The second coming of the god game

We talk to the developers behind the resurgent god game scene, finding out what”s triggered the renewed interest and why they disappeared into the shadows for so long.

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In the 1990s, Bullfrog were champions642-812 of the realm. God/management games – genres for which the line between is very blurred – were in high buy viagra demand, and from Populous to Dungeon Keeper, there was a wealth of titles that gave you dominion over a range of lands and creatures.

The end of the 90s saw the closure of Bullfrog, though, and since then zopiclone from canadian pharmacy the genre”s sat on the backburner, with only flickering releases reminding us of the spark that cemented Bullfrog”s originals in cult classic status.

Mucky Foot spawnedA2180-371 from the closure, creating Startopia in 2000, Eilixir Studios” Evil Genius snuck out in 2004, and Peter Molyneux oversaw two Black & White games while at Lionhead, with the second one coming in 2005. Since then, we”ve seen even fewer releases that fall under the god games umbrella, with the largely inaccessible Dwarf Fortress holding down the fort for the past five or so years.

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The Resurrection

Now, though, developers are returning to the genre, and it”s an exciting time for people who want to feel the power of god in their hands. If everything goes to plan, Maia will next year be taking dungeon management into space, offering deep sci-fi simulation with a smooth interface, while Zeal Studios recently released A Game of Dwarves, sticking closely to Dwarf Fortress in setting, but offering a simpler experience.

Then there”s War for the Overworld and Impire, both of which make no pains to hide their Dungeon Keeper influence, while the god of god games himself Peter Molyneux turned to Kickstarter last week to seek funding for Godus, his “reinvention” of Populous. The genre is burgeoning once

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again, and Molyneux thinks it”s thanks to Kickstarter and other aspects that allow developers to circumvent the need for traditional funding routes.

“Part of it is Kickstarter. Part of it is the ability for people who are passionate about an idea to not jump through the existing hoops of publishers or venture capitalists or bank managers,” says Molyneux. “People are realising, ?Not only can I get funding from the world, but the potential is huge – so we?ll just move things along a bit.? I think that the god game genre is one of those genres that would work incredibly well on the new platforms. We could be really inventive.”

Maia creator Simon Roth also feels that publishers were an obstacle to god games getting made, as niche titles don”t fit into the business-minded view of the games industry that AAA studios have.

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“I”m not entirely sure why they died out – obviously EA has a role to play in that, and some questions to answer, and obviously Microsoft and Lionhead,” says Roth. “I

think as soon as a developer gets owned, then suddenly you”re moving to needing to up budgets, and get more money, and things that are considered niche go out the door.”

“And I mean, I”ve spoken to publishers recently – obviously people have noticed Maia and wanted to discuss it with me – and again they”ve gone “well this has always been a really small niche, and you”re going to need to make it social and add micropayments and stuff” and so I think publishers are still afraid of going for anything that”s less than a multi-million pound extravaganza, and I think god games have been considered too complex, or perhaps going after a certain market where everything”s gone very wide ranging now.”

Maia is currently in the final days of its Kickstarter campaign, and while it”s garnered plenty of press attention and raised over ?75,000 so far,

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its lofty goal of ?100,000 has not yet been reached, and it”s going to come down to the wire. Godus, meanwhile, has been live for just a few days and is already ?125,000 of the way towards its ?450,000 target. There”s clearly interest in the genre, something that Zeal Studios game designer Sebastian Thorwaldsson attests to, having already seen the market respond positively to viagra buy online A Game of Dwarves.

“Considering that it was a hard week on Steam that we released, and there was a lot of good games out ?- XCOM had come out the week before, the Assassin”s Creed guys had a super-sale on every Assassin”s Creed game ever, stuff like that – so we went up against some really rough competition, and we still sold okay,” says Thorwaldsson. “So we”re pleased with that,

so yeah, we do think there”s a market to be had for these kind of games.”

Game of Dwarves carried a low price-point, coming in at under ten pounds, but Thorwaldsson believes that successes in other niche genres show that a similar style game could sell at a higher price. ” If you look at games like, well, XCOM isn”t really a god game, but it”s also a very classic strategic game, like turn-based strategy game, but they go for full price, and they sell a lot, so there”s definitely a market.”

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A Game of Dwarves was backed by Paradox Interactive – and they”re currently one of the only publishers who seem interested in supporting niche genres. They”re also publishing Cyanide”s Impire, and the developers behind both games acknowledge that they may have struggled to find support from the other big publishers.

“If we tried to pitch it to the large publishers, like EA, or the really big ones, we might have run into problems, because they want to make the mass-market games still,” says Thorwaldsson. “And this isn”t a mass market game, we will never sell 10 million copies of this game. And that”s the way the AAA industry looks at gaming: you need to sell millions of copies.”

Cyanide”s Yves Bordeleau was full of praise for Paradox. “Other publishers haven”t found a good fit with developers to develop those kinds of games. But I think Paradox are gamers at heart, and they really like the games that they publish: these guys are passionate.

“They really focus on niche types

of games and they really care about their games and, honestly, they really like dungeon management games, and they thought there was a place in the market to work on those games and to publish some, and they decided to invest them. I really think it”s a matter of they really believe in that genre to come back, so that”s why they”re pushing it to really come back.”

It”s not just opportunity that”s triggered this god game resurrection. The people behind the games aren”t in it because they”ve spotted a gap in the marketplace and want to fill it, but because they feel as passionately about the genre as the fans their games are aimed towards.

