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) Electronic Arts
Feral Interactive (Mac)
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 god video game developed by Lionhead Studios and published by Electronic Arts for Microsoft Windows in 2001. The game was published by Feral Interactive in 2002 for Mac OS. Black & White 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. Black & White features a unique element: a creature who serves the player and whose personality is shaped by its interaction with him. Multiplayer is supported over a local network or online.

Peter Molyneux led development, taking over three years and the game was highly anticipated. Versions for games consoles were in development, but cancelled.

The game was noted for its artificial intelligence (AI), and the creature set a Guinness World Record for its complexity. Reviewers praised the game's depth, artificial intelligence, and uniqueness. Black & White won awards from several organisations, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and sold over two million copies.

An expansion, Black & White: Creature Isle, and sequel, Black & White 2, followed.


Screenshot of a Norse village at the beginning. Larger houses support more villagers.

The player takes on the role of a god ruling over an island populated by various tribes. Control is manifested in the Hand, animated on-screen, and used to throw people and objects, tap houses to wake their occupants, cast miracles, and perform other actions.[1]

Key items in the story are gold and silver scrolls. Gold ones initiate a significant event, and silver ones give a task to perform and reward upon completion, although are not required.[2] The principle behind the game's name is the conflict between good and evil. Nearly every action (or lack thereof) counts towards the player's image in the followers' eyes: the player may be seen as a good god, an evil one, or in between. The land, interface (including the Hand), and music change according to that alignment. For example, a good god has a white marble temple, and an evil god's temple is dark-coloured, sprouting spikes and looking intimidating.[3][4] The use of either is never required, although a balance of good and evil can be used to stay in the grey area. There are two advisers, one good and the other evil, who try to persuade the player to do things their way.[5][6]

The primary goal is the villages' expansion by constructing buildings and breeding villagers. Important 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.[7] Wonders are special buildings granting a specific benefit. A village belongs to one of eight tribes, such as Norse, Celtic, or Japanese, each having a different Wonder providing different benefits.[8] A football pitch add-on was released, enabling villagers to play in their spare time.[9] Villagers can be assigned to perform a specific task such as fishing or breeding.[10] The Temple features rooms such as the Challenge Room, which provides details of activated scrolls. If the Temple is destroyed, the game is lost.[11] When attacked, Temples transfer damage to their god's buildings and followers in defence; only Temples whose god has no followers are vulnerable.[12]

The Temple is surrounded by sites where villagers worship, generating the power needed to cast miracles. Villagers require feeding and healing or rest during worship. How many villagers worship is controlled at the Village Centre, and which miracles are available depends on those available at the player's villages.[13] Miracles include providing food or wood, healing people, and shields to protect an area.[14] 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.[15] Miracles can only be cast, and most other actions can only be performed within the player's area of influence, extended by expanding owned villages, or taking over others.[16] Areas of influence are shown by a barrier of their god's colour,[17] and their size is reflected by their Temple.[18] Miracles can be selected at the Temple or Village Centre, or by performing certain gestures with the hand.[19] Another way to produce power is by sacrificing living beings at the altar.[20]

The general goal of a level is to gain control over every village on the island, accomplished through acts that persuade the villagers to believe in the player. Villagers can be swayed by everything from assistance with day-to-day tasks to terrorising them with fireballs and lightning storms.[21] Artefacts (special objects that glow in their owner's colour) and missionary disciples can be used to impress villages.[22] Villagers become bored with repetitive attempts to impress; for example, if boulders flying overhead become too frequent, their effect is lost, forcing the use of multiple methods to convert a village.[23]

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, and The God's Playground, where gameplay aspects can be practised. In multiplayer mode, deathmatch and cooperative modes are available.[24][25] In cooperative mode, players share a creature.[26] Black & White includes a feature enabling the import of real weather.[27]


One of Black & White's core features is the ownership of a creature. Three 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. It starts out small, and grows as the game progresses. Each has strengths and weaknesses; apes are intelligent and proficient at learning but lack strength, and tigers are strong but learn slowly.[28]

As a god, the player can teach their creature to perform tasks such as stocking the village store 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, it can be slapped. On the other hand, if the creature does something the player approves of, it can be stroked. The creature remembers the response to various actions and gradually changes its behaviour accordingly.[29] With time and repetition, it can perform complex functions that allow it to serve as the player's avatar. Leashes (of three types: one encourages the creature to pay attention when actions are demonstrated, another to behave benevolently, and the other the direct opposite.) are used to command the creature to go to specific place, and can be tied to a building to restrict movement. Statistics are available at the Creature Cave in the Temple. The Temple provides a pen, the creature's main rest area.[30] 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 shade of purple and glow gently.[31]

Lionhead Studios used Michael Bratman's belief–desire–intention model to simulate creatures' learning and decision making processes. 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 fulfill, 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.[32]


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. A large creature is later discovered, and tells of a god named Nemesis, its former master. He desires to reign supreme as the one true god by destroying all others. 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 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 (by destroying the three guardian stones, each powering a curse) 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 it 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.[33][34]

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 Molyneux[35]

