Black & White 2
Matthew Wiggins, chief army programmer at Black & White Studios has his head buried in a book called The Art Of Warfare On Land, brow furrowed in a state of absolute concentration. He's been reading the text for months, painstakingly dissecting each page, every diagram of war and subtle battlefield formation, before attempting to translate them into game code.
His dedication to perfection and accuracy is an embodiment of the ethos at the studio, a 43-strong team working 12-hour days (16-hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays) - each an essential cog in this creative machine of game development. The collective aim is to produce one of the most ambitious titles in history, god-game-come-RTS, Black & White 2.
Matthew's desk is our last port of call in an exclusive tour of studio and game, a journey led by gaming legend Peter Molyneux and studio head Jonty Barnes. During our stay, we visit every nuance, subtlety and groundbreaking idea within the studio's epic vision, in the process revealing a game of huge potential. If all of its ambitious visions are realised, Black & White 2 could well change the face of strategy gaming forever.
But back to now. Still far from finished, B&W2's distinct parts are already melding into a potentially breathtaking whole of revolutionary physics, graphics and freeform gameplay. Mistakes were made with Black & White - the epitome of a flawed masterpiece - and Peter and Jonty, in their determination to right these flaws, are listening ceaselessly to the views and opinions of the B&W community. Their goal is to bring you a game with almost infinite choice and personalised gameplay, yet one with instant accessibility too. A tall order indeed, even for this pair.
B&W2's fabric, its very essence is based upon cause and effect, with every action creating a reaction. As Peter explained before we began our tour: "The core of B&W2 is for the world to change to reflect what you're like, and to look after your people and creature. The game will mould itself to you, depending on how aggressive or peaceful you are." Even how you choose to treat your people will decide what kind of god you become and which paths you ultimately tread.
Blessed Are The Greeks
Your role is to play as the god of the Greeks, a people on the knife-edge of annihilation, forced to flee their homeland by the barbaric Aztecs who are led by power-hungry high priests intent on world domination. Cast out to sea with the remnants of your race, you embark on a voyage to 12 beautiful and diverse islands populated by the Norse, Japanese, Egyptians - and of course, the bastard Aztecs. Your reaction to this neargenocide will be completely up to you.
If you want, you'll be able to follow the path of 'good' and concentrate on building up a thriving metropolis. In doing so, you can have Helm's Deep-like defences, full of vast buildings and farms, and let the game and the enemy come to you. On the other hand, you can just go out and reap your revenge on the jfc enemy by building huge armies and waging all-out war.
The Laws Of Physics
But more on wars and battle tactics later, as our tour begins with a visit to the physics department. This is the one area that Peter Molyneux believes - more than any other - will shape the game and allow you to do things you've only ever dreamed of.
As with its predecessor, you'll control your on-screen actions via a giant omnipotent cursor-like hand, which use to pick up and manipulate any object in the world and cast a devastating array of spells. "Imagine the ability to pick up and start to build things with your hand. The gameplay mechanics of that are almost infinite. Every object in B&W2 has its own properties: that's every tree, branch, pebble and rock, everything. This new physics system doesn't just apply to objects interacting with each other correctly, it also applies to their interaction with heat, light and water".
Folding like a fat man punched in the gut the container collapses, ceramic splinters cascading to the floor, their descent merged with tumbling rocks and pebbles which ricochet off each other and scatter wildly across the ground. He repeats the process, again and again, each time the result different.
"Now imagine doing that at the top of a hill in order to start a giant landslide to attack a town below," enthuses Peter. "Or you may want to create a makeshift prisoner of war camp by putting people in one of these containers and half filling it with water. This means that the ones at the bottom are either crushed or drowned, and when you break it open, they all fall out correctly depending on whether they're dead or alive, wet or dry."
Peter continues: "You can be as destructive or creative as you wish. You can stack things, quickly and easily. You could create a barrier out of rocks and wood or any other object in the land, or make a giant seesaw with a plank and a stone, then put a rock on one end to make your own makeshift catapult."
Hasta La Vista, Baby
Studio head Jonty Barnes interjects with an idea that came to him in a dream, in which he defeated Peter in a multiplayer game by freezing all his troops, then shattering them with rocks.
