Populous: The Beginning is the third game in the PC strategy god games of the Populous series, developed by Bullfrog Productions in 1998. The PC version of the game was released November 30, 1998; a PlayStation version was later developed and released on April 2, 1999, later emulated on the PlayStation Network in 2007. Unlike earlier games in the series, which cast the player in the role of a god influencing loyal followers, The Beginning took a radical departure from the earlier games and placed the player in the role of a shaman, who directly leads her tribe against opponents. Throughout the twenty-five missions of the campaign, the player leads their tribe across a solar system, dominating enemy tribes and tapping new sources of magic, with the ultimate goal of the shaman attaining godhood herself.
Populous: The Beginning was the first entry in the series to use true 3D graphics; Bullfrog waited four years to develop the sequel to Populous II so that the graphics technology could catch up to their vision for a new and different game in the series. The addition of terrain deformation and manipulation, combined with "smart" villagers who automatically attended to tasks, was considered by the developers to add an entirely new dimension to the series. The game's original title was The Third Coming, before being changed before the beta release.
Populous: The Beginning plays very different from earlier titles, and was welcomed to mixed reviews. Reviewers positively noted the excellent graphics; complaints were directed at the artificial intelligence and the inability of the game to decide between being a real time strategy title or god game. GamePro said that Populous: The Beginning was not a bad game, in fact a good one; "but it's a different game—one without a quintessential quality that defined Populous."
Populous: The Beginning places the player in control of a female shaman and her following tribe. Unlike the previous games in the series, The Beginning allows the player to directly control the action of followers, by ordering them to build structures or attack enemies. In the campaign, the player must fight the opposing Dakini, Matak and Chumara tribes for dominion over the solar system. Enemy tribes also have shamans, and later levels have all three tribes on one world. Whilst the objective is always to eliminate all of the members of the other tribes, there are often specific ways this can be achieved — sometimes the player must use spells gained from worship at special "artefacts", such as stone heads or "Vaults of Knowledge"; in other cases, the player only needs to overwhelm the enemies with superior numbers. The game has no formal resource management; new units are created automatically at houses, and training new warriors costs nothing except mana. Only wood from trees is required to build new structures.
The game is played from a 3D third person perspective with the camera at a variable height and capable of rotating 360°, enabling the player to quickly move across the planet's terrain, which is actually a real projective plane rather than a usual sphere; on maps where there is no fog of war, players can see what opponents are doing at any time. Extensive support for 3D acceleration enables the player to view the game in 16-bit or 32-bit colour. The landscape and real-time structure building and follower movement are also shown. The player commands several different types of followers, each of which has advantages and disadvantages in combat. The most basic unit is the Brave, which builds houses, towers, and military buildings. Braves are trained at specific buildings to become different units. Warriors are the most basic military unit, employing a melee attack. The player can also train Firewarriors, which are weaker but shoot fireballs over a long distance; Priests, which can convert enemy units (and prevent enemy priests from converting friendly troops); and Spies, which perform espionage functions. The Shaman herself is fairly weak, although she can be resurrected indefinitely during gameplay. Shamans make up for their weakness with a number of spells, which can be used in offensive or defensive situations. Some spells are single-use, and once the player uses the spell a certain number of times, will disappear. Other spells can slowly be replenished for continued use; the rate of spell regeneration correlates to the player's number of followers. Examples of spells include "Landbridge", which raises the sea floor to create bridges across the sea; "Swarm", which sends a horde of insects to sow confusion in enemy ranks; and "Tornado", which as its name suggests creates a cyclone to destroy buildings. There are twenty-six spells in total, which are slowly learned throughout the campaign.
Populous: The Beginning is multiplayer compatible, either by head-to-head direct modem connection, LAN, IPX, or using matchmakers over TCP/IP. Modders added matchmaking clients, which can be downloaded from fan sites. Populous: The Beginning allows for a maximum game size of four players playing against each other.
Populous: The Beginning does not take place on Earth; rather, the game takes place in a planetary system of exactly twenty-five unnamed planets. There is no indication as to whether the game takes place in the future or past, as the universe within the game is seemingly unconnected with reality. While many of the planets are predominantly grasslands dotted with trees, other worlds feature wildly different terrains, such as a volcanic world and a planet almost entirely covered by water. These worlds are inhabited by four distinct human tribes, represented by their color: the green "Matak", the yellow "Chumara", and the red "Dakini"; the fourth blue tribe, which the player assumes control of, is never mentioned by name. While all the tribes are dominated by a single female shaman, no other females are seen with the exception of the cutscenes; all fighters are male. Each of these tribes is hostile to one another for unspecified reasons. In addition to the organized tribes are 'wildmen', neutral characters who cluster in groups around trees and water. Though they cannot attack or be attacked, players can use the Shaman's Convert spell to bring wildmen under her tribe's control.
Populous: The Beginning takes place before the first two games in the series. The player controls the Blue tribe, pitted against the three enemy tribes which control most of the solar system. The player's destiny as Shaman is to become a deity; only by defeating all the enemies in the system can the player's shaman become omnipotent. The player begins on the planet furthest from the sun, and attacks each planet in sequence. Along the way, the Shaman can learn new skills and magic to defeat her (usually) much more powerful enemies. Victory requires the player to either destroy the opposition, or on occasion perform special actions. The player loses if his or her Shaman is killed and there are no remaining followers to resurrect her, if the Shaman is killed and there is no circle of resurrection, or the player runs out of time on timed levels. Upon beating back the other tribes, the Shaman ascends to godhood, and further helps her people conquer the Matak, Chumara and Dakini in one final conflict.
