A conquering we must go

Mega Lo Mania logo Amiga Computing Gamer Gold

IMAGE WORKS * £30.99 * 1 meg * Mouse * Out now

Somewhere at the top of the Universe is a large glass orb. It used to be a six million watt light bulb but it popped about 30 years ago and no one could find a ladder big enough to change it. Inside this glass orb floats a planet - a watery globe with no more land than 28 small islands. This planet is in the first stages of humanoid evolution, and four god-like deity types are looking to expand into a new market-place from where they can build a monopoly.
They all happen across this planet at exactly the same time and they decide to take control of 100 men and fight for control of each of the islands, one by one.

You can choose to play any one of the four gods and this allows the game to bring in four difficulty levels, the lowest meaning you can collect a few rocks and chuck them about until the other side dies, the highest meaning you hang around a bit, invent something slightly more advanced and chuck that about until the other side dies.

This victory will see you becoming the main man on the island, but you then have to go on and try to win the battles for the other two because only by winning all three can you become the head honcho of the Epoch.

The Epoch is what divides the evolution of the planet into nine separate levels. So just how do you go about winning an island>
Well, each Epoch gives you an allocation of 100 men, which you must divide in a wide and sagacious manner between the islands. Once the number of men has been allocated, you must place your first fort in one of the square shaped sectors of the island.
The order in which you and your opponent's place your fort is determined randomly. Fortunately, while you fight for every island, not every god does. The size of the island will determine how many of the three opponents fight you for it.

Once you have placed your fort it's time to get down to the serious business of evolution. In the first Epoch you start at the very basic caveman Tech Level circa 9000BC, from there you have some serious decisions to make.
From the allocation of men to this particular island - usually just over 30 - you have little for them to do in 9000BC except design weapons. The more advanced weapon you set them to design the longer it will take before the design is ready but the more likely you are to advance quickly to the next Tech Level.

Once the weapon is designed you can find out how many your resources will allow you to build. In 9000BC you can build as many rocks to chuck around as you like, but as you progress men will have to be allocated to the mining of various materials so that your designs can be built in sufficient quantities to make a strong army.

When you allocated men to the army you can make a choice of how many bowmen, how many unarmed men, how many men with spears etc, but only if you have the resources.
The army is really your most important asset. Without a strong army you cannot attack with any confidence or chance of success, and the game will soon be over. However, it may well be wise not to send your army out too early, because men in the field can't breed and swell the population inside your fort. You could send out 25 men very early in the game but then you could wait around and send out 125.

Once you have mobilised the army, with whatever ratio of weapons and men, you then decide which sector of the island to move them into. They can only move into a sector adjacent to themselves or one adjacent to a friendly sector.
If an enemy army is there they will attack it and the computer controlled battle continues until one of the armies retreats or gets wiped out. If the army moves into an empty sector and is left to hang around long enough it will build a new fort, which can then raise its own army, design its own weapons and live independently of the other fort of forts.

On an island where you fight two or more gods you can offer to ally with one of them to destroy the others. This means your army has less to worry about and can move about more freely as any sectors that belong to an ally are classed as friendly sectors.

Once the other two have had their bottoms kicked you can concentrate on the remaining opponent, your previous ally, and focus your energies on the one goal of wiping the floor with this guy gullible enough to ally with you. The fighting remains the most important part of the game at all times, but as you progress through the Epochs and your Tech Level grows in leaps and bounds, other pressures come into the gameplay. You have to look at the allocation of men to designing weapons, to mining resources, to building installations, to guarding the forts and the control of the army. Fortunately the very simple to use point-and-click system makes all this jumping around and number juggling extremely easy and very quick. This swiftness is one of the strengths of the game. For example, should an enemy army invade while the majority of your mean are designing a new weapon, you need to be able to allocate them to the army very quickly, and you can.

The ease of use, the growing complexity as you get further into the game, and way you slowly realise how addicted you are make this a very strong game.
The other strengths lie in the graphics and the sound - especially the sound. When each action is completed or a warning message is necessary, then crystal clear speech spews forth from the monitor in a very stylized manner that evokes the atmosphere of all those ancient Hammer Horror films.

For example, when a design is complete the Chief Designer says, with a charming speech defect: "The design's weady", or "Ergonomically tewiffic". If you attack a sector and win, the Sergeant Major shouts: "We've captured the sector" in a triumphant manner. The Home Guard, worried when under attack, yells "Tower Critical".

On top of this remarkable studio-quality speech you get this very mellow New Age style soundtrack that The Orb would be proud of, and it helps build on the atmosphere that adds a lot to the game.

