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
PC "black" cover.
Developer(s) Lionhead Studios
Publisher(s) EA Games, Feral Interactive (Mac), Sold-Out Software
Director(s) Steve Jackson
Designer(s) Peter Molyneux
Artist(s) Paul McLaughlin
Writer(s) James Leach
Composer(s) Russell Shaw
Series Black & White
Platform(s) Mac OS, Microsoft Windows
Release date(s) Windows
  • WW 30 March 2001
  • JP 24 May 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 for Microsoft Windows. The game was published by Feral Interactive in 2002 for Mac OS. Black & White is a god game that combines elements of artificial life, strategy, and fighting games. The player acts as a god and takes control over villages. The goal is to defeat Nemesis, a god wanting to destroy all others and take over the world. A primary theme is the concept of good and evil, and the atmosphere is determined by the player's behaviour and which side is taken. This is where the game gets its name from, and is further symbolised by the reversible cover; one side is black, the other white. Black & White features a unique gameplay element; a creature whose personality is shaped by the player's interaction, and plays an important role as a servant. Multiplayer is supported over a local network or online.

Peter Molyneux, fascinated with influencing people in a world since Populous, led development. This took over three years and the game was highly anticipated. Ports for games consoles were in development, but cancelled. The game was noted for its artificial intelligence (AI); the creature's set a Guinness World Record. Black & White received critical acclaim, with reviewers praising the depth, artificial intelligence, and uniqueness. The game won awards from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences, and the Electronic Entertainment Expo's Game Critics Awards. An expansion, Black & White: Creature Isle, and sequel, Black & White 2, followed.


The player begins as a new god created from the prayers of a family. After saving their drowning son, the grateful family is followed to their village. Soon after, a creature is chosen. A large creature is later discovered, and tells of a god called Nemesis, his former master. He desires to reign supreme as the one true god by destroying all others, and becomes the principal antagonist. 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 village. A mysterious vortex opens that the player enters to escape Nemesis. The player is transported to a second island, and is greeted by another god, Khazar. He reveals that he sent the vortex and asks for aid against another god, Lethys, Nemesis' underling, in exchange for resources to rebuild the village. Later, Nemesis destroys Khazar and steals his piece of the Creed. Lethys then kidnaps the player's creature, taking it through a vortex. In the third land, the creature is held in stasis by three magical pillars. After the creature is freed, Lethys gives the player a piece of the Creed and opens a vortex to where another can be found. The player returns to the first land, now cursed by Nemesis; fireballs and lightning rain from the sky. After the curses are lifted and the piece of the Creed is claimed, 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. When the final piece of the Creed is obtained, the player destroys Nemesis, and is left as the only god in the world.[1]:2–8[2]:113–195


Screenshot of a Norse village at the beginning. Larger houses support more villagers, and how many in each are visible.

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 perform other actions.[2]:9,12 A patch was released that allows the Hand to be controlled by an Essential Reality P5 Glove, a virtual reality glove.[3]

The story is progressed through by using 'Gold Story Scrolls', which initiate a significant event. Another type is the 'Silver Reward Scroll'; although not required, they reward on completion of its task. 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 good god or an evil one. The land, interface (including the Hand), and music will change according to his alignment. For example, a good god will have a white marble Temple. An evil god's Temple will be dark-coloured sprouting spikes and looking intimidating. A balance of good and evil can be used, to try to stay in the grey area. The use of either is never required. There are two advisers, one good and the other evil, who try to persuade the player to do things their way.[1]:4,5,12,14,17,30[2]:26[4]:13

Villages are controlled, and the primary goal is to expand them by making buildings and getting the villagers to breed. Key buildings are houses, the Village Centre (which displays the god who controls the village and the available miracles), and the Village Store (which stores resources and displays the villagers' desires). Buildings are created in the Workshop, using wood to create scaffolds, placed to create a blueprint. Villagers then build it using wood. The player can make a villager a disciple, assigned to perform a specific task such as fishing or breeding. Villagers can be relocated to another village. Wonders are special buildings which grant a specific benefit that provides an advantage. A village belongs to one of eight tribes, such as Norse, Celtic, or Japanese. Each has a different Wonder providing different benefits. The most important building is the Temple, the centre of the player's power and surrounded by sites where villagers worship. Worshipping generates the power needed to cast miracles. How many villagers worship is controlled at the Village Centre. Which miracles are available depends on those available at the player's villages. The Temple features rooms such as the Save Room, and the Challenge Room, which provides details of activated scrolls. If the Temple is destroyed, the game is lost. When attacked, Temples transfer damage to its god's buildings and followers in defence; only Temples whose god has no followers are vulnerable. A football pitch add-on was released, enabling villagers to play in their spare time.[2]:26–41,50–60[6]:14[7]

