Old Bullfrog Games
Peter Molyneux is, for me, one of the most aggravating game designers that I know of. The biggest problem with the guy is that he will not keep his mouth shut. Seriously. During almost any game’s development cycle, there are ideas written-down, tested, and then tossed-out because of A) Lack of time B) Lack of money or even C) Lack of ability to actually implement the idea.
As a result of this, most game designers won’t release many details about a games features and such until later into development of it – when things are more set in stone and are actually known to be in the game
Not Molyneux. Before the first line of code is even written, he’ll excitedly state what is going to be in his latest, greatest, game … and then, of course, more than half of it never gets delivered.
Best advice? Ignore what the man has to say. =\
That being said… he has made a few games that are quite nice! Brilliant even.
And then others are train wrecks – wrecks that wowed people and won awards even.
A LITTLE HISTORY OF THE MAN
Molyneux’s early beginnings as a game designer is one of the most hilarious stories I’ve ever heard. He’s a British guy, born in 1959, and got his first small start in the field by merely selling floppy disks that contained games on them. He then got the idea to program a text-only business simulation game called The Entrepreneur.
His reasons for doing this game are kinda oddly funny, because he said, direct quote here: “In those days you could literally call a game ‘Space Blob Attacks Mars’ and sell about 50 million copies. So what did I do? I did a business simulation”.
In other words: He seemingly thought that you could just design any game, put any title on it, and it would be guaranteed to sell.
He took out ad space for the game in a magazine, and duplicated hundreds of cassette tapes of the game all by himself (this was in 1984). So assured he was of the game’s instant success, that he looked at his mailbox (the orders for the game had to be mailed to him via the address given in the ads) and figured that the mailbox wouldn’t be large enough to hold all the letters. So he literally constructed a larger mailbox.
He received a grand total of 2 orders – one of which he was suspicious of being from his mother.
Totally dismayed by this venture, he got away from computers entirely by founding a company called Taurus Impex Limited. They exported beans to the Middle East.
I’m not kidding! lol
It gets even better. Commodore International (of the Commodore 64 fame) mistook the name of the company for the noted TORUS company, which produced networking software. They sent Molyneux’s company an offer to give him – totally free of charge – ten Amiga systems to help him port his latest piece of business software over to that platform.
Molyneux, pondering this case of mistaken identity for a while, shook hands with the man, took the computers, and left the office.
So, with the newly-acquired Amiga systems, Molyneux’s company sat down and programmed a database program for the Amiga called Acquisition. They then went back to Commodore, explained what had happened, and actually sold the program to rather modest success.
Come 1987, and using the money gained from the database program, he founded Bullfrog Productions – a game company that would produce some very unique games.
Bullfrog later merged with Microsoft, he formed Lionhead Studios and made titles such as Black and White, and just this last year he left that company to found the game company called 22Cans (where he is attempting to re-make his original game title of Populous).
The first title, released in 1989, was the original ‘God Game’ of Populous. Sporting slick Amiga graphics (and a nice DOS port as well as console versions), the first thing that struck me about the game (and it was the hot title of that year, winning all kinds of awards and such) was that it contained the hugest interface, with the smallest gameplay window, I’d ever seen.
So I bought a copy of it, brought it home to play … and was rather bored with it after a few days of gameplay.
All you do in this game, and I’m not even exaggerating, is raise and lower the little blocks of land. That’s pretty much it. The citizens do everything else. Flatten out the land so they can make a big castle, hut, or farmland. They multiply and spread.
And then, once you have enough mana built-up, cast spells to muck-up the enemy’s land (via poisonous swamps, volcanoes, or floods). Over 500 levels of raising and lowering land. Oh, and then the landscape will eventually change to a new ‘world’ of lava, ice, or desert – which has zero impact on the gameplay whatsoever.
This brain-dead and utterly monotonous game sold millions of copies, and even had an expansion disk released that added 4 new landscapes – and no additional gameplay at all (outside of new levels that is).
You can purchase the game, over at GOG.com, for $5.99.
POPULOUS 2: TRIALS OF THE OLYMPIAN GODS
The sequel to Populous came out in 1991, and in a way it actually has worse gameplay than the original. Now, admittedly there are more features, and a touch more depth to the 1-inch of shallow water in this game… but the exact same raise and lower the land core gameplay is still firmly in place. Nicer features included the Greek gods in the world, better graphics, more spells, and a full-screen view.
There were, naturally, 1000 maps to be conquered in this game.
My gripe with the game? Simple: If you turn on the feature called Computer Assist, you barely even have to touch the game in order to win it! The computer takes care of the tedious business of raising and lowering the land, and then after waiting and doing nothing simply start Armageddon and win the game.
Now, admittedly, in the far later levels of the game you actually do have to start participating in the gameplay in order to win – but far later levels is the key phrase here – and it’s still just a matter of clicking to create heroes, starting some odd fires or floods. That’s about it.
Like the original Populous, this game is available over on GOG.com for $5.99.
So, if this Molyneux dude is such an award-winning guy, and declared by many to be a Gaming God, it doesn’t look like I enjoy his games much, right?
Well, he certainly has had his misses. The first game of his to land solidly onto my tiny hard drive, those many years ago, and actually stay there, was this RTS (before RTS was even a term!) called Powermonger.
I had an actual 3D polygonal landscape! It had rivers, oceans, lakes, forests, and cities. March your troops through a dense forest, and a flock of birds would take flight – which might alert the enemy to your impending arrival. Clash with the enemy, conquer the city, and then plunder it for conscripts, food, and then start chopping down trees to construct better weapons.
Even set sail across the water in boats.
It’s a nice, easy to play (but challenging to master) game, with unlimited randomly generated worlds, and a massive campaign to conquer.
It has the oddest sound effects at times though. Battles are brief snippets of clashing swords along with clipped “ow” sounds – it sounds kinda odd.
There was an ‘expansion pack’ released for it – but all it did was change the graphics over to a WWI theme and add some additional siege weapons. I have never seen a copy of this expansion in my life, it is one of the rarest game expansions ever (I think, but could be wrong, that it was only released for the original Amiga game.) There’s a screenshot of it included here.
Oddly, Powermonger is not for sale over at GOG.com.
On July 21st, 2013, I uploaded a ready-to-play package containing Powermonger (all configured and ready-to-run in DOSBox), along with a pre-cracked executable (just click on okay to bypass the copy protection question), and a PDF copy of the manual. Check the Downloads section to see if it is still there.