Graphically it works very well. Each Tech Level has its architecture and costumes for the chaps who run around fighting each other in this humorous parody of the diddy men (I think).
On-screen at any one time is just one sector floating on an astral background of stars and cosmic gases, complete with pretty trees and looking very glossy overall.
The only thing lacking graphically is the fact that buildings just appear and disappear - there is no degeneration construction.

It is addictive, highly engrossing, looks great and sounds fantastic. Not only that, it is so simple to play a crab could do it. Let's face it, some god-games are an acquired taste but your dog won't even talk to you if you don't buy this.


Mega Lo Mania logo

It looks like Populous and has the tactical edge of Powermonger. Is it trying to beat the gods at their own game, or is the similarity just skin deep?

Political influence is OK, and military muscle will do, but true megalomaniacs lust after absolute power. Mega-lo-Mania focuses on this grim pursuit, but with a smile on its face and with its tongue firmly in cheek. Have Sensible Software managed to crack it and create the strategy game that's amusing, or are the laughs being used to disguise light-weight gameplay?

Island records

Mega-lo-Mania is a game of minerals, technology and people. Minerals are what's used to build weapons with, technology provides the designs they are built with, while your people go out and use them on the enemy. Managing all three properly can prove difficult though, in this four-way arms race, because victory is far more important than quality.

Mega-lo-Mania is a battle to dominate 28 islands. Each one is divided into sectors and it is here what the minerals come into play. Only one warlord can control a particular sector and extract minerals from it. Because each sector has different minerals, controlling the ones with the best range of elements is important. Without minerals you cannot develop weapons and without weapons: well, you're history!

Technology is the driving force behind Mega-lo-Mania. Man's trip through the art of destruction has been split into 10 different 'tech levels'. At first you can only use sticks and stones to break bones. But as the little people gather more minerals, they make scientific breakthroughs and so advance through tech levels. This allows you to build better weapons and gain that vital edge. If you've a cannon then a guy with a stick ain't much hassle, if on the other hand you've got a nuclear missile, the man with a cannon's dead meat.

The people you command are stupid. Left to their own devices they'll just collect rocks or sticks and reproduce. It's how you use them that matters - where, when and for what task - that seals your fate. They can be left in the tower (your home base) to procreate, or go out and mine for minerals, work in factories building weapons, research the new battle systems or go to war. If you make the wrong call then an aggressive enemy will simply sneak in an early attack with basic weapons while you are labouring away on the high-level stuff. Alternatively, lower-tech equipment often proves to be all but useless when up against high-tech defenders.


Icons systems have to be designed with the player in mind if they are two work well. Mega-lo-Mania's control system is clear, intuitive and witty.

Island records

Mega-lo-Mania is split into 10 levels or Epochs. Each Epoch has three islands, and they share the same starting tech level. It's possible to advance three tech levels above this, so a clever warlord can battle bows with biplanes. All an Epoch's islands must be dominated before you move up to the next Epoch. Knowing which weapons to expect from which minerals at any given tech level forms a vital part of the ">Mega-lo-Mania learning curve, essential if you're to win an Epoch.

Graphically striking, Mega-lo-Mania paints quite a misleading picture: it looks like a sprite game! The weapons, aircraft and little people animate humorously on the full-screen (PAL) display. Yet, although they dominate two thirds of the screen, they only serve as a visual shorthand to relate important information graphically. The game is won or lost with the icons, the miniature map and your fellow megalomaniac's faces.

Icon systems have to be designed with the player in mind if they are to work well. Mega-lo-Mania's control system is clear, intuitive and witty, each icon leading logically to a more detailed breakdown of what's happening in the area it commands. These controls are also reassuringly constant with the right button increasing manpower commitment to an icon, the left decreasing it. Which is just as well as the clicking soon becomes frantic.

Mega-lo-Mania literally speaks for itself in the sound department. Anyone who played AF25's Coverdisk will already be familiar with "Zee dezine is feenished," and similar phrases. The full game runs with the speech and either music or sound effects simultaneously, all at no cost of speed. The code loads from disk one, and all the noise is packed onto disk two, which lives in the drive during play - avoiding the need to swap disks. There's masses of sampled speech, all professionally recorded by radio actors who bring real personality and comical speech defects into play. And every time something important happens, the game tells you, personally.

