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GDC 2014: Hands-on with Peter Molyneux's Godus
By Matthew Diener 21 March 2014
Game Name: Godus | Developer: 22Cans | Publisher: DeNA | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad
"It really is AMAZING, isn't it?"

Peter Molyneux’s eyes are wide as he looks at me, waiting for a reaction.

I disappoint him. I'm stunned and a bit confused, suddenly catapulted back to the reality of the hotel suite where I'm playing Godus on his iPad.

I blink a few times, look up from the screen, and wish that he hadn't said anything at all.

Not because of what he said, of course, but because he spoke and broke the spell. I was falling deep into the world of Godus, and his words ripped me out of that serene, expansive experience.

In the beginning


Godus is, as its name implies, a god game.

For those who can remember titles like Populous or ActRaiser, it follows the same approach. So, you are cast in the role of an omnipotent deity in charge of building a civilisation from scratch.

Your followers mill about a bucolic landscape, occasionally glancing skyward to let you know they're paying attention to your divine presence. You have to guide them through the whole of human history... from mud huts to space exploration.

What sets Godus apart from early god games, however, is how intuitive it all is. That's down to the touch interface.



If you wish to alter the landscape, you don't need to navigate through menus or find the right skill in a tree to expand the shoreline. Instead, you simply tap and drag the landscape into whatever shape you want.

The same holds true for the removal of landscape features like trees and rocks - a simple tap on a tree will chop it down, while a tap-and-drag approach enables you to go on a full-scale campaign of deforestation.

Even though you're a god that can (eventually) cast down mountains and rain ruin upon the world, you're also beholden to your followers.

As they go about their lives building huts and sending hosannas up to the clouds, they generate "Belief". This metaphysical resource fuels your godlike powers. Without it, you are ultimately impotent.

Thus, you'll need to make sure your followers are happy - or at least mollified - so they'll generate enough Belief to keep you running.



Harvesting Belief is a fun little diversion, as each bubble you tap resonates with a single musical note.

Tap a few pink Belief bubbles in succession, and you'll play a little melody that sounds suspiciously like Joseph Brackett's 'Simple Gifts'. If you harvest it fast enough to complete the melody, you'll earn a bonus.

It's not a game-defining mechanic by any means, but it's an incredibly welcome little detail and just one of the many 'hidden' elements in the world of Godus.



At the outset of our demo, Molyneux mentioned his overall goal with Godus was to place the player's brain in an alpha state.

This relaxed state - brought on normally by dozing, reading a book, or binge-watching a season of Archer on Netflix - is easy to reach with Godus, as the audio and visual design are both incredibly meditative.

The colour palette is soft and muted, lending a fantastical quality to the game world itself. The audio is simple, supporting, and unobtrusive, though the environmental effects are quite powerful.

When you're near the beach, for example, you'll hear waves softly crashing against the shore. Drag two fingers across the screen to scroll up to a forest, and the sound of the waves fades away, replaced by the soft calls of unseen birds lurking in the trees.

Polytheism

The build of Godus we played contained an isolated cross-platform world - limited to the MacBook, iPhone, and iPad on the table. When Godus goes live, though, it'll be very much a social experiment as well as a game.

Godus will connect the worlds of all players in an overarching fantasy world "roughly the size of Jupiter". And individual players can integrate friends via Facebook or Twitter into their Godus worlds.

By doing so, you will import your friends' names, tweets, and status updates into your game. An intriguing feature, sure, but ultimately a trivial one compared to some of the others in the game.



Like, say, "Commandments". These choices are grand, sweeping edicts that eventually shape the course of your world. You can, for instance, encourage a sexual division of labour for your society.

If you choose to keep women in the houses to raise children, you'll create a male-dominated society. Opting to keep men in the house while women go out to work would, conversely, create a matriarchy.

Through these Commandments, the real experiment behind Godus comes to light.

At the "hubworlds" that connect individual player worlds, the overarching Commandment is determined by the popular choice of the subworlds linked together. Thus, if 70 percent of users vote for a matriarchy, then the hubworld will become a matriarchy.

Pay the tithe


As you progress through Godus, you'll unlock new God Powers by advancing your world's population, agriculture, and industry past certain thresholds. But you appear to acquire these powers entirely through organic gameplay.

The word 'appear' is intentional, however, for Molyneux's never hidden the fact that Godus is a free-to-play game. He's quick to clarify, though, that he prefers to think of it as an "invest-to-play game".

"We want you to want to spend money on Godus, but you'll never need to spend money," he noted while gesturing down to a gem counter at the bottom-right corner of the screen.

He wouldn't talk about what the gems would be used for - nor did he dive into the monetisation elements of gameplay in Godus - which makes it hard to form a complete picture of the game just yet.

Until those details are known, we'll just have to send some Belief Molyneux's way and hope that he's a kind god in return.

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