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Computing Chat

Peter Molyneux, game designer and programmer at Lionhead Studios, discusses his new computer game, "Black & White"

May 4, 2000
Web posted at: 8:20 p.m. EDT

(CNN) – "Black & White" is a new PC strategy game designed by Peter Molyneux. The 3D landscape in the game is inhabited by tribes of humanlike creatures, one of which grows to gargantuan size and must be trained by the player for good or evil. The single-player game can also be taken to the Internet and back again. "Black & White" will be released on September 23.

Peter Molyneux has designed a series of successful computer strategy games including "Magic Carpet" and "Dungeon Keeper." Molyneux founded Lionhead Studios in 1997, two years after selling his former company "Bullfrog Productions" to Electronic Arts -- the largest computer games publisher. He has been designing "Black & White" for the past three years.

Chat Moderator: Welcome to CNN Computing chat, Peter Molyneux.

Peter Molyneux: It's a great honor to be on the CNN chat line. I'm looking forward to answering any questions.

Chat Moderator: Can you tell us a little bit about your new game, "Black & White"?

Peter Molyneux: Let me tell you a bit about "Black & White." It's a game that's been in development for three years. It is a story-based, role-playing game where you play the role of a god. The cool thing is you can be any god you like -- evil, vicious, nasty or good, kind and benevolent. Within the first 10 minutes of the story, you find a creature which will become yours. You can nurture and bring up that creature to a huge monster, giving it any personality you like. This creature is the state of the art in AI and can be taught to do anything you like.

Question from Can: Can you give more information on the tribes in the game?

Peter Molyneux: Within "Black & White," there are nine different tribes. Each tribe has it's own unique personality. For example, the North American Indian tribe is very loyal and the Egyptian tribe is very good at building things.

Question from hello: Is this the same developer that did "Dungeon Keeper"?

Peter Molyneux: Yes, for my sins I was responsible for the design of "Dungeon Keeper." In fact, I have tried to rectify all the mistakes I made in "Dungeon Keeper" when designing "Black & White."

Question from Lord_Scrote: How many creatures can players choose from?

Peter Molyneux: In the game, you can chose from 11 different creatures. The cool thing is that this is just the start of your creature. Every single person's creature in the world will have a unique personality based upon how you bring it up. As their personalities develop, they start to change physically. For example, you may have chosen a lion as a creature and decided that you wanted to make him the friendliest, cutest, kindest lion. As his personality develops, he will look cuter and fluffier. Conversely, if you're like me, you may have decided that your lion should be the ultimate fighting machine; he will develop claws and start to look really vicious.

Question from Can: Can you name all nine tribes?

Peter Molyneux: The nine tribes in "Black & White" are as follows: Celtic, Aztec, Japanese, North American Indian, Egyptian, Greek, Norse, Tibetan and a secret tribe.

Question from Can: What is the next step in open-ended games like "Black & White" and "Civilization"? How far can this stuff be taken? Do games like yours and Sid Meier's set the stage for virtual reality gaming?

Peter Molyneux: That is a very good question. The amazing thing about developing "Black & White" has been the fact that when we started, our ambitions were to create an open-ended world where players could do anything they wished. Now that we are nearing completion of the game, that has been realized and the results are truly amazing. I just have to look at someone's world or creature to know what that person is like because it is a reflection of that player's personality. To me, this is a totally unique experience and maybe it is something that I would love to continue developing.

Question from have: So when’s the bad-boy coming out -- approximately?

Peter Molyneux: The "bad-boy" is coming out on the 23 of September of this year. It is extremely scary to see something you have put three years of your life into coming to a conclusion.

Question from hello: What does it take to become a game programmer/developer?

Peter Molyneux: I get asked a lot how to get into the industry -- how to become a designer or programmer. When I first started in the industry, it was easy. You just wrote a small program or game in a couple of weeks. But now, it takes many people a long time. So the easiest way to get into the industry is to get a job with an existing developer, even if it's the job of a games tester. But while you're there, make sure you take every opportunity to prove what a good designer or programmer you are.