Nowhere to hide

It's not the effects that make Mega-lo-Mania, it's the gameplay. Each island, tech level and Epoch has its own tricks. As the Epochs start to fall and the tech levels advance, more has to be done, but faster. Furious bouts of clicking, waiting and battling are necessary as the islands begin to get tougher to capture. The computer enemies get more devious, weapons take longer to build and the islands themselves get bigger, offering more places to run and control for all parties. But the gameplay changes as Mega-lo-Mania progresses and new tech levels are reached.

Aircraft are the first quantum leap, because with an airforce you are freed from simply advancing and attacking enemies in adjacent sectors. Now you can fly planes to attack anywhere in the island world. Some islands aren't even joined by land and must be attacked this way. On these islands there's a period of relative safety, when defences can be built and alliances made to ensure your survival. The initially slow pace is then suddenly drowned in a frenzied series of air attacks.

When the tech levels reach the nuclear stage, the gameplay once again undergoes a metamorphosis. If you don't develop and use nuclear weapons first then you're radioactive ash. It's a straight first past the post race and after these bouts of brinkmanship, missile defence networks cut in and the game takes on a far more serious hold. It's a stern test of pure power.

Lear we go!

Mega-lo-Mania is contagious. A finely balanced test of logic and logistics, it grows in complexity without you noticing. The graphics give this tough tactical test a humorous edge, which is further honed by the speech samples. They don't try to disguise the game's true nature - strategy, not a god game - but add real personality to what normally is a dull genre.

Mega-lo-Mania pulls you in. Its neat segmented nature means that islands can be played quickly and repeatedly, upping the pace and enjoyment. This is Mega-lo-Mania's true strength: the 'one more go' factor. When this is combined with a never-ending trail of technological carrots, jet fighters, nuclear weapons, spaceships and toys that tempt you into yet more hours of play, then Mega-lo-Mania becomes a ferocious strategy challenge but contains an addictive arcade appeal.


Noch 'n Gott...

Mega Lo Mania logo

Populous" und kein Ende: Nach "Powermonger" erwartet der Urvater aller Götter-Games nun weiteren Nachwuchs - freilich unehelichen! Diesmal darf à la Mirrorsoft in die himmlische Vorsehung gepfuscht werden.

Es wird ein knallharter Militärstrategie als Weltenherscher gesucht: Nacheinander sollen Inseln aus verschiedenen Kulturepochen erobert werden. Der Halbgott vor dem Monitor beginnt sein Werk zwar nicht bei Adam und Eva, aber doch immerhin fast - die ersten drei Inseln beherbergen noch Steinzeitmenschen, es folgen Moses und die alte Römer. Irgendwann hat natürlich auch die schönste Evolution ein Ende, hier ist sie mit dem Zeitalter der Raumfahrt erreicht.

Bis dahin müssen insgesamt 28 Inselchen unter Kontrolle gebracht werden, und die teilen sich wiederum in Sektoren auf. Einen solchen erwählt man zu seiner "Heimat", dafür gibt's eine karge Hütte samt ein paar Untertanen als Grundausstattung. Damit sich unsere Wüselmännchen nun gegenüber den (bis zu drei) computergesteuerten Eingeborenen-Clans behaupten können, benötigen wir dringend mehr Leute und bessere Ausrüstung. Das erste Problem erledigt sich ganz von allein, zur Lösung der zweiten Frage muß man schon selbst Hand anlegen...

Es ist nämlich möglich, das technisch Niveau durch die Erfindung neuer Waffen anzuheben. Dafür können beliebig vielen der vorhandenen Männchen abgestellt werden; je mehr, desto schneller ist das Problem gelöst. Aber Vorsicht: Wer gerade erfindet oder sonst wie beschäftigt ist, kann sich nicht vermehren! Auch sollten möglichst rasch ein paar Kumpel mit dem Abbau von Bodenschätzen beauftragt werden, auf dass die soeben erdachten Gerätschaften Gestalt annehmen. In nahezu jedem Inselsektor findet man andere Mineralien, die Waffenproduktion unterlieft alle örtlichen Beschränkungen. Aber bei Bedarf stellt man einfach eine Armee auf und fällt damit in den Nachbarsektor ein. War der Abschnitt neutral, wird er ohne langes Fackeln in Besitz genommen, ist er schon vergeben, kommt's zum Kampf. Ein frisch eroberter Inselteil beginnt allerdings wieder auf dem Startniveau des jeweiligen Eilands. Ach ja: Kurzfristig sind sogar Bündnisse machbar.

