The RTSC Games List

Age of... Historical WW2 Modern Near Future Sci-Fi Spaceships Fantasy City Builders God Games MMORTS

God Games
A subset of Sim Management, the God Game places you in the role of a magical deity, lording it over your faithful brethren. Usually, the primary resource generated and spent is "Mana", which is a store of mystical energy generated by the collective worship of your believers. God Games definitely take the Commandment to heart: "Thou shalt have none other gods before me" and invariably a God Game is all about your good LORDly self smiting rival deities and their misbegotten minions, whilst clearing the way for your own True Believers.

God Games also include any other games that use the same egocentric structure, but not necessarily religiously themed. For example, you play the part of a James Bond villain lording it over his secret base in Evil Genius, and in Darwinia, as a hacker, you have God-like perspective and powers over the virtual Darwinians.

Alien Nations (2003)

A rather peculiar Settlers clone from German developer JoWood Productions. The premise: instead of dropping off the "seeds of life" at their intended destinations, three cosmic Storks(!) drop the seeds off at the planet Lukkat for a few jars on the sly at the galactic local. Alas, three alien races are loosed upon a world they were never intended for, and you, dear player, must resolve the issue. That's about as interesting as it gets, I'm afraid. like many three sided RTS's you get the obligatory humans (Amazons in bikinis), the mystical magic users (blue skinned Pimmons) and some ravenous alien monsters (insectile Sajikis). Compared to the densely lush environments and detail in The Settlers, Alien Nations looks and plays sparsely and looks a wee bit... derivative.Back

Black & White series

Part God Game, part player psychology test, part character study, part Tamagotchi. Lionhead Studio's first game pushed the who God Game thing to the next level, while you were again a Deity lording it over an archipelago of islands, the game's most notable feature was the giant creature you had to look after and train up. Depending on how you treated it and it behaved, it would morph between an angelic, colourful creature or degenerate into a red eyed, smoldering, spiked monstrosity. It polarised players at the time: you either loved it or hated it.Back

Darwinia (2005)

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"Underground" British developer Introversion Software's Darwinia is a rather cute little game concerning a tribe of game sprites struggling to make their way in a three dimensional virtual world. Its certainly offbeat, and deliberately aims for a graphical and playing style that harks back to the early days of gaming. The really early ones. Modern day kids might think it a bit weird or ugly or just a TRON clone, but there's more to it than that. There's a little bit of strategy here, and a little bit of simple management, but the action can get very arcady, old skool coin-op style, and the monsters are straight out of the early days of 16 bit 3D gaming (Amiga and Atari ST era), but with the polish and fluidity gained by today's breed of powerful graphic cards.

You play the part of a hacker who logs into an online space called Darwinia, a sort of cross between a virtual theme park and an R&D project for artificial intelligence. The denizens of this world, the Darwinians, are little more than static icons that live within this primitive environment. Unfortunately, Darwinia has been thoroughly ravaged by a nasty red Virus, and you are recruited by Dr Sepulveda, director of the Darwinia project, to save their world. It all looks and feels like some academic's dry research project, but as you progress through all the levels, Darwinia seems to take on a strange life and depth of its own. Its the strong sense of metaphysics in the storyline that caught me by surprise: the primitive Darwinians are taking their first tentative steps into self awareness. Strange to see that juxtaposed with gameplay straight out of Centipede!

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Dr Sepulveda is strongly reminiscent of British entrepreneur Clive Sinclair, who developed the Sinclair ZX80 8-bit home computer (amongst many other things). In the Eighties, especially in Britain and parts of Europe, the ZX80, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, and other 8-bit home computers led directly to home computer gaming and an explosion of "bedroom programmers". Much of that kick-started the process that fed into modern PC gaming. In them tharr distant days, games were small, developed by a few guys and knocked out every few months. The (very few) people I knew who played home computer games back then had their favourite game programmers along with their favourite rock stars. Very little of it exists these days - which is why Darwinia has caused quite a stir online amongst the digerati and any game commentators old enough to remember when home computer gaming (as distinct from the arcades or dedicated consoles) was only a few years old. You just had to be there, I guess.

Darwinia is essentially a single player campaign, although it surprised me by having considerable replay value. There's a little strategy here, a little management there. Darwinia is part gaming nostalgia, part period-piece cyber punk drama, and spiced with a small dash of metaphysics. As you progress through the missions, you learn more about the Darwinians' life cycle and become more involved in their struggle. Dr Sepulveda helps you by developing and improving the subroutines that drive everything, effectively offering a tech-tree. For a game, its hard to categorise.