Peter looks impressed and makes a mental note, an example of the everevolving and open-ended development process that he both preaches and allows his team to practice. While the two jokily discuss their multiplayer prowess, Chris loads up a new level with a towering wall arching majestically across a valley floor.
Once again he picks up a boulder, and tosses it at the structure. But the wall holds firm. Instead, the rock shatters, its razor-like splinters dropping impotently to the grass. "I bet you weren't expecting that, were you?" beams Chris with a hint of deserved smugness. "Bet you thought the wall was going to crack didn't you?" I'm duly impressed. But it's time to move on and Peter and Jonty, now seriously considering the shattering troop idea, lead us on to another section of desks at the other end of the office.
Anton Kirczenow and Sebastian Schoellhammer are Black & White Studios' 3D creature programmers. They're both clearly very passionate about their work, and on seeing us are already jockeying for position to be the first to show off their work.
On Anton's monitor, a titanic battle is unfolding between a gargantuan lion and a grey-haired wolf. The creatures, circling each other warily at first, suddenly spring into action, rolling along the ground as they battle for the upper hand. Their momentum slows and the regal lion is pinned to the floor by the now rabid wolf, which is viciously lashing out at its trapped prey, filling the air with a maelstrom of hair and skin with a barrage of ripping blows. But Peter wants to talk about the creatures' other abilities first, so Anton's demonstration will have to wait.
"In B&W you couldn't instruct your creatures, but now they'll obey your instructions," begins Peter, settling down in a seat between the two men's desks. "You can choose from a lion, ape, cow, wolf and maybe a tiger, each of which has their own unique characteristics. A massive fault with B&W was that you had to sit and watch your creature the whole time and wait for it to do something before telling it whether it was right or wrong. Now you'll be able to see a list of things it's done recently, and punish or reward it accordingly - even if it's done the deed ten minutes ago."
A Quick Summary
Peter's in his stride now, furbishing me with golden nuggets of information on the subject of creature training, detailed enough to fill three previews. Here are the highlights. First off, there's 'the leash of mimicking'. You do a task, it does a task. Simple. Your creature can also learn by watching your behaviour, then act autonomously when it deems certain tasks need doing. Example? Your villagers run low on the game's only resource, ore, so it'll help to gather more. And if its actions satisfy you 'Oh Mighty One-Handed One', then you can place rewards in its all-new creature pen.
With Anton and Sebastian wanting to show us more, Peter is called away to an important call and Jonty takes over the tour, urged by his departing boss to tell me about the final new way of teaching your beast. "There's a whole new mechanic called Blueprints. These teach your creature specific things, so you don't have to. These may vary from building a wall, repairing buildings or military tactics, such as using archers on high ground when it leads your armies." With that, it's time to see Anton and Sebastian's amazing 'creature circus'.
The Good And The Ugly
Back to Sebastian, who's keen to show us his creation, a monkey. Presented on the screen before me is a giant ape, rotating. He shows off its bumpmapped textures, pointing to the leathery, horn-studded back of the maniacal creature that looks one banana short of a bunch. "Even the scars will be bumpmapped," he enthuses, injuring the beast so gaping gashes appear on its torso. I stare in disbelief, but with time running short, we have to move on again.
Return To End
And so we arrive at our final destination, the desk of Matthew Wiggins, head buried in The Art Of Warfare On Land. Looking up, he scrabbles to his keyboard to show us how he's putting theory into practice.
"Some of the game's bigger battles will feature thousands of troops," says Jonty as Matthew lines up a column of troops two-deep and 50-long at the base of a hill. "You've got siege engines too, like catapults to knock down enemy walls, but it'll take a very long time, just like in real siege warfare," he continues, while Matthew brings up several groups of enemy foot soldiers, and places them into a variety of formations.
Watching from above, they look like tiny dots, an army of ants, not a group of baying soldiers. As if sensing my trepidation, Matthew explains how you keep track of whose troops are whose. "Certain coloured bubbles encircle your troop formations, making it obvious from above which groups of warriors are yours and how they're faring in battle." Without warning, he unleashes hell. Ranks of red bubbled formations surge towards the thin, green bubble-enwrapped column on the hill, slowing slightly as they hit the incline, their wedged set-up cutting deep and scattering the defenders.