Black & White took over three years to develop; development began on 14 February 1998,[36] and the game was released on 30 March 2001. Peter Molyneux funded the project himself and personally devoted the entire period to the game.[37] The goal was to develop a unique game where players felt they are in a world where they could do anything. 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 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,[38] and in February 1998, the team moved into Lionhead's offices. Totalling nine people, the team discussed the game and its content, including ideas such as lip-synchronised characters, although it was thought impossible. As more people joined, 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. According to Molyneux, the team questioned and competed with each other, and the result was better quality work than expected. He described the workload by saying "the team did the work of a group twice their number".[27]

In 1998, Black & White was shown at the E3 trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, and incorporated elements of Populous and Dungeon Keeper.[39] The estimated release date was late 1999;[40] this would be pushed back to September 2000.[41] Artificial intelligence was one of the key areas being worked on. The game crashed multiple times; Molyneux fixed the bugs using Microsoft Developer Studio before restarting.[42] He hoped it could be a refinement when compared to his previous games, and held high standards for the 3D engine. He instructed its programmers to "Make it the most beautiful engine ever conceived by anybody, ever".[43]

The entire game, including the tools and libraries, was written from scratch. A trial and error approach was taken: the team didn't have rehearsals, so learnt by trying something and changed what didn't work. Mistakes were considered costly, and the programmers found better ways of coding. The team didn't want to use panels for casting miracles and wanted a gesture system. 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: 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". 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.[27][36]

The game was originally to feature battling wizards, who would have had creatures (originally named Titans) to raise, and be powered by belief. 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. 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.[44] After the name Titans was dropped, others were considered. None had unanimous support, so they ended up as 'creatures'.[45] Elements of the Wizard theme remain in the final game, such as Temples resembling wizard's towers. Indeed, Temples were originally named Citadels and some sported a mediaeval, fairy tale look.[46][47][48]

Black & White was shown at E3 1999, and judged the most original game there.[49] 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, and wrote many challenges, all the dialogue, and enabled the team to make the advisers characters rather than just sources of information.[27] The idea to make the advisers characters came from programmer Alex Evans, who wanted them to interact and have their lips synchronised. A system was developed that moved their mouths into common phoneme shapes, 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, cutting the recording time by roughly half.[50] At E3 2000, Molyneux gave a precise release date: 23 September 2000. The game was supposed to reach the alpha stage by 18 June, but by summer, it became clear that development was behind schedule, and the release date was pushed back to 10 November. In September, it was pushed back again into 2001, angering fans eagerly awaiting release. Molyneux apologised for the delay.[51]

Alpha was reached in December 2000. Multiplayer mode nearly had to be dropped for this to happen, but the problems were fixed just in time. Electronic Arts became involved in the production; testers were employed (they found three thousand bugs), localisations were checked, and a marketing campaign was launched. Fearing the bugs could kill the game, lists were sent to every member of the team, who had a chart, updated daily. The biggest problem was the final set, and that fixing them created more bugs, about which Molyneux commented that "It was as if the game just didn't want to be finished and perfected", and remarked that the team felt like they'd run a marathon after fixing. The end product was so large that they "almost felt lost within the code", consisting of over a million lines, and took over an hour to compile.[27][52] 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.[53] 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.[54] Lionhead announced that the game went gold on 16 March 2001. Molyneux credited fans for making the hardest times worthwhile.[55] Due to players encountering technical issues, rumours that Electronic Arts had shipped beta versions circulated; Lionhead denied them.[56] Molyneux said Black & White is the most important and difficult game he'd made.[57] 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.[58] A patch was released that allows the Hand to be controlled by an Essential Reality P5 Glove, a virtual reality glove.[59]

The team exceeded the desired look. Molyneux considered that they might have been "insanely ambitious" in this regard, because the system requirements were high and much custom software needed to be written.[27] One such program was a terrain-editing tool named Leadhead.[60] 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, Molyneux commented "part of the game itself learns from everything you do and tailors itself to you", and described the creature as "an astonishing piece of work". He also 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".[27] The models for the trees, bushes, and other landscape features were created in 3D Studio Max, and initial graphics development was done in 2D using Adobe Photoshop. Later development was done using other custom software.[61] Clan multiplayer, where multiple players play as one god, was developed in a rush; its interface had to be developed in two weeks. Black & White's online community was handled by two servers in London, where the clan creatures were stored to minimise the possibility of cheating.[62]

A PlayStation version was in development and scheduled for release in summer 2001,[63] and a Dreamcast version in late 2001.[64] Both were cancelled.[65][66] PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions were due for release in 2002.[67] 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.[68][69]


Aggregate score
Aggregator Score
Metacritic 90/100[70]
Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 4.5/5 stars[71]
CGW 5/5 stars[72]
Edge 9/10[73]
Game Informer 9/10[74]
GamePro 5/5[75]
Game Revolution A[76]
GameSpot 9.3/10[77]
GameSpy 91%[78]
GameZone 9/10[79]
IGN 9.7/10[80]
PC Gamer (US) 94%[81]
X-Play 5/5 stars[82]
The Cincinnati Enquirer 4.5/5 stars[83]
Playboy 85%[84]
Gamezilla 94%[85]
Inside Mac Games 8.25/10(Macintosh)[86]
PC Zone 95%[87]
Computer Games Magazine 3/5 stars[88]

