Still slowly making my way through Populous. Hit another difficulty wall around world 120 or so.
The first difficulty wall around world 30 or so was just learning to hit the AI early and often. It seems to me once one side or the other gets going, it just snowballs too much. So the best way to deal with the AI was just never let them get going. Keep them busy repairing damage you inflict on them, while you keep growing. Success begets more success.
Well, the second difficulty wall has thrown a large wrench into that. There were about a half dozen worlds where the AI only had the Knight and Flood powers, and it was easy to just keep Earthquaking them so badly they could never use them. They got really easy. Now things have been mixed up, and the AI has the Earthquake power, and I don't. This means, they can and will hit me first, and I have to hang in there, and struggle past it, until I gather the mana for the more advanced powers which I am allowed to use.
My initial plan was to try to turtle until I could flood them. This was a horrible mistake, and I was besieged so totally and effectively I never even got close to having enough mana to flood them off the map.
It's really throwing me for a loop. Had to learn to try to survive and grow as quickly as possible until I can begin attacking. Swamp is the cheapest attack I can afford, but it's usefulness seems limited as the AI repairs it pretty quickly. Still, it's mana spent on that instead of Earthquaking me. I'm also finding it pivotal to hitting them with a Knight before they can hit me, since a rampaging Knight takes enormous chunks out of your mana supply while it's slaughtering towns and walkers. The worst strategic blunder I made was trying to wear down a Knight with an avalanche of walkers. Next thing I knew I had no mana, and was at the mercy of the AI which progressed from quaking me every 2 seconds to volcano.
The last few of these levels have started me off with a higher population than the AI, likely to compensate for the lack of access to cheap attacks. I'm struggling to make the best use of that meager advantage. I suspect soon even that will be taken away from me. I find my reaction times and resource management skills are really being tested. And they are improving. It's enjoyable and exciting in a way I haven't found out of a lot of newer games. That expectation that I have to get good or fuck off. And the time investment in each level is low enough, and it's easy enough to just reset it, that I don't mind the experimentation. Plus the moment to moment flow state of the gameplay is still a pleasure that I don't necessarily hate replaying the opening growth stages of a level repeatedly, trying to optimize it just a little bit more.
Still, I suspect my love affair with this game may come to an end well before I beat the 500th world. Even if I am leaping over worlds 5 or 6 at a time per battle. I'm also mildly curious if my running it at full speed on a K6-2+ 500 might be goosing the AI's reaction times a bit. The game appears to run at a normal speed. The walkers aren't zipping and zooming all over the map. But that doesn't mean the internal game logic isn't blazing. I may be struggling against an AI that was never supposed to be this fast. I especially wonder this because Populous 2 does appear to run too fast, and I'm sitting here wondering how Bullfrog unlearnt that lesson? Unless Populous 1 is only appearing to run normally by pure chance, and it's actually not.
Edit: Turning down the speed with setmul did indeed appear to make the Populous AI react a lot slower. Or I just got really good today.
Edit2: I take it all back. The AI is just fucking impossibly hard for me. Can't even begin to wrap my head around what they are doing, or how I could possibly stop it. It's spamming volcanos with only a half dozen castles, while I have more than twice as many and not enough mana to spam earthquake, much less volcano. I just don't understand it at all.