Black and White (2)

Genre: Simulation, God
Year: 2001
Developed by: Lionhead Studios
Published by: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Mac, Windows
Feeling Like: A little grey

Hype is a powerful thing, particularly to an excitable fellow like myself. I can’t help it. It’s so easy to be persuaded to anticipate happiness, rather than cynicism. What IF this game/movie/book/concert/tv show is the greatest thing ever? Not only will I have days, weeks, months, years of glorious anticipation, I’ll get a satisfying conclusion and years of appreciation, to say nothing of not being let down one step of the way.

Before Peter Molyneux was urging us to enter a world of Fables, he personally funded Black & White, one of gaming’s all time great oddities. It was far too advanced for what it was trying to be in the year 2001, but still managed to suck me in with grand promises, an appealing idea and an execution that still leaves me feeling a bit ripped off.

Was it a snake oil salesman, perched on top of a soap box, glowering at his prey below that caught my eye? I don’t even remember the commercials. All I knew is that the potential Black & White promised would have interested any teenager with any remote interest in video games. To be omnipotent and all powerful.

Unless the Sims, or Sim Cities count, I don’t think I’d ever played a god based game (or since). Sure, being Henry Almighty sounded great. You could pick up and fling your subjects as far as the eye could see. They knew of you, feared you and cowered when your presence was near. They prayed to you. I was Bender floating in space, but I wouldn’t make his mistakes. I would be benevolent. As the psychedelic intro assured me that I could be good or evil, I already knew my choice.

Then my giant demi-god pet monkey ate somebody.

Black and White (4)
I still admire the design, but you don’t want to zoom in any closer than this

This makes a lot of sense; I can’t get my current cat to stop pouncing on me while I’m trying to go to sleep, so why the hell should I have expected 17 year old me to properly train a giant orangutan? The more I tried, the more I failed. I was not a master of positive reinforcement and I didn’t have Pavlov’s touch. Eventually, I just let him roam around throwing trees and ignoring any crunching of bones I heard.

There’s a story to be followed, but the linear quests don’t pack the same punch as just being your divine self. I was addicted to swooping the camera around dramatically, increasing my worship points by doing favors for my people and being in complete awe of the possibilities that awaited me.

I mean, ignoring the fact that I never came close to any sort of those possibilities,I had quite a lot of fun with Black & White. I tried not to be too concerned with the cost at which I’d purchased it, or that I felt that I’d been lead into the big top and saw a mythological two headed hound born with only one head (see #409). The hype may have led me astray, but at least it still led me. I was thrilled to see review scores were great. The presentation was, at the time, fantastic. The two little tiny conscious reminders of “Good” and “Evil” were a sort of instructional Statler & Waldorf and frequently made me ponder, and laugh.

Black and White (1)
The oversized box is still one of my favorite designs. It looks fantastic.

Despite it belonging to a dead genre, and the controls were a little frustrating at times, it holds a special place on the 500. Like my enjoyment with the game, it’s true potential may never be realized. I haven’t learned my lesson about getting overexcited about games yet to be released, but at least I know to temper my expectations enough to know a deity from a mortal.


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