Black & White: Playing God With a Giant Cow


Now here’s a game with a colorful history,
despite its monochromatic title. Black & White, developed by Lionhead Studios
and published by Electronic Arts for Windows PCs in 2001, and later for Mac OS in 2002. And in the early-2000s PC gaming world, few
titles were more hyped up than this one, being the first game from the newly-formed Lionhead
Studios. Not only was Black & White the debut title
from the ex-Bullfrog developers since they’d gone independent, but it had been in the works
for over three years by the time it came out. Back then that was an unusually long development
cycle, and originally Lionhead expected to have it done by Q4 of 1999. But release estimates came and went, excitement
grew and dwindled, and every six months or so the cycle would repeat with some new interview promoting the project and its larger-than-life designer, Peter Molyneux. And make no mistake, the game looked insanely
cool all the way from its announcement in 1998 to its eventual release in 2001. Teaser footage made it seem like a successor
to Bullfrog classics like Populous and Dungeon Keeper, its graphical detail was unprecedented
at the time, and the promise of cutting edge artificial intelligence with trainable creatures
sounded amazing! Then it came out as such a buggy mess that
some folks thought they might’ve shipped a beta version instead of the finished game,
and when it did work, some still felt it didn’t meet their lofty expectations despite favorable
reviews in the gaming press. That being said though, I find Black & White
more than intriguing enough to revisit, it’s just filled with so many unusual choices. Even the box is an unique choice, with dual
gatefold covers showing off the white and black moral paths the game was known for. It’s a cliche at this point considering
how many games have gone down this route, with evil choices adding horns and spikes
to everything and good choices means butterflies and rainbows. But yeah, it was a neat idea at the time, enough to make me grab a copy in the early 2000s. Opening up the box you got the game itself
on CD-ROM inside this minimally-decorated cardboard sleeve, a product registration card
and this 16-page installation guide covering the excitement of troubleshooting everything
from Windows 95 to Millenium Edition. Finally there’s the manual, printed appropriately
enough in black and white. It covers a lotta ground, with 52 pages worth of densely-packed information throwing everything at you all at once. Due to the way the campaign is structured,
I recommend using this as more of a reference guide after you’ve started playing. Black & White begins with a white and black
logo, followed by a Black & White logo, and culminating in a what amounts to a teaser
for Black & White itself. No real information or lore is provided, just
a minute and a half of random gameplay footage. And it only plays the first time you start
the game, too making its inclusion that much more questionable. Once it’s done showing off its press kit
sizzle reel, it’s time to give yourself a name and choose a pre-made symbol, the latter of which will become the defining imagery of your religion. Once you’ve established your impending godhood,
a short cutscene plays setting up the world of Eden and your place within it. By which I mean you have no place at all,
until the precise moment that you do. – “A land of innocents has no place for
gods. -“Until fate intervenes.” – “Keep away from the water!” “Wait! Stop!” – “When people pray, a god is always born.” [ominous music plays] – “Help, someone help us!” “Help our child!” “We call to the heavens!” – “Able to change eternity…” -“That god is you.” [funky god music plays] Yeah, this intro still really gets me in the
mood for some god gaming! That awesome music by Russell Shaw and trippy
cosmic imagery, dude. Something about it just gives me chills. – “Are you a blessing or a curse? Good or evil?” – “Be what you will, you are destiny.” Annnnd then just like that, it’s a clunky
old computer game [chuckles.] Yeah, get ready for tons of mandatory hand-holding
and unskippable tutorials. Which, granted, at the time were still a fresh idea. And if you’ve never played before it’s
a solid tutorial, especially since the manual leaves something to be desired in explaining
things clearly. However, if you have played before and simply wanna start a new game, then this tutorial is a real slog and the option to skip it would’ve been nice. Fans eventually patched this whole section
out themselves, but more on that later. For now though, let’s follow along and see
how vanilla Black & White works, because even to this day I’ve never played anything quite
like it. So yeah, the basic idea is that you play a
supernatural deity represented by a hand floating around the landscape. You’ve got two advisors representing the
good and evil sides of your conscience, and who keep you informed of your godly options
whenever big notable choices pop up. And there are a number of nearby human villagers
that have started believing in your existence, so your overarching goal is to increase their
belief in you by manipulating the world using your god hand and a selection of miracles. But uh, the controls… are a thing. [child screaming] Black & White lacks a traditional user interface, and alternatively went with a mouse-driven layer of abstraction. Instead of windows, icons, and drop-down menus, you’ve got this floating hand of god and the world around it. Everything is designed to be controlled using
your hand and a combination of mouse movements, audio and video cues, and context-sensitive
objects. Left mouse button moves around the map, right
mouse button interacts with things, and combining the two buttons controls the camera. That is, if you’re using a mouse at all. Essential Reality teamed up with Lionhead to provide native P5 Glove support in 2002, stating it was “the perfect gaming platform
to demonstrate the power and technical achievement of [the] new P5T technology.” If you’ve seen my Oddware episode all about
this device, I’m sure you’ll react to that statement with a fair bit of skepticism. As with most P5 experiences, it’s not that
it doesn’t work at all, it’s that it works just enough to become more frustrating than
if you weren’t using it to begin with. Obviously, seeing as the whole game is played
with a virtual hand it makes some sense to implement a virtual hand controller. And as a result it does function better than
other P5 demonstrations I showed on Oddware, but c’mon now. This game is weird enough on its own, no need to throw an infrared finger mouse into the mix. – “Faith in you is fallin’ like a stone.” – Ya don’t say. Regardless of wonky glove controllers though,
Lionhead was deeply committed to the whole “disembodied god hand” idea in Black & White,
making sure players rarely did anything other than click and drag, almost never having to
touch the keyboard. Not that I recommend playing like that since
there’s a buncha shortcuts that are only accessible through the keyboard, many of which
the tutorial never mentions. For example, you’re told that saving and
loading the game occurs inside your temple. So you’d navigate to the building in-world,
right click it to go inside, enter into the main central room, navigate to the save game
room on the right, then click on a picture to zoom into it, type in a title to save your
game, then exit the save room, and leave the temple to return to the game. Or you could just press Control+S on the keyboard
and quicksave at any time. I know which method I prefer. There’s tons of stuff like this that seems
needlessly cumbersome, implemented under the guise of “immersion” and “innovation.” But then you dig a little deeper and it turns
out there’s actually an easier or more efficient way of doing things. Like how there are unseen controls to slow
down and speed up time by pressing Alt+1 and 2 on the keyboard. Or how you can forgo the bizarre screen edge
camera controls if you simply use a mouse with a clickable wheel. Anyway, all that to say that Black & White
is often simpler to play than it appears at first glance. And thank goodness, because what’s here
is immediately captivating, at least to me as a fan of the ‘god game’ and ‘city
builder’ subgenres. Despite what Lionhead said in the marketing,
Black & White is less of a role-playing game and more of a real-time strategy game with
an emphasis on resource management and puzzle-solving. [sailors sing “The Explorers Song”] Each of the five main maps in the campaign
contain their own sets of challenges to complete, signified by golden scrolls indicating story
objectives and silver scrolls providing side quests. But the core gameplay revolves around accumulating
the resources of food, wood, belief, and villagers. Food and wood and pretty self-explanatory,
acquired by villagers or by picking them up yourself. Belief is gained by performing miraculous
actions within the view of villagers. And naturally, villagers themselves are acquired
by reproduction for the most part, as well as converting them away from rival gods to
believe in you instead. Overall it’s a pretty laid-back experience,
lording over the land as your people go about their day working, dancing, worshipping, screwing,
building, eating, and complaining. [peaceful ambient music plays] Ahh it’s nice. Too bad there’s a bunch of nonsense constantly
screwing things up. For one thing, villagers often have questionable
priorities. So if you don’t want them wandering around
doing whatever, generate some disciples by dropping people down near specific objects
and structures. – “Disciple Forester.” This is how you create dedicated builders,
farmers, woodcutters, fishermen, craftsmen, and even breeders, all doing little more than
eat, sleep, and work. This is also one method of increasing your
influence, by creating missionaries and traders to nearby villages. Influence is shown by these wavy colored borders
when you zoom out, and there’s a whole stack of variables affecting how quickly and how
far it spreads. And even then, it’s not so much a hard border
as it is a loose indicator of your power. Like, you can still reach beyond your own
influence to manipulate people and objects outside of your own lands, but only for a
limited time. Then you have to go back and try again to
refresh your hand. It’s a bizarre mechanic at first, where
you’re constantly moving your god hand in and out of rival territory, but you get used
to it. Tossing rocks and trees and things from a
distance is also an option, as well as performing miracles. With good-natured miracles like generating
food and forests, and offensive ones like tossing out fireballs and lightning. Another way to influence villagers is the
creature: a large animal with divine powers that you’ll choose while playing the first
tutorial island. There are three creatures on offer by default,
that being the ape, the cow, and the tiger. However, there are eight more creatures out there in the world to be unlocked, as well as four DLC creatures. Ahh, 2001. When downloadable content came in the form of self-extracting executables found on the developer’s website. For free, even! My how things change. Anyway, creatures. They’re big and powerful, but not too big
and powerful, at least not yet. Each one has to be fed, exercised, trained,
played with, and scolded in order to increase their capabilities and size. And as with everything else in the game, this
means using your god hand. So your can hand them food, bring them toys,
rub them nicely when they do something you want, or give them a good smacking if they
do something you don’t. [intense smacking sounds] Seems harsh, but it’s the only way to get
them to learn not to take unholy craps in the middle of town. Or pick up and eat random worshippers. Or whatever else you deem unsuitable. You can also train creatures using leashes,
making sure that they only hang out around certain areas and witness you doing certain
things. Because yeah, they learn by exposure to your
godly activities, eventually figuring out how to perform many of the same actions and
miracles. Creatures also carry over into skirmish mode
too, so you’re not limited to training them during the campaign maps. There are three of these skirmish maps that
you can enter at any time, where you’ll compete with between one to three AI gods,
or the same number of human players over a LAN or the internet. At least, before EA shut down the online servers
of course, so playing against AI is the best bet unless you use a custom multiplayer client. But yeah, creature training is key to surviving
later parts of the game, and thankfully they do have a separate moral alignment from yours,
so they can go around being a jerk while you play a pacifist, or vice versa. Powerful stuff when used to your advantage. This also means that you’ll likely attract
the attention of other gods and their creatures, which can lead to a battle. Unfortunately, actually controlling fights
is not very engaging. It’s less direct and more like you’re
coaching from the sidelines, clicking nearby to say when to attack, dodge, and defend. You can also perform a couple of miracles
to help turn the tide, but the delayed actions and camera swooping around the action makes this difficult, especially since these miracles rely on gestures. Oh yeah, that’s a thing. Performing miracles means performing gestures, accomplished by drawing shapes on the ground with the mouse. Again, eschewing keyboard usage and menu systems,
miracles are selected either by clicking miracle generators or by drawing their symbol. And well, it kinda works? Most of the shapes are easily repeated, but
some of them are strangely picky with how they’re drawn so it’s far easier to navigate
back into town to choose them directly. As for gaining miracle access to begin with,
there are two main methods of doing that. Raising this statue in your village center
will ring bells telling your villagers it’s time to worship, and a percentage of them
will follow suit depending on how high you raise it. This causes a big ol’ worship party outside
your temple, continuing until you call it off. Meaning villagers can pray themselves to death
if you’re not paying attention. But yeah, each village provides access to
specific miracles, so the more villages you have the more miracles you can perform. And the longer villagers worship, the more
prayer power you have to perform miracles. Or, you can instead drop living sacrifices
on the altar, with older villagers providing a little power and the youngest ones being
the most effective. [villagers chanting, child crying] [sacrificial gong sounds] So, um. Killin’ babies, it’s a legit strategy. The other method of miracle-making is completely
untied to belief, and results from bursting these one-shot miracle bubbles to provide
access to a single instance of said miracle. Simple, straightforward, no need for infanticide! And absolutely necessary on the later maps. While there are only five maps and the first
one is an absolute breeze to play, don’t be fooled by the false sense of security. Black & White soon stops playing around and
before you know it, you’re being struck down by far older, angier, and more powerful
gods than you. That first island map is seriously just a
tutorial, even after it appears the tutorial’s ended. Map two is where the game first opens up and
has you making real choices, like creating new buildings by constructing wooden scaffolding,
combining them up to seven times and plopping them down wherever you like. This is also where you have to start worrying
about villager desires, like offspring, civic buildings, and general expansion. And silver scrolls start becoming more important,
providing opportunities to earn vital resources and miracles that’ll make completing the
current map more feasible. And then there’s map three, which is where
Black & White finally starts to get real. A rival god captures your creature and tosses
you onto an uninhabited section of the map with almost nothing, whereas he already has
a temple and multiple thriving villages that are quickly taking over everything. And each time you take over one of those villages,
you’re smited with some kind of disaster, like humans he sets on fire that frantically
run towards your own tinderbox of a village, and a bloodthirsty wolfpack darting towards
your followers ready for an easy meal. Eventually you reach level four, where the
island’s cursed by constant thunderstorms and fireballs and the sky is blood red making
everyone depressed and oh god. Anyway yeah, by the time I reached the fifth
and final level, I was more than ready for the game to just end. But not Lionhead! Before its eventual sequel came along, they
released the Creature Isle expansion pack in January of 2002. And it’s kind of an odd choice for an expansion, but at this point I’d expect nothing less from this odd game. Instead of providing a new campaign or something,
it instead focuses on expanding creature options, taking place entirely on the new map of Creature Isle. New creatures are introduced, including a
chicken, a crocodile, and a rhinoceros, and there’s a number of new additions related
to creature-raising, the central goal of completing a sequence of trials for a group of former
godly minions called the Brotherhood of Creatures. Eh you know, it’s fun enough, it’s fine. But something I can go without. Not that I don’t recommend it at all, only
that I find its new additions to be skippable in the grand scheme of things. And there ya have it, that’s Black & White! An enchanting experience that I find equal
parts fascinating and frustrating, awesome and awkward, impressive and imperfect. It sure is a Peter Molyneux game, maybe the
Molyneux-est game of them all, and the resulting quirkiness is perhaps why it’s held onto
a group of vocal fans all this time. No matter how difficult it becomes to play
it on modern systems, and erugh, this is one hard to run game on newer hardware. I’ve been playing this on my Windows XP
build throughout this video, but there’s a whole slew of compatibility options, fan-made
patches, and SafeDisc DRM cracks to get it working on PCs running Windows Vista and higher. Either way I do recommend giving Black & White
a try sometime if you haven’t, and you’re into real-time god game strangeness. Or if you just like slapping virtual cows. [pointlessly excessive slapping] If you liked this video, then maybe you’d
like some of the other things I’ve done. I cover old PC games, retro hardware, and
all sorts of classic computery stuff each week. As always though, thank you very much for
watching what you just did!




Comments
  1. Anyone knows where to buy it as a download for Win10?

    I remember buying this game as a kid after reading great reviews. But my parents computer wasn´t powerful enough to run it, so I sold my copy and never thought of it again. Until now…

  2. I really liked this when it came out and played the hell out of it but later in the game it gets really frustrating due to relying on throwing things and spells that have to be cast exactly and very quickly so it was kind of ruined.
    ALSO the expansion was probably the worst the worst thing I've ever played still to this day.

  3. God, tear to my eye, now I wanna play this again, just to kill those singing morons with their begging and their shitty ass boat.

  4. I had this game along with a Logitech iFeel Mouseman with haptic feedback that I found at a Big Lots for $20 when the game came out. It was interesting to play with the rumble features but I only made it maybe halfway through the game before the whole thing came so frustratingly bad or difficult I stopped caring

  5. OH GOD I LOVE THIS GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME

    A shame that microsoft disbaneded Lionhead and made B&W unplayable on Win10.

  6. The swedish dub of this game is an absolute gem.
    That, and the Swedish dub on the Playstation version of Diablo 1.

  7. Played it on my pc with 300 mhz, i had like 8 Frames per Second.
    Black and White 2 was pretty good, but a really shot Game.

  8. I loved the game and at the time, since I was already a big fan of Bullfrog. It didn't disappoint me but it didn't captivate me the same way the Populous 1/2 did.

  9. I fucking love Black & White. It was so hard (never made it past the 3rd island) but yet so damn relaxing to play. The pacing was so slow it felt more like meditation than gaming. Too bad B&W2 took a completely other direction, being more of a fast paced (well, it's fast compared to B&W1) RTS than the first one.

  10. I was a Bullfrog fanboy so when this game was finally released I was WAY too excited, and my expectations were probably unrealistic. I was never able to get into the game very much back then, but I think I'm ready to try it again. Thanks for the video as always!

  11. This was a good stroll down memory lane. Really loved these games. Thought at a younger age, the later levels got unpleasant. goes to ebay to buy a copy again.

  12. Awesome installment! I never played that game but the intro did raise the hairs on my arms. Slapping bad cows around 😂, you know then you should praise them afterwards… oh wait that is something else haha. Loved it!

  13. Now that's some weird game that I never played.
    I knew about it back in the day, but never got around to play it. I always though it would be a "too complicated" game for someone like me, who can't even play Warcraft properly.
    But after watching your video, I found myself oddly interested in trying it.

  14. This game was my jam when I was 12. I still think it's tons of fun for what it is, even if it's not what it wanted to be.

  15. I've been looking for a way to play this game without having to find the disks forever, since my gaming laptop doesnt have a disc drive. I miss feesing the towns people to my monsters and the RTS style gatherong and building mechanics

  16. LGR reviewing my favourite childhood game? That's heaven.
    Black & White was a real masterpiece. That creature AI is so much more advanced than most people imagine.

  17. I used to love that game! Me and some classmates kept talking about who bought the black game box or the white game box haha

  18. I think this game would be much better a VR game since VR is really about immersion. also the technology to track your hand is much is real good on VR

  19. I went to play this game again …. Forgot there are no autosaves …. Lost everything… Tossed skeletons at people then quit. Lol. Loved it.

  20. 8:20 Looks suspiciously like what they did with one of the Fable games (Fable 3?), where you had to navigate a particular menu/room to do some of the most basic things.

  21. Love this game! Re-played it a few year ago and it still holds up. The keyboard shortcut stuff blew my mind… first time i've heard of them.

  22. I need to find this… i was so hyped for this game when I thought it was coming to Dreamcast….. Then it didnt 🙁

  23. i only found this game a few years after its release and absolutely loved it. i had no idea it wasnt received very well at the time. i remember liking it a lot more than the sequel

  24. time to jump through anti-virus protections– oh wait, 99% of 'em block that game (and its next release, Black & White 2) from being installed.

  25. I still play B&W2 sometimes, even on my W10 gaming pc, it maxes out the fans on the GPU at 1080p sexy grafix, and crashes more than I would like, but it's still playable, and there is literally nothing like it! If there was, I would have played it by now!

  26. I absolutely looooved this game. Although I only had a pc that could just barely run it, I spent hours on that piece of awesomeness

  27. My favorite part is the creepy soft voice whispering “Deeeeeaaaaaath” every time a villager dies. That’s not unsettling at all to hear as a 17 year old playing the game alone at night with headphones on. 😆

    My sister and I still make jokes/references about that.

  28. B&W is such a unique game. A mix of several genres, yet it's totally its own.
    I first tried it on my old computer which had a Voodoo2 card – it ran – but juuuust barely, coughing along at 1-2 fps. ^^

  29. Also, I just realised that the ape from this game is the same model used for the orangutan suit in The Movies, lol.

  30. That song from the villlagers was the first sing what came up in my mind when your video popped up. Here is a link to the german version of this song:^^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2eUxb0PDkSc

  31. This was the game that, as a kid, really made me excited for the future possibilities of gaming. I was too young to be disappointed at all.

  32. Even to this day, nearly 20 years later, I still find my self humming the song by the sailors who want help building and supplying their ship. One of my favorite games of all time.

  33. I remember picking this up on release day, having been cajoled into getting it by the sheer excitement that my friend had about it. GAME in the UK also packed in a T-Shirt which the staff assured me would fit, but when I got it out of the packaging it was a hugely disappointing small-child-sized t-shirt.

    I don't think I ever finished the game, as it kept crashing in the later stages.

  34. Liking Peter Molyneux is like liking classic progressive rock. Sure, the critics will give you Populous or Close to the Edge, Dungeon Keeper or In the Court of the Crimson King; but once you start going to bat for Black & White 2 or Tales from Topographic Oceans, the tastemakers will say you're quite gauche, indeed. They're probably right, but I don't care. Peter Molyneux lives!

  35. Yesssssss. I really wasn’t big into PC gaming back in the day but there was so much hype over this game i had to play it. Definitely spent a fair amount of time with this one. Though I’m not sure if I actually liked it or if I was just into it because of all the hype. I really don’t think I even knew what I was doing. I was young. I just liked screwing around and tbh I was prob just happy the game ran on my PC at all.

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