Sicher, das hört sich alles nach den berühmten Bullfrog-Spielen an, erfordert in der Praxis jedoch ganz andere Strategien. Allerdings sieht's auch ziemlich "Popumonger" aus: Wieder mal ein Landschaftsfenster mit schräger Draufsicht, nur daß nicht gescrollt, sondern sektorweise umgeschaltet wird. Dazu gibt's Sound vom Allerfeinsten - Geigen schluchzen, hübsche FX, wohin man auch hört, und die deutsche Sprachausgabe such ihresgleichen! Nur die Iconsteuerung ist durch die vielen Untermenüs etwas gewöhnungsbedürftig.

Was wir bei Mega lo Mania wirklich vermissen, ist eine Mehr-Spieler-Option; auch sind 28 Inseln auf Dauer halt kein Universum (ein Editor hätte da Abhilfe geschaffen). Aber auch so werden Computer-Götter mehr als die branchenüblichen sieben Tage beschäftigt sein! (jn)


Mega Lo Mania logo

From Image Works comes the ultimate power fiend's fantasy - a light hearted and supremely addictive strategy game which laughs when things go wrong, and manages to make Populous look very poo-faced indeed.

Oh no. How the hell do I even begin to explain this one? It's not that Mega lo Mania is incredibly complex to play. Quite the opposite. For a game which relies so heavily on icons, it's remarkably easy to pick up. It's just that actually trying to explain the thing to somebody who doesn't have the game in front of them creates a few problems. Yes, the looks is vaguely Populous-y, so you know roughly what ball park we're in, but it would perhaps be more accurate to describe it as a vastly enhanced Kingdom game. For those who don't know Kingdom, it was an ancient number-based management thing that appeared on mainframes, Commodore Pets, BBCs and the like - you simply had to juggle with your population, sending some off to tend the crops, some to defend the town, some to reproduce and so on, hopefully building a healthy community as you did so.

Limited graphics appeared on some versions, but they were very basic - not at all like Mega lo Mania's cute pseudo-3D landscapes! - meaning it looked very different to this new Image Works game, though at heart the two are really very similar. Don't let this idea of Mega lo Mania as a management game put you off though - I've never had so much fun mucking around with icons and juggling numbers in my life.

MORE POWER TO THE PEOPLE
So what do you actually have to do? Well, playing against up to three computer opponents, the aim is to simply conquer an island. Having selected one to try for and the number of little computer people to place there, the first step is for both human and computer characters to stake out a sector of the island. The location chosen (if the island is actually large enough to offer a choice) will actually have some bearing on later events, so a bit of experimentation is recommended. A wooden fortress is then placed in your sector, and the game commences.

The first step is to set a large number of people aside to invent something. Inventions can fall into three categories. Shield strengthening (to re-build defences when your fortress and other constructions are under attack), defensive weapons (from sticks to bows and arrows to boiling pots of oil and so on), and offensive weapons for use when sending your men out on raid (swords, spears, catapults, cannons, etc).

Each invention will take a certain amount of time to develop. This will depend on the number of people set to the task, and the complexity of the invention. Putting almost all of the population into inventing is a good idea in the beginning. Any people left without work still stay indoors, doing what little computer people do (i.e. creating more little computer people). Building strength through numbers is an essential strategy, particularly if inventions and raw materials are in short supply. It's sometimes possible to storm a massive fortress with a very primitive army, and still be victorious.

Once something has been invented, you'll be able to view a blueprint of it, see what raw materials are needed (these all have corny pseudo-mineral names like planetarium, araldite, moron and some which are just too awful to mention), then set people to the task of mining the correct quantities in order to get the inventions built. The better the balance in ore production, the quicker things are built. It's all very clever, but very easy to get the hang of.

As time progresses, chances are your guys will advance a 'tech level'. This will usually result in some niftier looking (and tougher) buildings, and the chance to invent better stuff - even to the extent that you may find yourself building factories and laboratories to do it in.

Factories let you do production runs of items, while laboratories spur on the frequency and complexity of inventions. Mines can also sometimes be set up, which result in the discovery of new raw materials.

This is essential because there's only a finite quantity of each raw material in a sector. Once they've all been exhausted, it may be a case of packing your bags and colonising a new sector, if there are any unoccupied ones. (Nobody ever said taking over the world was easy).

As you progress through the epochs, the years march on. When you get beyond the initial battles, spanning 9500BC to 1000AD, you'll find yourself in control of bi-planes and the likes before eventually nuclear weapons rear their ugly heads. The game is at its funniest when you get to pith the weapons of 1945 against a bunch of Dark Age thugs - brutal and bloody it may be, but bloody good fun all the same.

Of course no war would be complete without alliances. The computer opponents are, as ever, quite shrewd about this, and will only join forces with you if it's to their advantage. Then, just when things are going swimmingly they'll stab you in the back (sometimes even joining up with other leaders against you!).

