Black & White is a god game, a sorceror game, a strategy game, a role playing game, a tamagotchi and a personality test all rolled into one... [more]

The landscape looks stunning. There is no fogging or clipping... [more]

The water has ripples and reflects the sky and the sun... [more]

An earthquake. The land rumbles and splits. A lava-titan hauls himself out and marches across the land throwing chunks of himself... [more]

Your creature, walking along a ridge, casts a long shadow down the sloping hillside... [more]

There were around eighty animations per creature at the moment; this number will grow... [more]

Each hair is individually modeled and bounces and swirls around just like in a L'Oreal advertisement... [more]

The creature caught sight of his reflection in the water and lumbered over to take a look... [more]

The creature's mind becomes more refined: he recognises that some villagers are yours and some are not, and it's okay to eat the latter but not the former.... [more]

Peter Molyneux, when he was a child, wanted a perfectly loyal creature as a pet. Fertile ground there for psychoanalysis... [more]

For a laugh, someone had made bananas inedible to the ape... [more]

To cast lightning you press down your finger angrily, determinedly, shouting "Die young Skywalker!"... [more]

You cast a forest spell and a naked green dryad appears... [more]

This generic spell system means that lots of different spells can be created easily... [more]

The music gets faster and the pace of the villagers' dance gets frenetic... [more]

The villagers run away as fast as their little legs can carry them... [more]

Andy loves finding bugs. He calls in the programmer responsible and gleefully insults their coding... [more]

At the end they're all just going to play lots and lots. After a month or two they'll decide to release it... [more]

The chieftain might go to your citadel and beg for your aid... [more]

There will be an enormous, powerful, important challenge at the finale... [more]

At Lionhead there's a kitchen sink, a fridge and a kettle... [more]

How poetic it all looked, with the sun setting over the sea... [more]

There will be up to several thousand villagers at a time... [more]

Pull the mouse back and *BLAM* slap him one, and it really hurts... [more]

After ten minutes of flying I encountered the edge of the universe... [more]

Wave your hands in a spell-casting gesture, and see the red magical aura that they leave beind... [more]

Giles has created a generic points-of-focus system for implementing spells... [more]

Certain MIDI tracks are good and some are bad... [more]

The idea is to spend about 20% cpu-time on game logic, AI, engine, and the rest on graphics... [more]

Jonty Barnes gets loads of manna if he casts a spell in the shape of his signature... [more]

It might be unnacceptable in a game to stroke the breasts or genitals of a human creature... [more]

The net effect: you can get wonderfully varying textures without taking much disk space at all... [more]

hills, valleys, ravines, ridges, mountains, gently rolling plains... [more]


Lucian Wischik beta-tested Black & White for a week, played the game, chatted with the programmers. Here's what he saw. Sorry! There aren't any new screen-shots or videos in this report. Only news about gameplay, graphics and programming. In places I have included links to relevant pictures from bw.wire, Games Feedback Eden News and Lionhead. This report is has been written from month-old memories. All inaccuracies and errors come from Lucian; everything else comes from the folk at Lionhead.


a god game, a sorceror game, a strategy game, a tamagotchi, a personality test Black & White, by Peter Molyneux, is a god-game, a sorceror-game, a strategy game, a role-playing game, a tamagotchi and a personality test all rolled into one. There are villages for you to rule over and protect, spells to cast, opponents to battle and puzzles to solve. You can pluck a creature out of its environment, grow it to gargantuum proportions in your citadel, teach it your idea of right and wrong, and set it into the world to do your bidding. As you play, battle and solve puzzles, the game engine and the villagers and even your creature will take note of your actions, good, evil or neutral, and react accordingly.

You'll recognise the name "Molyneux" from Populous, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet and the other games that made his fortune. (And you'll recognise elements of all of those games in Black & White). This fortune is bankrolling the development of the game. It gives his company, Lionhead Studios, the time to develop a whole host of new technologies and the luxury to insist on fun, playability and quality.


programmed by Jean Claude

The landscape looks stunning. At the press of a key the camera swoops up into the sky through the clouds to look at the entire island; press a key and it zooms back down again. there is no fogging or clipping There is no fogging or clipping! Set your camera at the peak of a mountain and marvel at the careful ground textures showing rocks, boulders, grass, snow. Then go back to the other end of the island and you can still see the very same mountain with its rocks, grass, snow far away in the distance, and it still looks detailed. Perfectly fast as well. I believe that no other PC game handles such a wide range, from the close to the very distant. [For examples, look at these links: distance, distance, video zooming out video ]

There are trees, buildings, farms, villagers on the landscape. They still have a lot of work left to cover it with more bushes and animals and features.