Zooming into the action, we can see the massacre up close: individually modelled soldiers are scrapping for their lives as their swords cut into flesh and send out a cacophony of screams from the straining speakers. However, just like the fallen, we've run out of time.
It's six o'clock and Jonty, Peter and the rest of the team still have five hours of work ahead of them. Their tireless and undying dedication to the job, a labour of love, a way of life, clearly paying off from the results I've seen. As I bid my farewells, it's hard not to be impressed. Although it's still some way off completion, if Black & White 2 can deliver on its promises, it could well be as near to a life-changing experience as a game can get. Time, as ever, will tell.
Download Black & White 2
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The Optimum strategy is to have one man to five women, laughs Peter Molyneux. I'm assuming that the legendary developer and founder of Lionhead is talking about the ability to breed units in the forthcoming god game/strategy title Black & White 2.
Our absolute objective was for people not to have to use the keyboard for anything, unless you're a very advanced player, continues Molyneux. We're attempting to make the whole of B&W2 playable just on the mouse, which I believe still hasn't been fully explored as a gaming device.
Black & White 2 involves an epic battle between your Greek people and a brutal Norse tribe, ruled by an evil computer-controlled Al deity. One of the really nice things is that you can hear your opponent thinking," continues Molyneux. He'll look at your stuff and say, Ah, you've built lots of houses - you're going to create an army!" Your enemy will react to what you're doing constantly, giving you the feeling that you're playing against something that's alive."
You interact with the world, as in the first game, with a ghostly hand of god, that's used to doing everything from the placement of buildings and roads, to picking up poor townspeople and flinging them viciously across the landscape to a painful death. However, you can only affect the area inside the green circle of influence around your town centre, that expands or retracts based on how many people believe in your godly existence.
The town centre is the major hub of any settlement, and in keeping with B&W2's icon-free intelligent interface, suggests" the buildings you should create next to best improve your cities -although you can ignore the advice if you prefer (see 'Sim Cities', right). If you need to check on the stats of your individual minions, all you do is move your hand over them and a list of info pops up displaying their wants, needs and happiness, allowing you to make informed decisions - which is obviously quite important for an omniscient being.
At the beginning of the game, food and shelter are the most important items, but that changes as your people become more sophisticated. However, to ensure your population keeps expanding, you need to manage the two resources of wood and ore. You can plant trees and forests to create plentiful supplies of wood, but ore is in short supply and has to be acquired - an important strategy in B&W2, as the resource is needed to make military units, town defences and important buildings such as altars. These holy places are where you can conjure up magic spells - such as Water - that can either be poured (for watering crops, putting out fires) or thrown (for more aggressive water bomb attacks).
Eventually you can earn epic spells, including Volcano, that when cast on an enemy town, violently erupts out of the ground, spectacularly hurling molten rocks into the air and spewing white hot lava over defenceless buildings and people. That's always my favourite part," says Molyneux, casting spells and toasting the enemy.
Black & White 2 wouldn't be complete without a creature - your cuddly (or nasty) visual representation on earth. You can choose between an ape, a cow, a lion or a wolf, and in the new game, the animal is hugely more intelligent. There is now a sliding scale between pet (where he'll do whatever he wants), gatherer (where he'll collect resources for you), and robot (where he'll obey without question - useful for the army). What we found in B&W was that some people loved the pet-like behaviour, but others found it incredibly frustrating if the creature wouldn't stay still and do what you wanted - so, you now have a choice, adds Molyneux. Training and teaching the animal is easy - you can punish the creature by slapping it if it does something wrong, or reward it by stroking gently if it pleases you. You can also bring up the animal's mind interface' and go over any lessons at any time to tailor behaviour - you don't have to wait for the creature to do something before you can act on it, as you had to in B&W1.
