For me, cackling gleefully to myself as I imagined all the destruction I was about to unleash, the elevator ride was a short, joyful affair. For the other occupant, Rebecca, perhaps not, given that she was riding in a confined space next to a stranger with a devilish look in his eye.
I should explain. You see, those folks over at Pocket Games and Green Man Loaded have been playing God recently, and at the end of last week they invited a few of us up to the studio to join them for an hour or so to do just the same.
I am, of course, talking about their upcoming release Idol Hands, a new strategy game in which you play the role of God, aiding in the growth of your tribe by raining destruction down on any who oppose it’s prosperity, and I was eager to get my (soon-to-be-Almighty) hands on it.
A console gamer all my life, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a tad nervous at first when reaching for the mouse, but I was pleasantly surprised to find not only a control system that was easy to use, but, among other things, an intuitive interface with which to create new classes of characters; of the five classes available, including Woodcutter, Farmer, Blacksmith and Soldier, it was the Priest, with his ability to cast spells converting enemy troops to your own, that I grew to love most. The accessibility angle was something Simon Prytherch, one of the lead developers on the project, was happy to elaborate on when I later spoke to him about the inspiration behind the game:
“…I play less and less hardcore games but I love strategy games, so I wanted to create a really accessible strategy game – I’ve always wanted to do that. And also, looking back…one of my favourite ever games was Populous, which was the original ‘God’ game, and I just wanted to make a modern strategy game that had some of the principles behind Populous”.
One of these principles involves the manipulation of the land, raising, lowering, or leveling the ground so as to best benefit your followers – or frustrate your enemies. This is done to fantastic effect in Idol Hands, and really added to the sense of playing God. Creating paths between islands, flattening mountains to farm, or uncovering iron ore for armor, it wasn’t just hugely satisfying for the player, but developing this unique mechanic was rewarding for the team too, as Simon later explained:
“…It’s one of the most technically challenging parts, deforming the land in real time and making the AI respond to the [changes]. Obviously, if you put a mountain in the way they have to go around it, if you lower it into the sea they can’t get across and that’s just simple cases; what if the person is standing on the land you’re manipulating? So, the initial prototype where we got all of that working – a sandbox but where you’re able to deform the land – I think that was one of the most important things that we got right, and then that the AI that could cope with that”.
The ability to shape the surrounding land was one thing, but I’m a nefarious type of God – I came for the destruction. And I’m very happy to say that Idol Hands did not disappoint in that respect. Lightning strikes, earthquakes, volcanoes, you can summon them all to obliterate your foes and aid your allies in their attacks; my personal favourite was the meteor strike, satisfyingly loud and delightfully deadly. Cutesy the graphics may be, but with the enemy’s farms in flames and a crater the size of Manhattan now occupying the centre of their village, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the sinister undertones.
There are nice little touches throughout the game as well. For example, hovering over a Furling (the fictional natives of the game) will cause the camera to take note of whatever it is they’re thinking/doing at the time; at one point I found a Furling behind a hut, presumedly chilling out and chowing down on something quickly, the words ‘nom nom nom’ floating above his head. This touch really added a sense of relatability to the characters, encouraging me take better care of my Furling worshippers. That empathic feeling is often overlooked in the larger titles in the genre, and I was pleased to find it in Idol Hands.
Perhaps my maleficent side raising its ugly head again, before I left I asked Simon to sum up Idol Hands to me in one sentence: ”Combining resource building and awesome godly powers in one destructive and constructive game”. A little humble, maybe, because there seems to be so much more to the playful nature of this game. They say first impressions are everything, and mine was that Idol Hands was a refreshingly spirited and ultimately enjoyable take on a genre often bogged down by intense intricacies and deep-seated statistics that can serve to hinder rather than help a game. Sometimes simple is best, even for a God, and Idol Hands pulls it off marvellously.
Idol Hands is released on February 18th for PC.