in a
position to be able to review it. It was programmed by the
Bullfrog Team, marketed by Electronic Arts and its title is
"Populous".

In "Populous", you are a deity: You get a world, its population
(both good and bad), a religious symbol and, what's most
important, the power to intervene in most what is going on.
In short, the game is like this:
You get the world and its population, and somewhere on that
world is someone that is the leader of the people that worship
you. He carries, depending on whether you're the Master of Light
or Darkness, an Ankh or a skull respectively. He is the one that
you can influence, a kind of High Priest. He is the key to
expanding your population, conquering more pieces of land, and
eventually (if you're doing things like they should be done -
don't ask me how!) defeating the opposite force and thus
conquering the world.

The thing that is different about this game when compared with
standard RPGs and strategy-type games can immediately be noticed:
Everything is constantly moving. You zoom in on a map, and you
see your population (and that of the enemy cult, of course)
walking, building and, sometimes, fighting. Every single of your
followers (as well as those of the enemy cult, of course), can be
seen moving. There is also a possibility to constantly monitor
someone's whereabouts (e.g. that of the Evil Leader).
Being a deity, you have powers that mere mortals don't have: The
power the raise or lower pieces of land, build the landscape,
create earthquakes and swamps, cause the sea to rise one unit at
a time, and lots more. This gives the game a unique feel - a feel
of power. You are truly capable of wrecking the lives of entire
tribes, and you are equally capable of helping your own followers
to thrive and expand. The depth of the game is incredible.
Different landscapes create different ways of behaviour on your
people, they multiply and settle on their own, and you simply
guide them.
Simply?
Ah! That's what you thought! There's the enemy as well - and he
has powers that are about equal to yours. It's a small world, and
there's only place for one of the two.

The graphics are "Populous" are very good, and the sound effects
are way above average (digitized sound effects). The highly
acclaimed piece of intro music (by Rob Hubbard), with respect to
the Master, is a piece of ultimate trash. Just a small piece of
one-voice digi music that repeats after about half a minute. I
had hopes that it might change in due course (people were
mentioning 19 minutes of music), so I went to make a cup of tea -
only to return hearing the same half a minute of music.
Why all the hype about the music when it's SO bad? Lucky enough,
if you have a single sided disk drive, you will not be bothered
with it. Is Rob now cashing in on old success?
The rest of the game is excellent, though. It's not TOO
difficult, and there are many worlds to conquer (in conquest
mode). You can also play a custom game, where you can define over
60 game characteristics. There is an incredible variety in
graphics (desert, ice, normal, and hellishly hot), everything
moves, everything LIVES! "Populous" is mouse-controlled, the game
can be played by two players (through telephone modem or null-
modem), and it's just FINISHED.
It's an example of what a game should be like. Of course, it
also included the option of saving/loading your games (for which
an extra blank disk is required).

Concluding, "Populous" can be said to be a game destined to
become a classic (if it hasn't already achieved this status). I
consider it very likely to get a lot of high awards, including
the "Game of the Year 1989" (considering the fact that "Outrun"
once got it, I think it's VERY likely). I think I can already
mention the fact that it is very likely to become the "ST NEWS
Game of 1989"! It's good, it's deep.
It's a Divine Gem.

Game Rating:

Name: Populous
Company: Electronic Arts
Graphics: 8
Sound: 6 (intro music: 4)
Playability: 8
Hookability: 8.5
Value for money: 8.5
Overall rating: 9
Price: £24.95
Remark: Great game. A classic. Lousy intro
music (DS drives only). German
and French also appear to exist
Hardware: Color monitor, mouse, DS drive
required for intro music

An enormous load of thanks should go to Sara (I never did get
her surname?) at Electronic Arts, as well as Lesley Mansfield,
for sending the review copy. I consider this to be one of the
most valuable additions to my software library since....well.....
since "Gridrunner"... Sara and Lesley can also be contacted for
further information, at:

Electronic Arts
Langley Business Centre
11-49 Station Road
Langley nr. Slough
Berkshire SL3 8YN
England

Disclaimer
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.