On one memorable occasion I zoomed down to just a foot above the ground to have a look at a fence around a farm. The grass looked only slightly blurry underneath, the fence a foot away from me was perfectly detailed, and through some holes in the fence I could look out into the distance: there were trees there, by a lake, with the sun setting and casting its reflection on the water, and a mountain rising up steeply on one side in the distance. [ close-up villager ]

Shadows, at least for many of the static objects such as houses and trees, are drawn as part of the landscape texture. creature casts shadow down sloping hillside This means that detailed shadows are possible. It looks great to see your creature walking along a ridge and seeing the long shadow he casts down the sloping hillside, and watching the shape and extent of the shadow change according to the land upon which it's projected. Clouds also cast shadows over the landscape, and some spell-effects (such as explosions and fireballs) light up the ground around them. [ lion shadow ]

water has ripples and reflects the sky and the sun The water has ripples and reflects the sky and the sun. When a person or a creature stands by the water's edge you see the reflection in the water. This is the first game I've seen where the sea looks like sea, and not just some pale-blue transparent polygon. Jean-Claude (who programs the landscape) has further visual enhancements planned for waves and the like. [ ape reflected. ]

The trees were made of just a few polygons (eight polygons per tree, it seemed to me) but were very convincing. They started with photographs of real trees, did some kind of processing on these photographs to specify which bits were transparent and how much, and used these things as textures. The net effect is that when you look at a tree it looks sort of photo-realistic. [ trees ]

This texture technique with the trees allowed for extra tricks. For instance, Jean-Claude showed me that when he made the textures sort of more transparent then the leaves sort of went away and all that was left was the trunk and a few branches, looking dead, burnt and wintry. The trees would sway in the wind.

The colours were gorgeous. Jean-Claude made it run through a day. The morning had this orange sort of early-morning sun. Then daytime, and everything was lush and green. how poetic it looked, with the sun setting over the sea Evening came and things became more dark and blue, and finally night. I wish I had an artist's vocabulary to communicate to you all just how poetic this looked, especially with the sun setting over the sea. (Actually, the sun at the moment always stays just above the water and doesn't yet climb into the sky.) [ rosy dawn, sunset, sunset, dusk, midnight - how poetic! ]

The landscape was also very fast, working at around twenty frames per second even in this early version with lots of debugging code still in and not yet optimized. (Slower but still playable on my less powerful test machine). Graphically, this game will look sumptuous. Far better than everything we've ever seen before.

On the island that they had set up there was a wide range of styles of land. At one corner was an inert frozen volcano, totally covered in snow, and when you went there the wind moaned and howled. Down a bit there was lush grass, and a little secluded valley ending in a waterfall (although the waterfall was just a placeholder and didn't yet look convincing). Just north of my citadel was a more desolate rocky place. Closer to the sea was golden sand. I'm sure that there were a patch of salt-flats just inland a short way. [ waterfall ]

Marvelously, the textures didn't repeat and they all blended into each other seamlessly. Jean Claude explained: The artists have created a bunch of archetypal textures for snow, or sand, or grass, or rocks. you can get wonderfully varying textures without taking much disk space at all For each area of the landscape a new texture is generated just for that area, on the fly; if an area of the map is grassy, but there's sand nearby and some rocks, then this area gets its own custom merging of the three. This means that you don't see abrupt changes in the border between tiles, and that every single bit of the landscape looks different. I don't know how Jean Claude merges the things together, but he achieves it without loosing any detail. The net effect: you can get wonderfully varying textures, without taking much disk space at all. For performance reasons the game remembers recently generated textures. The island I played generated over 20Mb in textures, but it only generated the textures when you came to see them so there weren't any loading delays.

