Bring It Back: Black & White
Black & White released in 2001 and it absolutely blew my mind. I remember watching a friend play it and being amazed at the possibilities the game afforded players. It took me a couple of years, but I finally got the game and a machine that would run it. Even after a couple years, the game satisfied everything I wanted it to be.
As a so-called “god game,” players take the role of an omniscient being who guides villages. As a god, interaction with the world was limited in some aspects, yet it worked surprisingly well. Want a villager to fish? Just pick him up and set him down next to a fishing area, and he’ll become a fishing disciple. The same goes for other resources in the game. At heart, Black & White is an RTS game. But it’s an RTS game like no other.
Players could choose to be either a benevolent and kind god, or a vindictive god filled with rage. However, the decision isn’t static. As you perform actions in the game, you will become more aligned with good or evil, black or white (see where the title comes from?). The villagers have a complaint? You can help them resolve it or throw a few of them into the ocean to drown. The choice is up to you. Also, you get a totally bad ass creature to help you. The creature can learn basic spells and will either be a blessing to your villagers or a curse. It all depends on how you train your creature to act.
Black & White has a rating of 90 on Metacritic and was generally well-received, initially. After some time, critics began to change their minds. It seems many people didn’t think Black & White didn’t have much replayability. The game was hyped up so much that players were ultimately dissatisfied with the end product. As I recall, the same thing happened with Fable, another game developed by Lionhead Studios. Despite the disappointment, Black & White is still a great game that made some bold moves. The problem with the series’ history likely lies with the publisher, EA. After all, publishers usually handle the marketing end of things. If Black & White hadn’t been hyped so much, it may have received more favorable reviews in the long run.
What Made Black & White Great
Essentially, you are a god, born from the prayers of a family in distress. As a new god, you have much to learn and do. Before long, you find a creature who tells you of his former master, Nemesis (not very original, but whatever). Nemesis is a powerful god who wishes to destroy any other gods so that he can be all-powerful. Are you going to let that happen? Of course not! Black & White is a war between gods. How is that not fun?
Teaching your creature how to use spells not only relieves some of the tedium of dealing with your villagers, it also makes your creature stronger for creature battles. Yes, two massive creatures can fight each other and I thought the battles were well-implemented. Also, you aren’t limited to just one creature. There are three creatures to choose from at the beginning, but you can also unlock others. Different creatures have different strengths and picking one that suits your play-style is important.
At the time, a game engine that let you zoom out and in as far as you liked was a novelty. The visuals were outstanding for 2001, and playing Black & White just made me smile. Playing around with your creature and managing the villagers appealed to me. While Black & White may not be for everyone, it is a game everyone should at least know about.
What the Next Iteration Could Use
Black & White 2 released in 2005, and received overall favorable reviews. However, there hasn’t been any word about a Black & White 3, which is unfortunate. A good series takes the drawbacks of previous entries and attempts to address them while re-inventing itself enough to be exciting again. Black & White 2 changed some of the gameplay mechanics from the original and critics were divided about whether it was a good thing or not. The creation of armies and enhanced visuals were certainly good things, but poor pathfinding and the lack of divine opponents to fight against limited the game.
Black & White 3 should take all of the positive aspects of both games and synthesize them into a glorious god game that compares with no other. Lionhead has the experience to make a Black & White 3 excellent. Many of the concepts of the original Black & White were revolutionary and a third installment would serve to perfect the gameplay.
Realistic Possibility of Return?
No one is really sure who owns the rights to the series. One of the most popular theories is that Lionhead owns the rights and EA owns the publishing rights. Publishers often completely own rights; however, on the back of the Black & White 2 box is the following statement: “Lionhead, the Lionhead logo, Black & White and the Black & White logo are trademarks or registered trademarks of Lionhead Studios Limited in the US and/or other countries. Black & White ® is a Lionhead ® Studios brand.”
So… The question really is “does Lionhead see a profit in developing Black & White 3?” If Lionhead does indeed own the rights to the series, I think they would be silly to not continue it. While Black & White didn’t sell ridiculous amounts of copies, it certainly has a dedicated fanbase, which leads to sales, and usually, profit. Whether it’s enough of a profit or not is entirely up to whoever has the rights. And in today’s gaming industry, the profits have to be pretty huge, unfortunately.
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