"I want to give them the feeling that they are a god with unbelievable prowess," says an emphatic Peter Molyneux. "Some of these powers are going to be incredibly powerful and tactile while others are going to be incredibly creative and gentle.
"I want it to feel like it's your hand—the hand that's on the mouse or the touchscreen—that's touching this tactile and reactive world, and making you an avatar in the world is something that can demote that."
We're talking about how player representation might work in Molyneux and 22cans' Project GODUS, a nascent god game with brazen ambitions. GODUS is positioned as a messiah to the genre—the game that will reinvent it and evoke the sensations the original Populous once stirred in our chests. At least, that's what the Kickstarter page indicates.
"So, it may be that we end up with a hand like in Black & White, which I think didn't work terribly well," says Molyneux, adding that he found the mechanic "terribly fiddly." "We might make it more abstract. It's all about you feeling like you're presiding over this world, that there are these little worshipers that adore you, yes, and also a sense of powerful responsibility towards them."
Tearing down and building up
Despite that responsibility, there's room for those who don't want to play the benevolent deity, too. "Whenever I play something like SimCity, I let out the dinosaurs and stuff—I'd destroy everything that took me hours and hours to create, but that is one of the core tenets of a god game. If you want to do it, fine. What am I to tell you what to do? I don't want to be your judge, but I want there to be consequences."
Molyneux doesn't expand on what those possible consequences might be, but he does outline what godhood over the inhabitants of GODUS might be like. "At the start, everyone's games will start with very few of these followers and there will be these tiny little settlements. Just one or two buildings. Too small to even be called villages. Then, with your ability to adapt the land around them, they'll slowly spread out. Those settlements will turn into villages and those villages will turn into towns. From there, the towns will be become cities and metropolises.
"And let me tell you, Cassandra: that metropolis you're growing is going to be amazing. It's not just going to spread out, it's going to spread up as well."
All the way into the sky, or the nether reaches of the galaxy? Not quite that far. "I'd like to stop around the time when gunpowder came about and things became more complicated. It's a fascinating part of history, really. When cannons were introduced in Europe, 400 castles were, in one year, destroyed by cannon fire. That was because, before then, the way wars used to work was: if someone were to start attacking, you'd run away into a castle and just start laughing.
"But then, in rolled the cannon and that ended it all." He laughs.
Though nothing has been directly plucked from the annals of human history, Molyneux cited Greek and Nordic mythology as some of the inspiration. "We're not modeling GODUS on any particular kind of pantheon. I wanted to make it more of a mixture of things. After all, our interpretation of religion has always been a mixture. If you look at the Greek gods and how they turned into the Roman gods and how that went on to influence modern-day Judeo-Christian beliefs, you'll see that a lot of religions are a mixture of different legends and mythologies."
While players won't be able to cobble together an existing pantheon in the game, outside of the game they'll be able to assemble a team of gods in the form of co-operative play, assuming joint de-facto rule over their various worshippers. "You and I can do anything together. Up to four of us—my tech people say we might be able to support up to eight people—can do anything together in real-time. We can help each other in real-time, we can even do it in single-player. Our cults or 'clans,' if you will, can all help each other in a slightly non-real time way as well."
"Non-real time," Molyneux confirms. "The problem is that if we require everyone to be online at the same, it's not going to be very realistic. Lots of people come online and play at very, very different times for varying lengths—you have to support this ability to let people support each other when they're online."
I ask if what he's describing bears any similarity to asynchronous play in Facebook games, and Molyneux's enthusiasm doesn't falter. "Kind of, yes, but I want to take it even further. I want to be able to go and help you out, and I want to be able to help you with a problem and I want there to be a sensation that you've helped me out. There's a lot of criticism that these games get that I don't really get."
Kicking and dreaming
With just over a week left before the end of Project GODUS's Kickstarter campaign, Molyneux has a more pressing problem than figuring out how to achieve his ambitious design plans. Currently, Project GODUS is barely over the halfway mark for its funding goal. If it fails to reach the target figure, 22cans will not receive anything. Nonetheless, Molyneux doesn't seem regretful about using the crowdsourcing platform.
"Why Kickstarter? The first reason, and it is the main reason, is that the way to make, I think, a great game is to play the game and to play it for weeks and weeks and refine it and play it some more. I wondered if we were going to re-invent something from the ground-up, this something that is almost dead: could we use Kickstarter to find enough people to back the project and be involved in its development?
"So, if you look at our pledges on Kickstarter, a lot of them are about how you can get to play the game early. We're going to use the feedback from that and the analytics on the PC to refine the experience. Thus, when we finally finish the game towards the end of next year, it'd have been played lots and lots of times. The thing about Kickstarter that you have to remember is that if someone has pledged money, you know they're going to care about the experience—it's why I want to use it in the design process."