Critics initially lauded Black & White with "universal acclaim" according to video game review aggregator Metacritic.[70] The game's graphics, gameplay, and artificial intelligence in particular were well received. Black & White sold two and a half million copies.[89]

Maxim complimented the design, saying it "lets you indulge your most megalomaniacal fantasies with ease".[90] IGN's Tal Blevins complimented the "wildly imaginative" single-player mode, and the graphics, describing the game as "a visual masterpiece".[80] AllGame praised the "Absolutely stunning and gorgeous" graphics.[71] The Cincinnati Enquirer complimented the addictiveness and "superb" gameplay, but criticised the high system requirements.[83] Playboy praised the "intelligent" sense of humour, "intense" visual appeal, and addictiveness, but criticised the frequent micromanagement and ambiguous objectives.[84]

Game Informer's Kristian Brogger was impressed with the game's depth.[74] GameZone praised the landscapes, and described the music as "fit for a god". They complimented the game for merging genres.[79] 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".[77] Computer Gaming World praised the artificial intelligence and graphics, describing the landscape as "stunning".[72] Game Revolution praised the game's "Unbelievable presentation" and "Revolutionary AI".[76] GamePro complimented the realism, stating it's like interacting with a real world, and "impressive" artificial intelligence.[75] Gamezilla remarked the game "lives up to its hype", and complimented its originality, especially the artificial intelligence.[85] X-Play complimented the graphics, but criticised the high system requirements.[82]

Uniqueness and originality were praised. GameSpy stated the game is a very unique and enjoyable strategy game.[78] PC Gamer praised the game's "Beautiful" graphics, "awesome" interface, and the creativity and originality.[81] Edge complimented the originality and described the game as "a colossal achievement".[73] Reviewing the Macintosh version, Inside Mac Games remarked "Black & White is a gorgeous game", and praised the addictiveness.[86] 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".[87] Computer Games Magazine complimented the originality and "amazing" creature AI, but complained about the bugs.[88]

Some publications reviewed the game again and re-evaluated their judgement. Black & White was selected by GameSpy as the most overrated game of all time in an article published in September 2003, citing a lack of true interaction with the townspeople and poor use of the much-lauded creatures as reasons it disappointed.[91] IGN mentioned the game in one of their podcasts discussing overrated games.[92]


Year Category Institution or publication Result Notes Citation
2001 Interactive Interactivity British Academy of Film and Television Arts Won [93]
2001 Moving Images British Academy of Film and Television Arts Won [94]
2001 PC Games British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [95]
2001 Music British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [96]
2001 Technical Innovation British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [97]
2001 Networked Games British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [98]
2002 Computer Innovation Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Won [99]
2002 Computer Game of the Year Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Won [100]
2002 Animation Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [101]
2002 Character or Story Development Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [101]
2002 Game of the Year Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [101]
2002 Game Play Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [101]
2002 PC Strategy Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [101]
1999 Best Original Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
1999 Best Strategy Game Game Critics Awards Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
1999 Best PC Game Game Critics Awards Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
2000 Best PC Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [103]
2000 Best Strategy Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [103]
2000 Best of Show Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [103]
2000 Best Original Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [103]
2002 Excellence in Programming Game Developers Choice Awards Won Richard Evans [104]
2002 Game Innovation Game Developers Choice Awards Won [104]
2002 Game of the Year Game Developers Choice Awards Nominated [104]
2002 Excellence in Game Design Game Developers Choice Awards Nominated Peter Molyneux and the team. [104]
2001 Editor's Choice PC Gamer Won [81]
2001 Editor's Choice Computer Gaming World Won [72]
2001 Classic Award PC Zone Won [87]
2002 Game of the Year Games Magazine Won [105]
Gold Award of Excellence Electronic Multimedia Awards Won [106]
2000 Most Innovative IGN Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [107][108]
2000 Best of Show IGN Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [107][108]


Black & White was named by PC World as the Best Video Game of 2001,[106] appeared #1 on's most influential AI games list,[109] and appeared in the 2003 Guinness World Records for having the "Most Complex Character in a Computer Game".[110][111]


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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 supesharu edishon?)


  • Evans, Dean. Black & White Prima's Official Strategy Guide. Prima Games. ISBN 978-0-7615-3593-5. 
  • ブラック&ホワイト公式クルーブック Burakku ando howaito koushiki kurū bukku [Black & White Official Clue Book] (in Japanese). Locus. 5 August 2001. ISBN 978-4-89814-258-5. 
  • Black & White Instruction Manual (PC ed.). Lionhead Studios. 2001. 
  • Geoff Keighley. "The Final Hours Of Black & White". GameSpot. GameSpot. Archived from the original on 4 February 2002. Retrieved 5 July 2016. 
  • James Leach; Christian Bravery (2001). The Making of Black & White. Prima Games. ISBN 978-0-7615-3625-3. 

External links[edit]