And that's pretty much the game in a (very small) nutshell. As a games concept it's just right - big enough to endow it with lasting appeal, but not so sprawling that it loses direction.


Sensible Software have managed to pull strategy games out of the train-spotter age

HEY, IT ISN'T EASY BEING A GOD
So you think it all sounds a bit similar to Populous and Powermonger, eh? Well, you can forget that straight away. Whereas those games let you 'influence' events (not something I could really connect with), Mega lo Mania plays things very directly. You can tell every last one of your minions just what to do. This makes things a whole lot more involving on an immediate level, though admittedly losing something of the epic feel and so ultimately some of the scope.

Don't get me wrong though - this isn't an out-and-out action game. Indeed, the visual aspect of Mega lo Mania can be quite deceptive. Although there is always something happening on-screen, you never have any action-by-action control over it, as you would in an arcade game. Your little army of men scurry around of their own accord, shooting randomly. And when you've advanced far enough to develop planes and the like, they simply glide over the screen - a bit silly, but an extra control would probably have complicated the game too much.

All in all, aside from directing your guys to adjacent sectors, or back into the stronghold, wars are pretty much automated affairs. Having said that though, battles are never dull - after all, you control the deployment of wall strengthening shields, send soldiers into the fray and place them on the battlements in real time (which is why having the clock on the slowest setting is a must) and so on, which proves to be enough for the best of us to cope with.

While at first glance the icon controls over on the left of the screen may seem a little daunting, they are actually quite easy to get the hang of. When I first played the game, I did so without even looking at the manual, and was up and running in the space of ten minutes without any trouble. Sensible Software have, quite sensibly (ahem) included a handy little explanation window which describes the function each icon performs, though (equally sensibly) it can be disabled whenever you so desire. What thoughtful chaps.

The key to the game's simplicity lies in the context-sensitive nature of these icons. At any point in time, only relevant icons can be accessed. As the game progresses, more and more icons become available (mining elements, factory building, setting up production runs and the like), but this gradual development of available commands, just like the increasing complexity of the game, grows with the player's experience. It makes for a perfect learning curve, not unlike Activision's Deuteros.

IT'S SIMPLY A STATE OF MIND
The urge to complete a trio of islands and advance to the next epoch is quite tremendous. And with the ever advancing technology, there's always something new just round the next corner.

Occasionally you get the feeling the game isn't quite perfect, that the balance between total obsession and complete frustration is just about to veer sharply away towards the latter, but no. It's never quite enough to put you off the game - you'll always come back, because you just know that next epoch is almost within your grasp.

Games with little computer people running around in them can occasionally feel too slow, but happily that's not the case either. Clock fast-forward is included, thankfully - events would be alternately too slow, then too fast, without it. I initially found myself having problems when the speed was at max, and a bunch of guys started attacking me, but after a brief chat with Sensible, they've amended the options menu to include an auto-speed option. This has the effect of slowing the game to normal speed if any enemies move into one of your sectors, giving you more time to react. This seemingly insignificant feature really elevates the user-friendliness of the program to an almost perfect level.

Longevity-wise the game has no problem either. With nine epochs (each with three islands) to battle though, Mega lo Mania should certainly hold its own in the long term challenge stakes. The use of a code for each epoch is definitely appreciated too (I may have been forced to smash and burn one of the office Amigas otherwise).

One thing I haven't mentioned yet (indeed one of the best aspects of the game) is the speech. This is one of those games that gets everybody who comes within ear-shot peeking at the monitor, just to see what's making all the noise. Virtually every event in the game is accompanied by a sample. From the cockney girl informing you that, 'The production run is completed', to the Italian opponent who, upon forming an alliance with you says, 'Ce, ce, why not?', it's sonic heaven. And the guy of questionable sexual orientation who says, 'Do you want to be in my gang?' is a real scream.
Apparently 'real' actors were employed to provide all the samples and it's proved to be an inspired decision.

In fact, the importance of the speech can't be stressed enough. The slickness of the presentation is what elevates this program from the merely very good to the downright brilliant. Previously speech samples on the Amiga have always come across as slightly amateurish. With Mega lo Mania Sensible Software have managed to pull strategy games out of the train-spotter age, and into the world of console-like mass appeal - it makes the game seems just, well, 'professional' in the same sort of way that Lucasfilm products and very few others are. Other programmers should take note. This is what we want - good ideas AND professional presentation. Games buyers have put up with shoddy products for far too long.


