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Have You Played... Black & White?

A go(o)d game

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Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day, perhaps for all time.

I was vibrating with excitement by the time god game Black & White came out, having read umpteen development diaries about its physics, its AI, its morality system, its gesture controls… So many ideas! So much potential.The game was not all I hoped it to be – nothing ever could be. It was pretty good, though. You were a floating disembodied hand on a world of tiny people living in villages, and you completed objectives for them so that they would believe in you and you would gain new abilities.

Helping you – or impeding you, often – was your creature, an enormous animal you selected at the start of the game. I liked the cow. Your creature would stomp around the world, crushing houses and eating villagers like an oblivious toddler, and you’d try to shape their behaviour with positive and negative reinforcement. It never quite worked. Your cow would pick up and eat a tiny, terrified villager, and you’d serve up punishment to try to discourage the behaviour only for your cow to misunderstand and decide that all eating was bad. That sort of thing.

Even with its slightly broken or unfinished systems, and the mission design which was both dire and not the dynamic, emergent world I had expected, there was tons to have fun with. I liked tossing rocks at buildings to watch them physically crumple. I liked being able to sacrifice villagers in exchange for power. I liked the gesture controls, where you made patterns with the mouse to cast spells. I liked the creatures for their animation and the sense of dealing with a willful creature. I was a teenager at the time, and I liked that the monkey would eat poo and then vomit poo, or eat a beachball and then do multi-coloured beachball vomit.

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Graham Smith

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