Thunderbolt logo

Black and White

Throughout the history of video gaming, going back to the first Castlevania, and progressing more until this very moment, not many original ideas were found. I’m not talking about those petty, insignificant changes that each company hurries to apply for its game, before it adds the number ‘2’ to the former title, so they can release it as a new sequel. Truly genuine ideas have as powerful an impact that they can uncover new horizons, and subsequently form new gaming genres. No matter how thrilling, and brilliantly structured a game like Red Alert 2 might seem, it can never surpass its old predecessor Dune: Battle on Arrakis, which was released on the PC sometime in the early nineties, only to open a new vacancy for numerous strategy games to flow behind it. Such old forgotten titles are the only reason why we are sitting right now everyday, playing great games like Return To Castle Wolfenstein, and Civilization III.

What’s truly impressive about Black & White is its unique innovative idea. How many times before did you hear of a game where you can play as a god?! Such ambitious projects are the only reason video gaming is still moving forward. But still, while this idea is undeniably novel and fresh, we can’t consider it to be up there with the best. It’s basically a strange combination of strategy, creature raising and a bit of RPG. Which brings us to my next question; why give it such high regards when it’s more of a mixture of different types of games rather than a totally new one? Mainly, because Lionhead Studios have succeeded in achieving what many others couldn’t. Think of it this way, how can a game still be challenging if you were a god, a god who can do whatever he wishes?! Their ability to overcome such an obstacle, by itself, is completely fascinating.

To make Black & White more challenging, they have slightly altered your status as a god. True, you are immortal, and you never need to feed or drink or do anything of that sort, but that doesn’t mean your powers are boundless. Your strength comes from people’s belief in you. The more they believe in you the wider the area you have under your control, and the more energy you possess to perform miracles. You are not alone, though; there are other gods around, and as the plot smoothly unfolds you’ll discover that some of them seek to destroy you. Whenever a god’s temple is shattered, all his presence will subside, and thus he will be destroyed. I can’t say that Black & White has the most attractive story line of all games, but it’s certainly enough to grab your attention. The game’s main premise is to let you raise a creature, and train it until it can stand on its feet, and afterwards start helping you. Such types of games don’t really need to have a story, yet this game does, so I’ll give it the props for that.

Now, let’s return to the real world, the not-so-perfect one. Before I start talking about your creature, I will delve briefly into one of the game’s problems; the micromanagement. As a god, you can be good or evil, a blessing or a curse. But while an evil god will try to terrify people to get them to believe in him, a good one will attempt to help them, and here, my friend, is where the problem starts. It’s totally impossible to satisfy your own people. It goes like this, whenever they want something they raise a flag to show how awfully they need it. First, they will raise the ‘food’ flag. Just when you provide them with more food; they will raise the ‘expansion’ flag. Build them more houses and they will raise the ‘children desire’ flag. Now, let them have more children and the same process will be repeated again and again. No matter how self-conscious and dedicated you are, you’ll always end up being totally frustrated. They will simply breed like rabbits, and consume all the recourses until they cover up the whole island, at which stage you’ll be wishing the computer to explode so you can lie down in peace.

Regardless, it’s not as much of a problem as it might seem. You can simply ignore them, and your creature alone will make sure to preserve their loyalty. Yes, your creature is that important, and he can become so faithful and helpful that you can rely on him for keeping everything going straight without your direct supervision. Think of him as your hands on earth, if something is out of your area of power (marked with a ring that expands from your temple), you can count on him for dealing with it. This brings us to my next speculation, the AI. Asides from the already remarkable idea upon which this game was based, Lionhead studios also succeed in pulling off another great achievement, which lies in the computer’s AI. It’s actually the first time where I see such smart AI in a game that it almost resembles a living breathing creature.

When thinking about creature-raising, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Well, you have to feed him, and look after him, and then after a while he will simply grow up to love you and obey you. Is that it? No! Black & White is so much deeper than that. You can teach your creature everything, starting from how much to eat, how often to rest and even where to excrete. See, they have given your creature enough intelligence to even notice the smallest of things. For instance, if you keep feeding him fish always, he’ll grow up to like fish, and consequently he will always be looking for this kind of food. Let’s say that he saw you performing a water miracle on a crop field, if he learns the water miracle afterwards, he will make sure to always use it on crops. He can even notice if you water small bushes or large trees, and would actually copy your actions! Yes, I don’t know how they did it, but this creature is incredibly clever that you would wonder how it only has AI.

