Black & WhiteReview date: 9 April 2001 Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
Black & White's a hype victim. It is, to cut to the chase, a fine game, well worth buying at full price. It is, however, not as amazing as it's been made out to be.
Games that get pumped up at every entertainment-software trade show for a year or two before their release are always supposed to Change The Whole Nature Of This, Revolutionise The Paradigm Of That, and Utterly Invert The Way You Do The Other Thing. And they never do.
The games that get closest to actually achieving that sort of thing tend to be the ones nobody much has heard of until they arrive. And even then, c'mon, it's just a freakin' game.
Once all of the people chanting "Messiah!" are out of the way, though, ultra-hyped games can turn out to be very good fun. Not least because they do tend to attract a great big mob of players, essential for Internet multiplayer action, not to mention solid support.
Black & White (B&W) is a god game. You're a god, you view the world from above, you want to make everybody believe in you.
In god games, gods are always the petulant, unpredictable, murderous, spiteful, lunatic type. Flooding the whole world because you didn't manage to present virtuous behaviour as a desirable enough goal that your followers decided to do it? That's a very god-gamey act.
B&W's first big feature, though, is that it lets you be the kind of god you want to be - good, bad or middling. You won't paint yourself into a corner because you're too evil or too good to achieve some essential feat.
Want to be a nose-wiping ever-loving Earth Mother? You can. You may wear out your mouse button, but no Villager of yours will ever need to do a lick of work to get what he or she wants.
Want to be a strict-but-fair white-bearded Guy In The Sky? You can do that too. Help out when it matters, water the fields and the trees, plant forests in strategic places, but don't act like a servant to your followers.
Want to be a Nameless Mass of Purple Tentacles that drives the whole population of the planet into murderous fits whenever it rises out of the sea? Hey, no problem. Line them toddlers up in front of the sacrificial altar and go to town.
B&W's second big feature is the Creature. You, the god, don't really have a physical presence in the B&W world - you can pick things up and move them around, but the hand-cursor you do this with is invisible to the Villagers. They only notice if you're carrying something.
Your Creature, on the other hand, is very visible indeed. You can pick an ape, cow or tiger (all bipedal) at the beginning of the game, and switch to various other Creatures at a few strategic points during play. And even a brand new Creature's more than twice the height of a Villager. Whenever a Creature sleeps, it grows, and the final size for all of them is King-Kong-esque.
The Creature can do most of the things you can do - cast spells, move things around, make Disciples out of villagers. And fight.
Creature fights can be left alone, with the Creatures making their own combat decisions, or you can step in and tell the Creature when and where to hit and when to block and dodge. The mouse-click fighting interface isn't exactly a console gamepad experience, but it's pretty useable.
You Creature learns fighting skills, spells, how to impress Villagers in various ways, and, of course, where to poo, from you. You can stroke the Creature to tell him he's been good and beat him when he's been bad, and a conceptually simple neural-net arrangement guides the animal's behaviour. You also get three "Leashes" - a neutral one that encourages learning, and two others that encourage compassion and aggression, respectively - which tell your creature to pay particular attention to what you're doing.
Your alignment and your Creature's alignment can be quite different, which is handy. Destruction can be accomplished from a distance, but kindly Miracles require you to have control over the area. So if you're a black-hearted bastard but your Creature's a warm fuzzy softie, you can good-cop-bad-cop your way through village after village. You light 'em up from the edge of your area of influence, then he wanders right in there and puts 'em out.
Look and feel
You might notice a certain paucity of screenshots in this review. Like, none of them.
I, for one, am heartily tired of B&W screenshots. If you want to see some, they're not hard to find.
If you want to make your own, you'll need a separate utility or the old Print-Screen-and-then-switch-to-a-paint-program-and-paste routine; there's no one-step screenshot key in the game itself.
If you've looked at the demo movies, that really is how the game behaves. Yes, you can zoom right in on a barrel with an apple on it and see a little worm waving around, and then zoom out in one second to see the entire world, in one smooth action. And you will, too. Well, maybe not actually to and from the wormy apple barrels; they're just decorative, and there purely so you can show off the engine. But zooming out and in, often by very large amounts, is a normal part of navigation. It works brilliantly.
The standard control system for B&W's a bit odd, but easy to get used to. At least, it was for me. Click and drag the ground to move, double-click to zoom on a point, use wheel doohickey to zoom, click wheel doohickey to pivot and zoom around a point, right-click to perform actions, right-hold to perform duration-based actions or throw things around. Plus a few keys, like control-shift together to temporarily zoom right in on whatever your hand's over. And location bookmarks, too, defined with the traditional control-number combination; you can set bookmarks on a spot on the map, or on a Creature or person or object.