Once you've played Mega lo Mania you'll be hooked

GRIPES, COMPLAINTS AND WHINGES
They're all a bit on the trivial side actually. The main one is that the graphics and animations never quite match the quality set by the sound. Armies move from sector to sector in a puff of smoke which is cute, but it might have been nicer to see them march on and off the screen one by one. And the way the planes simply glide from the bottom to the top of the screen, then reappear at the bottom again, is a bit tacky.

The only other problem I have is with the slightly bitty backgrounds, which remind me of Code Masters BMX Simulator, strangely enough. A more thoughtful use of colour wouldn't have gone amiss. These are minor points though, and the fact that these are my only complaints only serves to highlight the near perfection of the game. In fact, if I were to say that Mega lo Mania is the only game to come between me and my beloved copy of Llamatron this month, then you've got a pretty good idea just how much I like it.

In fact, the only problem I've got with Mega lo Mania is in trying to give it a final mark. You see, I don't enjoy playing at as much as, say Monkey Island (yes, it's that darned game again) - it's simply too frustrating at times - but it HAS taken over my life. It's the most compulsive computer game I've played since I was just a nipper. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's really rather jolly good.

Mega lo Mania has to be congratulated for being the most accessible strategy game yet. Even if you've only ever had eyes for arcade blasts or cute games like Lemmings, once you've played this for 15 minutes you'll be hooked. Then your life will really start to fall apart.


WHAT'S GOING ON?
The key success in Mega lo Mania lies in your mastery of the slightly abstract icon controls. We explain all.
Mega Lo Mania: Main screen
01. This map of the Aloha, the current island. Expansive it's not. The blue square is my castle.
02. The stride of this dude shows just how quickly game time is passing.
03. Eleven guys from the red team are currently attacking my sector. Oh dear.
04. A shrub. This doesn't affect the game at all.
05. A few more enemy warriors get it in the neck.
06. This Englishman's home is his castle - literally.
07. We're currently at a tech level equivalent to 3000BC.
08. It's mine all mine. That's right - it's a mine.
09. Some distinctly Arabic looking guys, and they're attacking my sector!
10. These help menus give handy information on how to manipulate the icons (pros can switch them off). Note the terrible name for the ore.
11. Everything in Mega lo Mania is mouse-controlled (except for the pause, quit and help on/off options) - with this helping hand.
12. Main Map Key (see below).
MAIN MAP KEY
Mega Lo Mania: Invention icon The invention icon, used to develop better weapons and defences.
Mega Lo Mania: Blueprint icon The blueprint icon shows what elements are needed for an item.
Mega Lo Mania: Shield icon The shield icon lets you build up the defenses of your buildings.
Mega Lo Mania: Army icon This lets you place armed guys in the turrets of buildings.
Mega Lo Mania: Sword icon Amass your army and send them into the wilds with the sword icon.
Mega Lo Mania: Mining icon Anything linked to this icon involves mining elements to make stuff.
Mega Lo Mania: Navigation icon The central bit shows the population left un-utilised (i.e. reproducing). Arrows point from here to currently active icons.
SENSIBLE SOFTWARE - TAKING OVER THE WORLD

Igave Chris Yates at Sensible Software a quick call and fire a couple of Mega lo Maniesque questions in his general direction.

AP: Okay awkward question first, how aware of Populous were you when developing Mega lo Mania?
CY: To be honest, we didn't really take any notice of it. It's quite inevitable at the moment that any game which involves controlling little computer people is going to be accused of ripping of Populous. The thing with Populous is that you have a quite subtle influence on events. With our game, everything is controlled very directly. It's much more like Lemmings in that respect (though we didn't consciously aim for that either).

AP: Fair enough. Tell me how the samples came about. Were they an integral part of the design?
CY: No. The whole game design was actually quite different to begin with anyway. It's just sort of developed as we went along, although it was always intended to be very visual and icon-controlled. We toyed with the idea of including speech, and tried recording it ourselves. The results were very poor (as usually seems to be the case when programmers do it themselves). By using professional actors and mucking about with the sample rate we've got some impressive results.

AP: Definitely. You packed quite a lot in there too. Were things limited by the amount of memory you had available at all?
CY: We did drop a number of samples. Some were just plain irritating, but disk space was also a problem. We couldn't pack anything else onto the disk if we wanted to.

AP: Yes, the graphics seemed a little less impressive than they could have been. It was the sound and icon-interface that shone through the most. Some cute little effects like crumbling towers and better animation on the planes would have improved things visually.
CY: Well, we knew from the beginning that it would be impossible to include all the graphic effects we wanted. In the end we've gone for a very stylized approach, and included as much as we could. If we had a 4Mb machine, then obviously we would have done more.