Question from gfx: If someone did a port to the SGI CAVE scientific visualization system like that developer at Purdue, would the level of detail be able to expand to meet the limits of that system?

Peter Molyneux: The engine in "Black & White" has been designed to expand the detail for high powered machines. This means the faster the machine that "Black & White" runs on, the more beautiful it will be, even if it is ported to something like an SGI workstation.

Question from Lord_Scrote: Peter, could you describe how "Black & White" will work online?

Peter Molyneux: One of the exciting things about "Black & White" is its online capabilities. These are split into two distinct areas. The first is Black and White Gathering. This is where you can take your creature out of the role-playing story online and meet other peoples' creatures. You can then chat, trade abilities, fight or just show off; your creature will continue learning and developing. It is a really incredible way to communicate with people. The coolest thing of all is that you can then take your creature back into the story, even though he has changed and developed while online, and continue playing the story.

The second part of the online is Black and White World where people can fight and compete or even cooperate over the dominance of a land. This is where you are able to use your creature and any miracles that the tribes have given to you.

Question from OctaneVE: Will the break-dancing tigers be in the final game?

Peter Molyneux: Yes, one of the things you can teach your creature is to dance in perfect time to music that you like. This includes teaching a tiger to break-dance or an ape to boogie. You can then take your creature into the Gathering and show this off to your friends.

Question from gfx: Does the game support T&L in hardware?

Peter Molyneux: Yes, but it is been a "bitch" to get it right.

Question from burger: Is there any chance of a new game in "Magic Carpet" style?

Peter Molyneux: Yes. "Magic Carpet" was a different sort of game because it was much more action orientated. As "Black & White" is probably the last game I will do on the PC first -- the next generation of consoles is calling -- the next game I am thinking about is going to be a little bit more action oriented.

Question from icemind: You seem very proud of the game, indeed, almost as if it is your crowning achievement and the greatest "god game" to date. Do you see it being a hard act to follow or have you still got a few ideas left yet?

Peter Molyneux: "Black & White" is by far and away the best thing I have ever done. But, as the only thing in my life is computer games, I can't imagine not continuing to try to do something cool next time. The code name for the next game I'm thinking about is "Demetri."

Question from still: On the average, how much sleep am I going to lose?

Peter Molyneux: I'm hoping that you will lose a lot. If you don't drink at least one gallon of coffee in your first playing session of "Black & White," then I have failed as a designer.

Question from have : Do you think with the advent of high-powered computers and consoles, that there will be a demand for 3D-scanned models??

Peter Molyneux: Yes, I think that the next generation of consoles is going to be producing amazingly visual games and pushing game technologies into areas they have never been before. My gut feeling is that in four years time we will look back at games written today and think of them as being as primitive as we think "Space Invaders" is now.

Question from sunama: What graphics card will best be supported by "Black & White"?

Peter Molyneux: We recommend G-Force as the best card for "Black & White" but any card with at least eight megs on it will do. It just will not look so beautiful.

Question from Ulysses: What feature of the game have you had most fun with?

Peter Molyneux: The feature of the game I have the most fun with is my creature because he is persistent. In other words, he has been alive now for almost three months. He has developed some amazing tricks; I'm especially proud of his fighting ability. And he looks extremely cool.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us today, Peter Molyneux. Do you have any final thoughts for us today?

Peter Molyneux: Well, if anybody is going to be at the E3 show next week, please come by the Electronic Arts stand. E3 is going to be at the L.A. Convention Center. I will be doing a presentation of "Black & White" at 2 p.m. Needless to say, I'm already nervous as a kitten about it.

Thank you all for your interesting questions. I hope you enjoy "Black & White" when it's finally born on the September 23.

Peter Molyneux joined the Computing chat by telephone from Guidford, United Kingdom. CNN provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.


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