Not all creatures are alike of course. You can choose between many, including a tiger, a cow and an ape. Now, don’t mistake these with our tigers and apes. Those that I’m talking about start out as big as a house and can grow to become as huge as a mountain, with patience of course. Each of them has his own attitude though. Normally, when your creature does something wrong, you would slap him so he won’t repeat it again. However, I’ve known a tiger to repeat the same mistake numerous times before he would learn well not to do it again, whereas the ape, only needs to be slapped once to understand. Nevertheless, there is no denying that the tiger is much stronger than the ape in battle, which is his powerful point.

Given time, your relationship with your creature will start to strengthen, until he becomes much like your pet whom you go to school everyday with. I myself chose the sheep as my creature, and after many sleepless nights (no kidding, I was up until 5:00 am, honestly), I succeeded in turning him to an angel, metaphorically speaking. His colour turned golden, to signify a golden lamb, and whenever you looked at him in the dusk light, he would just sparkle with such friendly radiance. It’s strange how can a human come to form a strong relationship with some artificially intelligent image on the computer screen, but it happened. I taught him to be kind to people; to heal them when they are sick, and to dance with them when they are in the mood. He would pass his whole day, performing food and wood miracles, working in the fields, and doing anything he could to help. God, I was so proud of him.

It is really rare when a game, no matter how good it is, makes me feel this sense of fatherly pride. When you see your tiny (comparatively) creature grow up to become as tall as a mountain, you would feel a really deep feeling profoundly within your self, as if you truly trust this computerized image. With all honesty, this is the most addicting game I’ve ever played in my whole life. I would sit there on my computer, from noon to late after midnight, actually not doing anything specific. Just watching and teaching my creature everything I want him to learn much like a mother would watch her wandering child who had just recently learned to walk. There are some quests in the game, but while they are definitely interesting, they will not offer you as much enjoyment as you would get from watching your creature screw up with everything around him, until he becomes capable of taking care of himself.

The world of B&W is a wonderful one indeed. It’s a one filled with beautiful colors, and incredibly detailed imagery. Think of vast green fields, where small hordes of horses settle scattered all around. Imagine a large town full of activity, with children running everywhere, and brown lovely houses with smoke coming out of their chimneys. Visualize a silent dark night, with violet skies and a big shining moon that throws off soft threads of light to make the night feel less lonesome. Indeed, B&W’s graphics are captivating, and even better is the camera. I’d bet you didn’t expect it, but this game does have a third great achievement other than its idea, and the AI, and that would be the camera (which is supposed to be your eyes as a god). Not only can you zoom in and out, and scroll to the right and to the left as you wish, but you can also look up and down! You can virtually zoom in to the ground, and then look up to have a view similar of that of your own people. Now, isn’t that amazing?! And it just gets better and more realistic the more you zoom in!

I’ve never imagined a god to listen to music while managing the daily needs of his people, but if he actually did, then it must be cool. At least, that’s what B&W wants to tell us. No matter how angry you were, those peaceful tunes that play in the background of this masterpiece can bring you to a calm silence. You will start to feel like a gentle being, who only wants to be left in peace and total serenity. On the other hand, B&W doesn’t fail in pushing your adrenaline up to a raging climax when necessary. Just at the moment your creature engages in combat with another foe, the music will start playing high and loud, pumping your veins up with this feeling of excitement, and making you as concentrated and attentive as ever. True, if they want to convince you that you are a god, you should expect no less.

If asked about B&W, one couldn’t possibly know what to say. Not only does this game captivate you with its great visual effects, and extremely atmospheric music, but it also succeeds in achieving what many other games couldn’t, being in its revolutionary idea, smart AI, or the totally free camera. Even outside the technical standards of video gaming, B&W doesn’t fail in having an effect over you. It succeeds in forming an inexplicably strong bond of trust between you and a computerized image that is sitting in your computer screen. No, B&W does not fit its name quite properly, it’s just white with very few black spots scattered around.

10 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is a Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in March 2003.

Gentle persuasion

You should check out our podcast.