But, this is a Black & White game, so remember everything you do in the world affects whether you end up being the nice kind of god who dishes out limited-edition orange Kit Kats, or the vengeful god who forces everyone to eat Tesco Value Chocolate Digestives. You can use an army for defence and that's good." explains Molyneux," but if you use force to take control of settlements, that's evil." Killing by inaction is also counted as an evil deed, so for example, if you don't let a group of migrating refugees into your town, and they die of starvation outside the gates, you'll go further down the dark path. Everything changes visually too.-'Good' kingdoms have carpets of flowers.
beautiful overgrown white temples and sunny skies - 'Evil' kingdoms have gnarled trees, spiky black gothic temples and oppressive darkness.
From my time at Lionhead witnessing the game's demonstration, one thing is evident - with its melding of RTS and god game elements, good/evil moral system, real-time physics, emergent Al. intelligent mouse-driven interface and gorgeous fully-realised world, Black & White 2 is incredibly ambitious. With a release mooted for autumn, let's just hope Peter Molyneux can tear himself away from those five women to finish it...
I've Just Thrown Suzy Wallace from atop a cliff edge, watched placidly as her body bounces sickeningly off every jagged protrusion on the way down, heard her scream with terror as she plummets to the ground below and seen her land in an unnatural slump at the foot of the rocks, dead. Then for good measure, I've chucked her lifeless body on top of a burning altar and looked around for the barbecue sauce. I'm an evil god and she displeased me with her lack of humility.
Alternatively, in another saved game time stream, I set her to work in my forests, then rewarded her efforts with a lovely home to rest within, a thriving community to mix with and a sturdy army and solid wall to protect her. Then I fed her to my giant monkey pet. I don't do good.
Yes, Black & White 2 is almost here and we've been given the right to play god (for a while) by the moral arbiters at Lionhead. We've also been given the chance to star in the game, along with just about every other member of the gaming press (as well as the names in your Outlook Express address book). So yes, now you too can make Will Porter a sex-crazed breeding machine, or put Jamie Sefton to work in his natural home down t'pits.
Coming Of Ace
Following the (at this stage) unstoppable tutorial sections - covering basics such as camera control, peasant interaction, rock throwing and pet abuse - and several lifetimes worth of "oohing" and "ahhing" at the prettiness of the graphics (lovely water effects) - it was our first real taste of game action and... Well, er, it's a bit Age Of Empires really.
I mean, good and all. Lovely to look at and oozing clever little touches, but still sticking to the villager-exploiting, resource-gathering template set up so many years ago.
Still, being Lionhead, Black & White 2 is all about those touches. So you can build things just by picking up a tree and squeezing the wood out of it yourself. Or train your pet to entertain the masses (or devour them, or shit on them, or sit around being bored at them). Or, as we found out in the early map open to us, build walls around your villages in non-gridbased patterns'. Yes, for years we've wished construction games would ditch their dependency on keeping everything rectilinear fashion and finally we've got it.
Din ing our brief sojourn around the new Black & White world, there were also glimpses of the combat engine, with various set-pieces like rolling flaming barrels of hay on to approaching warriors. There were also Rome: Total War-style troop movements and setups (albeit on a slightly smaller scale), all giving the impression that fans of mass slaughter are well catered for.
We only had access to a small amount of the total game, and the whole thing is still being tweaked and polished and, well, considering the various bugs we encountered, fixed. So hopefully your hand-of-god mouse pointer will be that little bit more responsive, the villagers won't all be sharing the same dozen or so names and that tutorial sequence will have a skip function. Oh, and it'll be the best god game ever. That'd be good too.
Slapping giant apes might not have been everyone's idea of fun. but Black & White's ambition and innovations in Al made it one of the most important games ever released. It was probably one of the buggiest too. but Lionhead supremo Peter Molyneux has spoken many times of his regret in that department, so expect a healthy period of extermination before the sequel hits the streets. When it does though, it will likely blast a hole in the asphalt and send pieces of pavement flying in all directions. That's how big it's gonna be. As the chaps at Lionhead have not only listened very carefully to all the criticisms of B&W, acknowledging mistakes and correcting them, they're also taking it to a whole different level.
Graphic-hounds can look forward to some sublime engine changes, allowing a much more realistic world environment and impressive amounts of detail. But it's the gameplay that counts, and B&W2 shouldn't disappoint.