Miracles available include providing food or wood, healing people, and shields to protect an area. Another way to cast them is by using Miracle Dispensers, a common reward for completing Silver Reward Scrolls. These allow the casting of a miracle without 'charging' it via worship. Miracles can only be cast, and most other actions can only be performed within the player's area of influence. This can be expanded by expanding owned villages, or by taking over others. An area of influence is shown by a barrier of the god's colour. Miracles can be selected at the Temple or Village Centre, or by performing certain gestures with the hand. The general goal of a level is to gain control over every village on the island. This is accomplished through acts that persuade the villagers to believe in the player. Villagers can be swayed by everything from helping with day-to-day tasks, to terrorising them with fireballs and lightning storms. Artefacts (special objects that glow in the owner's colour) and missionary disciples can be used to impress villages. Villagers become bored with repetitive attempts to impress. For example, if boulders flying overhead become too frequent, their effect is lost. This forces the use of multiple methods to convert a village.[2]:16,17,33,35,38,42–44,56,64,65,67,68

The game features a skirmish mode, where other gods are battled for control of an island, a multiplayer mode over a Local Area Network (LAN) or an online service,[2] and The God's Playground, where gameplay aspects can be practised.:6,7[1]:10 Black & White includes a feature enabling the import of real weather.[8]


One of Black & White's core features is the ownership of a creature. Three creatures are available to select from near the beginning, and others can be obtained by completing Silver Reward Scrolls. The current creature is swapped with the new one if the player desires. The pet starts out small, and grows as the game progresses. Each creature has strengths and weaknesses; apes are intelligent and proficient at learning, but lack strength, and tigers are strong but slow learners.[2]:82–100

As a god, the player can teach his creature to perform tasks such as keeping the village store full, and performing miracles. The creature is taught what and when to eat and how to attack or impress enemy villages. Fighting skills may be taught in one-on-one battles with other creatures; attack and defence abilities can be improved. Teaching is performed by using a Reinforcement learning system - if the creature does something the player does not want, he can be slapped. On the other hand, if the creature does something the player approves of, he can be stroked. The creature remembers the response to various actions and gradually changes his behaviour accordingly. With time and repetition, he can perform complex functions that allow him to serve as the player's avatar. A leash is used to command the creature to go to specific place, and can be tied to a building to restrict movement. There are three types: one encourages the creature to pay attention when actions are demonstrated, another to behave benevolently, and the other the direct opposite. Statistics are available at the Creature Cave in the Temple. The Temple provides a pen, the creature's main rest area. The game reinforces the creature's choices and learning by providing visual feedback, and the creature has an alignment separate from the player's. Evil wolves sport glowing eyes and large fangs and claws; good ones turn a startling shade of purple and glow gently.[2]:27,82–111

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.[9]:567–578

Development and release[edit]

"This is the game I've wanted to make all my life. And the end result has totally exceeded my expectations".

Peter Moyneux[10]:back cover

Black & White took over three years to develop, and was released on 30 March 2001. Development began on 14 February 1998. Peter Molyneux funded the project himself and devoted the entire development time to the game. The goal was to develop a unique game where players felt they are in a world where they could do anything. Peter Molyneux liked the idea of controlling people in a world from Populous, and was interested in good and evil, and came up with the idea that it could be used to influence atmosphere. The game was developed by a team of twenty-five programmers under a budget of approximately £4 million. Slow development was needed because Peter Molyneux wanted the right team, which consisted of six people to start with. Discussion about ideas (including a Mafia-style game) began at his house in 1997, and in February 1998, the team moved into Lionhead's offices. Now totalling nine people, the team then discussed the game and its content. Ideas such as lip-synchronised characters were proposed but thought impossible. As more people joined the team, Peter Molyneux wanted Lionhead's friendly atmosphere to remain, and their policy of only recruiting people who could fit in with existing members meant that the team had their own way of working. The team questioned and competed with each other, and the result was better quality work than expected. Peter Molyneux described the workload by saying "the team did the work of a group twice their number".[2]:2[4]:2,7[8][10]:8,9[11]

