Video Game Thoughts: Black & White

Black & White was a 2001 “god game” by Lionhead Studios for the PC. My sister had bought a new laptop for college, but it was also good for computer games. After playing Black & White, she ended up buying a copy for me to play. What I really liked about this game was its uniqueness. I had played several other games in this same genre, but they were totally different than this one. Most “god games” tasked the player with gathering followers to believe in them. This would empower the player, giving them the ability to use special powers. While Black & White had some of that, powering up their god was not really the focus. Instead, it was all about their pet. Early in the game, the player got to pick from a few anthropomorphic animals, such as a Cow or Monkey. What was amazing about the pet was that the player could teach it how to do things just like a real pet.

If the pet did something wrong, the player could discipline it with a spank. If the pet did something right, they could reward it with a backrub or maybe some food. Players could also teach it a series of tasks through demonstration. It sounds simple, but it was a really cool concept. No other game had an AI system as good as Black & White. I spent hours trying to train my pet to do good things to help the followers.

Like all games, Black & White wasn’t perfect. The game around the pet training wasn’t all that great. The player’s goal in every level was to grow their followers to beat back the followers of other gods in the level. The player could teach their pet how to fight as well. Enemy pets could challenge the player’s to a duel. The player could then give commands to them. I didn’t really like any of this. The pet training was amazing, but I wish there had been some more cool uses for it.

They could even have just zeroed-in on the pet training. Get rid of the whole “god” thing and make the player just the owner of the pet. Then the player could choose locations like their house or the park and train their pet to do various things. Developers could put animal shows in the game for the player to show off their training, but even freeplay would be entertaining for hours if there were enough tasks the pet could be trained to do. Unfortunately, Lionhead Studios didn’t do any of this for the sequel. They changed the game to be more like a traditional real-time strategy game. I will always remember the fun I had training my pet. I know of no other game that has tried this since.

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