Black & White (video game)

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This article is about the 2001 video game. For the Pokémon games, see Pokémon Black and White.
Black & White
Black & White Coverart.png
Developer(s) Lionhead Studios
Publisher(s) EA Games, Feral Interactive (Mac), Sold-Out Software
Designer(s) Peter Molyneux
Composer(s) Russell Shaw
Series Black & White
Platform(s) Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) Windows
  • NA 26 March 2001
  • EU 6 April 2001
Mac OS
  • NA January 2002
Genre(s) Simulation, god game
Mode(s) Single-player, multiplayer

Black & White is a 2001 video game developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Electronic Arts and Feral Interactive for Microsoft Windows and Mac OS. 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. It was followed by an expansion, Black & White: Creature Isle, and a sequel, Black & White 2.

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 player follows the grateful family 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.


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.

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 as 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, except in the first level, during the tutorial stage.


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.[2]


Aggregate scores
Aggregator Score
Metacritic 90/100[3]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4.5/5 stars[4]
Edge 9/10[5]
Game Informer 9/10[6]
GamePro 5/5 stars[7]
Game Revolution A[8]
GameSpot 9.3/10[9]
GameSpy 91%[10]
GameZone 9/10[11]
IGN 9.7/10[12]
PC Gamer (US) 94%[13]
X-Play 5/5 stars[14]
The Cincinnati Enquirer 4.5/5 stars[15]
Playboy 85%[16]

Critics initially awarded Black & White with "universal acclaim" according to video game review aggregator Metacritic.[3] The Cincinnati Enquirer gave the game four-and-a-half stars out of five, calling it "a heavenly refreshing virtual toy in which to lose oneself for hours on end."[15] Playboy gave it a score of 85%, saying, "While the game is far from perfect -- some may bristle at the constant micromanagement and the often ambiguous objectives you are required to meet -- it is very approachable and addictive, an almost ideal virtual playground in which you can play god [sic]."[16] Maxim gave it a score of eight out of ten, stating that "Though the plodding pace and cutesy atmosphere border on blasphemy, the game’s open-ended design lets you indulge your most megalomaniacal fantasies with ease."[17]

Some critics, after spending more time reviewing the game, altered their judgment: 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.[18]

IGN mentioned the game in one of their podcasts discussing overrated games.[19]


  1. ^ Kushner, David (March 2000). "Gods and Monsters". Spin 16 (3): 80. ISSN 0886-3032. 
  2. ^ 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. 
  3. ^ a b "Black & White for PC Reviews". Metacritic. CBS Interactive Inc. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  4. ^ House, Michael L. "Black & White - Review". AllGame. Archived from the original on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  5. ^ Edge staff (April 2001). "Black & White Review". Edge (96). Archived from the original on 28 June 2012. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  6. ^ Brogger, Kristian (June 2001). "Black and White". Game Informer (98). Archived from the original on 1 February 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  7. ^ Jake The Snake (28 March 2001). "Black & White Review for PC on". GamePro. Archived from the original on 7 February 2005. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  8. ^ Silverman, Ben (April 2001). "Black And White Review". Game Revolution. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  9. ^ Kasavin, Greg (30 March 2001). "Black & White Review". GameSpot. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  10. ^ Wessel, Craig (20 April 2001). "Black & White". GameSpy. Archived from the original on 8 February 2005. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  11. ^ Snackdawg (9 April 2001). "Black & White Review - PC". GameZone. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  12. ^ Blevins, Tal (27 March 2001). "Black & White Review". IGN. Retrieved 7 August 2014. 
  13. ^ Kuo, Li C. (June 2001). "Black & White". PC Gamer: 52. Archived from the original on 15 March 2006. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  14. ^ Lee, Ed (4 May 2001). "Black and White (PC) Review". X-Play. Archived from the original on 30 January 2004. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  15. ^ a b Saltzman, Marc (18 April 2001). "Black & White". The Cincinnati Enquirer. Archived from the original on 1 October 2007. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  16. ^ a b Ryan, Michael E. (30 April 2001). "Do-It-Yourself Deities (Black & White Review)". Playboy. Archived from the original on 6 January 2002. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  17. ^ Steinberg, Scott (April 2001). "Black & White". Maxim. Archived from the original on 26 June 2001. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 
  18. ^ "25 Most Overrated Games of All Time". GameSpy. September 2003. Archived from the original on 16 July 2009. Retrieved 19 September 2014. 
  19. ^ Scoop! (27 February 2007). "IGN is AFK Podcast: Overrated Games". IGN. Retrieved 21 January 2016. 

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