Nostalgic for Populous

I saw these gorgeous pie wedge images this morning, allegedly made by someone in the Ukraine for a travel agency. Immediately, I felt a powerful tug for the old game Populous. If I remember correctly, I played Populous on my Atari 1040ST originally, while living in Germany.

A great game, but specifically it carried a particular identity…a feeling I experienced while playing that is hard to put into words. We’re still an up-and-coming medium and there are feelings I have as I’m interacting with a game system beyond the traditional elements related to art, fiction and sound. I wish we had a word for this. (Hell, maybe we do; I never claimed to have the world’s greatest vocabulary.)

The ‘play’ component of Populous gave me a unique feeling tied to that game alone. And like a new color or unnamed flavor it’s hard to talk about and impossible to share with someone who hasn’t played the game. Even worse, it’s hard for me to experience any more, since I don’t have a way to play the game, currently.

Once in a while, I go through the effort to re-install some older game. Not always the greatest games, but something I’m craving. Recent examples: Chaos Overlord, Chron-X, X-com. I’ve heard gamers talk about the ‘vibe’ in Deus Ex and I hope this is what they’re talking about…a feeling created maybe in part by the holistic effect of the traditional elements but also certainly by the interactive/play component.

Pyshco Student's pie wedge

(Artist unknown. Potentially from Ukrainian design firm ‘Psycho’.)

3 thoughts on “Nostalgic for Populous

  1. At certain times of year, when the weather turns, I get these powerful memories of old games. I think it’s something a lot like what you’re describing, if not exactly the same. Two examples off the top of my head is that warm, dry early summer weather tends to remind me of Half-Life, specifically some of the custom-made multiplayer maps for some reason, and when I move through the city at night, I always think about Deus Ex.

    It’s some sort of mixture of various environmental elements like wind, light, smells, and temperature, but I have no idea how these factors can remind me of games where none of them (save of course light) actually appear. I suspect it might have something to do with how the weather was when I was playing the game in question, but I don’t know.

    It’s true though, the best of games do have a very certain vibe. I generally chalk it down to a combination of art direction and sound design. Sound is really important for creating an atmosphere in a game, but I’m sure you know that : )

  2. Maybe it’s some more artistic version of a feeling of a different strategic space.
    The game n had quite a big effect on me it took a while to shrug off; the way it encourages you to glide in this zen like way through the environment stylishly avoiding problems, rather than dealing with them. That was a backup strategy I was not proud of in normal life, but thanks to the game I got to see some of the value of ephemerality. I think sometimes it’s a desire to live in some other world for a while, where strange strategies actually work. I bet there are detail obsessives out there who have massive nostalgia for badly made adventure games!
    It may horrify you, but I loved to rewind via saves in Deus Ex and set up ridiculous traps based on how events would trigger, I’m talking gas grenades and convenient tables! Basically I loved playing the game as if my only power was prescience via the save system!
    That is not something I have been able to repeat in many other games, because of that peculiar crossover of old-school timing and physical “realism”, but I love doing it when I can.

  3. I think melancholy is a word that comes pretty close to it 🙂 But probably there is no word for this feeling. If you grew up in the Black Forrests then I suggest to take a look at Martin Heidegger’s notion of “Earth”. I think he felt it more than anyone, but for the real world. The other one is Bachelard, talking of a “Poetics of Space”. I feel it a lot when I play Railroad Tycoon II. Its like there comes a stream from the heart of the game, and you put your hand into that stream and watch it feeling. Or something like that.

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