How is it possible to get such a range of distances, from the near to the distant, without loosing performance? With variable level of detail. The map is made up as a grid, and at each point it says how high it is and what sort of texture should go there. This grid is divided up into chunks 256x256 (although the exact number doesn't matter). If a chunk is a long way into the distance, then you wouldn't be able to see all that detail anyway, so the engine automatically simplifies it down to 16x16. That's how come it can draw mountains in the distance and still show detail close up. (Where a chunk is half way between a simplified version and a more complicated version, it gets a sort of half-way blend between the two.)

hills, valleys, ravines, ridges, mountains, plains What I like best about the landscape is its contours: hills, valleys, ravines, ridges, mountains, gently rolling plains and so on. The altitude and terrain are initially done by the artists with Photoshop. These images get converted into the grid-based mesh described above. Finally, other people populate the landscape with trees and houses and tribes using the editor that's built into the game. It's not difficult: Peter walked in one day, asked Andy to populate a map with two villages of a certain size so they could test a multiplayer battle, and it was done within an hour.

The island that I played on was roughly square; presumably the artists had created it that way so as not to waste any potential land-area. after ten minutes of flying I encountered the edge of the universe It took my creature about five minutes to walk from one end to the other. It is hard to say what the current size limit of the map is. I flew out to sea about fifteen minutes further and an aspect of the spell system stopped working: presumably it had hit some internal limit. Another ten minutes worth of flying and I encountered the edge of the universe. It is exactly like that in The Truman Show: a large hemisphere with sky and sun painted on it! Anyway, guessing the size of the map at this stage is futile: if gameplay or story dictate, they will certainly relax any size limitations. [ Square map top left ]

There is still a lot more work to go here. Jean Claude showed me his current project: a piece of land that rumbles, land rumbles and splits... lava-titan marches across the land then raises up and splits into an earthquake-like fissure. This land-deformation works very effectively and hopefully means that we'll get a lot of spells with satisfyingly visceral effects on the land. The plan for this particular spell is that a lava-titan hauls himself up out of this crack and marches across the land throwing chunks of himself (of lava) at buildings and people until eventually he cools down, slows down, into a giant black motionless rock giant. (One of the artists was working on animating this titan).

Creature fun

designed by Scawen, Eric

The most fun came with the creatures. At the moment you bring up a debug menu and have the creature suddenly appear, fully-grown. (When the game is done, the plan is that you pluck a creature out of the landscape and put it into your creature-pen, where you nurture it and train it as it grows to its gargantuan proportions.)

The only creature in full working order was the ape. He had enough animations and AI to behave as you'd expect. The other creatures were lacking bits of AI or animation.

Eric does the creature animations in 3d studio max. He showed me some more clips, of lions sneezing and the like. 80 animations per creature There were around eighty snips of animation per creature at the moment; this number will grow. Some animations, like walking and eating, are performed by all creatures in their own appropriate way. Other animations, like the ape scratching his armpits, are only exhibited by that particular creature. [ video Cough, vomit ]

Scawen did path-finding for the creatures and ties together the bits of animation that Eric and the others have done. He loaded up a gargantuan Greek creature to demonstrate it's dancing. It was very funky! In time with the music, and he had all those corny 60s disco moves down pat. (It's not yet decided whether humans will appear in the final game as giant pet creatures of your own.) [ video Greek dancing 1, video Greek dancing 2, video ape dancing] ]

The creatures have more intelligence in their path-finding routines up to several thousand villagers at a time than the ordinary villagers. There will be up to several thousand villagers at a time, each and every one of them pathfinding, so their code has to be very simple. The creatures are a more perfect form of animal, and they're the focus of the game, and there will be only a few of them around at any one instant, so more cpu-time can be allotted to them. [ many villagers ]

The animations all fit together very smoothly. When the creature is walking in one direction and you tell it to walk somewhere else it wheels around just as you'd expect, and it's feet don't slide on the ground and it doesn't miss a beat. Or maybe the creature is standing walking somewhere and you cast some spells to one side: the creature will crane its neck to take a look.

Also worth mentioning is the hair system on the creatures. Lots of creatures have hair on their head or on their tails. hair bounces as in a l'Oreal advertisment Each hair is individually modeled and bounces and swirls around just like in a L'Oreal advertisement only less glossy. At the moment the ape seemed to have about fifty hairs on his head (they're thick hairs!) but this number changes. [ video watch the hair! ]

And the creatures become fat, or thin, or evil, or good, or muscular, or weedy according to their actions. They had wonderful expressions on their faces. After I'd hit him a few times my big fat hair evil ape looked at me with such mournful, sorrowful, apologetic eyes that I stopped. The artists and animators have put a lot of character and expression into the creatures. [ video fat, thin ape ]

Creature AI

programmed by Richard

Richard is programming the creature AI. He has only put in a small number of behaviours so far, but enough for the creatures to behave convincingly.