AP: What are your plans for the future? How likely is a sequel?
CY: If this one goes down well, then Mega lo Mania 2 will be on the cards. We may well include a link option, allowing two players to compete with each other. In the immediate future though, we've got Wizkid coming soon through Ocean. We're also toying with the idea of a football game. Something to beat Kick Off. The trouble with Kick Off is that it doesn't really feel like you're in control of your players - like Populous in fact.

Mega Lo Mania: Photo of Sensible Software team in 1991
Sensible? Not us guv'. Left to right: Chris Yates, Jon Hare and Chris Chapman.

Mega Lo Mania logo CU Amiga Screenstar

Since the creation a couple of years back of Bullfrog's Populous a number of games have appeared which take their inspiration from its power-centric blend of strategy and environsimulation. What started off as a straightforward idea to put together a multi-directional strategic shoot 'em up when Sensible Software began Megalomania, developed through its two year programming period into just such a game. But to dismiss it as a simple clone trading on the genre's popularity would be to miss the large amounts of original thinking and creative polish that have gone into its making.

Megalomania is about power. The scenario concerns a group of antagonistic gods vying for overall control of newborn worlds in the outer reaches of the solar system. It's a head on contest between them as to who controls the planet. This takes the form of armed conflict which begins in prehistory and ends, before the final battle, in 2001.

The game is divided into nine timezones or epochs composed of three islands each, the aim being to assert your control gradually through the ages. Secure all three islands and you move onto the next epoch. These islands often contain as many as three other gods attempting the same thing when you play, so winning becomes a careful application of time, men and resources.

If this sounds a little drab then don't believe it, because Megalomania rapidly becomes a frantic battle of survival first, and expansion second.

Once you're into the game, fighting through island by island, you effectively remain on one screen. All that changes are the icons which allow you to build weapons, create defences and employ the increasingly sophisticated technology at your disposal. You're given a hundred men to conquer your island although the aim is to waste as few as possible, keeping them in reserve for the final bitter hand-to-hand slaughter (known as the Mother Of All Battles) that climaxes the game.

The key to progression in Megalomania is employing the resources to their optimum effectiveness. You begin in the first epoch with a fortress which you must first ensure is effectively defended in case someone tries to do to you what you fully intend to do unto them. That task completed you've then got to create some more weapons so you can attack your opponents' fortresses. The armoury at your disposal to begin with is crude caveman fare of sticks and rocks, but as you progress the time-zones shift allowing you to mine a variety of ores which you can use in factories and laboratories to gradually synthesise anything from cannons to biplanes, flying saucers and nuclear missiles.

As you move through various timezones so your fortresses and the men you employ change character from caveman through Arabs, Romans, Normas, Elizabethans, WWI troops, WWII troops, right up to the present day and beyond.

The key to victory is to constantly improve upon your technology by dissipating your forces in mines, factories and labs while ensuring you have enough troops to do the dirty work.

Megalomania is a skilful blend of wargame and strategy which avoids the ugly static screens often associated with those kind of games. Instead you can watch the conflict unfold as hordes of little men run around the screen killing each other. The graphics are simple but absorbing to watch and, most importantly, simple to use with the icons easily understood and employed.

It is the sound, though, which really puts the icing on this game. Given the option of effects or speech go for the latter, because there are a plethora of phrases and expressions from your opponents which are funny and useful for transmitting messages from the cockney girl in the factory to the cry of 'It's all over!' when you've put an opponent to the sword.

As an inventive and witty rendition of the paper/scissors/stone game Megalomania is a masterpiece. All right, its little men, islands and depiction of powermongering all echo Populous and Powermonger, but there's so much more to this than simple reinterpretation. If you haven't got the power I strongly advise you go out and get it. Worth its weight in gold.


SENSIBLE SOFTWARE

The long-haired duo of Chris Yates and John Hare burst onto the 8 bit gaming scene with Sword of the Sorcerer on the Spectrum in 1985, followed a year later with Galaxibirds on the C64. They rapidly became one of the most sight after programming teams and produced games like Microprose Soccer and 3D Tennis. They're best remembered for Wizball, an original blend of shoot 'em up and strategy that's gone down as a classic.

They were joined for the Megalomania project by Chris Chapman who graduated from producing business programs, including DTP and scanner software, to programming the complicated checking system the game employs.

Sensible's next project, due in approximately a month is a welcome sequel to Wizball. Entitled Wizkid it's literally a son of Wizball, but don't expect a simple update on the original.