The main change is that it's going to be much more bellicose, with whole civilisations at war. staging frighteningly large battles. You're still a god though, and along with the decision of being good (working towards peace as you build up a legendary society) or bad (wiping out all other forms of life as you struggle for violent supremacy), you can become involved in the war personally, through spells or via your creature. Add technological advances and side-stories and you have the ultimate god game.
Despite bugs, controversy and heated debate. Black & White was a landmark in PC gaming. Like no other game, it put your own morality at the heart of the experience, not to mention boasting some of the most innovative game design ever seen.
Responding to criticisms of the first title, the sequel is set to be a far more complete affair, though once again the focus is on your King Kong-sized creatures. Series mastermind Peter Molyneux elaborates: There are fewer creatures in B&W2, but what they can do and their look is vastly improved. They're far more intelligent, meaning they can be key in the overall game strategy, but they're easier to train.
These brainier beasts are also key to the increased tactics available to you during battles. If you're in defensive mode, your aim is to repel your attackers from your city, so you need to use your creature to repair any damage to your ramparts. If you're attacking, your beast will lead your armies, which are organised by joining small units into bigger formations. These can then be split into two parts, with you leading one half, and your creature the other, so you can overcome the opposition with a pincer movement."
Clearly there's a stupendous game in the making here - keep an eye on our monthly Lionhead Diaries' for more updates.
It's Been a few months since we last caught up with one of the most ambitious games currently in development - RTS/god game Black & White 2 - and as you're about to find out, much has changed and evolved since we last paid it a visit.
For starters, Black & White Studios has totally revamped the game's graphics engine. The creature's technology employs such things as hair that gets burnt or wet. He can grow from a tiny little guy to a giant monster, his looks change with his alignment and he gets fatter or thinner depending on eating habits," explains Ron Millar, B&W2's lead designer.
But what of the Black & White Studios' promises to also make the world around you reflect your chosen alignment, be it good, neutral or evil? If you're evil, then the very ground around you will crack open and grow thorns, while flowers, grass and trees will wither and die. But if you're good, then flowers spring up, trees blossom and life seems to spring from every nook and cranny," comes Ron's reply.
But B&W2's advances aren't all about the aesthetics. Oh no, not by a long shot. As you may have read in the Lionhead Diaries a few issues ago, B&W2 has recently gone through some radical changes. This is particularly true now the team has decided to do away with the game's multiplayer options (though Ron hopes online options will be added further down the line), in order to concentrate on making the singleplayer game as deep, compelling and entertaining as possible.
One of B&W2's major selling points is its epic battles between the armies of good and evil, including open warfare, siege battles and most exciting of all, armies led by 50ft high creatures.
The armies are being developed to capture the sort of combat and force of impact that you'd expect to see in a major Hollywood film, promises Ron. And then there's your creature, which is promising to be infinitely more useful than it was in the first game, as well as much easier to understand and influence. Your creature is essentially your friend and ally that you teach and nurture or beat and abuse in order to have him do your bidding,'' explains Ron. In Black & White 2, your creature acts depending on how you play. If you're a good god and a city builder, he helps you out, defends your city and entertains your villagers. If you're an evil god and a warmonger, the creature acts as your most powerful unit, leading armies into battle. Play as a more neutral god and the creature does a bit of both.
One of the biggest complaints from Black & White was that it was hard to teach your creature something. He would go to the toilet on a field and by the time you'd congratulated or punished him, he'd done something else like eaten a villager. Now there's a creature 'mind interface' that enables you to go back into the recent past and, using a simple drag-and-drop interface, tell him what you think is good or bad,'' says Ron. And as if all of that wasn't enough, you'll also be able to tell what your creature is thinking and feeling thanks to some still under-wraps innovations that enables you to quickly and easily discover exactly what mood your creature's in.
Ron was sadly unable to tell us much about all of the game's other innovations, except that the control interface is set to be far more streamlined and intuitive than before, meaning you can learn how to play the whole game simply from the feedback you receive while playing. Sounds intriguing.
