Black & White (video game)

This article is about the 2001 video game. For the Pokémon games, see Pokémon Black and White.

Black & White

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)

‹See Tfd›

  • WW: 30 March 2001

‹See Tfd›

  • JP: 24 May 2001

Mac OS
‹See Tfd›

  • 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 acts as the player's servant, and whose personality is shaped by its interaction with him. Multiplayer is supported over a local network or online.

Peter Molyneux led the three-year development of the highly anticipated game, originally to feature wizards instead of gods. Black & White was written from scratch using a great deal of custom software, and the intention was to have the main user interface free of icons, buttons, and panels. Versions for games consoles were in development, but cancelled.

Black & White received universal acclaim: reviewers praised the artificial intelligence, uniqueness, and depth, although the system requirements and bugs were criticised. The creatures' artificial intelligence set a Guinness World Record for its complexity. Black & White won awards from several organisations, including the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and sold over two million copies. Some reviewers re-reviewed the game and considered it over-rated. An expansion, Black & White: Creature Isle, and sequel, Black & White 2, followed.


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 animated, on-screen Hand, that is 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 detail a task to perform and the reward upon completion.[2] The principle behind the game's title is the conflict between good and evil. Nearly every action (or lack thereof) counts toward the player's image as judged by his followers: the player may be seen as a good god, an evil one, or in-between the two. The land, interface (including the Hand), and music change according to that alignment. For example, a good god's temple is bright-coloured, and an evil god's is fashioned to look 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 by manufacturing blueprints, using wood to create scaffolds. Villagers then employ the material to build the structures.[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 (soccer) 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 providing 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 performed, within the player's area of influence, which can be extended by expanding the population of villages owned, or by taking over others.[16] Areas of influence are shown by a barrier in 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 an 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 being terrorised by fireballs and lightning storms.[21] Artefacts (special objects that glow in their owner's colour) and missionary disciples can be used to impress villagers.[22] Villagers become bored with repetitive attempts to impress them. For example, if boulders fly overhead too frequently, their effect is lost. This forces the player to use 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 of the game and others can be obtained by completing Silver Reward Scrolls. The currently-owned creature can be swapped with a new one at certain points in the game if the player desires. The creature starts out small, and grows as the game progresses. Each has strengths and weaknesses: apes are intelligent and proficient at learning but lack strength; 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 or 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 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. Three types of leashes are used to command the creature to go to a specific place, and can be tied to a building to restrict movement. One leash encourages the creature to pay attention when actions are demonstrated; the others encourage either benevolent or malevolent behaviour. 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 attributed to 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 with the best opinion, thus forming an intention or goal.[32]


The player begins on an island as a new god, created from a family's prayers. After saving their drowning son, the god follows the grateful family to their village. A large creature is later discovered who tells of its former master, a god named Nemesis, who 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. Khazar reveals that it was he who sent the vortex and requests assistance 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 grants the player a piece of the Creed and opens a vortex 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, inviting 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

Black & White drew elements from Peter Molyneux's previous projects, Populous and Dungeon Keeper.

Black & White took over three years to develop beginning on 14 February 1998,[35] and was released on 30 March 2001. Peter Molyneux funded the project himself and personally devoted his entire focus on the period of development.[36] The goal was to develop a unique game where players felt they inhabited a world where they could do anything. Molyneux had liked the idea of controlling people as a god since his previous venture, Populous. He was interested in the concept of good and evil and came up with the idea that this could be used to influence the game's atmosphere. Development was slow, starting with six people, as Molyneux wanted to assemble the right team. Discussions about ideas (including a Mafia-style game) began at his house in 1997,[37] and in February 1998, the team moved into Lionhead's offices. The expanded nine-person team exchanged suggestions for the game and its content, including ideas such as lip-synchronised characters, although this 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 developed their own way of working. According to Molyneux, team members questioned and competed with each other, resulting in a better quality of work than expected. He described the workload saying "the team did the work of a group twice their number." The game was developed by a group that finally numbered twenty-five programmers with a budget of approximately £4 million.[27]