Mega Lo Mania logo

Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Mussolini, Thatcher, Paul from Neighbours and David McCandless. We put this list of power-crazed tyrants into a hat to determine who would review Mirrorsoft's newie, Megalomania. Guess who drew the short straw...

Power. Power. Power. Life is about power. Hedgehogs are about being squashed on roads. Brighton beach is about fat old women with lobster-red shoulders. But life, you see, life is about power - manipulation. Life is about getting people to do what you want them to. Ask any megalomaniac: Hitler, Thatcher, Paul from Neighbours. Ask God - he's the biggest megalomaniac of them all.

No, even better - be God. Play a God-like figure warring with four other God-like figures for domination of a new planet. But it is a watery old place, this planet, so rather than get your hands wet, rely on your obedient disciples to do the dirty work.

The outposts of disciples are scattered over twenty eight islands of varying size. You choose a sector, plonk your people there and give them the divine order: MULTIPLY. (When God tells you to bonk, you bonk!) Your aim is to develop your propagating people in the following ways:

a) Get them to beat off claims staked by other gods. This involves lots of chopping, hacking and slaying, building of armies and clever strategies. You know the sort of thing.
b) Get them to raise their 'tech-level'. The more your people plough research into bigger, louder weapons, the more advanced they become.

c) Get them to expand your empire, by building all sorts of big towers, mines, factories and stuff.

Fighting is the main theme of development, so the move from epoch to epoch is marked by new weapons. From Stone Age cavemen (sticks and stones) and Old Testament Arabs (crossbows and boiling oil), through Elizabethan thespians (catapults and swords) and First World War politicians (biplanes and guns), into modern day muthas (F-19s) and then 2001AD techies (nukes and laser guns)... and beyond.

The only problem is, while you're scurrying to create a 1,000 ton 'Hiroshima special', so are your rival gods - and they are not exactly an appealing cross-section of Club God.

Scarlet is a fiery man-hater/eater, as Oberon found out when he tried to be ruthless and backstabbing to her. Caesar is a vindictive and unpredictable git, especially to Madcap, who is cunning and deadly. Not the best neighbours to have come round for a cup of sugar.

Are your disciples devoted? Let's put it this way. You can click on a group of unarmed men and throw them into battle with laser-touting space commandos - and they'll do it! You can tell your followers to build a new fort in the heart of enemy territory, and they'll kiss your feet and say "om" a lot. It's sad really, isn't it?

Amiga reviewMacca It's going to be hard to write this review without mentioning Populous: Yeah, yeah, yeah... Megalomania is a bit like Populous. Yeah, yeah, yeah... the graphics aren't too different. Okay, okay, okay... so the idea's basically the same. But Megalomania does have its merits...

MERIT 1

You have a lot of freedom. You can opt for defensive tactics - which isn't that well catered for in Populous. You can mount soldiers on your buildings, design defensive weapons and drink half-pints of shandy. Or you can be aggressive, making huge weapons of destruction and launching huge campaigns against your rivals. Or you can be completely irresponsible, pour all your resources into big sticks and just attack or defend willy-nilly.

MERIT 2

Megalomania's best fun feature is marching through the 'tech levels' and then totally decimating your opposition with new-fangled weaponry. Modern man versus Neanderthals or futuristic man versus Old Testament barbarians. Then, finally, you can blat a whole empire of Romans with nuclear weapons. Genocide can be fun. (Steady on! Ed).

MERIT 3

As technology increases, so does suspense, Each game becomes a race to get the weapons first. If you're first, you can sit there and rub your hands gleefully as your flotillas of planes/jets.nukes pound the enemy. But it's this that's my main gripe with the game. Apart from doing all that logistics and icon lark, you have very little active input in the game - not enough arcade bits! It would have been nice to be able to take control of one warrior, or one plane or one laser turret, in a battle to make your own impact. As it is, all you can do is sit back-seat and watch.

MERIT 4

The graphics are good, if a little normal. The animation sequences aren't incredibly impressive - just lots of soldiers milling about. There's a disappointing lack of 'the state of disrepair'- that special sort of graphic that shows your enemy stronghold gradually collapsing to the ground as you pound it. As it stands, the buildings just pop out of existence when destroyed.

MERIT 5

The sound is excellent, with all sorts of sampled actors' voices saying things like "Ergonomically tewiffic". The game idea itself sounds quite boring in principle and smacks too much of a 'strategy game' for us arcade ninjas. But, as with most of these New Age Populous-inspired games, Megalomania's horribly addictive and fun to play. Stop