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Changing Direction

October 3rd, 2005 by Troy Goodfellow · No Comments · Uncategorized

Black and White 2 is out now. As usual, IGN has the first online review and, as usual, the high score doesn’t seem to match the number of misgivings that Steve Butts mentions in the text. Of course, if you are going to have a review that long, it’s not going to be easy to keep a consistently enthusiastic tone.

Two things stand out in the review. First, there is a claim that three-quarters of the original B&W‘s sales were to people who “weren’t really gamers”. I have no idea what that means or where that data came from. But, if remotely true, it makes me pause as I think about how the news of games gets to the “non-gamer”.

Second, Black and White 2 seems a step back from the first game. More RTS elements, less emphasis on being a god that indirectly affects humans and a lot of attention to traditional military conflict.

Say what you will about Black and White – it was different. As a rough fusion of Populous and SimCity, it put the God in god-game. Interface issues and the difficulty in keeping the game fresh meant that the player would quickly understand why the Greek gods were always making mischief for their worshippers. B&W was a great idea that was made into an OK game.

So part of me is very disappointed to hear that the developers of B&W 2 weakened that part of the game to focus on more conventional game mechanics. It’s a perfectly understandable decision. Despite the good sales and raving early reviews, it didn’t take long for consumers and the gaming press in general to decide that a lot of the positive buzz was evidence that many reviewers were either asleep at the switch or didn’t play very far. Likely stung by many of the post mortem criticisms, it probably made sense to tip the game towards the tried and true and away from the “What the hell is this?”

It’s probably too strong to say that B&W 2 sold out. After all, the initial game sold millions of copies. Those who felt ripped off by the first one are going to take a “wait-and-see” approach no matter what happens – a new game focus won’t be enough to make me buy it in the next two weeks. But instead of finding other ways to make the god-playing compelling, moving to road building and army shuffling seems a slight betrayal of those people who had hope that there was a great and original game in there


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