In 1998, Black & White was shown at the E3 trade show in Atlanta, Georgia, and incorporated elements of Populous and Dungeon Keeper.[38] Molyneux estimated the game would be nearly finished in 1999,[39] and scheduled it for a late September 2000 release.[40] 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.[41] He expected the 3D engine would be a refinement when compared to his previous games, and held high hopes for its standards. He instructed the programmers to "Make it the most beautiful engine ever conceived by anybody, ever".[42]

The entire game, including the tools and libraries, was written from scratch. A trial and error approach was taken: the team did not have rehearsals, and thus learned by trying something and changing what did not work. Mistakes were considered costly, and the programmers found better ways of coding. They also resisted using control panels, icons and buttons for casting miracles, preferring a gesture system. Molyneux commented that he would 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 through the game in an unexpected manner, which led to the development of characters like Sable, the Creature trainer, and the advisers. The creature's artificial intelligence was thought to be risky: Molyneux commented that they wanted to "advance the technology to its extreme", and artificial intelligence specialist Richard Evans built the technology into a character, which according to Molyneux appeared to "live and learn like, say, a clever puppy". Molyneux desired the creature to pass the Turing test, which had not yet been achieved. A great deal of effort was devoted to getting features such as the weather import working.[27][35]

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. Molyneux wanted "limitless flexibility" and the ability to zoom out to 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.[43] After the name Titans was dropped, others were considered. None had unanimous support, so they ended up being called 'creatures'.[44] Elements of the Wizard theme, such as Temples resembling a wizard's tower, remain in the final game. Indeed, Temples were originally named Citadels and some sported a mediaeval, fairy tale look.[45][46][47]

Black & White was shown at E3 1999 where it was judged the most original game.[48] Work on the story began in October 1999, and took longer than expected. The team estimated two months, but soon realised they lacked the necessary skills to meet this deadline. 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 with 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.[49] 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 who were eagerly awaiting its release. Molyneux apologised for the delay.[50]

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 fixing them created more bugs. 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 had run a marathon after fixing the bugs. 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.[27][51] The music, dialogue, and sound effects were compressed to fit on one CD, as they took five times as much space as the game. People not involved with the game's development began playing it and were extremely impressed.[52] The release date was then set at 23 February 2001. Electronic Arts complained that the age at which the villagers were reproducing was below the age of consent for some countries, so this had to be changed.[53] Lionhead announced that the game went gold on 16 March 2001. Molyneux credited fans for making the hardest times worthwhile.[54] Because players encountered technical issues, rumours that Electronic Arts had shipped beta versions circulated; Lionhead denied them.[55] Molyneux said Black & White was the most important and difficult game he had made.[56] 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[lower-alpha 1] under the EA Best Selections branding on 18 March 2004.[57] Another patch was released, which would allow the Hand to be controlled by an Essential Reality P5 Glove, a virtual reality glove.[58]

The team exceeded the desired look leading Molyneux to opine 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.[59] He stated that they went from "bizarre ideas", to "the best game I have ever seen". The villagers' artificial intelligence had to be restricted by giving some control to the Village Centre as there was no limit on the number of villagers. Molyneux said of the creature's artificial intelligence, "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.[60] 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.[61]

A PlayStation version was in development and scheduled for release in summer 2001,[62] and a Dreamcast version in late 2001.[63] Both were cancelled.[64][65] PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions were due for release in 2002.[66] Versions for the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance were proposed, but never materialised. A company called M4 was to have co-developed them alongside Lionhead, but Electronic Arts was not interested in the Game Boy versions.[67][68]


Aggregate score
Review scores
Game Informer9/10[73]
Game RevolutionA[75]
PC Gamer (US)94%[80]
The Cincinnati Enquirer[82]
Inside Mac Games8.25/10(Macintosh)[85]
PC Zone95%[86]
Computer Games Magazine[87]

Critics initially lauded Black & White with "universal acclaim" according to video game review aggregator Metacritic.[69] The graphics, gameplay, and artificial intelligence in particular were well received. Black & White sold two and a half million copies on the PC.[88]