I summoned a creature using the debug testing menu, lumbered over to look at its reflection and it happened to be near water, and the creature caught sight of his reflection and lumbered over to have a look. Another time he became hungry, looked around, found a villager, stomped him flat, picked him up and ate him. Each of these little sequences of behaviour is coded by Richard. [ ape stares at reflection, aztec reflection ]

The creature might have several desires: to find out about something, to satisfy his hunger, to go somewhere. Each desire is associated with an 'intensity'. Whichever is the most intense, and can be satisfied nearby, the creature satisfies. He might be hungry, and see a villager and a fence around, and he has a table saying how each of those objects (villager, fence) will satisfy his hunger. [ desire food ]

(When the creature was just freshly created he didn't know that fences aren't edible. And ate some. And had to run away with a terrible case of farting. His vomit and feces roll down hill, you'll be pleased to know.)

This sort of design is fairly typical for AI in computer games. But where Black and White differs from convention is that the creatures can be taught how to behave. the creature's mind becomes more refined: he recognises that some villagers are yours and some are not You might want to teach your creature to eat enemy villagers but not your own. This is how it's done: For each object, such as a villager, there are a number of attributes (sex, age, allegiance...) The first time the ape eats a villager, and you pet him in reward, he thinks that it's good to eat all villagers. But next time you give him one of your own villagers, and he eats it, and you punish him. So his mind becomes more refined: he recognises that some villagers are yours and some are not, and it's okay to eat the latter but not the former. And with more training you can further refine his mental model of the world. [ a refined mind ]

To some extent, the creature watched your actions and emulated them. If he saw you casting a spell he'd learn how to do it and start casting it himself. More such observation-and-copying will be added to the game.

When the creature has just performed an action (such as eating a villager), and you want to tell him what you thought of that action, you hold down your index finger on the creature. The camera zooms towards him so you're looking at him full on. You keep your finger down all this time. *BLAM* smack him one, and it really hurts If you move the mouse gently around his head, or arms, or feet (or, yes, groin) he likes it and laughs playfully, and he knows that you approve. Or you can move your hand to one side and sweep it to the other, hitting him, and it hurts. Or move your hand all the way to one end of the screen and *BLAM* smack him one and it really hurts. You can smack his feet out from under him and he'll fall over. [ stroke ape, video stroke ape, video slap ape ]

While I was there they had one of their weekly Friday meetings and were discussing this issue. Would it be taken badly in the press if they produced a game where you could enact such violence on a creature? After I'd hit him my ape looked so forlornly at me, and then walked off to the other side of the island to sit down, that I felt quite guilty about it.

A lot more behaviours have to be added to the creatures, and a lot of Peter, when a child, wanted a perfectly loyal intelligent pet creature play-testing and tweaking will be needed to get their learning feel right. It's a firm goal of Peter Molyneux's that the creatures should remain steadfastly loyal to you, no matter how you treat them. He says it used to be a dream of his, when he was a little child, to have a pet creature that would be loyal and obedient and trusting. Fertile ground there for psychoanalysis, I reckon!

Another time I sent the creature to one end of the island, then set him walking all the way to the other end, then back, then back again. It took him about seven minutes to walk from one end to the other on this particular island. For a laugh, someone had made bananas inedible to the ape He was so tired by the end of it he just sat down and went to sleep! Hungry, also, so I cast a food spell. Little spherical blobs came out of my hand and turned into bananas where they hit the ground. Except, for a laugh, someone had made bananas inedible to the ape. (All the parameters like this are controlled from Excel spreadsheets. That's so that non-technical designers can tweak game parameters easily.) Anyway, he was hungry and guzzled them down and-- yuck!--spent the next two minutes with diarrhea. [ video Yuck! ]

The creatures and the landscape look fantastic together. After I'd told the creature to walk from one end of the island to the other I moved my camera to his destination and looked for him. He was so far off in the distance that I couldn't see anything at first. Then from around a hill he appeared, just a few pixels high. And I watched for the next five minutes as he got progressively closer and closer. Scenes like this are extremely poetic, and they're made possible by the fact that there is no fogging or clipping plane. [ sort of in the distance ]


programmed by Giles

Spells at the moment appear as icons floating above totems around your citadel. You pick spells up from there and the spells you've picked up are shown in a row at the bottom-left of the screen, and also flying around your hand. Then you cast them in the order in which you picked them up. (All of this will change. Also, while I was there, they hadn't yet made the worshipping of villagers give you spells. So if you wanted spells you just asked for them from the debug menu.) [ spells bottom-left ]