This is a genuinely independent little production, quite original and worthy of a bit of support. Its very basic, cheap and very fun. The atmosphere and world is unique, especially in a contemporary gaming world riddled with cliché and dominated by self-absorbed franchises. Darwinia, by contrast, does its own unique thing without the need for years of development, millions of dollars and a team of hundreds. Being the old fart I am, I'm hooked! :)Back

Dungeon Keeper 2 (2002)

Dungeon Keeper II is like any dungeon crawl, except the twist is you play the part of evil, a Dungeon Keeper, and its your dungeon those wretched heroes and elves are crawling through. Build up your dungeon, attract, train, pay and deploy a menagerie of different creatures, encourage Warlocks to study new spells and powers for you, have skeleton armies, torture chambers, temples to Dark Gods, its all here! Probably one of the best God Games ever, and like all old Bullfrog games, it pushed the genre onwards and upwards.Back

Evil Genius (2004)

Developed by Elixir Studios, this is a light hearted romp through 60's Bond films where you play the part of a Blofeld style villain decking out your secret lair in order to rule the world. Naturally, you have pesky good guys to contend with whilst extorting the UN and plotting World War III. You base build, develop evil weapons, manage your minions, resist incursions and attempt to conduct missions. The final result had some control issues, and didn't seem to change the world that much. Elixir is also producing an interesting game called Republic: The Revolution.Back

Heaven & Hell (2003)

Developed by German developer MadCat, this clone seems to follow in the footsteps of The Settlers and Black & White a little too closely. You build up a settlement, but choose a Good or Evil path to follow. Most reviews seem to think this average at best; the demo doesn't look any more promising.Back

Populous series

Bullfrog single-handedly created the God game with this series. Long before the acronym "RTS" was coined, there were "simulation games", of which Populous was the sole example. After lots of shoot-'em-up sideways scrollers (also long before what we call the First Person Shooter) flight sims and turn based adventuring, suddenly there was , Populous finally offered a computer game that seemed unique to computers. It didn't refer to movies, or showground shooting galleries, or pretend dashboards - it referred to something unique to itself; a simulated world with its own rules, populated by imaginary creatures who had lives and who lived within the closed ecosystem of the simulation. If anything, it resembled a virtual ant farm, but with wild and woolly rules and crazy game mechancis just for you.

You play the part of a minor deity lording it over their people, and whose power is determined by the amount of Mana their devotion generates for you. You could raise and lower land, create gardens out of swamps, raise mountains - and best of all mightly smite those little sprites with your own terrible plagues, floods, fireballs and thunderous lightning bolts. Populous was the first multiplayer game I played (1v1 via a serial to serial connection on two Amiga 2000's) in real time where the two of us fought it out like two viruses in a petri dish. Its what I imagined computer games should have been like, instead of paltry reproductions of other things, like shooting galleries in old agricultural shows or dorky RPG's with the mathematical sophistication of dice rolling and double digit arithmetic. I found the first computer games very, very uninspiring, although their potential had me hooked for ages.

Kohan screenshot

Populous (1989)
The original game used a malleable, LEGO like landscape that could be raised and lowered via your Divine Will to help your people grow, as well as a barrage of nifty spells to drop upon the worthless unbelievers following other players. It might seem seem incredible now, but it used a 320x256 screen on PAL Amigas. You can find some old screenshots showing Bullfrog's development progression at this blog. Populous can still be played on DOS-Box, an old MS-DOS emulator for modern Windows PC's.

Populous: Promised Lands (1989)
An add-on of sorts. Essentially, all it did was change the tileset graphics into some new wild and wacky variations. Everything else about the expansion was identical to the original. There was LEGO world, Bit world (as in 16bit, with lands made of computer components), Wild West world, French Revolution world and an abstract world made of geometric shapes.

Populous II: The Trials of the Olympian Gods (1992) expanded the original concept into a Greco-Roman setting. This was a vast graphical upgrade with more features, animation and effects. Being able to sprout volcanoes with lava, invoke vast tidal waves, rains of fire, tornados or just point the archetypical Finger of God at enemy Heroes made it all worthwhile. Lots and lots of fun, if I recall: an excellent sequel.

Populous III: The Beginning (1998)
This took the full 3D route and gave a you a complete spherical world to crash around on. It was interesting, but not as substantial looking as its isometric pixel art predecessors, who enjoyed lush looking graphics by comparison. That is, they seemed pretty lush for the standards way back then. Early 3D games in the late 90's looked very grey and primitive compared to their more developed 2D sidekicks, and they're nothing compared to what's thundering around now in the games industry. Developers were still counting every polygon back in the day, and art direction and game mechanics were long on big ideas, nut a bit shorter on actual appeal and hands on gameplay. Populous III used crude polygonal detail and simple, sprites for characters. Its still worth a look, as it does have Bullfrog's innovation (and weird interface design!) and sense of the surreal.

