No Longer Omnipotent – A look into the decline of ‘god games’

Power. Everyone wants it, everyone wants to be the hero. Everyone wants to be infinitely more powerful and infinitely more awesome than they curently are. It’s a huge reason as to why we play games. It’s escapism at its best. Someone knew that, and looked to give us something more than a soldier or a superhero or whatnot. They saw that everyone loves being awesome and powerful and answered the question ‘What is the most awesome and powerful thing you could be?’ The answer, of course, was a god.

Now some may disagree with me, but I’m going to go ahead and say – at least for this post’s purpose – the first real god game was Peter Molyneux’s Populous. Released way back when in 1989, Populous began the trends that god games would come to follow. You didn’t fight enemies – if there were any – yourself. You couldn’t directly build things. It was like a real-time strategy game, except you were merely an aid and a guide. An aid and a guide who could shape the land to their will if they so chose, but an aid and a guide nonetheless. Even if you did a ton of things for your people, it was up to them to survive. But I have no real experience with the Populous series, so let’s skip ahead about a decade.

Can you take a guess what kind of god I was?

Black & White was the first god game I had ever played. I was enthralled by the near-limitless amount of god-like abilities and the experiment gameplay (which was completely HUD-less). You were a hand, you had your people, that was it. Go off and prove yourself to be the superior god. Oh, right. You also had a 50-foot animal meandering about with you, able to be trained and shaped in your image. The Creatures, as the game called them, made it unique. You weren’t alone (villagers don’t count) in your quest. You had a companion, you essentially had an avatar to do your will outside of your divine influence! If you wanted to deal with two things at once, you could even train the silly bastard to handle one task while you handle something completely different.

Emphasis on silly.

Unfortunately, Black & White hasn’t aged terribly well. The graphics are shoddy, and this is coming from someone who doesn’t give a flying kazoo about graphics as long as they don’t strain the eyes. The AI is simplistic. The expansion (Creature Isle) and the sequel? A complete mess. At the time, it seemed like the Black & White series – and by extension (and my own limited knowledge)  the god game genre – was dead, or at least dying.

I kept this mentality until I read that a new game in the series, titled Black & White: Creatures, was coming to the then-new Nintendo DS. “Holy shit! This cool series is coming back to life on this awesome new system? Shut up and take my money, Lionhead!” … Yeah, nothing ever came from that, despite the idea being great. I proceeded to go back into my ‘god games are dead’ phase until recently.

Simply beautiful, isn't it?

On August 17, From Dust was released. A spiritual successor to Populous, the original god game. I was psyched. I immediately preordered it. The genre I had loved so much was finally coming back. As great as it is, there are so many problems, at least on the PC version. I won’t go into detail here, but check the article above. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great, and I hope it makes a small fortune and paves the road for new god games. I just can’t help but think about how a successor to Black & White would be, given the technological advances we’ve made in the past ten years. Part of me wants to say it went downhill when Creature Isle came out, part of me wants to say that the original game was overrated.

If anyone who is reading this remembers Black & White, chime in. Is nostalgia and wonder clouding my vision or was Black & White truly the greatest god game ever made? Do we have any chance for it to get back to that standard? I can only hope so. Sorry about all the rambling, but this has been on my mind for a good week or so now. So, to all of you out there who are doing what you can to bring this great, under-appreciated genre back to the old standard, I thank you. As always, thanks for reading and have a good’un.

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One Response to No Longer Omnipotent – A look into the decline of ‘god games’

  1. Holy cripes. I never expected the thing to be this long or this ramble-y, so let me apologize for that. I didn’t cut anything out because I wasn’t going for the nice, ‘let’s take this subject apart and analyze it’ approach that I sometimes go for with my reviews, MotWs, etc.
    So, yeah. Sorry about the length, rambling, all that. Thanks for reading.

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