EA Talks About Populous DS’ New Gods, Origins, And The Wiis In Bit World

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Xseed and Electronic Arts are bringing Populous to the DS in North America next week, but it’s not exactly the Populous you remember. Sure, Populous DS has the classic land shaping / civilization growing gameplay with mouse-like touch screen controls, but this version of Populous has new deities and Wiis. I asked Takahiro Murakami, Lead Producer at Electronic Arts, about these new features and how the Populous project got started in the first place.

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Almost twenty years passed since Populous came out. Can you explain the concept of the game?


Takahiro Murakami, Lead Producer at Electronic Arts: When we first decided to sell the title in Japan we started with the concept of “keeping the well received Super Famicom gameplay and adding new game elements to it.”  Since this is a title that has a lot of history and a large fan base we didn’t want to change the gameplay too much, which would disappoint the fans. For the visuals we wanted to keep the old look so that fans can look at the package and feel comfortable and think, “Oh, I get to play the Populous that I loved again.”


How did the Populous DS project get started?


A year before Populous DS we created SimCity DS and soon after that SimCity DS2.


After those two titles we all got together and discussed “what other EA games are there that’s a popular IP in Japan?” and from all the titles that came up we decided to go with “Populous.”
Since the SimCity DS series was selling well in Japan we wanted to create a title that targets the same type of audience.


There were so many versions and ports of Populous. Which one is the DS based on?


This is based on Japan’s Super Famicom and PC Engine version.


How does Populous DS improve on the formula?


Since Populous had fun versus play we wanted to emphasize on this with wireless versus play. However, the original Populous only had one type of god and that would just make for a simple match of the fastest player having a big advantage. So to make this more exciting we created variations of gods and god powers as well as each god having their own element with strengths and weaknesses that can be exploited to balance the gameplay.  


Can you tell us about the new deities? Where did the ideas that inspired their design come from?


We got the inspiration from Japanese and foreign fantasy games as well as mythologies and tried to design them in a way that you will intuitively know what type of elemental god each one is.

For example, the Earth God looks powerful, the Harvest God’s legs looks like plants, and the Fire God looks like a flame incarnate.


Populous is a nostalgic game for Japanese users but it’s also a new game for all the young users so we wanted to create the gods in a way that they can intuitively understand what they are.


Which god do you usually select?


Personally I like the Harvest God. I love watching the mushrooms multiplying in the enemies’ area. When the mushrooms catch on fire it becomes even more powerful. It’s not flashy but you can really strategize with the Harvest God.


How were the 50 single player missions designed?


The first 10 stages are tutorials. Populous doesn’t have complicated rules to remember but you do need a certain amount of strategy to play the game well. I think it’s a bit similar to soccer in that sense. So to at least get the player’s mindset ready we needed those 10 stages in there. And as I mentioned before this will be a brand new game for the young users so we needed to teach them from scratch.


The rest was pretty simple. As you progress through the stages you unlock more gods and demons. We didn’t want to create a simple 1 on 1 game so we tried to throw in as many variations as possible to the battles. Even after completing the single player campaign you can continue to enjoy the game with wireless battles against friends.


One of the neat surprises is Populous DS has evolving Nintendo consoles in the Bit Plane. Where did this idea come from?


This stage was actually in the old Super Famicom version as well. Of course we updated the Nintendo hardware with the new consoles. It’s a little bit like a hardware museum and it’s one of my favorite stages.


How were you able to implement this? Did you ask Nintendo to use their consoles? Did Nintendo come to you?


I asked Nintendo to supervise the hardware graphics. We submitted the actual in-game hardware graphics to Nintendo and they checked the quality. Nintendo accepted and helped with good grace which was very nice.


Which world is your overall favorite?


I have to say it’s the Nintendo hardware stage “8-Bit Plain.” Other than that one, being Japanese, I also like the “Yamato” world.


Where did the idea for Hide & Seek, Populous DS’ Where’s Waldo-like mini game come from?


At the beginning of the project we thought that only the Populous gameplay will be too simple and wanted to put some type of mini-game in it. We came up with a lot of ideas such as raising the land to guide the villagers…


But there wasn’t anything in particular that made me think, “This is fun!”, or “It’s simple and kids can enjoy it too!” as we were creating the game.


One day I must have been tired and while playing the game I was mistakenly playing the other side since all the villagers looked the same. Right at that movement I thought, “Hey, find-the-mistake type game will be fun and we can come up with a lot of variations for it!”, so that’s where the idea came from.


Images courtesy of Xseed Games.

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