In 1998, Black & White was shown at the E3 trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, and although the design hadn't been finalised, the game incorporated elements of Populous and Dungeon Keeper. The estimated release date was late 1999; this would be pushed back to September 2000. Artificial intelligence was one of the key areas being worked on. The game crashed multiple times; Peter Molyneux fixed the bugs using Microsoft Developer Studio before restarting. He said of the idea, "Black and White is atonement for all my previous game design sins", and held high standards for the 3D engine. He instructed its programmers to "Make it the most beautiful engine ever conceived by anybody, ever".[4]:8,9,11[12][13][14]

Problems were encountered, and the team doubted the game as it ended up would get released. The entire game, including the tools and libraries had to be written from scratch. The team took a trial and error approach; they tried something and changed what didn't work, which was how they learnt as they didn't have rehearsals. Mistakes were considered costly. The programmers found better ways of coding, and were trying to make the most of their talents. Peter Molyneux remarked of the team after the bugs were fixed, "we felt like people who'd run a marathon and could see the finish line, but it didn't seem to be getting any closer". The team didn't want to use panels for casting miracles and wanted a gesture system. Peter Molyneux commented that he'd have been very disappointed if the system was dumped, but in the end, they got the feature working "beautifully". Integrating the storyline was found to draw the player in a way they hadn't expected, and lead to characters such as the advisers. The creature's artificial intelligence was a gamble; Peter Molyneux commented that they wanted to "advance the technology to its extreme", and Richard Evans built the technology into a "character which appeared to live and learn like, say, a clever puppy". Peter Molyneux wanted the creature to pass the Turing test, which nothing had passed. Large amounts of effort were devoted to getting features such as the weather import working.[8][11]:2

The game was originally to feature battling wizards, although they would still have been powered by belief. These wizards would have had creatures (originally called Titans) to raise, like in the final game. A key idea was the ability to turn living beings into Titans. Early visualisations featured the Horned Reaper from Dungeon Keeper representing Titans. The team wanted the player to see the world from the same perspective as possessing a creature in Dungeon Keeper, and for the interface to not feature any panels, icons, or buttons. Peter Molyneux wanted "limitless flexibility", and the ability to zoom out and see the world from the sky. The idea to have the player play the role of a god came when it was realised that humans could not wield the power, and could be judged by higher powers. The spells that were to be cast then became miracles, and the wizards' supporters became worshippers. The idea that the player could turn living beings into Titans was dropped because of problems such as certain Titans having obvious advantages over others. After the name Titans was dropped, others were considered. None had unanimous support; they ended up as 'creatures'. Elements of the Wizard theme remain in the final game; Eurogamer noted that certain miracles have a "distinct sword and sorcery flavour", and that Temples resemble wizard's towers. Indeed, Temples were originally called Citadels and some sported a mediaeval, fairy tale look.[10]:9–11,13,14,16,59,68[15][16]

Black & White was shown at E3 1999, where the visuals and creature were shown. It was judged the most original game there. Work on the story began in October 1999, and took longer than expected. The team estimated two months, but soon realised they didn't have the necessary skills. Bullfrog's James Leach, who had previously worked on titles such as Dungeon Keeper and Theme Hospital, was recruited. He wrote many challenges, all the dialogue, and enabled the team to make the advisers characters rather than just sources of information.[8] The idea to make the advisers characters came from programmer Alex Evans. He wanted wanted them to interact and to have their lips synchronised. A system was developed that moved their mouths into common phoneme shapes. This was used as a basis to turn them into graphic equalisers that move into shapes according to the sounds being played. This facilitated localisation, as the game was to be translated into fifteen languages. Both advisers were voiced by Marc Silk; this cut the recording time by roughly half. At E3 2000, Peter Molyneux gave a precise release date; 23 September 2000, and showed the quests. The game was supposed to reach the alpha stage by 18 June, and by summer, it became clear that development was behind schedule. As a result, the release date was pushed back to 10 November. In September, it was pushed back again into 2001. This angered fans who had been eagerly awaiting release; Peter Molyneux apologised for the delay.[4]:15,16,18,19[10]:74–76,88