The spell-casting interface is great fun. Say you had picked up a fire spell. wave your hands in a spell-casting gesture... a red magical aura Hold your finger down and wave your hand in a spell-casting gesture. Your hand gives out this red magical aura that stays for a few seconds before fading away. So, if you trace out the shape of a pentacle quickly enough you will see the shape on-screen in the form of this red magical aura. Trace the shape correctly, and a giant pillar of white fire will strike its center, then a massive white flash and the trees and houses get blown away in pieces by the explosion. Or, instead, trace a line from one point to another and a sort of barrage of fireballs will fly in arcs from the source to the destination. [ fireballs, explosion, explosion, video shield gesture ]

Another spell was storm. At the moment this just had very effective looking lightning forks shooting down from the sky. Eventually, the plan is to show thick dark storm clouds amassing overhead before the lightning comes, and wind and rain. The idea behind a slow-onset spell is that it gives the other players time to sort out some defense: moving their villagers, or casting shield spell, or quickly taking out your manna supply, or some such. [ storm ]

My favourite was hand-lighting. It looked exactly like that from the firing hand-lighting bolts, shouting "Die young Skywalker" Emperor in Return of the Jedi. You pressed down your finger angrily, determinedly, shouting "Die young Skywalker!" (That last bit's not compulsory.) And lighting shoots out of your hand and it plays over the landscape, searching out targets, burning them, changing its shape and form and targets all the time. There's a satisfying crackling noise. Then it runs out, and you press down a second time, more angrily than the first, and there's more lightning. And again, and again, and again, until all the trees and houses and people are dead and burnt. (Flames haven't really been done yet. There was a sort of flame, but it looked kind of silly.) [ hand-lightning ]

Also a forest spell. A naked green dryad appears a naked green dryad appearsand spins around sowing seeds, which spring up very quickly. For all these persistent spells you cast it and its icon gets left on the ground. In this case the icon is a small seed. If you pick up this seed then the new forest will shrink back and die. [ dryad, video dryad ]

With the shield spell you trace out a circle, and the spell icon appears in the middle, and a shimmering blue force shield appears. At the moment the shield is as big as you traced out. Eventually, the idea is that spells will be more powerful if you traced out the shape accurately. The shield is impervious to lightning and fireballs (but not yet to explosion) and, when lightning strikes, has an excellent fizzling sort of effect as it dissipates the energy of the strike. You can pick up the spell again to cancel the shield. [ video fireballs at shield ]

Another spell created a priest with an ankh above his head, who would convert nearby villagers to your religion. There weren't any good visual effects for the priest or the villagers yet. Once enough villagers have been converted to your side they will start worshipping you (and, once it's implemented, this will give you manna). Eventually, they will be programmed to be more impressed at you if you do deity- like acts (casting spells, helping them, punishing them an so on).

It's a bit pointless me giving you a list of existing spells, actually, because all current spells will change and loads more will be added. Giles has created a generic points-of-focus system for implementing spells Giles is the spells effects programmer. He has implemented a generic sort of points-of-focus system. Most spell effects happen in stages, and each stage has a number of things happening at once. Imagine a firework. The first stage has a single point traveling up under the effect of gravity. Then it explodes, and the second stage has each of the coloured pieces floating down more slowly. Each point can move in any way he wants, and can have any sort of visuals he wants, and any size and any sort of impact on the landscape. So the pillar-of-fire explosion had a single point on the ground, while its visual appearance was a pillar of fire. In the next stage it became an explosion centered on that point.

A lot of spells can be created by piecing together pre-existing points and stages. So the food spell just had a load of points, visually represented as spheres, drifting towards the ground; when they land, they turn into the second stage (food!). Other spells need special coding for their visuals or effects or movement. While I was there Giles was creating a tornado spell. This had a very convincing looking pillar of wind (made up of partially opaque circles) that was lit up on one side by the sun and in shadow on the other.

The good news is that this generic sort of spell system lots more spells can be created easilymeans that lots of different sorts of spells with neat visual effects can be created easily. And because it's extensible, and he can just plug in a new piece of code to accomplish special features, there will be a lot of variety and surprises. And spells will have different power depending on how well you cast them.