Clearly, Black & White Studios has been feverishly busy over the past year. The downside of all this innovating though, is that it looks like we're still going tn have to wait a fair while for the finished product. However, even if only half of these innovations are successfully implemented in the final reckoning, then waiting is something we're more than happy to do.
Now There Are Three Ways To Spell A Miracle
Not content with redesigning half the game, Black & White Studios has also had a careful look at the game's Spell and Miracle casting options. And as if you couldn't have guessed, these are being revamped too. We're redesigning the spells in order to make them more unique and useful, especially in combination with themselves and other elements of the game, explains Ron.
Even casting methods are being looked at What I'd like to achieve is having each spell cast in three different ways. Take a fireball for example: you can throw it, pour it like molten lava or spray it, flamethrower-style. You can imagine how that might apply to lightning. We sure can Ron, and we like what we're imagining.
Sequels. Don't you just hate them? You spend three years working yourself up into a wet-panted stupor about the prospect of your favourite game building on its success, exploring new avenues and throwing up new cerebral challenges to your game-addled brain, and what do you get? Hmmm? Well? I'll tell you what. The same bloody game, that's what. Same engine (only with 1.5 polygons more per character), same concept, same niggling glitches, mistakes and lazy shortcuts, grafted together with the skill and fore-thought of a U-grade GCSE computer-studies project. If you're lucky. Unless that is, your sequel is being made by one of the greatest names in PC gaming history, Peter Molyneux. His exploits are legendary, including rumours that he is capable of programming two hit games - one with either hand - at the same time. And given his near-impeccable track record, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest.
And so it was that on a cold, lethargic morning, depressed further by an energy sapping drizzle which misted the horizon like a dirty blanket, I travelled to Black and White Studios to spend a day with Peter, studio head Jonty Barnes and the rest of his team, dissecting and sampling the sublime delights of their latest masterpiece-to-be, Black & White 2. If you're not excited about this game by the time you reach the end of this preview, then you're dead from the neck up.
The day began with an informal boardroom-based chat, a welcome haven from the bitter chill which had made a mockery of our winter clothes with merciless ferocity. Without any prompting, Peter began by explaining what he believes are the major changes needed to improve on B&W. Doing a sequel is great as you can throw away all the ideas which you think you'd done a poor job on the first time round, and really expand on all the things which were compulsive and exciting about it. We've spoken to hundreds of people from fansites about what they loved and hated about B&W, what they'd like to see more of and what they felt we could do a better job on. What it came down to was throwing away some things and enhancing other things massively. We've actually ended up having to re-write practically all of the game. In fact about 99 per cent of the game, just so we could put in these enhanced features Which is why we're confident B&W2 will be far better than B&W
Being able to accept the faults of a creative process that you've become so closely associated with is a sign of true character and artistic maturity, something Peter clearly has silos of. It's also the kind of mind-set which is making B&W2 look like one of the most exciting sequels in gaming history.
What's The Story?
As our discussion progressed, it became clear that Peter believes that you never really felt enough like a god in B&W. In his concern to rectify this failing, he's created a whole new set of spells (see the Spellcraft panel). However, Peter also feels that despite the huge, often intimidatingly large levels in B&W, the game as a whole failed to deliver the epic scope of his original idea. A problem which is being addressed in a number of innovative ways.
First off, story. UB&W2 sees a world at war. Every tribe is fighting. Because of your influence in B&W, they actually learned from you how to fight and develop weapons. Now there are all these wars going on, and you may think, That's just awful, why can't there be peace, love and harmony in the world?' explained Peter as a wry smile crossed his lips. So you may just want to spread peace everywhere. On the other hand you may think, Yes, this is the world I want. I want to go out and lead the biggest and most destructive army the world has ever seen. I want to destroy rape, pillage and conquer every part of the world.'"
The final choice is to find a balance somewhere between the two. So the focus of the game is whether you are going to be a god that likes to nurture and protect, or the sort of player whose only aim is to get as many people into your army as possible.
All of which is making B&W2 look x far more immersive and coherent than anything seen in the first game. But what of the problem of identifying which path - good or evil -you're travelling down. There were certainly some hints in B&W, but it was, especially in the early stages, slightly confusing as to which path you were following. Fear not, Peter's on the case.
