First details: Black & White 2

The world of Black & White will change radically in the next game, and it will also include all the creature enhancements from the upcoming Creature Isles expansion.

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Although Lionhead's Black & White team is focusing on getting the Creature Isles expansion (or minisequel, as the team likes to say) out the door, the full sequel, Black & White 2, is already starting to come together. Since Lionhead has several projects in the works at its central studios, which are just south of London, there's some crossover, with all the new elements from Creature Isles moving into Black & White 2 and technology from Molyneux's new Dimitri project also contributing to the sequel. The fundamental changes from the original game will affect both the creatures, which will be much smarter, and the land, which has developed into a much more warlike and technologically advanced place.

As a god, players are called back to their land to find that the world has moved on. The tribes are fighting among themselves, and players must choose a tribe to sponsor. In contrast to Creature Isles, Black & White 2 is very much focused on the strategic game, but players will have their creature and its offspring from Creature Isles to help them. The land is much more densely populated, so it won't be an open field of easy expansion, as it was in the first game. The game will continue to keep both good and evil paths open, and not only can the players' creatures have a different alignment, but their people will also sometimes misinterpret their intentions and act autonomously in the player's name. Since the path of good sometimes seemed much more difficult in the original multiplayer game, there will be new options for good gods, and the alignment system is being tweaked to better consider the good of aggressive actions in the long view. A swift, sharp blow might do more good than bad in the long term.

A number of technical improvements are in the works for Black & White 2, and much like in Molyneux's previous games, there's general a strong tie between the new technology and gameplay options. There will be some significant engine improvements, as parts of the Dimitri project's engine are being blended with Black & White's existing high-detail graphics. There will also be quite a bit more detail on the level of individual villagers, who, among other things, will be able to speak and lip-sync their dialog. This lip-sync technology will be introduced first in Creature Isles, where all the creatures can speak. Other touches that Molyneux is thinking of adding to the game include the ability to clothe the players' creatures. Additionally, since the world is now more warlike, a new magical effect will let players "paint" walls around their territory and draw turrets with a turn of the mouse. With its much more developed population, the landscape of Black & White 2 should have towns and cities in addition to villages.

One of Molyneux's surprise revelations was that Lionhead has a very long-term plan for Black & White. A console version that rethinks the game's mechanics for play with a PlayStation 2 or Xbox controller instead of the PC mouse is in the works, and there are also basic plans to extend the Black & White series through five full games. For the third game and beyond, there are one or two page design docs, and they're naturally pretty vague at this stage. But there are some more specific plans for Black & White 3, which should be particularly spectacular visually and will use a completely new engine. Molyneux envisions that the Black & White series will likely continue in the same highly detailed yet cartoony visual style, but ever-improving PC and console hardware will open up new and more dramatic gameplay options. Considering that Lionhead is a financially independent studio and Molyneux himself funded the development of Black & White, the development studio seems well on its way to duplicating the success of Molyneux's own Bullfrog studios in the early '90s.

Molyneux hinted that Black & White 2 is about "a year or so" away, although the schedule is no doubt very flexible at this early stage.

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