It's still early days on the spells front. With a lot of them it didn't feel as though the spell was coming out of your hand, and it was hard to judge the height from which you were casting them. There seemed to be a bias towards offensive spells. A lot more spells still need to be written (for example, wind, storm, rain and flooding, fire) and they need still to code how all these will interact with each other. The idea at the moment is to have between 50 and 100 spells, but this figure is subject to change.

Game design

done by Peter Molyneux

Peter Molyneux is coding the villagers. In the end there are going to be up to several thousand of them running around at a time, doing their various behaviours. He has coded some basic behaviours so far: farming, fishing, chopping wood, mating, worshipping.

The worshipping was the best bit. You raise up a village-totem in one of your villages: this tells the villagers to go to your citadel to worship you. (Lower it, and they come back to their village). So they go to your citadel and run around a citadel-totem, worshipping. They currently have an excellent little worship dance. The music gets faster and the villagers' dance gets more and more frenetic They all get into a circle around the citadel-totem, or several concentric circles if there are lots of villagers, and they run around in time to the music. Their dance moves include feet-stomping, jumping, marching, press-ups (!), and just standing there waving their arms up in the air. If you raise this citadel-totem high then the music gets faster and the pace of their dance gets kind of frenetic. Eventually they will die if you push them too hard. Lower the totem and they dance more slowly. (When they program the creature to join in this dance, with its funky dance moves, it will be hilarious). As they worship, manna raises up from their dance in red blurs and goes to your spell-totems. [ video slow dance ]

Raising and lowering of the totems was done simply by pressing your finger on the totem and dragging it up or down. (The maximum height of the totem was shown ghosted-out). All of the game used this same elegant user-interface idea. There is an animated 3d hand on the screen, acting as your mouse-pointer. Pressing the mouse button does a prod with the finger, or a grab, or whatever is appropriate for the object that you're pointing to. And the hand-cursor itself changes to represent what you've just done: with the fingers curling around in a grab, or the index finger sticking out as a prod, or whatever. Some aspects felt a little awkward: it was hard to tell how high the hand was, and the grab-landscape-and-drag style of moving around the map didn't feel convincing. But that's because the game is still at a very early stage in its development. [ see height of totem ]

[The music is done in MIDI format. That means it can be sped up or slowed down easily, without frequency distortions. Certain MIDI tracks are good, and some are bad To make the music span a range of 'moralities' they use a cunning technique. Each piece earmarks certain MIDI tracks as 'good' and some as 'bad', and some in- between. If you're behaving in a good manner, then the good ones will be audible and the bad ones will be silent. Other ranges are also possible: some tracks might be earmarked as 'fast' and some as 'slow' for different sounds to the worship music. If you're neutral, then there will be a sort of mixture. The composer of the music has to consider all these different possibilities when he composes the music. There's more work yet to be done integrating these musical features into the game.]

Another neat feature was how you could flick villagers into the air by clicking on them. The rest of the village all stop to watch the spectacle, and so did your creature. Very funny.

If your creature turns bad they run away as fast as their little legs can carry them and starts eating the villagers, and they see this happening, they run from the creature in terror. It's funny seeing them running away as fast as their little legs can carry them, and your giant creature lumbers almost lazily after them, scoops one up, inspects it in his hand, pets it maybe, and tosses it down his throat. If the creature is still new to them, the villagers will gather round and stare at it in curiosity. [ flee! stare! ]

There are many different buildings already, and they all look different for the different tribes. Greek temples, huts, windmills, ziggurats, shrines, a wood- and grain-store. (You can see this one filling up and emptying as the seasons change.) The artists continue to enhance the detail of all of the buildings. [ buildings by sea, ziggurat and store ]

Black and White has separate threads to handle the game engine and the graphics. That means that the engine can be left to run at a constant speed, and the number of frames you get per second will depend on the capabilities of your graphics card and on the complexity of the current scene. (This is common in modern 3d games; by contrast, older 2d games used to have one 'tick' of the game engine per frame.)

