By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
I was a Kickstarter backer for Godus as the prospect of a new god sim was pretty cool to me. As a kid I owned Populous: The Beginning which I remember being quite a lot of fun and as such another such game seemed like a very interesting prospect. It is worth mentioning that this has always seemed a bit of a gamble of a Kickstarter, yes Molyneux is an industry veteran and yes he’s produced some very interesting games however recent history has proven to be less kind to his reputation. The Fable series descended fairly significantly ultimately culminating in Fable 3, and now that Molyneux is free and independent with 22Cans the future is somewhat unknown. The previous “game” by the studio was the mobile tapfest that was Curiosity, which even with my broad definition of a “game” barely qualifies. There were some interesting ideas behind Curiosity, and as a social experiment it was at least mildly interesting however the actual experience of Curiosity was so dull that I’m amazed anyone got to the disappointing centre of that cube. That centre represents the risk that is Godus, Molyneux has built up an idea around how the game should be but this keeps changing. The original Molyneux promises seem to be further and further away as experimentation is taking hold. In 22Cans defense I wouldn’t be able to complain about any of this if it weren’t for their level transparency and communication, so kudos on community management. Now, the game as it is:
One word (albeit made-up): Clickfest. Godus as is does little to hide its mobile aspirations as the mouse becomes that greasy finger smudging that high-dpi touchscreen as taps/clicks require. 22Can’s experience from Curiosity is frighteningly present in Godus, in a bad way. The faith orbs required to use your godly powers are generated by each house/tent/dwelling individually meaning that once a settlement is adequately large the process of gathering faith orbs becomes as monotonous as hitting those silly squares in Curiosity. Only on the PC at least it’s your poor mouse button taking a mashing, eating away at the mechanism’s longevity and for what performing busy work that should have been automated?! Once faith has been collected the player can use the fundamental god power of land sculpting, which at least in this current release is frankly awful. I’ve not tried with a touchscreen yet, but with the mouse the process of sculpting land is about as precise as trying to paint with your feet. What makes matters worse is that a minor shift in land will happily demolish any building that even looks at the geographical modification in a funny way. One imprecise misclick will see someone homeless, if you must insist on a land sculpting mechanic on par with herding cats then can we at least make it so that a stray flick of said cat’s tail doesn’t wipe out some poor fool’s home?
I’m aware that I’m commenting on a development release however it’s not these individual bugs/features that are of most concern, instead it is this apparent attempt at merging touch and mouse interface designs. Touch interfaces work for touch devices; big sweeping gestures, multitouch and a general lack of precision are all accounted for in UI design on said devices. That’s why Android looks and works like Android and not like a desktop UI, because anyone who has tried those desktop interfaces at a proper resolution on a touch screen will tell you that they’re a royal pain in the ass. They are perfectly designed and ideal for a mouse and keyboard being readily available, which is fantastic until you stick them on a touch only device. The same can be said for touch interfaces forced onto mouse and keyboard, their UI elements are big and clunky, the hold and drag mechanics require excessive mouse movement and ultimately the experience is ungainly. I’m aware that I’m relying on OS UI examples here but they make the point very well and the same design fundamentals carry over, look at the sheer dislike thrown at Windows 8 “Modern” UI and the earlier unoptimised variants of Canonical’s Unity. The fact remains that mouse/keyboard interfaces have significantly different requirements to touch interfaces and any attempt to bridge this gap with some form of hybrid UI will ultimately turn the user experience of one group or the other to foul smelling goop. In short; tailor your damned UI to the platform! I have 1 mouse, 105 keys and 4 mouse buttons to use and instead I end up using 1 mouse for imprecise dragging and 1 mouse button for endless clicking.
The actual game mechanics beyond the interface are pretty limited at this stage of development, with not a great deal happening other than expansion. There is also an inexplicable card system that has been added which I assume will grow out into something a little more substantial but which at the moment seems relatively pointless. In terms of mechanics I would actually like to share the first five minutes of my gameplay: I load the game, the world generates and I’m then sat looking at a couple of dudes hitting on some rocks with picks. I wait as I assume they’re gathering resources for the first building or something, nothing happens. I try to select them and give them different orders, can’t, so I try to use the land sculpt tool but have no resources to do so… I then jump onto Steam chat to ask a friend if this was his experience, he said yes and commented that I should click on the rock. I click on the rock and it clears… what the hell!? They were mining that rock, they were going about basic resource collection and yet now I’m informed that actually I have to do that for them, me, God. I then learn that this is not limited to the rocks, I have to clear the damned trees too, despite the fact that they evidently have the tools and knowledge to do so for themselves. None of this makes any sense whatsoever, the people don’t gather resources, once spawned in they stand around until they die unless a building project appears near them or you coax a group of them over to a building project. If I’m in a god sim I want followers; people, intelligent AI that is at least slightly independant. I don’t want to have to clear every tiny rock from their path and cut down every damned tree, I want to be an invisible guiding hand pushing my followers along a certain development path and away from certain disasters.
I am aware that Godus is still in development and that 22Cans claim that only 40% of the game is complete and I take this into account when seeing certain rough edges and problems. My main concerns however have little to do with small development bugs but instead with sweeping design decisions: UI design, game design, platform tailoring, multiplayer implementation… all of these things need addressing before I could consider this to be any more entertaining than Curiosity with clumsy land sculpting. There is potential for Godus to grow into something very interesting however I feel that doing so would require 22Cans to drop many of their hopes for making this a clean single release candidate across every platform on the planet and making it so accessible that your average iPad fondling numpty will pick it up in seconds. I hate being harsh about things, but in this case the current direction of Godus just isn’t conducive to creating what I would consider a good game.
The game is currently available through Steam Early Access on Windows and Mac for the price of £14.99 (approx $24.00). There’s supposed to be a Linux client upon the final release and of course the game will hit Android and iOS at some point in the future for some unknown amount, it was previously free to play but I’m not so sure about that now. The likeliness of a Linux port is fairly high with it being a Unity engine game, however it could easily get lost as focus moves to the mobile platforms and with it being the top end stretch goal of the Kickstarter. Generally when the porting of a game to Linux using a platform that is as capable of doing so in a single click is a high level stretch goal the outcome is unlikely to be pretty. Overall I would recommend leaving Godus alone until the final direction becomes obvious, by all means feel free to ignore me and to tell me that wrong about it, however when you do make sure that your iDevice’s autocorrect gets the spelling right.
Game on Steam Early Access: