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Lora's Adventure Game Reviews: Black and White




Black and White (Game release date: 2000)
A good game about playing god hijacked by a mediocre game about feeding and potty-training a virtual pet.


Walkthrough page Buy This Game: PC or Mac



Highlights: Original concept,
open-ended play
Lowlights: Very little CRPG or wargaming content as was misleadingly promised
on the box, interface is awful

Black and White is a game with a truly innovative concept. Fusing a computer role-playing game like Might and Magic with a construction game like SimCity, the game casts you as a god with the power to shape your worshippers' society, conquer or convert the followers of rival gods, and solve increasingly thorny divine problems and quests. You can be benevolent, evil, careless, chaotic, or any other godlike personality you can think of. (I was a cruelly favoritist god myself, tending carefully to my chosen people while brutally oppressing neighboring villages.) That was the idea, anyway. In practice, 95% of this game is taken up in training an idiotic virtual pet not to poop on the floor. I only wish I were exaggerating. The pet ("creature," as the game calls it, or "titan," as its fans generally do), is undeniably cool looking, but the only way to progress in the game is to train it, by punishing it any time it does something you disapprove of and rewarding it any time it does something good. This means you must spend hours watching it with a gimlet eye and slapping it if it starts to crap near a villager's house. The Black and White interface is also the worst one I believe I've ever seen in a game--to take important actions, the player must perform quick, precise, complex mouse movements. If you aren't quick enough, you won't get the result you were trying for. If you don't make exactly the right shape with the mouse, you will get a different result than the one you were trying for. If your Palm Pilot has ever mistaken your attempt to write V as a Y, this is not the game for you--you spend most of your control time doing the identical thing with the mouse.

The god parts of this game were really good, but there were painfully few of them (in contrast to the many long and tedious hours spent babysitting the creature). Fans of virtual pets will doubtlessly love this game, as the creature looks really neat and has such a wide repertoire of behaviors that you can eventually, if you put enough time in, train it to do three dance moves in a row in rhythm to your favorite song. This will take you a good 20 hours of play to accomplish, though. Frankly, the whole thing might have impressed me more ten years ago. Right now, if I want to supervise somebody on a minute by minute basis and coach him through toilet training, well, I have a two-year-old son. And he can learn a series of three dance moves in ten minutes flat.

Style: Black and White is a first-person combination of CRPG and strategy/simulation game. You control a single character and his pet with a 3D point-and-click interface. The game is in stop-and-go realtime and requires repetitive intricate mouse movements to train the creature and use miracles. Though you yourself do not level or improve, your creature does, and there is realtime combat between your creature and those of other gods.

Series: Black and White has had one expansion, Creature Isle, which gives you even more creature options. The original game is sometimes bundled with the expansion and sometimes sold separately. I have not played the expansion, since I had more than my fill of creature-training in the original, but if you enjoy the creature aspects of the game it sounds like you'll surely like the expansion as well.

Finding Black and White: This game is still in print so you should have no problem finding it in your favorite software store. You can also buy it online if you like, for either PCs or Macs.

Getting Black and White to Work: Black and White is a recent game and ought to be plug-and-play. I did not encounter any game-threatening bugs during my playthrough of it.

Hints For Black and White: I do not have a Black and White walkthrough page myself, because I couldn't face the prospect of starting over with a new creature to train. There's a good online overview here, or you can buy the Black and White Hint Book.

Pitfalls In Black and White: There are no real bugs in this game that I found, but this game is a poor choice for anyone who isn't fond of realtime play, meticulous detail management, and being unable to leave your computer for lengths of time. The creature also picks up bad habits while your attention is elsewhere, so if you're busy with a quest or something interesting, it may eat a villager or do something else you want it not to do. Pay constant attention to the creature or you may find yourself having to reload and replay a large chunk of the game; as any AI programmer or psychologist knows, it's very hard to extinguish a behavior once it's learned, and this creature is worse than most.

