1989. The GameBoy is released in North America, and I don't care. I don't care because I own the finest piece of gaming hardware ever made -- the Atari ST computer. Hyperbole? Sure. But in the summer of 1989 I was playing a game unlike anything I'd ever seen. That game was Peter Molyneux's most original game ever: Populous.
1989 was a good year for gamers. It brought us Prince of Persia. It brought us the GameBoy. But more than anything else, it brought us two games that gave us the opportunity to become gods. The first game was SimCity, the second was Populous. Something was clearly in the air that year.
My first reaction to populous was that it felt like I was living in the future. For the first time, I was making the game world as I played it. Raising and lowering terrain -- the basic functions of the game until Molyneux added layers of complexity -- and deforming the wire mesh that made my miniature world seemed like the stuff of science fiction. Yes folks, back then wire frames were cool, and it was phenomenally entertaining to just make lakes, flatten mountains, and flood your neighbor's fields, all the while trying to make a nice hospitable planet for your people to live on. Ultimately, your bigger, stronger population takes over the world, and you become the one-true-god or die trying.
Populous was a breakout success for Molyneux, and the game spawned numerous sequels, most recently culminating in Populous DS, which remains faithful to the simple but still highly strategic world-domination game play of the original.
The god-sim genre, if there really is such a thing, remained Molyneux's playground for quite some time, culminating in Black & White, which concerned itself with the terrain of the soul far more than that of the land itself. But the ideas behind populous live on in everything from the Sims franchise to Civilization.