The game reached alpha in December 2000. The team nearly had to drop multiplayer for this to happen, but the problems were fixed just in time. Around this time, Electronic Arts became involved in the production; testers were employed, localisations were checked, and a marketing campaign was launched. They sent a list of three thousand bugs to be fixed. As the end was near, fearing they could kill the game, bug lists were sent to every team member. The team had a chart, updated daily. The biggest problem was that fixing created more bugs. Peter Molyneux commented that "It was as if the game just didn't want to be finished and perfected". The end product was so large that they "almost felt lost within the code", which consisted of over a million lines, and took over an hour to compile. The music, dialogue, and sound effects were compressed to fit on one CD, as they took five times as much space as the game. Uninvolved people began playing and were extremely impressed. The release date was then set at 23 February 2001. Electronic Arts complained that the age the villagers were reproducing was below the age of consent for some countries, and had to be changed. Lionhead announced that the game went gold on 16 March 2001. Peter Molyneux credited fans for making the hardest times worthwhile. Due to players encountering technical issues, rumours that Electronic Arts had shipped beta versions circulated; Lionhead denied them. Peter Molyneux said Black & White is the most important and difficult game he'd made. In June, a patch that fixed bugs was released. The Japanese version was released on 24 May 2001, and re-released as Black & White Special Edition[a] under the EA Best Selections branding on 18 March 2004.[4]:20–23[8][10]:79,91[17][18][19][20][21]

The team exceeded the desired look. Peter Molyneux considered that they might have been "insanely ambitious" in this regard, because the system requirements were high and much bespoke software needed to be written. One such program was a terrain-editing tool called Leadhead. He stated that they went from "bizarre ideas", to "the best game I have ever seen". The villager's artificial intelligence had to be capped by giving some control to the Village Centre due to there being no limit on the number of villagers. On the creature's artificial intelligence, Peter Molyneux commented "part of the game itself learns from everything you do and tailors itself to you", and called the creature "an astonishing piece of work". Peter Molyneux commented that the last months of development were "the hardest any of us has ever had to work", and that "without the right team, this game never would have happened". The models for the trees, bushes, and other landscape features were created in 3D Studio Max, and the initial graphics development was done in 2D using Adobe Photoshop. Later development was done using other bespoke software. Clan multiplayer, where multiple players play as one god, was developed in a rush. The interface had to be developed in two weeks. Black & White's online community was handled by two servers in London. The clan creatures were stored on these to minimise the possibility of cheating.[8][10]:50,52,89

A PlayStation version was in development and scheduled for release in summer 2001,[22] and a Dreamcast version in late 2001.[23] Both were cancelled.[24][25] PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions were due for release in 2002.[26] Versions for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance were proposed, but never materialised. A company called M4 would have co-developed alongside Lionhead, but Electronic Arts weren't interested in the Game Boy.[27][28]


Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic 90/100[29]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4.5/5 stars[30]
CGW 5/5 stars[31]:74
Edge 9/10[32]
Game Informer 9/10[33]
GamePro 5/5[34]
Game Revolution A[35]
GameSpot 9.3/10[36]
GameSpy 91%[37]:3
GameZone 9/10[38]
IGN 9.7/10[39]
PC Gamer (US) 94%[40]:52
X-Play 5/5 stars[41]
The Cincinnati Enquirer 4.5/5 stars[42]
Playboy 85%[43]
Gamezilla 94%[44]
Inside Mac Games 8.25/10(Macintosh)[45]
PC Zone 95%[46]:53
Computer Games Magazine 3/5 stars[47]
Publication Award
BAFTA Interactivity[48]
BAFTA Moving Images[49]
Computer Gaming World Editor's Choice[31]:74
PC Gamer Editor's Choice[40]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Computer Game of the Year[50]
Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Computer Innovation[51]
IGN Best of E3 Most Innovative[52]
Best of E3 Best PC Game[53]
Electronic Multimedia Awards (EMMA) Gold Award of Excellence[54]
PC World Best Video Game of 2001[54]
PC Zone Classic Award[46]:53
Best of E3 Best Original Game[55]
Best of E3 Best of Show[53]
Best of E3 Best Strategy Game[53]
Game Developers Choice Awards Excellence in Programming[56]
Game Developers Choice Awards Game Innovation[56]
Games Magazine Game of The Year[57]

