Re: Black & White review

From: Adrian Tymes (
Date: Wed Apr 11 2001 - 21:52:56 MDT wrote:
> On Tue, Apr 10, 2001 at 01:03:38PM -0400, wrote:
> > Salon offers a review of "Black and White" that describes it as not just a
> > computer game but as *at least* the best of a new and compelling art form
> > and, perhaps, as something like training for godhood.

Having played it, I'm going to have to disagree. Maybe it'd be an
introduction to some of the concepts, but it is *far* too limiting an
interface. You have a certain set of actions you can do (move and
rotate around, pick stuff up and throw or drop it, cast "miracles",
tell your creature to go somewhere, pet or slap your creature, direct
your creature when in combat to attack/block/cast/move, and click on
signposts and scrolls), a set which is extended a bit by what you do
them to (for instance, dropping a tree either plants it or supplies its
wood to a building, and you can forcibly convert nonbelievers by
dropping them near one of your villages' abodes if that abode has room
for another occupant). It is all very finite, and things do not
improve much over time. I would at least expect to be able to give
the villagers more complex directions - unless the villagers were
dumbed down to make the relative intelligences match, given as the
players are only human. Plus, there are numerous technical glitches
(most annoying: when trying to drop a nonbeliever for conversion, even
if you leave the hand cursor still for a second - the prerequisite to
changing "toss" to "drop" - if you drop on the wrong place, the
villager is still thrown around) which further limit what can be done.

God is supposed to be infinite. Frankly, with enough money
(tithes/taxes from my subjects, perhaps?), I could be more powerful in
real life today than the god in the game is. (Satellite cameras give
me the same view; food and building materials can be bought and
delivered easily, while political influence and private armies are
merely a bit more difficult; weapons far more devastating than a
fireball are on the black market, maybe even legal markets; et cetera
and so forth. *And* I can be a lot more precise and creative in
application.) Granted, I don't actually have that much capital (yet),
but it is still dissapointing to see a "good" portrayal of God come off
as more limited than the minor "miracles" I do create.

Maybe I have impossible expectations, given the nature of what this
computer program really is: a bunch of precoded statements, with
evolvability added in as a feature in order to ensure that the game
stays within a safe sandbox (for instance, these villagers' women get
pregnant through hugging and kissing, and no amount of in-game change
will alter that), while my kind of godhood implies no ultimate sandbox.
But, if it's going to get hyped as the best god game out there with no
limitations, then why limit my desires?

> Hmm. On the usenet computer strategy group it's described more as training
> for
> *parenthood*. You have to teach your worshippers and your "creature" (a kind
> of agent). The problem is, they start very stupid and you have to do a lot
> of things like potty-train your creature and teach it not to eat beach balls
> (no, I'm not kidding).
> Not personal experience, but that's a major part of what gets discussed.
> It's
> very amusing to read, but doesn't sound very "godlike".

God-as-parent. It's not just that they start stupid, it's that they
forget stuff at a moderately fast pace, so they remain stupid. The
best one can do is to spend a large amount of attention to make them
temporarily slightly less stupid. Frankly, if you play any particular
level for too long, your villages use up all the wood on the island and
grow so large that you have no choice but to ignore their needs - which
the game regards as inherently "evil", despite the game's premise that
you're supposed to be able to be good or evil. (Unless the lesson is
that the only way to be good is to use people then abandon them to
their fate ASAP, without caring for their long term prospects so long
as they're happy and alive when you leave?)

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