What was Peter Molyneux's magic formula for addictive Amiga games?

Back in the office then, and we check out the latest versions of all their new games. Like I said, very impressive they are too – check out page three of this article for the full lowdown on Populous II, 'Bob' and Creation – taking the whole God-sim/manipulation of little computer characters idea a few notches further on, and certainly in directions I hadn't thought of.

Powermonger must have been a bit of a difficult thing, I suggest. To many people it appeared to be a Populous II.

"Well, yes," admits Peter, "while we were working on that I was constantly aware of Populous, and quite often went out of our way to make sure it didn't appear too similar. There were plenty of things we could have put in Powermonger, but deliberately saved because they were earmarked for Populous II.

"Still, at the same time, that was the project where we learned much of the stuff that's made both Populous II and 'Bob' possible – the way you can have up to 2000 individual personalities operating in the same game, for instance. That's the limit for these machines, I think."

Seeing the future

Someone goes and makes some coffee, and I'm about to put mine down on this nice flat, black surface next to Peter's desk when I realise what it is. It's a CDTV. What's that doing there then, Peter?

"Commodore sent us one – it's nice to be thought of, but unfortunately there are no instructions to go with it, and the little carriage thing to take the actual CDs appears to be missing, so we can't actually do much with it. It's nice to have though."

This seems like an obvious link to getting an opinion on whether CDTV is actually a good idea or not, and being an obvious sort of person I take it. So, erm, what do you think of CDTV, Peter?

"I think the concept's great – to have a computer inside something that looks like a video recorder is a Good Idea. The problem with computers is that they look a mess – they've got all these horrible wires everywhere. The problem with CDTV, on the other hand, is one of timing. If it was released a year ago, it'd be brilliant, but as it is lots of other people are already making exactly the same thing – I believe Tandy are, for instance – and theirs will be cheaper and potentially more powerful.

"What Commodore failed to do was get sample machines out to programming houses a good year or six months before release. If you remember when the ST and Amiga came out it was a few bits of (at the time) stunning software that sold the computers, and Commodore aren't going to have that this time."

Spilling secrets

The drive home looms. Painfully aware that I haven't got Peter to admit any big secrets about Bullfrog (I still haven't the faintest idea what their secret project is – "it may even be another platform game," he teases at one point) or say anything ridiculously controversial, I try and come up with a good parting shot. I can't think of one though, so instead we go with: What's the secret of great games then, Peter?


Oh great, it's a one word answer. Erm, can you expand upon that at all?

"One of the problems with trying to come up with original ideas for games is that there's always the risk that you'll get halfway through the project and find out that it just isn't working. The other problem is that they take a long time anyway – when you add the proper amount of playtesting they take an awful long time. Often products are forced out before they've had a sufficient amount of time spent on just checking if they work for the player, and that's where things can really go wrong.

"It was only by playing Populous again and again that we could make it as good as it was, and actually playing the thing is proving to be one of the most important parts of the development of Populous II."

But surely that's not half as important as actually having the programming skills to start with?

"Programming isn't that hard – I could teach anyone to program in two weeks, and the way we work at Bullfrog is we'd rather take on young enthusiastic people and train them up than take on experienced programmers. It's keeping your ideas and enthusiasm for a project flowing that's the tricky part. It's only by working in a team that you can do that – it's almost impossible on your own. The only way you make a game good is by playing it, getting other people to play it, and enjoying it yourself."

So that's the secret?

"Yes. In the future I expect each project to take five years, not one or so, and for half that time to be spent playtesting. That's the way games will get better – I think it's at least as important as people having original ideas."

I'm thinking about that as we leave, and I'm sure he's right. Having said that though, you just have to look at the games Bullfrog is producing to see that there's a wealth of new ideas here – something so few people seem to be concentrating on these days – and that's what makes what Bullfrog are doing really exciting.

If there's anybody out there currently developing this many projects that could truly be said to be different – and beyond being different that actually look like they'll work – I'd like to see them. Sad to say, I'd be very surprised if there are.