I asked Peter how the CPU resources would be used. Before 3d accelerators came about, he said, masses of CPU time had to be spent rendering the graphics. the idea is to spend about 20% of CPU time on game logic, AI, engine, and the rest on graphics Nowadays a lot of that work is off-loaded to the 3d card, freeing the CPU for other stuff: preparing the 3d geometry, doing the physics, doing the game logic and AI. Black and White doesn't have a complicated physics engine: it is true that individual effects are subject to gravity, but the objects don't need heavy-duty physics to roll around or undergo finite-element-analysis. The idea is to spend about 20% of CPU time on game logic and AI and engine, and the rest on preparing the 3d graphics. There is a trend towards spending more computational power on logic and AI, Peter said: as, for instance, with the so-called 'emotion' chip in one of the forthcoming consoles.

[By contrast, most other games out there today spent 5% or less on AI. One notable exception is Magic and Mayhem which spends around 45% on AI. Has the best, most realistic, most cunning AI I've seen to date in a real-time strategy game. But the only reason it can spend this much time on AI is because it's got 2d sprite-based graphics.]

Quality assurance

done by Andy Robson

Andy Robson is the Quality Assurance person. That means he manages the beta-testing programme, finds bugs, works on balancing the game-play, and makes sure that it ends up fun to play.

In fact, it's not really a 'beta-testing' programme yet. Not even alpha-testing. It's in a state where the basic game logic is there, and the 3d landscape, and some spells, and multiple players can hook up to play with each other, but there's no actual game as such: no challenges, no story, no combat except through a couple of spells.

The role of testing at this stage is to find bugs and quirks and crashes and lockups and places where the interface is confusing or unnatural. Unusually, Black and White has had beta-testers coming in to play it throughout its entire development: even back when it was just non-descript blobs running over a wire-frame landscape. Andy loves finding bugs (In other companies the testing often happens only the end of development). Andy is confident that this sort of dedication to user-testing will result in a solid, playable, fun game. He's always extremely happy when a new bug is found, and calls in the programmer responsible and gleefully insults their coding. (Andy is also the best Quake player in the company.) [ over wireframe landscape ]

"So," I asked, "when the game's code-complete and you're bug-fixing, is that called the alpha-test? And when the bugs are gone and you're play- balancing, is that called the beta-test?" after a month or two of playing they'll finally decide to release it Apparently not, according to Andy. The game will be code-complete and play-balanced before the alpha test. Then they're just going to play the game for a month or so, and get fifteen or more external beta-testers to come in, and they're just going to spend all their time playing each other. That will be the beta-test. Then play some more just to make sure it's fun. Finally, release it. I reckon that he was exaggerating a bit, but not much. Lionhead Studios are clearly very dedicated to quality.

It's a fair bet to say that Andy's notions of what makes a good game will find expression in Black and White. For instance, he says, there should be exciting foreground tasks and engrossing background tasks so that there's always something for the user to do. In Populous the foreground task was spell-casting and the background task was flattening land. In Black and White foreground tasks will be fighting battles and casting spells, I suppose, while the background tasks will be training your creature and looking after your villagers.

And there should be lots of interesting little cute amusing behaviours. We've all heard about throwing a football into a village and watching the villagers start to play with it. Expect lots more interesting little fun bits.

Should there be any Easter-eggs in a game? Not cheats that Jonty Barnes gets loads of manna if he casts a spell in the shape of his signaturealter the game balance, Peter says, because someone is bound to find them and take advantage of them. Jonty Barnes was going to give himself loads of manna if he cast a spell in the shape of his signature, but was 'persuaded' not to. Still, we should expect some devious and obscure Easter-eggs. Andy was particularly keen with the bit in Dungeon-Keeper where new secret dungeons open up to you if you do some special action on a full moon.

The controls will certainly change. But at the moment you click on the ground to pan, and press both buttons to rotate. There are also hard-to-remember combinations with CTRL and SHIFT and the cursor keys to pan, rotate and zoom. And some shortcut keys to zoom all the way out and in again, and to go directly to your citadel. Clicking on a spell floating above its totem picks it up; clicking on the totem drops the spell. You left-click on a creature or priest to select him. (While I was there, this was indicated by a little blob above the creature's head, and sometimes a picture of someone's daughter in the lower-right corner of the screen). When someone is selected you can tell them to move somewhere by clicking on the landscape. There is a map at the top-left of the screen. You can left-click on it to go to that spot instantly. It has a red arrow indicating in which direction you're looking. [ blob above creature, video panning around ]


a chat with Steve Jackson

The story-line was just getting off the ground in June when I was there. Steve Jackson will be doing a lot of the creative work here. There was mention of the possibility of John Cleese also working on the story, but nothing was yet arranged or for sure.