Critics initially awarded Black & White with "universal acclaim" according to video game review aggregator Metacritic.[29] The game's graphics, gameplay, and artificial intelligence in particular were well received. The Cincinnati Enquirer complimented the addictiveness, calling the game "a heavenly refreshing virtual toy in which to lose oneself for hours on end".[42] Playboy said "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]".[43] Maxim stated 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".[58] IGN's Tal Blevins complimented the "wildly imaginative" single-player mode, and the graphics, calling the game "a visual masterpiece".[39] AllGame praised the game's "Absolutely stunning and gorgeous" graphics.[30]

Game Informer's Kristian Brogger was impressed with the game's depth.[33] GameZone praised the game's "Amazingly well textured" landscapes, and called the music "fit for a god". They complimented the game for merging genres.[38] GameSpot concurred with this, stating "No other PC game to date has so effectively combined so many seemingly incompatible elements into one highly polished game".[36] Computer Gaming World praised the artificial intelligence and graphics, calling the landscape "stunning".[31]:78 Game Revolution praised the game's "Unbelievable presentation" and "Revolutionary AI".[35] GamePro complimented the realism, stating, "What makes Black & White so impressive is the feeling it gives of tinkering with a real world", and "impressive" artificial intelligence.[34] Gamezilla remarked the game "lives up to its hype", and complimented its originality, especially the artificial intelligence.[44]

Uniqueness and originality were praised. GameSpy stated "Black and White is one of the most unique—and enjoyable—strategy games we've seen this year".[37]:3 X-Play remarked "'Black and White' is just such a polished, ambitious, and fun game, with a strong and singular vision, that it deserves a long look by every PC gamer out there".[41] PC Gamer praised the game's "Beautiful" graphics, "awesome" interface, and the creativity and originality.[40] Edge complimented the originality and described the game as "a colossal achievement".[32] Reviewing the Macintosh version, Inside Mac Games remarked "Black & White is a gorgeous game", and commented on the addictiveness, saying "'Just one more minute' usually turned into hours".[45] Keith Pullin of PC Zone compared the resource management to Age of Empires, and complimented the humour and pop culture references. He praised the combination of original ideas and remarked "B&W is as captivating as it is ingenious".[46]:50,53 Computer Games Magazine complimented the "amazing" creature AI, and remarked that the game "tries tons of original things", but complained about the bugs.[47]

Certain critics, after spending more time reviewing, altered their judgement: Black & White was selected by GameSpy as the most overrated game of all time in an article published in September 2003. They cited a lack of true interaction with the townspeople and poor use of the much-lauded creatures among reasons it ultimately disappointed.[59] IGN mentioned the game in one of their podcasts discussing overrated games.[60]

Awards and accolades[edit]

Black & White was awarded the BAFTA Interactivity and Moving Images,[48][49] and was nominated for the PC Games,[61] Music,[62] Technical Innovation,[63] and Networked Games awards in 2001.[64] The game received Computer Gaming World's Editor's choice award,[31]:74 and PC Gamer's award of the same name.[40] Black & White won the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences's Computer Game Of The Year and Computer Innovation awards in 2002,[50][51] and was nominated for the Animation, Character or Story Development, Game of the Year, Game Play Engineering, and PC Strategy awards.[65] Black & White was awarded the Best of E3 Best Original Game award in 1999, and was the runner up for the Best Strategy Game and Best PC Game awards.[55] The following year, the game won the Best PC Game, Best Strategy Game, and Best of Show awards and won the Best Original Game award again.[53] IGN named Black & White as the Best of E3 2000's Most Innovative game.[52] PC Zone awarded its classic award.[46]:53 In the 2002 Game Developers Choice Awards, the game won the Excellence in Programming and Game Innovation awards, and was nominated for the Game of the Year and Excellence in Game Design awards.[56] Black & White won the 2002 Games Magazine Game of the Year Award.[57] Other awards received include the Electronic Multimedia Awards's Gold Award of Excellence, and Black & White was named by PC World as the Best Video Game of 2001.[54] Black & White appeared #1 on's most influential AI games list,[66] and appeared in the 2003 Guinness World Records for having the "Most Complex Character in a Computer Game".[67][68]


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  1. ^ Black & White Special Edition (ブラック&ホワイト スペシャルエディション Burakku ando howaito supesharuedishon?)

External links[edit]