You can, of course, remap all of the control keys as you like, but the default setup works for me.
Making a system like this actually work at all is a big achievement. Use the right view angle and you can pick things up when your hand-cursor's a speck in the distance, and yank them back to the foreground in a split second. OK, sometimes something's overlapping something else so you have to rotate the view to get a clear grab at it, and long range manipulation accuracy's limited by the resolution of your mouse and screen, but it's hardly onerous. The interface, like all good interfaces, gets out of the way and lets you do things.
The control system's not perfect, but I really can't see how it could be much better. It's like the control system in Homeworld; considering all it lets you do, it's amazingly straightforward.
I do, however, find that after I quit a B&W session, I still feel as if the mousewheel should make things on my desktop bigger and smaller.
Making Disciples, single-purpose Villagers that do only one task, demonstrates the elegance of the interface. To assign people to tasks, you just pick them up and put them near the appropriate thing.
Drop someone next to a building under construction and they become a builder, and will do nothing but go and get wood from the store or a heap, bring it back and build things with it. Drop them next to a tree and they're a Forester, and will cut trees and bring the wood back for the rest of their lives. Drop them in the workshop and they're a Craftsman (whether male or female), that gets wood and makes scaffolds out of it.
Drop them in a farm and they're a Farmer. Drop them next to the seashore and they're a Fisherman.
Drop them in a village that doesn't believe in you and they're a Missionary, and work normally in that village, but generate Belief points for you as they do so. Presumably by cheerfully handing out pamphlets explaining that you're going to win, and everyone's going to writhe forever on splintery stakes in R'Lyeh, but people who believe in you when it's all over will have slightly less dung smeared on their stake.
Well, that's how my missionaries work. Dunno about yours.
Drop someone next to a person of the opposite sex and the person you dropped becomes a Breeder, who scurries from partner to partner with, well not with gay abandon exactly, if you see what I mean. And, um, kisses all of them. That's how these little tackers breed - kissing. Whaddaya want, piston mechanics?
And yes - male Breeders bed-hop all the live-long day. Female ones just get pregnant and then don't mate again until they give birth.
Villagers will do all of these tasks, except missionary work, if you leave them alone. And, generally speaking, that's a good idea - make too many Disciples and you'll end up with villages full of builders with nothing to build and farmers with nothing to harvest. You can de-Discipleise people by picking them up and shaking them from side to side.
This aspect of the interface isn't flawless. The basic game mechanics mean that if you drop a Villager right on top of another one, trying to make a Breeder, the first one will fall on the other one's head and there will be thin shrieks and a small amount of Belief deposited into your account, but no Breeder made.
The Advisers that follow you through the game, help you out at plot-point moments and comment on your actions, definitely have their moments. Particularly when you're playing multiplayer at three in the morning and the Brooklyn-accented evil Adviser tells you you're up too late.
Officially, Black & White's meant to run on pretty much any Win95, 98, ME or 2000 machine with at least a 350MHz P-II and 64Mb RAM. In the great tradition of minimum hardware requirement numbers, these are the "minimum" in the same way that the minimum human diet is a slice of bread and glass of water a day.
You can make do with any old 3D-capable graphics adapter in B&W if you wind the graphic detail, resolution and colour depth all down (with the Setup program in the game folder - you can't change video mode in the game). But it's a CPU hog. Really, something with about the grunt of a 700MHz P-III, at least, is what you want.
On my 1.1GHz Athlon with 384Mb RAM and GeForce2 GTS, the game runs well enough in 1024 by 768, 32 bit colour, maximum detail, even when there are lots of spell effects going down. If you've got an old pokey computer, though, B&W will be painful.
If you've got a current-model midrange box with a faster-than-700MHz Celeron or Duron and decent graphics adapter, you'll be fine.
Playing the game
Right after B&W hit the streets, the newsgroups were filled with people carping about its evil micromanagement. Your Villagers are idiots, they said. You have to do everything for them, they said. Spending four hours moving trees from a forest to the Village Store is not my idea of fun, they said.
When StarCraft fans complain about a game having too much micro, it has to be bad, right?
All of this is explained by one of the basic rules by which B&W works:
The more you do something, the more you'll have to do it.
Micromanage your Villagers and create single-task Disciples all over the place and you'll be stuck doing it, because your Villagers will be lazy.
If you ignore their cries for help, though, they'll do what needs doing themselves, be it getting wood, getting food, building more housing; you name it. The Villagers build houses all higgledy-piggledy, so it's not a bad idea to handle building placement yourself in cramped villages. But apart from that, leaving them to their own devices with only occasional Disciple creation or other prodding is the way to go.
Indirect intervention - planting and watering forests, watering fields - is less onerous and more helpful than nitty-gritty micromanagement, and allows the Villagers to get their own act together.