Every living thing, from the sky to the sea, will change to reflect the type of god that you are. So if you're evil, you'll start to notice that the trees won't have blossoms on them. Instead they'll be all scary and spikey. Even your villagers will walk and socialise differently. Everywhere your creature walks they'll either leave flowers or vines depending on whether they're good or evil. And as if to prove it to me, Peter beckoned me towards the room's double doors. They swung smoothly open, revealing a room teeming with people, faces masks of concentration as they worked on the virtual jigsaw pieces they'd been assigned to compile for Peter's grand vision. And as Peter loaded up a creature, a giant ape, hair soft and flowing, I saw for myself the beauty of the new engine, the fluidity of the animation, augmented by effects so real, it was hard not to feel as though they were nature itself. As the ape lumbered from side to side, flowers sprang up where its feet had been mere seconds before. In a word, it was breathtaking. The monkey ambled for a while, passing rolling hillsides and majestic forests, until it reached a city wall, shoulder high to the titan primate.
There was, of course, a reason why Peter had taken us here. One of the big new things we have are walls for the good side, which protect your people while they construct city buildings and make your city beautiful. If they are attacked by other, evil gods, you then have to try and hold off the siege. So instead of going out looking for battles, you protect your people. That's not to say that if you choose to play the game this way, you can't take an army out and go and fight the people that have just fought you. The rule is, though, that the more you use your army for the sake of conquering, the more evil you become." Army? Conquer? Tell me more, I shrieked in a tone usually reserved for a castrated monk singing descant. So Peter did.
More, More, More
As it turns out, one of the most incredible renovations is the addition of armies. Armies so huge that even the likes of Medieval: Total War's hordes will be made to look like mere casual gatherings. I watched as Peter gathered together a group of wamors consisting of archers and melee soldiers, by electing one peasant as a disciple lead who then went round recruiting killers for his cause. Soon the numbers swelled to tremendous proportions, at which point Peter broke the silence. What we've done is worked on the interface to make controlling your armies really simple. Once there is a big group, they'll start carrying a flag. You can put this flag on an enemy's buildings, and they'll go and attack it. You'll be able to get your troops to follow your hand wherever you move it too. It works much like a magical lead. If you pick up one flag and put it on top of another one, they'll join together to create a bigger army. If you carry on doing this, you can create huge armies of hundreds of thousands of villagers armed with bows and melee weapons." I've seen it, and believe me, it really is as simple and intuitive - not to mention groundbreaking - as it sounds.
Now that we'd established that there'll be gargantuan battles to look forward to, I was keen to find out about what tactical options there'd be. Such as strategic 3D terrain and tactical manoeuvres. Luckily, Peter was keen to fill me in. All the terrain stuff will be there, like pincer manoeuvres and height advantage. What I want the player to do is to attack and lay siege to other settlements. Most hardcore gamers will want to go and attack and destroy the other cities. Most non-gamers will want to spend their time building and nurturing their cities.
When I play something like Age Of Empires, I build up my city first, then my units, then I up my tech levels, before attacking. With B&W2,I can have my main citadel, with these huge walls protecting my villagers, and feel safe to go off with my army and attack an enemy city. I want the battles to be truly epic." Before I could press him further, Peter picked up a legion of archers and placed them on his city's wall. With one sly coded shortcut, he ordered them to fire. A torrent of wood and metal arched through the sky like a hailstorm of daggers, before sinking into the ground with a satisfying thud. Every single arrow, thanks to the new physics engine, had buried itself into each surface, which included houses and trees, to different depths. I needed to sit down, and in silence we trudged back to the comfort and safety of the boardroom where I listened as Peter explained how his aim is to a simplify the game world, reducing it to set of themed islands (Greek, Japanese and so on) to which you can retreat should an enemy drive you out of your stronghold. And how Al gods may or may not feature towards the later stages of the game (although I'm guessing by his broad smile that they will).
Awe struck, I thanked Peter and Jonty for their hospitality profusely, spouting superlatives at inanimate objects as I was inserted into a cab. Forget about the mistakes of B&W. This sequel could well go down in history as the game which heralds a new dawn in PC gaming. I kid you not.
