Dark Light

Sad fact about me: I used to part-run a Black & White fansite.

Before Istic, before Aquarionics, before Aquarion even, I ran Top 5, which was a fansite for the top five games due to come out soon that I was looking forward to, or playing most. As a result, I was invited to be a co-editor of a network affiliated B&W fansite. I spent many hours a week working on it, and while it never reached massive heights of fandom fame, I enjoyed doing it.

I was looking forward to Black & White because it looked like the promise of Populous writ large, graphics of a quality that had never been seen, an air of whimsy that gave it style, and an air of confidence that came with it grace. It remains a game that I love the scope of, the style of, and the aims of. But it wasn’t half as good as Peter Molyneux said it would be.

I didn’t even buy Black & White 2.

I spent days on Theme Park, on Dungeon Keeper, on Populouses one though three. I liked Syndicate, and I even played Genewars. Bullfrog was my gold standard for gameplay, I blamed EA for shuttering it, and I lauded Lionhead (and Murkyfoot, even) for carrying on the legacy. I was facinated by the ideas of Fable, putting a classic adventure game into a full interacting working world, as Molyneux was saying in the interviews, with marraige and pets and trees… But it wasn’t half as good as Peter Molyneux said it would be.

Fable 2 was a step towards the promises, and with more promises made. The adventure would be bigger, and the technology would be there to make everything better. But I didn’t have a console, so I didn’t play it, which was fine, because it wasn’t half as good as Peter Molyneux said it would be.

It was an adventure game, and he kept trying to put the whole world-building stuff into it. That stuff doesn’t really work well on consoles, you need a mouse. But Microsoft weren’t going to fund the Black & White series, and they’d bought Lionhead. The ideas of the seven games in the Black & White series were just going to fall over. So he founded 22Cans, to make 22 games, small games to build the technology for his last great hurrah. They made one: Curiosity, less of a game, more a technology experiment, a social free-to-play experiment, and a piece of commercial art. I liked the idea, and liked the concept of lots of small games to build the tech for the larger one, but it was never going to set the world on fire, it wasn’t a cooperative excitement, it was just a shit massively multiplayer minecraft with a single winner who hardly played it until the end. It wasn’t half as good as Peter Molyneux said it would be.

So I backed Godus, when the kickstarter came out. Because I wanted to see what Molyneux’s Populus design skills could do with twenty years of experience. But because I am less of the idealist than I used to be, I backed the level that would get me the beta, but no more. I watched, and I waited, and I loved that there was an actual design aesthetic. It’s a bit lego-brick for my taste, but so many games just default to trying hard for realism, the gap just looks larger when you fall short. But the aesthetic was low poly-count, and easy access, and… and I think this interface works better with a touchscreen. Fuck.

I’m not a PC-Master-Race guy – I’m typing this on a Mac, and a lot of my gaming is on iPad – but it’s hard to build the new generation of world-founding deformable, all powerful god games when you have to work to the minimum spec of iPad 2. Then there was the endless clicking to collect all the things. For god games you are always part nursemaid, part all-powerful deity, but Godus just gave you the nursemaid for a long time after startup. Nevermind, I decided, this is a beta. They’ll get better.

I didn’t play much of the beta. I played a bit of the next few betas, but less of each one as the iterative design process didn’t do anything about the problems I had. I’ve paid enough to get my money’s worth, I think, I paid £15 to pre-order a sub-par computer game. It’s not half as good as Peter Molyneux said it was going to be.

I watched a bit of the recent video where him and the new designers say what the state of the project is, and they wince whenever he promises anything. They see where it could be, and they love that, but two of the three people in the video are trying to underpromise and overdeliver. Molyneux complains that Kickstarter is a “Destructive Force” that forces developers to promise the moon to deliver a large bolder, but Red Thread are managing it with Dreamfall. Elite’s doing fine, mostly. Double Fine suffered from a bit of the same overpromising problem, but Defense Grid 2, Broken Sword, Solforge and Sir You Are Being Hunted, Tex Murphy all made it. Sunless Sea’s getting great reviews. Project Eternity & Tides of Numenera are coming up, and they are looking good. I’m not sure it’s Kickstarter’s problem, I think its entirely delivering a game that is not half as good as Peter Molyneux said it was going to be.

He’s moved on. He’s announced his new game, The Trial. It’s about high scores, it’s about competiting against your fellow humans. It might even be good, but I’ll wait for the reviews. I suspect it won’t be half as good as Peter Molyneux says its going to be.

Related Posts