Maxim complimented the design, saying it "lets you indulge your most megalomaniacal fantasies with ease."[89] IGN's Tal Blevins complimented the "wildly imaginative" single-player mode, and the graphics, describing the game as "a visual masterpiece".[79] AllGame eulogised the "[a]bsolutely stunning and gorgeous" graphics.[70] The Cincinnati Enquirer complimented the addictiveness and "superb" gameplay, but criticised the high system requirements.[82] Playboy complimented the "intelligent" sense of humour, "intense" visual appeal, and addictiveness, but criticised the frequent micromanagement and ambiguous objectives.[83]

Game Informer's Kristian Brogger was impressed with the game's depth.[73] GameZone praised the landscapes, and described the music as "fit for a god" and complimented the game for merging genres.[78] 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."[76] Computer Gaming World commended the artificial intelligence and graphics, describing the landscape as "stunning".[71] Game Revolution approved the "[u]nbelievable presentation" and "[r]evolutionary AI".[75] GamePro complimented the realism, stating that it is like interacting with a real world, and "impressive" artificial intelligence.[74] Gamezilla remarked the game "lives up to its hype", and complimented its originality, especially the artificial intelligence.[84] X-Play commended the graphics, but criticised the high system requirements.[81]

Uniqueness and originality garnered critical praise. GameSpy stated the game is a unique and enjoyable strategy game.[77] PC Gamer eulogised the "[b]eautiful" graphics, "awesome" interface, and its creativity and originality.[80] Edge complimented the originality and described the game as "a colossal achievement".[72] Reviewing the Macintosh version, Inside Mac Games remarked "Black & White is a gorgeous game", and commended its addictiveness.[85] Keith Pullin of PC Zone compared the resource management to Age of Empires, and complimented the humour and pop culture references and praised the combination of original ideas, remarking that "B&W is as captivating as it is ingenious."[86] Computer Games Magazine complimented the originality and "amazing" creature AI, but complained about the bugs.[87]

Several publications re-reviewed the game later and re-evaluated their initial judgement. Black & White was selected by GameSpy as the most over-rated 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.[90] IGN mentioned the game in one of their podcasts discussing over-rated games.[91]


Year Category Institution or publication Result Notes Citation
2001 Interactive Interactivity British Academy of Film and Television Arts Won [92]
2001 Moving Images British Academy of Film and Television Arts Won [93]
2001 PC Games British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [94]
2001 Music British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [95]
2001 Technical Innovation British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [96]
2001 Networked Games British Academy of Film and Television Arts Nominated [97]
2002 Computer Innovation Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Won [98]
2002 Computer Game of the Year Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Won [99]
2002 Animation Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [100]
2002 Character or Story Development Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [100]
2002 Game of the Year Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [100]
2002 Game Play Engineering Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [100]
2002 PC Strategy Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences Nominated [100]
1999 Best Original Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [101]
1999 Best Strategy Game Game Critics Awards Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [101]
1999 Best PC Game Game Critics Awards Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [101]
2000 Best PC Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
2000 Best Strategy Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
2000 Best of Show Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
2000 Best Original Game Game Critics Awards Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [102]
2002 Excellence in Programming Game Developers Choice Awards Won Richard Evans [103]
2002 Game Innovation Game Developers Choice Awards Won [103]
2002 Game of the Year Game Developers Choice Awards Nominated [103]
2002 Excellence in Game Design Game Developers Choice Awards Nominated Peter Molyneux and the team. [103]
2001 Editor's Choice PC Gamer Won [80]
2001 Editor's Choice Computer Gaming World Won [71]
2001 Classic Award PC Zone Won [86]
2002 Game of the Year Games Magazine Won [104]
Gold Award of Excellence Electronic Multimedia Awards Won [105]
2000 Most Innovative IGN Won Electronic Entertainment Expo [106][107]
2000 Best of Show IGN Nominated Electronic Entertainment Expo [106][107]


Black & White was named by PC World as the Best Video Game of 2001,[105] appeared at number one on's most influential AI games list,[108] and appeared in the 2003 Guinness World Records for having the Most Complex Character in a Computer Game.[109][110]


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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)

External links

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