I Know what you're thinking. Black & White wasn't the game you hoped it would be, and now you're suspicious. You won't allow yourself to believe that Black & White 2 could be the game the first one should have been.
Lets be honest, Black & White was a hugely ambitious game, full of superb ideas, but somehow the whole thing didn't quite gel. But having played B&W2 a few months ago, and being utterly astounded, I'm convinced they've got it spot on this time. What's more at E3 I had the chance to catch up with studio head Jonty Barnes, to find out the latest developments on what's looking like the most groundbreaking strategy game in years.
Lots of changes have been made since Christmas, reports Jonty. The most obvious ones are the visuals; the integration of some of our new 3D technologies like the landscape flora, combined with the new villagers and buildings, makes the game look very different. A quick look at these stunning screenies bears witness to this.
So what about some of the new gameplay features? Like creatures...? Their visuals have been totally reprogrammed since B&W, and the Al has been built upon and refined. There's been much discussion on which Creatures we should include in B&W2 and we're keeping tight-lipped on the ones that will make it into the final game. We're running a poll on bwgame com, where you can vote on which Creature we should make next. So if you want to see a giant aardvark in the game, you know where to go. And so on to the Miracles. We've heard about the everyday ones, such as fireballs you can squeeze and pour into trenches as well as throw at opposing armies. But what of the so-called Epic Miracles? These are attached to town wonders, explains Jonty. These are large buildings which take some time to build and charge with miracle power, but once charged you can cast them anywhere - and they can be devastating. For example, the Earthquake Miracle rips the terrain apart, destroying everything in its path, and the Siren spell seduces soldiers, leaving them incapacitated on beams of light."
The biggest difference between this and the original game though is that B&W2 will be just as much a 3D RTS as a god-game, with epic battles and a fully tactical 3D landscape. Curious as to how the large-scale combat is going to work, I probed Jonty further about the unit control interface. We have a method called Army Threading. When you grab an army's control flag, a thread appears between the flag in your hand and the army. By placing down the flag you can assign armies to things in the world and they'll behave appropriately. For example, you can place an army thread on a city wall and they will defend the city from the wall by shooting arrows at the enemies, and alerting the town to the attack.
Simple yet effective, an attitude that Jonty and his team are using to make Black & White 2 a much more accessible and fulfilling experience than its predecessor. It's clearly starting to come together, and we'll bring you a much more in-depth look at this strategy epic very soon.
Truth be told, the original Black & White didn't wear well on me. After the initial 'wow' factor wore off, I found it to be relatively duldrum, essentially an extremely simple and enjoyable game that had some discouraging flaws. As such, I was a bit hesitant to pickup the sequel, but fortunately, it has wound up being better than I could've imagined. From improved creature mechanics, to a much more RTS style gameplay, Lionhead gave this game a good scrubbing from top to bottom, and it isn't all that dirty anymore.
In the original, one of my greatest problems was the fact that your creature was hard to train. He didn't give you much in the way of feedback, and it was basically really difficult to teach the creature simple tricks, like catching a thrown rock. Now you can see your creature's thoughts, and respond to them appropriate. Everything from, "Should I eat this grain?" to "I think I will poo on this villager" is available as feedback, and an attentive trainer can use these responses to carefully craft their creature's personality. Creature 'behaviors' are also now available, allowing you to force the creature to be a soldier, entertainer, builder, or gatherer.
As I mentioned earlier, we're in full RTS territory now, as every god must care for his followers and build cities for them. Using the town square as your starting point, you can construct large and elaborate cities, complete with easily built roads that can be constructed in frankly one of the easiest building systems I've ever used. All in all, this is a good thing. The game still suffers in gameplay because you've got to micromanage your population, telling people to go forth and do things one at a time, but at least your metropolis gets to be inhabited by a populous and intriguing people.
All in all, there's much more to this game than a capsule review can contain, but in the end, I like the game. Beware, though, as Black & White 2 requires one beefy system to play at anything other than low end settings, but at least it'll always look pretty.