Black & White (video game)
|Black & White|
|Publisher(s)||EA Games, Feral Interactive (Mac)|
|Release date(s)||25 March 2001|
Black & White is a 2001 video game developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Electronic Arts and Feral Interactive for Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh. A god game, it includes elements of artificial life, strategy, and fighting games.
The player acts as a god and takes control over villages across several islands. Black & White features a unique gameplay element, a creature that the player can raise and teach. The game was highly anticipated and overall well received.
A port for the Sega Dreamcast was in development but was cancelled due to the end of the system's production life.
The player begins the game as a newly created god, born from the prayers of a family. After saving the family's drowning son, the grateful family leads the player to their village. There, the player chooses a Creature. The plot advances as the player completes main "Gold Story Scrolls" and side "Silver Reward Scrolls" quests.
The player discovers a massive Creature, who tells of a god known as Nemesis, his former master, who desires to destroy all other gods and reign supreme as the one true god. Nemesis becomes the principal antagonist in the game. The player is told of the Creed - an energy source with the ability to destroy gods. Nemesis then destroys his former Creature and attacks the player's village. A mysterious vortex opens that the player enters to escape Nemesis.
The vortex transports the player onto a second island. The player is greeted by another god, Khazar, who sent the player the vortex and asks for the player's aid against another god Lethys, who is Nemesis' underling, in exchange for the resources to rebuild the player's village. However, Nemesis destroys Khazar and steals Khazar's piece of the Creed. Lethys then kidnaps the player's creature, taking it through a vortex to another land.
In the third land, The Creature is being held in stasis by three magical pillars. The player must take over three villages to free the Creature. Then Lethys gives the player a piece of the Creed and opens a vortex to a land where another can be found.
The player returns to the first land, which is now cursed by Nemesis - fireballs and lightning rain from the sky. The player must complete three quests to deactivate the curses. Finally, when a piece of the Creed is claimed by aiding a cursed village, Nemesis appears and invites the player to his realm.
On the last island, Nemesis curses the player's Creature, causing him to slowly change alignments, shrink, and grow weaker. The player must take over villages to undo the curse and defeat Nemesis. When the final piece of the Creed is obtained, the player destroys Nemesis once and for all, leaving the player as the last remaining god in the world.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (October 2011)|
The player takes on the role of a god ruling over an island populated by various tribes. The player's control over the island is manifested in the Hand, an animated on-screen hand which can move or throw people and objects, tap houses to wake their occupants, cast miracles, and do many other things. Use of the keyboard and buttons in the game is deliberately low; to add to the sense of realism, the (usually) mouse-controlled hand can perform every function in the game. In later patches, the Hand can also be controlled by an Essential Reality P5 Glove, a consumer-level virtual reality glove that is no longer for sale.
Generally speaking, the goal of a level is to gain control over every village on the island. This is accomplished through the performance of impressive acts that will cause the villagers to believe in the player. Villagers can be swayed by everything from helping them with day-to-day tasks to terrorising them with fireballs and lightning storms. Another important element of the gameplay is the player's Creature — a pet of sorts that can be trained to perform the same actions and the player, thanks to the game's complex AI, developed by Richard Evans. This Creature is trained by being placed on a leash while the player demonstrates the action the Creature is to learn using the Hand. With time and repetition, it can perform complex functions that will allow it to serve as the player's avatar in the world.
The principle behind the game's name is the conflict between good and evil. Nearly every action (or lack thereof) will count towards the player's image in the people's eyes. As such, the player may be seen as a heart wrenchingly good god or an utterly evil one. The land and interface will shift according to the player's alignment. A good god will have a white marble temple, a shining white hand, and a peaceful village filled with light. Conversely, an evil god will have a charred, clawed hand, a black temple sprouting venomous red spikes, and thoroughly terrified villagers. Good players try to win over villages through constant help. Common tactics are to donate food and wood, construct buildings, protect the village from other gods, send missionaries, and use the Creature to entertain the villagers. However, villagers become bored with the same attempt to impress them being repeated. In other words if boulders flying overhead become too frequent, they will lose their effect. This forces the player to mix up the methods he uses to convert a village. One can use a balance of good and evil, trying to stay in the gray area. The game presents so many different ways to please a village, however, that the player is never forced to use evil or forced to use good.
Black & White has a unique feature that allows the player to control a creature that takes the form of an animal. Most of the creatures can be obtained from completing various Silver Reward Scrolls. The player's pet starts out relatively small, and later grows to be the size of a skyscraper. Each Creature has its strengths and weaknesses, for example, an ape being intelligent and proficient at learning new tasks, but lacking strength, whereas a Tiger is strong but a slow learner.
As a god, the player can teach their creature to do simple tasks, such as, keeping the village store full of food and wood; performing miracles; performing a range of beneficial, benign, or violent acts - anything from what and when to eat to how to attack enemy's villagers using trees as weapons. The Creature may also be taught fighting skills in one-on-one battles with other creatures; the Creature's attack and defence abilities can be trained and improved. The Creature is taught by using a Reinforcement learning system - if the Creature does something the player does not want it to do, the player can slap the creature. On the other hand, if the Creature does something the player approves of, the Creature can be stroked. The player's Creature will remember the player's response to various actions and will gradually change its behaviour accordingly.
The game reinforces the choices and learning of the creature by providing visual feedback, for instance, the Creature will change its appearance based on its alignment: an evil wolf will sport glowing eyes and massive fangs and claws, whereas a good one will turn a startling shade of purple and glow gently.
