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Postmortem: Lionhead Studios' Black & White
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Postmortem: Lionhead Studios' Black & White

June 13, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Black & White is the game I always wanted to make. From the days of Populous I had been fascinated by the idea of controlling and influencing people in an entire world. I was also interested in the concepts of good and evil as tools the player can use to rule or change the world. These themes crop up regularly in my games, but I realize now that with every game I was heading toward my ultimate goal—the god game Black & White.

I wanted the game to be more flexible, more open, and more attractive than anything I'd ever played. I was determined that the player could do almost anything he or she wanted. Instead of leading players deeper into a world of levels and testing them with tougher and tougher monsters, I wanted players to be engaged by the story but to take it at their own pace and decide which bits to tackle and when to tackle them.

More technically, I didn't want a panel of icons or a set of on-screen options. With Dungeon Keeper I felt we overdid the control panel, and, while it worked, it didn't add to the immersive sense of being this evil overlord deep underground. Frankly, it simply reminded you that you were playing a videogame.

Finally, I wanted to place into Black & White the ability to select a creature (originally any creature from the landscape) and turn it into a huge, intelligent being which could learn, operate independently, and do your bidding when you wanted. I knew that this would require an artificial intelligence structure unlike any ever written. It had to be the best.

Lionhead Studios' Black & White.

Of course, I needed a team for all this, but I wanted the right sort of team and so had to build it slowly. A core team of about six was formed, and at the start of Lionhead we worked at my house. Our first task was to create a library of tools, so we spent our time there doing boring foundation tool-building.

We started work on the game proper when we moved into our offices in February 1998, at which time there were nine of us. By this time we had begun thinking about the game in general terms. We discussed what we could have in it, what we should have in it, and what, in a perfect world, we'd like to see. Funnily enough, much of the last category did in fact make it in, things such as the changing atmosphere and buildings if you change alignment between evil and good or vice versa. Also, ideas for some fully lip-synched characters were thrown around. At that time, we didn't seriously think it could be done.

Concept drawing for the tortoise Creature.

During the first year of Lionhead we added people gradually, as I was very keen for the friendly, family-style atmosphere of Lionhead to remain, and it takes a certain sort of person to fit in and enjoy working with such a close-knit team. This policy of only recruiting people whom we felt had the talent and a way of working which fit in with Lionhead's existing members meant that our team had evolved their own way of working. They didn't just carry out their tasks but questioned, tested, and pushed both themselves and each other. It's labor-intensive, but you often end up with more than you expected. For example, the art team divided up the tribal styles for the villages and tried to outdo each other in terms of design and effort put in. The result was better design work than we thought we'd get.

At Lionhead Studios, we all knew that Black & White was going to be something special. This belief became self-fulfilling as we were inspired by each new feature and every neat, innovative section of code. Naturally, this meant that everyone worked exceptionally hard. Over the course of the project the team did the work of a group twice their number. We regularly went home as dawn broke, and weekends became something other people did.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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