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"[Retro Review] Game - Black and White - PC"

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Mon 05/12/16 at 23:38
Regular
"Braaains"
Posts: 439
If you've been living in an alternate dimension for the past twelve or so years or generally couldn't care less about, you may be unfamiliar with Peter Molyneux. The creator of Fable, Populous and more, he wasinfamous for making lofty promises and then, failing to deliver. Black and White was one of Molyneux's more successful games, enough so to warrant a sequel, though it didn't quite hit the heights of popularity that he was hoping.

Black and White was an odd combination of a population management sim and a virtual pet game. The aim was generally to get as many people in the land believing in you, which you did by a) impressing them, b) helping them out or c) being really nasty to them, depending upon how good or evil you wanted to be. They could also be impressed by your creature which grew in size as you spent time playing the game till it became almost Godzilla size - your creature would also look nasty or nice according to your own treatment of your subjects.

But this was where things got interesting, because your creature wasn’t a brainless monster to be ordered around. Apart from following your orders, your creature also did things on its own, such as getting its own food or chucking villagers around. You could teach your creature what you want it to did, punishing if it did something wrong and reward it if it did something right; although even if you teach your creature what to do, there was no guarantee it wouldn’t get a daft idea in its head and do something strange. Just like real animals then. Well, maybe not quite.

The supposed 'artificial intelligence' of your creature was certainly one of the most frequently discussed aspects of the game prior to Black and White's release and was, I suspect, what attracted most people to the game. Certainly, the AI displayed by the creatures in the game was pretty respectable. Age-wise, I'd put the intelligence of the creatures at roughly the same level of a four year-old. They not only learnt from your instructions but also learnt from their own experiences, doing some truly unexpected things. Admittedly, a lot of those did involve flinging poo...

At the time of the game's release, there were plenty of odd stories about creature behaviour. My own creature exhibited a few peculiarities - including going around knocking down fences with its poo, gathering a huge number of rocks and other objects and hoarding them in its pen and, after having mostly ignored villagers, deciding to pick them up and throw them around. The fence-pooing and object hoarding I let go, but it took a fair bit of slapping before my creature stopped hurling people about.

While there was no doubt that Lionhead spent a fair amount of time on AI, the same couldn’t be said about the rest of the game. While Black and White was entertaining in the short term -- a couple of weeks or so -- the game did have a significant number of flaws that didn't exactly encourage you to come back to it.

One often reported flaw was that the villagers themselves weren’t too bright, preferring to sit around doing nothing and relying on you to supply them with wood and grain, making the game little more than an exercise in micromanagement. They also wouldn’t build their own houses until the third level in the game when, for no good reason, they suddenly start building their own homes. Until I discovered you could indeed turn off their 'we need homes' entreaty, I was so irritated by their cries and lack of action, that I started chucking villagers into the ocean.

The above flaw was rendered more annoying because once you did hit the third level, you were actually over halfway through the game... and that's the second place where Black and White really fell down. Given that Bullfrog's first commercial release, Populous, had hundreds of levels and the standard for strategy games those days was about 15, that seemed a little odd.

I can think of only two explanations. One was that the person who decided that 5 levels was enough was drunk at the time on a strange combination of cheap beer, absinthe and Toilet Duck. The second was Lionhead spent an age working on getting the creature AI right and only had a relatively short time to create levels for the game.
Black and White was worth playing for a while. Mucking about with your creature and watching it potter about and did things will keep you well entertained. As will teaching it to aid your villagers, although as the creature-less level 3 shows, Black and White would be a fairly mundane strategy game without them.

Lionhead deserved kudos for making an original game at a time when the games market was flooded with clones of clones of clones. Yet the pattern of underdelivering on their promises continued and ultimate the studio folded after the release of Fable 3.