Lionhead Studios used the Belief-Desire-Intention model based on work of Michael Bratman to simulate creatures learning and decision making. A creature forms an intention by combining desires, opinions and beliefs. Beliefs are attribute lists that store data about various world objects. Desires are goals the creature wants to fulfil expressed as simplified perceptrons. Opinions describe ways of satisfying a desire using decision trees. For each desire, the creature selects the belief that it has the best opinion about — thus forming an intention or goal.
Other gameplay elements 
At the center of the player's empire is the Temple, the building at which tribes-folk worship and the Creature sleeps. Menus and statistics are replaced by specialized rooms in the temple. Each tribe under the player's control will construct a worship area in the temple, where magical or 'prayer' energy is accumulated that can be used for miracles.
The gameplay is often helped along by two advisers to the player (a.k.a. consciences). They are the stereotypical conscience: one is a saintly, bearded old man seated on a cloud who refers to the player as "Leader", and the other a slightly tubby demon who calls the player "Boss". They offer conflicting advice on how to play the game; depending on which option the player chooses, his or her reputation as a good or evil deity is established (see below).
Area of Influence 
The area of play is limited to a strict circle around temple and village centres. The size of the circle is directly determined by population in the village.
A player can leave the area of influence (for example to pick up a tree outside the area) for a very short time, usually no more than a few seconds.
Objects thrown from within the area of influence can be sent far away to other villages. In addition the player's creature is able to do anything outside of the area of influence.
Miracles are spells that can benefit the player. Some miracles come in one-shot miracles, which come in bubbles. Dispensers create multiple one-shot miracles. Other miracles can be cast from worship sites. Worship sites can be powered by villagers worshipping, or sacrifices. Players can sacrifice trees, animals, and villagers. Spells that are charging will require prayer power, and will show its progress by how fast the rings are flowing into the player's hands. Miracles can also be upgraded through quests, or already available. Upgrades cost more worship prayer, but are much stronger. Fireballs are bigger and come in more numbers. Upgraded food dispenses more food. To upgrade, the player must make the gesture for the upgrade, similar to casting miracles without activating them from the worship site or town centre. Upgraded miracles can be hidden in miracle bubbles, which is shown if the bubble has a ring in it.
Disciples (a.k.a. villagers) play an important role in a player's progress. Villagers can be assigned to certain task created by the player or creature. These will change their daily schedule. For example, if a villager is assigned to be a farmer, they will farm, and perhaps pray at the town circle the rest of the day. Builders will sit around town until new projects have appeared. Disciples main usage is to allow the player work on gaining new towns, or work on another and have the town care for itself using this job system. Nine types of Disciples are available, such as Farmer, Missionary or Craftsman.
Wonders can boost a player's influence, belief, and miracle powers, along with other things. Wonders are built after seven scaffolds have been combined. Each tribe has their own wonder, and it can be built in other towns. Some wonders' effects will double with more wonders. Each wonder is named after a contemporary or ancient polytheistic society. Wonders require huge amounts of wood, but usually pay off to the player in another way. If the town is taken, the wonder will convert to the new owner. Most wonders do not benefit the Creature. In addition, the size of the wonder is set when it is built and is decided by the village's influence and belief.
Weather is randomly generated unless the player sets the game to use the local weather (specified by zip code or post code). Random weather can be influenced by magic.
Critics initially awarded Black & White with high praise, averaging 90% at both Metacritic and GameRankings, based on preliminary gameplay. Some critics, after spending more time reviewing the game, altered their judgement: Black & White was selected by GameSpy as the most overrated game of all time in an article published in September 2003, who cited a lack of true interaction with the game's townspeople and poor use of the much-lauded creatures among reasons the game ultimately disappointed. IGN mentioned the game in one of their podcasts discussing overrated games. Some of the game's awards and accolades include:
- E3 2000 Game Critics Awards: Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best PC Game, Best Strategy Game
- E3 1999 Game Critics Awards: Best Original Game
- BAFTA Interactive Entertainment Awards 2001 for Interactivity and Moving Images
- The Electronic Multimedia Awards. (EMMA) Gold Award Of Excellence
- ECTS 2001 for PC Game of the Year Power Unlimited Benelux,PC Game of the Year CD Action Eastern Europe,PC Game of the Year PC Games Germany,PC Game of the Year KwVideogiochi.it Italy,PC Game of the Year PC Hemma Scandinavia, PC Game of the Year Solo Juegos.com Spain
- PC World (US) for Best game of 2001
- Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, Nominated for six awards. It won Computer Game Of The Year and Innovation in Computer Gaming
- THE GAME DEVELOPERS CHOICE AWARDS (US) four awards. Excellence in Programming (won), Excellence in Game Design (nominated), Game Of The Year (nominated), Game Innovation Spotlight (won)
- Gamespy, Gamer's Choice Of The Year (Strategy)
- GAMES MAGAZINE (USA) Game Of The Year
- NY times, Reviewers choice of the year's best video game.
- PC Gameplay UK, Game of 2001
- Cnet's top five games of the summer, #1.
- CGW, voted number one by readers of CGW.
- Tied highest PC game review score ever on IGN.com (9.7/10) (with Half-Life 2 and BioShock)
- Evans, Richard (2002). "Chapter 11.2: Varieties of Learning". In Rabin, Steve. AI Game Programming Wisdom. Charles River Media. pp. 567–578. ISBN 1-58450-077-8.
- Kasavin, Greg (31 March 2001). "Black & White Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- Blevins, Tal (27 March 2001). "Black & White Review". IGN. Retrieved 26 March 2010.
- Black & White (pc: 2001): Reviews
- Black & White Reviews
- 25 of the biggest disappointments in the history of games, GameSpy.com
- IGN: IGN is AFK Podcast: Overrated Games
- Top Reviewed PC Games at IGN