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Black and White Studios head Jonty Barnes gives us an update on Black and White 2…
Annually, one of the events to look forward to is the release of a game from the creative mind of Peter Molyneux and this year there could be a number of titles from his studios. With a number of products in development, delegation now seems to be the order of the day for the industry visionary. Derek dela spoke with Jonty Barnes, Head of Black & White Studios, about the state of play with Black & White 2.
Having received all the plaudits for Black & White, the obvious move was a sequel but many will wonder how you better an already ideal game taking into account that technology hasn't really advanced enough to add any real technical innovations. Never a studio to sit on its laurels, a number of intriguing new elements are being worked on, as well as finely tuning some old ones to ensure Black & White continues to be a flagship title for Peter and his team!
In Black & White 2 you return to your role as a powerful deity in search of a following and revisit the once idyllic world of Eden, where the discovery of weaponry and warfare has tainted the beautiful landscape. With the help of your gigantic Creature that you raise from infancy you must earn the respect and worship of the natives. How you choose to do that, whether through nurturing them or terrorising them, is up to you. Although the basic overview sounds the same, it goes without saying there will be many surprises on offer. Jonty started by summarising how the team move on.
"Although Black & White was a well received game, we learnt a great deal from it. The team who worked on Black & White were very critical, plus we worked with the players of Black & White to understand what they felt Black & White lacked. The conclusion of all this went into the design for Black & White 2."
"Once we had a design, we then worked closely with the B&W community using our bulletin boards, and flying fans in from across the world to listen to them to see if it was right. It was important to us that B&W2â??s design answered all the flaws of the original, as well as taking what we did a step further."
If you are au fait with Black & White there are a number of ways to approach playing and understanding the ideologies, which are direct and to the point. It appears that the choice between Good and Evil results in either sprawling metropolises or conversely a war stricken land; so is it possible to play through entirely on one side, i.e. if youâ??re good throughout the entire game will you never have to wage war on other tribes?
"Itâ??s completely up to the player how good or evil they approach the game. However, if you are completely good it doesnâ??t mean that youâ??ll avoid war â?“ absolutely not. Like it or not, the world is at war, and your very presence is not always welcome. As a good player you will need to protect your people and convince the enemy that fighting is useless and that they should join your empire."
Jonty continued: "What you tend to find is that as a good player the game comes to you, whereas the evil player tends to build large armies to go out and conquer."
As the player begins Black & White 2, and the fact that Eden is now at war, immediately poses a question to the player. Will he choose to create and command large armies to dominate, conquer and encourage this world at war? Or will the player choose to protect and nurture his empire, turning villages and towns into cities protected by their godly powers? The various tribes have the power to build huge fortresses around their settlements, and to gather large armies to defend their fortresses from opposing warriors or creatures from rival Gods. Fiercely protective, the tribes will defend their settlements to the death.
What makes the Black & White world so vibrant and plausible is the fact that there are so many knock on events from what you execute and get involved with. There is an affinity between the player and this world and a lot of this revolved around the superb Artificial Intelligence the team has created. Itâ??s been noted that the AI of both the villagers and creatures have been significantly enhanced so that they will automatically take care of their own basic needs without player interaction, but how far does this go, does this allow the player more time to perform other actions?
"If you look after your peopleâ??s basic needs, they will manage themselves. You are no longer an errand boy to your people â?“ you are a powerful God. Now you easily have the time to affect your peopleâ??s lives as a nation, not worry about where their next meal comes from. Though, if you want to mess around in the detail, helping farmers, you are still able to."
"As for the Creature, you choose your Creature at the start of the game, and its innate nature and intelligence will mean you wonâ??t have to teach it the basics - it can fend for itself. However, each Creature starts off with its own personality, for example the Cow is a little quirky and kind, whereas the Lion tends to play to its predatory background."
The team has revisited every system in B&W2 and this includes the eye catching and wonderful hand gesture system, which will be more intelligent, and it is used in more areas of the game. However, if it isnâ??t to your taste you can play the game without the need to use it. Personally, Jonty added, he tended to use gestures to conjure up Miracles in the heat of battle!
The breathtaking 3D world is more highly developed with new weapons, technology and smarter creatures that can learn strategies and master new abilities and skills. Creatures will also have the ability to command armies, and be the â??ultimateâ?? unit.