Long before Supreme Commander gave us its "strategy view", one of Populous III's innovations was a cosmic zoom of its own, traveling from ground level to a low orbital minimap view. Unlike Supreme Commander, Populous III could also let you roll the camera around the small world you were fighting for, which was the only way you could see everything.

Powermonger (1991)

People tend to wax lyrical about developers Westwood (now defunct) and Blizzard establishing the "standard" RTS model, but that's not to say there weren't other strategy games that played out in real time a long time before them. Bullfrog created Populous in 1989 well ahead of Dune2 or Command & Conquer - when games of this nature were simply classified as "simulations". Simulating a real time conflict when the idea of a computer calculating and playing out a big battle was still pretty exotic. It was also a tricky thing for a basic 8bit or 16bit home computer to do as well. Populous created a new type of simulation called the God Game, which played out in the same vein as the original SimCity, except with the player literally playing God and only indirectly affecting units.

Powermonger was a step up in complexity from Populous, and more of a proper war game, using generals, troops and economic and technological management.It wasn't fantasy, nor religious, and it wasn't really historical or specific to any time or place. Much like really vintage games such as the Ancient Art of War, Powermonger was utterly generic. It was simply a "war" game set in a "simulation".

It used a 3D real time engine (you could even zoom in and out) where you annexed a string of three dimensional maps using your Generals and a force of guys recruited and trained from nearby towns and villages. I played this a lot on the Amiga 2000, and it was pretty cutting edge for its time. 3D games back then (around 1990-ish) were considered the ultimate in cutting edge. They dazzled players with dozens, even hundreds of polygons at a time, used lots of sprites for characters, and having a frame rate of 6-12 fps was considered pretty slick and cutting edge back then - especially for computers that revved along at 1.4Mhz.Back

SPORE (2008)

Development had been heavily hyped for many years, but Spore's tremendous promise was a little undone by the final result. It initially looked to be something quite uniquely different in the gaming world - perhaps even fundamentally different. You guide the evolution of a species from single celled organism right through to a galaxy spanning culture. This is the sort of thing I imagined computer games could be, before being bitterly disappointed by what they actually were. Still, twenty years has been an exciting time watching this fledgling medium grow up.

Spore is what you might call a Massive Singleplayer Online Game, where you play you the game on your own, but all the creatures you encounter have all be created by other players playing the game on their own and uploaded to a massive server online. Everything is editable, from the all the creatures right through to their civilisations, buildings and vehicles. If nothing else, the gaming industry is slavering over the prospect of a title where the users provide 99.9% of all the worlds and creatures within it.

For the players, Spore turned out to be a series of sequential character and building editors - each quite arbitrary and distinct from each other, and not a continuous evolution from single cell to space empire as the initial hype implied. Another criticism it weathered was the charge that it didn't seem to start until you reached the final galaxy conquering level.

In mid 2008, the Spore Creature Editor Demo was released, and after a briefly flurry of penis monsters and recreations of creatures from games like StarCraft, the number of Spore creatures generated by the demo began to rival the number of species on the planet. i.e. millions. The Creature Editor shrewdly incorporated both screengrabbing and YouTube uploads, so players can easily swap creatures amongst themselves and parade them in public without the need to recruit other players first. The in-game screengrabs have embedded metadata so that each image can be used to copy creatures from one game to another.

About the only thing marring this release has been the controversy over EA's use of an DRM (Digital Rights Management) system called SecuROM. SecuROM restricts users to only three installs(!) (now five after howls of protest). Worse, SecuROM installs invisibly - it doesn't announce its presence - and can't be removed without some serious high level sysadmin help, or a complete rebuild of your system. There's a class action over this deplorable situation.

RTSC Recommends: If you're stuck deciding whether you should munch on broken glass, infect your computer with Trojans and viruses, or play a game with SecuROM - pick the Trojans. Glass can only do you physical harm; Trojans - well, we have virus software and good security habits to handle those, assuming they're not so malicious and nasty to bypass security and seriously compromise your computer.... like SecuROM. Prevention is better than the cure - any "legitimate" software that behaves exactly like criminal software should be treated and labelled as such.

I may return to this down the track, but don't hold your breath. My old PC still have SecuROM files I can't get rid of that were installed that demo - and up to then I had a virus and trojan free computer :(

Update June 2011 - hey, I finally got rid of those SecuROM files - after my blue screening tower got rebuilt and I did a complete reformat of my hard drive. :((

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Last modified Sun, Aug 14 2011 by Lindsay Fleay