It looks like Planitia is going to end up playing a lot like Populous II.

Now, this is both a good and bad thing. It’s good because Populous II still rocks. It does pretty much everything I want Planitia to do. Finishing a map of Populous II takes about 15-30 minutes. You’ll be slinging god powers within the first five minutes of play and play is very interactive – there are no long stretches where you’re just waiting for something to happen (unless you want to win by casting Armageddon, which takes a lot of mana).

It’s bad because I didn’t want Planitia to feel like a direct ripoff of an existing game. The problem is that if I allow the user to raise, lower and flatten land as part of the game, that instantly makes Planitia a Populous clone because there are no other games that have the user raise, lower and flatten land as part of the game experience.

(Yes, the Sims and Simcity games have features where you raise and lower terrain, but that’s much more like using an editor than playing an actual game. And yes, there are games with deformable terrain, but you don’t have full control over it and typically can only destroy it like in the Worms games.)

So if my basic gameplay is raising and lowering land so that your people spread out faster and give you more mana and then using that mana to throw god powers on the enemy to mess him up…that’s Populous, end of story. And that’s what I want for Planitia. I guess I just need to come to grips with the fact that the game will effectively be a Populous…derivative.

Now, Planitia won’t be identical, of course. A heightfield means that I can actually implement some of the Populous god powers better than the Bullfrog guys could do back in The Day(tm). And I can also add some new god powers (like the meteor that I want so very very badly).

But I think the real way I’m going to be different is how I handle combat units. In Populous you turned walkers into knights and the knights would run off and automatically kill your enemies. I think turning a walker into a warrior, barbarian or archer in Planitia will cause them to come under your direct control. You will be simultaneously handling ground combat and god powers. Walkers that you turn into fighting units will no longer produce mana for you, so you have to be careful not to impact your mana generation too much by making too many fighters (since you do have a population cap). I’m also thinking about making it possible to spend mana to improve both how your walkers and your fighters work. You can spend mana to increase the amount of mana all your walkers generate, or spend mana to increase how quickly they create new walkers. You can also spend mana to upgrade your warriors, barbarians and archers. All of these upgrades will require very large amounts of mana – your max or close to it. Thus, you will be vulnerable after upgrading until it repleneshes.

Thus, you’ll have simple traditional RTS combat with earth-shattering god powers on top. Sort of like Age of Mythology…I always felt it hurt that game that you could only use god powers once (and notice that they changed that with the expansion, adding a bunch of lower-powered god powers that could be used multiple times).

I also intend to fix the most egregious problem I think Populous II had.

There were six “schools” of god powers in Populous II: Human, Nature, Earth, Fire, Air and Water. As you beat worlds in Populous II you’d get experience which you could apply to whatever school of god powers you wished.

That sounds good, but each of the thousand (!) worlds in Populous II put severe limits on which god powers you could use in that world. Before the game started it would show you which powers you could use and which you couldn’t, and if you’d spent all your experience to improve a school of powers that was banned on this world, then you had a serious problem. Thus, the smart thing was to improve all schools equally, ensuring you’d never excel at any of them. (Unless you found a cheat code that instantly made you perfect in all schools, of course.)

I like the idea of buying new god powers (or making existing ones more powerful) between worlds, so that stays. And in Planitia you will always be able to use whatever powers you’ve bought. Hmmm…schools of magic that have dominance/weakness mechanics sounds interesting, and could make it so that you might have a problem if you have specialized in a school that is weak against the school your opponent god is strong in, but that’s not nearly as bad as getting your best school banned outright like in Populous II.

Jeez, I don’t have much time left for this. I need to get busy.