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Bordeleau describes genre trends as cyclical, an0 online casino dgfev Thorwaldsson express a similar opinion, believing that we”re simply experiencing the result of people growing up and wanting to create for others what inspired them to become game developers in the first place. “I like to believe it”s my age of gamers growing up and becoming game developers themselves, and remembering what games I liked to play when I was a kid. So this is the kind of game that I wanted to make for several years, and I missed this game, so that”s why I made this. My team felt the same way.”

Bullfrog Worship

Every developer listed Molyneux”s Bullfrog as an inspiration, with Dwarf Fortress also getting mentioned in most conversations, but they were also keen to stress that they”re taking the basic principles those games set out and moving in their own direction. Molyneux, too, stresses the importance of creativity, saying it”s not good enough to simply recreate – you have to reinvent.

“I think it?s a great phase in time for creativity, and invention, and uniqueness,” says Molyneux. “As long as people don?t dwell too much on trying to recreate. My worry is that people are going to go out and go, ?Oh, I?ll just get a load of Kickstarter money, and I?ll port it,? essentially. That?s not what we should be trying to do, because those things are kind of a failure. We should be inspired viagra cialis levitra sample pack by what we created originally, of course, but definitely think about what we could be doing that?s new.”

Roth feels similarly. ?”Yeah, I mean, I want Maia to be its own thing. I can create clones quite easily, I could create Dungeon Keeper with updated graphics: I think there”s actually a project on the internet doing that somewhere.

“If I did make a clone, or if I made Dwarf Fortress with an interface, there”s always going to be someone who goes “oh, you didn”t have this from Dwarf F ortress exactly right”, or “you didn”t have this from Dungeon Keeper exactly right”, or “you lost this”. Whereas in Maia, if someone says that, I go “well I”m my own game, look at it”. So I think being able to stand on my own is quite important artistically for me.”

The updated Dungeon Keeper project that Roth mentions is War for the Overworld, but those responsible for the project, Subterranean Games, are keen to point out where the differences do lie. According to game designer Josh Bishop, it”ll focus more on competitive multiplayer, offering players a wider range of strategies and encouraging them to explore outside their base, saying the insular nature of the original Dungeon Keeper games were their biggest weakness.

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Impire is taking a similar approach. Again, it”s difficult not to look at it and immediately think Dungeon Keeper clone, but Bordeleau insures me that people will be surprised by how different it is, with the game actually being “two-fold” and blending dungeon management with RTS, allowing you to feel a sense of ownership over your dungeon while also venturing beyond its walls to explore and conquer.

New Gods

While each of these games claim to be taking the god genre into new and innovative territory, they”re still following the same base template that defines the genre. But what exactly is it that makes god games quite so appealing in the first place? Thorwaldsson puts it most simply – saying that dungeon management games are “inherently fun”, while Bordeleau thinks it”s the level of control that makes them so likeable.

“It”s always nice to play a god-like character, especially when it”s an evil one,” says Bordeleau. “But I think that the idea of building your own dungeon to have control over your different minions kind of gives you a feeling of power and control that you weren”t really finding in classic RTSes, because in classic RTSes you”re doing warfare, you”re sending units and stuff, but you don”t have the “that”s my dungeon, I have to protect it”: you don”t have that ownership feeling. I think that”s what really made the games stand out back in the days.”

For Roth, it”s the personal narratives that the games allow you to weave, and he”s hoping the depth of Maia will allow people to experience unique stories that they”ll go on to share, as they do with Dwarf Fortress.”I hope that because of that depth, Maia will have this long-term interest, and people will be able to tell their stories, and have their let”s play on YouTube, that each time will be something special to them and their own little narrative which will be really nice.”

Dwarf Fortress nails the simulation aspect of god games, but isn”t exactly a game that”s easy to play – when someone regales you with their experience of the game, it really is unique and sounds fantastic, but battling frustration and reaching that point for yourself ?requires work that not many people, myself included, are willing, or able, to put in.

Finding that balance between deep simulation and accessibility is difficult, but one you can strike by making sure the complicated stuff is underneath the surface. And that”s something Bullfrog did so well

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– providing a game that anyone can pick up and play without sacrificing the complex systems that underlie them.

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“We were talking about this the other day – how are we going

make people who aren”t familiar with games like Dungeon Keeper and Evil Genius, how are we going to make them able to understand what the game is?,” said Bishop. “And it”s like, the core of the mechanics of the game are so simple – you have blocks that you tag, and workers dig them and claim them, and then you put things in the squares: it”s just a grid. And then the complex part is the interaction of everything you put in the grid, but it”s the simplicity of the very core stuff that”s so good.”

Bordeleau was also keen to avoid over-complicating things in Impire, with one simplified design decision – making rooms a set size cialis refractory period – drawing

ire from various corners of the internet. Cyanide stand by that design, though, saying that while it offered players the customisation they desired, it just wasn”t fun with so much going on.

“Initially, we wanted to have more buy generic viagra of a customisation type approach, like in

DK, but it became too much like we had every complex and complicated dungeon management and RTS design aspect: it became far too complicated to play,” explains Bordeleau. “So we tried to narrow the creative aspects of constructing your dungeon, but at the same time, in doing that, we made the game far more enjoyable.”

It”s heartwarming just how excited each of these developers are about the genre they”re helping to reignite. When talking about their games, it doesn”t sound like they”re just reeling off a sales pitch: they”re genuine fans of this genre, something that”s most evident in how they talk about the other games – not as competition, but as part of the same exciting resurgence. Growing up with god games, these developers want exactly what the fans

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want, and that”s surely going to work out well for everyone.

Jamie Donnelly

Author: Jamie Donnelly

Jamie is the editor-in-chief of, overseeing all aspects of editorial and community content. In his spare time, he enjoys writing two-sentence personal bios in the third-person.

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