If you happen to stumble across a copy of Black and White it’s worth checking out for their curiosity value, but Black and White could have been so much more. Instead, you get a mediocre game built around a fairly interesting core idea. Which, now I think about it, typical of many of Lionhead/Molyneux’s releases.
There have been no replies to this thread yet.
Mon 05/12/16 at 23:38
Regular
"Braaains"
Posts: 439
If you've been living in an alternate dimension for the past twelve or so years or generally couldn't care less about, you may be unfamiliar with Peter Molyneux. The creator of Fable, Populous and more, he wasinfamous for making lofty promises and then, failing to deliver. Black and White was one of Molyneux's more successful games, enough so to warrant a sequel, though it didn't quite hit the heights of popularity that he was hoping.

Black and White was an odd combination of a population management sim and a virtual pet game. The aim was generally to get as many people in the land believing in you, which you did by a) impressing them, b) helping them out or c) being really nasty to them, depending upon how good or evil you wanted to be. They could also be impressed by your creature which grew in size as you spent time playing the game till it became almost Godzilla size - your creature would also look nasty or nice according to your own treatment of your subjects.

But this was where things got interesting, because your creature wasn’t a brainless monster to be ordered around. Apart from following your orders, your creature also did things on its own, such as getting its own food or chucking villagers around. You could teach your creature what you want it to did, punishing if it did something wrong and reward it if it did something right; although even if you teach your creature what to do, there was no guarantee it wouldn’t get a daft idea in its head and do something strange. Just like real animals then. Well, maybe not quite.

The supposed 'artificial intelligence' of your creature was certainly one of the most frequently discussed aspects of the game prior to Black and White's release and was, I suspect, what attracted most people to the game. Certainly, the AI displayed by the creatures in the game was pretty respectable. Age-wise, I'd put the intelligence of the creatures at roughly the same level of a four year-old. They not only learnt from your instructions but also learnt from their own experiences, doing some truly unexpected things. Admittedly, a lot of those did involve flinging poo...

At the time of the game's release, there were plenty of odd stories about creature behaviour. My own creature exhibited a few peculiarities - including going around knocking down fences with its poo, gathering a huge number of rocks and other objects and hoarding them in its pen and, after having mostly ignored villagers, deciding to pick them up and throw them around. The fence-pooing and object hoarding I let go, but it took a fair bit of slapping before my creature stopped hurling people about.

While there was no doubt that Lionhead spent a fair amount of time on AI, the same couldn’t be said about the rest of the game. While Black and White was entertaining in the short term -- a couple of weeks or so -- the game did have a significant number of flaws that didn't exactly encourage you to come back to it.

One often reported flaw was that the villagers themselves weren’t too bright, preferring to sit around doing nothing and relying on you to supply them with wood and grain, making the game little more than an exercise in micromanagement. They also wouldn’t build their own houses until the third level in the game when, for no good reason, they suddenly start building their own homes. Until I discovered you could indeed turn off their 'we need homes' entreaty, I was so irritated by their cries and lack of action, that I started chucking villagers into the ocean.

The above flaw was rendered more annoying because once you did hit the third level, you were actually over halfway through the game... and that's the second place where Black and White really fell down. Given that Bullfrog's first commercial release, Populous, had hundreds of levels and the standard for strategy games those days was about 15, that seemed a little odd.

I can think of only two explanations. One was that the person who decided that 5 levels was enough was drunk at the time on a strange combination of cheap beer, absinthe and Toilet Duck. The second was Lionhead spent an age working on getting the creature AI right and only had a relatively short time to create levels for the game.
Black and White was worth playing for a while. Mucking about with your creature and watching it potter about and did things will keep you well entertained. As will teaching it to aid your villagers, although as the creature-less level 3 shows, Black and White would be a fairly mundane strategy game without them.

Lionhead deserved kudos for making an original game at a time when the games market was flooded with clones of clones of clones. Yet the pattern of underdelivering on their promises continued and ultimate the studio folded after the release of Fable 3.

If you happen to stumble across a copy of Black and White it’s worth checking out for their curiosity value, but Black and White could have been so much more. Instead, you get a mediocre game built around a fairly interesting core idea. Which, now I think about it, typical of many of Lionhead/Molyneux’s releases.

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