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Games that never were: Pantheon

February 6th, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · 1 Comment · Uncategorized

This is the first in a series of articles on strategy games that never got finished. I am doing this to show not just what we are missing out on, but to point out what kinds of games never get the funding they need.

Pantheon was to be Frog City’s next game after their historical business sim Trade Empires. In fact, if you look at the existing game art for Pantheon the debt to Trade Empires is obvious. The buildings look very similar to those in TE – even the landscape is reminiscent of it. The gameplay promised in Pantheon was to be more Populous than Capitalism, more Majesty than Age of Empires.

In Pantheon, the player would start with a single Olympian deity and then build a pantheon (naturally) of at most three more. With these gods, the player would compete for worshippers against a rival collection of gods and goddesses. Think of it as The Iliad come to life on your PC screen. The gods muck about in the affairs of men, do favors for their worshippers and smite the unfaithful.

This Computer Games preview is the best single article still available on this lost gem. As it makes clear, this game was about divine intervention but also about creating a core of worshippers who could fend for themselves. Like the favor resource in Age of Mythology, your gods’ actions would be limited by the amount of ambrosia that they had collected. Priests would work to make sure that your divine ego was stroked, heroes would undertake quests to further the cause of your people and your citizens would worship you so long as you were a constant presence in their lives.

Of course, Pantheon was never made. No publisher could be found and Frog City was last seen making Tropico 2, the underwhelming sequel to a decent city builder. Why no publishing deal? No idea. These are/were experienced developers with what looked like an almost finished game. The lackluster reaction of the gaming audience to Trade Empires might have made the development team less of a going concern, but worse games made by less talented people haven’t stopped their careers. Frog City still maintains a customer support forum and a website devoted to information of Pantheon.

I mourn the loss of this game for more reasons than just my natural bias towards ancient history. And, yes, Frog City was responsible for Imperialism, one my all-time favorite strategy games. The path set by Majesty, the archetypal give-and-go RTS (it lets you set the stage and then you just watch your little men go about their business), was never really followed. Pantheon seemed to moving more in that direction. If it had succeeded, and I am confident it would have, it could have given us gamers a real time strategy option beyond the Age of Empires or Warcraft mode that makes the player handle everything.

Pantheon could still be made today, of course, but both graphics and players have moved on. Age of Mythology has already made commercial hay out of the whole divine intervention thing, and done such a good job that Pantheon would have a hard time keeping up. Players have become so accustomed to the rock-paper-scissors/gold-food-wood model of RTS gaming that most other 3H games have to stick with it. I love Age of Mythology but it’s not been a huge success in multiplayer because is complicates the rock-paper-scissors thing by having two cycles to follow (infanty>cavalry>archers>infantry and heroes>myth units>mortals>heroes).

We don’t know for sure how or if Pantheon would have changed RTS gaming. Frog City, while not a marginal developer, was not powerful enough to get a publishing deal so it might not have had the public attention that it needed. But game designers would have seen something else out there. And that might have been enough to shake things up.


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