Game Length: Hard to quantify because of the virtual pet thing. It took me about 30 hours to play, of which maybe 5 hours were actually CRPG quests, 15 were spent world-building and the other 10 were bitterly resented time spent babysitting and dog-pitting that idiotic creature. Someone who enjoys virtual pets, on the other hand, could easily spend hundreds of hours playing this; unlike the role-playing aspects of the game, the creature training is very open-ended and broad.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated T (for 13 years old and up), probably because if you choose to you can be the kind of god who sacrifices your villagers by feeding them to your monster (and this behavior will not be punished by the game, either). There's also a lot of attention paid to feces in this game (your creature's crap can be eaten, thrown at enemies, given to worshippers as a holy relic, or used as fertilizer), and there's animated violence in the fights between creatures.

Lora's Black and White Review: (Flawed)

Plot and Quests: Black and White features fun, varied quests with multiple possible solutions each, which would ordinarily net it a high score here. The problem is how few of them there are. There are only about ten quests with multiple good and evil solutions in the entire game, and perhaps another twenty simple "find my sheep" assignments; almost all of your playing time is spent on training your creature, and the ratio of quests to tedium is extremely low.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: This is an extremely easy game with very few challenges outside of creature-training.
Characters: On the plus side, your god is completely customizable. You can successfully imbue him with just about any personality you like. On the negative side, your creature has no personality and the worshippers are robotic and have extremely annoying voices. The only real characters in the game besides yourself are your good and bad consciences, who sit on your shoulders cracking jokes at everything you do. I found them more irritating than funny, but other gamers (especially younger players) may feel just the opposite.
Gameworld: Disappointingly generic. The humans who populate the world you are manipulating have no cultures, no distinguishing features, and no initiative: except for the handful of pre-scripted quests, they don't have any goals or desires, so unlike some simulation games, there's little motivation to improve their environment or accomplish anything for them.
Gameplay (Leveling, Spells, etc.): The miracle system is innovative, and the concept behind the creature was inspired (though I obviously think they got a little too carried away by their own cleverness.) Creature advancement is interesting, too. Below average pacing.
Interface (Movement, Inventory Management, etc.): This is the only game I have ever had an actual nightmare about trying to play. The controls are wretched, and the keyboard customizability is useless--you have to use complicated mouse movements for everything that actually matters to the game. For example, to give your creature strong positive feedback (if he's just done something really good, like pooping in the potty or putting some wood in the woodpile), you have to use the focus button to bring him into close-up, click on his stomach, and hold the button down as you move the mouse swiftly up and down while the memory of doing the good deed is still fresh in his AI. If you move the mouse too slowly, he will think you are giving him weak positive feedback. If you move the mouse left to right while executing this maneuver, he will think you are giving him negative feedback. If you can't execute the maneuver quickly enough, he will start to scratch his butt before you are done with it and will think you are praising him for scratching his butt, which he will then repeat until the end of time. However, you cannot remap the keyboard to do anything sensible, like, say, using the "+" key to give the creature one unit of automatic positive feedback. The complex mouse maneuver is the ONLY acceptable medium of creature training. Leash use and miracle casting are even worse. This game literally made my wrist sore while I was playing it.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The 3D environment looks good but not great. The creatures are very well-done, particularly in some of their dance moves. The people are generic and have mediocre animation, but they're not the focus of the game anyway.

Lora's Recommendations: If you already like virtual pets, or if the idea of spending hours training a robot monkey to dance appeals to you, you will really like this game. If you're a CRPG or strategy-game fan, though, there is probably too little gaming content in here to hold your attention long.

If You Loved Black and White: If you haven't played The Sims yet, you probably want to go check that out as soon as possible. Like Black and White, The Sims lets you create a being (a person or family, in this case, though you can make them as strange-looking as you like), laboriously train them to do things like wash their own dishes, and watch them try to live their daily lives. The training interface is much better than in Black and White, and so is the AI. I'd also recommend Rollercoaster Tycoon, an oddly addictive sim-building game about creating the world's greatest theme park. (And you can do things like throw dissatisfied customers into the ocean, just like you can in Black and White.) If you like playing god and shaping civilizations, there's the strategy behemoth Civilization IV, even more absorbing than its predecessors; I also enjoyed playing Tropico: Pirate Cove, which is more irreverant and involves more larceny. Finally, if you liked the idea of a game in which you could be either good or evil and find different endings to each quest based on the choices you make, you may enjoy the CRPG's Shadows of Amn or Arcanum, both of which have many more quests than B/W and many more opportunities to be kind or wicked throughout.


Native American houses * Tattoo art * Indian necklaces * Painted buckskin * Creek Indian history in Alabama

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