On Playing God

Crunchy!The next game I want to make is going to be a god game. The term was coined back in the 8-bit days to describe a type of simulation game that imbues the player in with god-like powers while putting him in charge of a group of artificial beings. While the specifics vary between different titles, the core principles of a god game are:

  • A group or tribe of simulated beings who can flourish or perish dependent on the player
  • Harvesting of resources such as food or energy
  • Indirect control of individual members of the tribe – instead, the player affects the outcome by casting spells or using supernatural powers to transform the environment

“Populous” (1989) is usually considered the first game that combined all of these elements, but I’d argue the case that “SimCity” (also, 1989), and Sim games more broadly, are closely related. At the core, god games are dynamic simulations that will run without any player interaction – for a while anyway. The challenge for the player lies in trying to make your tribe thrive and grow, which in turn enables you to take over more territory or resources, to grow more, etc.

Flawed but fieryUsually that involves getting access to strategic resources and planning how to best utilize them while dealing with dynamic pressure created by the game. This can come in a variety of forms: for example, the original “Populous” game had the player compete with other tribes, controlled by “rival” gods managed by the computer. Another example of constraining factors can be seen in the game “From Dust”: here, the elements themselves provide a major challenge, with water and fire constantly threatening your tribe’s survival.

The player interacts with this world using supernatural powers. These can be either constructive, as in helping your tribe grow food, or of the destructive kind, as in burning down your rival’s village. However, they are always limited by some resource so that the player is forced to make choices as to when and if to employ a power.

I’m working on putting together my ideas for the world and simulation mechanics – hoping to post more on that soon…

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