"The story has a very clear goal which leads you through 12 lands. However, the story morphs in its telling depending on the playerâ??s actions. Unlike B&W1, the whole world exists all the time, so if you have been to one land you can revisit it at any time and play God. Your people may have progressed since you last visited them though..."
Discussing the PC technology is always fascinating with the Lionhead people who have a seamless synergy when it comes to game evolution and technology advancement.
"Things are getting better, but it would be brilliant if all the players of PC games had incredibly powerful graphics cards, with huge amounts of memory! Oh, and all had the same card. Graphics power has really been a large challenge for B&W2. We want to create a beautiful world, more amazing than anyone has seen before with thousands of people all wondering around under AI. The world has to look great from up really close and great pulling back into the clouds, which is the unique challenge B&W2 faces."
"We have created new technologies, and a rendering engine which can draw thousands and thousands of objects â?“ which look great on the top graphics cards as weâ??re doing things nobody has done before, but all this also has to work and look good on the older graphics cards too - which is a real bore.â?
"Things are easier than they used to be, but there are still some very real challenges, and you cannot just dismiss the older graphics cards as it has to look good on all machines especially when most of the playersâ?? cards will be reasonably old technology."
"Peopleâ??s expectations seem to be getting higher all the time, which I believe is a good thing. It is forcing us to make better games. We have invested a lot of time in the story telling in B&W2 for example trying to give the game more depth without adding too much complexity, and we have also invested a lot of time in the technology. This doesnâ??t mean the core gameplay is neglected though, it just means we are trying to present the game at the best quality we can, entertaining the player as much as possible."
With Black & White 2 gamers will know basically what they expect to see and the ambiance of the game is set in stone.
Some of the key features discussed in the game are about waging massive wars, sieges and battles, discovering and using new â??Epic Miraclesâ??, including the ground-ripping Earthquake and volcanoes, which cause rivers of lava. You can choose and customize the Creature that's right for you from a selection, including old favourites like the Ape, Cow, and Lion, plus many others. There is research and players can create new forms of weaponry, from swords to bows to siege machines. Build and design unique defensive gates and walls. Control and marshal huge and varied armies. Create and control settlements that include housing, farming, and many other buildings, like fountains and lush gardens (if you're Good) or stocks and guillotines (if you're Evil). Multiple tools to help train and improve Creatures are on hand. As well as using sticks, whips, and feathers, players can create their own unique tools. Journey through 10 lands homing each of the five tribes. Jonty, when asked to pick just one element of B&W2 the team was most proud of and what has inspired new ideas, gave an interesting insight!
"The thing I am most proud of is that the game â??makes the player feel like a Godâ??. In Black & White 1, you never felt significant enough â?“ you felt like an errand boy. In Black & White 2 you are a powerful God â?“ you control a huge Creature who does your bidding, you can build huge empires, you can lead huge armies to battle, you can save or destroy nations, and you can tear the land apart with Miracles if you choose to. You really affect the world and the lives of people within it."
"The world is bigger, better, and it seems more important. This all comes together so that when you let the enemy â??feel your wrathâ?? by casting an earthquake towards their army. Not only does this look impressive, but it feels Epic and very satisfying!"
"Some ideas have come from what we have learnt from B&W1, but really at the heart of Black & White 2 is the passion of the team. The reason B&W2 is so ambitious for a sequel is that the team (including Peter) is driving the ambition. We feel we have a really great opportunity to make something special with B&W2, and weâ??re not willing to rush it."
"The design has taken some time to get right and everyone has input into it - weâ??re still adding more detail as things get into the game. It actually seems to evolve almost every day as something exciting or amusing happens on the project. Recently when the weather system went in we got morning mists in low land for free, which really added to the atmosphere and when we got the thermodynamic system in place, someone worked out a way to link it to the terrain technology in such a way that the snow could be melted and reveal the correct terrain underneath â?“ while this will not make the game play any better, it is an example of someoneâ??s passion to make the game world feel real and dynamic."
â??Itâ??s an exciting time in B&W Studios at the momentâ?, commented Jonty who gave gamers an added enticement, if you really need it, as to why to buy Black & White 2.
"In Black & White 2 you are given the opportunity to be a God with a huge Creature to do your bidding. Will you build, protect and nurture your people and build great-defended empires or will you build great armies, tear the land apart, and go out and conquer your enemies by force? Itâ??s your choice."
"Itâ??s your own unique epic world and it is at war, but itâ??s up to you how you shape it. Are you a God of war, or are you a God of peace? You decide."
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