The idea is that single-player game will consist of a series of challenges. It starts of small, local, where you're trying to win over nearby villages with your as-yet meager powers. As the game progresses, and your territory and power expand, the challenges will become more difficult and bigger.

Somehow the challenges will be sculpted to allow different solutions according to your moral leanings. chieftain goes to your citadel and begs for your aid For instance, there might be a herd of lions plaguing a village. The chieftain might go to your citadel and beg for your aid, explaining to you the nature of the problem. You might go and kill the lions with magic (evil), or lead them to an alternative food source (good), or build a wall to separate the two (neutral). When you have dealt with the problem, the villagers will worship you.

It has not yet been decided whether the challenges and the story will develop at the level of individual villagers with their own personality, or only at the level of an entire village expressing its wishes through its chieftain. (What sort of story might be told about individual villagers with their own personalities? Imagine a Romeo from one warring village, and a Juliette from another, and if you manage to bring the two together you win their thanks and bring a reconciliation to the war, earning yourself worshippers in the process).

How long will the single-player game last? Apparently longer than 60 hours.

So the story will progress through these challenges. there'll be an enormous finale challenge "That must mean," I said, "that there's going to be an enormous and moving and powerful challenge at the very end of the game, to be on a par with Black and White being such a great game." Steve Jackson replied: "Yes, there will be a big finale, but we're not going to let out any secrets."

It is planned to have in-game cinematics to progress the story-line. These will be rendered using Black and White's own engine. While I was there they were looking for an animation studio to do these cinematics but hadn't yet settled on any one.

An interesting dilemma was raised at the Friday meeting. Maybe the title Black and White has racist overtones and should be changed? Would Good and Evil be another choice? Although it's getting a bit late now, and probably won't change.

Then there was the dilemma of whether or not to include human creatures. unacceptable in a game to stroke the breasts or genitals of a human creature There are a few problems. First, the idea is that you raise the creatures and teach them everything, and what they can do and what they can't: but wouldn't a human already know? Second, a giant ape just looks like a regular sized ape but larger; while a giant human someone looks different from a regular sized human: more work. Third, humans have the advantage that if you've created the model and behaviours for an Aztec, then creating a new Celt or Roman or Greek isn't very hard; but creating a different kind of animal from scratch is a lot of work. Fourth, it might be unacceptable in a game to stroke the breasts or genitals of a human character. They decided to shelve humans for the moment and concentrate on other animals for the time being, and to implement a 'clothing' system.

There's still a great deal of work left to do. Lots of behaviours for creatures and villagers, lots of spells, lots of little touches to make it fun, all of the story-line, and then testing. We recently heard that they expect to finish in March 2000. I reckon that this might be a little optimistic and I won't be getting impatient until Autumn 2000. When the game finally is released, we can be sure that there's going to be lots of technical innovation in it, fantastic graphics, an interesting story and great attention to detail.


There's a room at one end of the company with several computers in it for beta-testing. It's better to come for two weeks at a time rather than just one, since you spend the first week getting to know the game and getting to know how to write bug reports.

there's a kitchen sink At Lionhead there's a kitchen sink, a fridge, a kettle, and a self-service tuck shop for junk food. There's a Tesco supermarket in fifteen minutes walking distance in case you want to eat something healthy.

Guildford is a beautiful city. There are neat sites to see: the cathedral, the university, the castle. There's a big fitness center to the East of the city, an outdoor fitness center near Lionhead, and a gym at the university.

I cycled from my city-center bed-and-breakfast each day. The journey was fifteen minutes. There are buses as well. You might find these maps helpful:

For accommodation during vacation-time you might like to try with the University accommodation office at seventeen pounds a night. (Tell them you're a visiting student or something). Otherwise, there are lots of Bed & Breakfasts starting at about fifteen pounds a night. I stayed at Mr. Parson's Bed and Breakfast which was clean and spacious and had a lovely over the park and castle.

If you're a programmer and Peter finds out he might well set you some little programming challenges. The standard is very high! When you've written something, and Jonty comes to check it out, and tells you that he accomplished the same thing using two bytes storage and ten instructions, you'll be amazed at his solution.

I'd just like to put in some personal thanks. Andy was a fun person to work with even though he kept killing me in Quake. Everyone at the company was friendly and patient and willing to spend time to tell me what they were working on.