Populous was developed as the first game in the series with entirely 3D graphics; producer Stuart Whyte said that, "We're really proud of what we've done in software because it does look really nice." The game was published more than four years after Populous II; the developers stated that the delay was due to waiting for the hardware specifications to come along that would allow them to do something very different and new. The game was also the first to go without Populous creator Peter Molyneux, who left Bullfrog to create Lionhead Studios. Originally, the game was known as "The Third Coming", but the name was changed by the time the game was shown in a fully-playable beta form in late 1998. Alan Wright, the game's project leader, stressed both the departure the game took from previous titles in the series, as well as distinguishing itself from similar games like Command and Conquer. The elements of smart villagers and terrain-reforming, he said, "adds a whole level of gameplay not found in those titles." In some aspects, the developers were forced to remove features due to technical constraints; for example, the "Plague" spell from previous Populous titles was dropped because in practice the spell was too frustrating. The music was composed by Mark Knight, who had joined Bullfrog's team in 1997.
Intended to supplement the multiplayer aspect of Populous: The Beginning, Bullfrog released an expansion, Populous: The Beginning - Undiscovered Worlds, in 1999. The expansion was only made available in the UK and US. The add-on offered twelve new single-player and twelve multiplayer levels, with a continuation of the storyline begun in the previous game. The player takes on the role of a new shaman, who must restore peace to the solar system.
Populous: The Beginning was generally received favorably on release. Reviewers were especially smitten with the immersive 3D graphics; Edge stated that "previous Bullfrog games have always placed gameplay above graphical finesse, but that's no longer the case." GameSpot's reviewer appreciated how The Beginning was a daring revamp of the series, instead of a safe, slightly modified sequel (like the earlier Populous II). Computer and Video Games rated The Beginning as a "better play" than the original.
Common complaints of the game included the difficulty of controlling followers; the same AI that allowed followers to automatically construct buildings led to problems directing followers in the midst of a hectic battle. Similarly, IGN noted that with the player's followers automatically going about daily life, even with multiplayer options the replay value was lowered. Others found that the automation rendered gameplay too simple, with no upgrades and no serious resource management, making the game caught between the god game and RTS genres, and succeeding at neither. Edge decided that while the more rigid play format of The Beginning was new to the series, it had the effect of making the end result less show-stopping", a sentiment PC Gamer echoed when they said the missions "become mind-numbingly repetitive". The publication subsequently decided that the game failed to live up to the previous games in the series. More charitably, GamePro noted that Populous: The Beginning "is not a bad game. In fact, it's a quite a good one. But it's a different game—one without a quintessential quality that defined Populous."
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Populous: The Beginning at Gamespy. Gamespy. Retrieved on 2007-09-04.
- ↑ Populous: The Beginning at Gamespy (PS). Gamespy. Retrieved on 2007-09-04.
- ↑ The PlayStation 3 store. Retrieved on 2008-02-20.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Olafson, Peter (2000-01-01). Review: Populous 3. GamePro. Retrieved on 2007-09-07.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 PC Review: Populous: the Beginning. Computer and Video Games (2001-09-13). Retrieved on 2007-09-11.
- ↑ Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. p. 3.
- ↑ 7.0 7.1 Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. p. 4.
- ↑ Populous: The Beginning at MobyGames. MobyGames. Retrieved on 2007-09-07.
- ↑ Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. pp. 8–9.
- ↑ Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. p. 8.
- ↑ 11.0 11.1 11.2 Ward, Trent (1999-01-01). IGN: Populous: The Beginning Review. IGN. Retrieved on 2007-06-06.
- ↑ Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. p. 2.
- ↑ Bullfrog Studios, ed (1998-11-30). Populous: The Beginning Instruction Manual. Electronic Arts. p. 7.
- ↑ 14.0 14.1 14.2 Staff (2002-09-22). Populous 3: 'Nothing to Write Home About'. Game Review. Retrieved on 2007-09-07.
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 Staff (1998-10-05). Populous: The Beginning Preview. IGN. Retrieved on 2007-09-04.
- ↑ 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 Poole, Stephen (1997-08-21). The Beginning Preview at Gamespot. Gamespot. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
- ↑ Mark Knight profile. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
- ↑ Populous 3 - Undiscovered Worlds. Computer and Video Games. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
- ↑ Populous: The Beginning - Undiscovered Worlds. MobyGames. Retrieved on 2007-09-05.
- ↑ Edge Online: Search Results. Edge. Retrieved on 2007-09-17.
- ↑ Populous: The Beginning Reviews. Game Rankings. Retrieved on 2007-09-06.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 "Edge". Future Publishing. Christmas 1998 (Issue 66). pp. 92–93.
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 Dulin, Ron (1998-12-11). Populous: The Beginning for PC Review. Gamespot. Retrieved on 2007-09-08.
- ↑ 24.0 24.1 McDonald, T. Liam (March 1999). "Populous: The Beginning". PC Gamer: 134–135.