Remember - if you give a man a fire he'll be warm for a day, but if you set him on fire he'll be warm for the rest of his life.
No, wait. That's the child-sacrificer in me talking again.
The manual doesn't tell you this; the extra-bucks Strategy Guide does. But it's hinted at by the fact that the game doesn't give you status graphs for wood and food and "prayer power". You can see stats if you go to your Temple, and there's even a hotkey to take you straight to the appropriate room, and you can see populations and power levels when you hover your mouse over appropriate buildings and such. But there are no on-screen displays.
That's sending you a message. You're not meant to need to know that sort of thing. This isn't that kind of game.
There's a certain amount of repetition involved in the rubbing-and-slapping with which you tell your Creature what he should do and what he shouldn't, but the whole idea of that is the more of it you've done, the less you now have to do.
So yes, you can toilet-train your Creature, and it's a quite good idea to do so. Volkswagen-sized lumps of poo are good in the fields, and bad in the town square.
But, contrary to certain discussion-group opinions: No, this game is not a toilet-training simulator.
The basic idea
The aim of the game, essentially, is to take over villages by impressing the locals. Villagers are all pacifists - they never fight anyone. But the more of them believe in you, the more of the world you have influence over.
Impressing villages is simple enough. You just do stuff there. Set fire to buildings with nasty spells and then put them out again with rainstorms. Chuck people around and then heal them. Go boulder-bowling.
Or, if you feel a bit more constructive, see what the place needs - food, wood, houses, whatever - and give it to them.
Your Creature can impress villages as well, by doing all the things you can do plus more, like dancing. The tiger breakdances. The ape does the Macarena.
In a plain thwack-the-other-guy B&W game without any scripted single-player extras, all you have to do to win is increase your population and village count sufficiently that you can do something to the other guy that wipes out whatever remaining housing he has (unhoused people don't count towards your total...), and then pound his Temple into dust.
When a god still owns buildings other than the Temple, any damage done to the Temple is transferred, via a rather nifty-looking arc effect, to other buildings. Once you're out of other buildings, your Temple sustains damage. And when it's destroyed, you lose.
The single-player game, of course, is richly encrusted with side-quests and scripted stuff that prevent you from playing a plain conquest game. But you can always play a "Skirmish" game against the computer, or multiplayer against humans, if you want a plain game.
You can play multiplayer B&W on a LAN, or online. On my computer, connected via a connection-sharing machine to a cable modem, the only connection option in the first multiplayer menu is "LAN". But if you go with that, you get checkboxes for LAN or Internet games in the next menu. Weird.
The in-game server selector's very basic, and close to useless if you're trying to connect to one particular game of many. No doubt a better utility, or an update, will fix this.
LAN-game creation is simple, but unusual. There's no "create a game" button, until multiple people on the network are looking at the "join a game" screen, whereupon one of them can actually run a server. You can play with teams, and the co-op play system lets one person interact with the Creature while another deals with the villages. Which is nifty.
In the multiplayer game, there's naturally a fairly long period of village-building and conquering-of-neutral-towns before the players meet each other. You can march your creature off into enemy territory from the start, if you like, but unless you intend to use him to lay waste to the enemy home-town, there's not a lot of point to over-reaching yourself.
In RTS games, the early game period can be very boring indeed. In B&W, there's considerably more you can do. Yes, the multiplayer game does tend to boil down into a slapping match, and a winning player in a one-on-one can obviously be the victor long before the other guy's Temple falls. But B&W has so much fun stuff to do that this doesn't matter too much. And the growing, learning Creature means that even as you get pounded, you can still gain.
The bane of complex multiplayer games, synchronisation errors, can strike B&W as well. When you lose sync, one or more players end up playing their own internally consistent game that's disconnected to a larger and larger extent from what's going on on the other machines. B&W has a resync feature that's supposed to help with this, but you have to shut down and run the game again to use it. At least the game doesn't just drop dead instantly on a sync error - as many do - or blithely inform you that an error's happened and then keep playing strange surreal disconnected games, as Homeworld does.
If you play Skirmish games to develop your multiplayer skillz, you may at first get the impression that the computer opponent's very dopey. It isn't. It just matches its skill to the power of your Creature, using that to judge how experienced a player you are. New players get an easy ride.
The computer opponents get more aggressive as your Creature gets bigger (and their Creatures grow to match), but they're still basically stupid. They let you smash the same building over and over, let you steal their wood and never steal it back, don't notice you poaching their population for sacrifice; stuff like that.
The difficulty definitely doesn't increase exponentially with player skill, like the toughness of the monsters in ADOM's Small Cave. Level 40 ADOM characters dumb enough to go in there face monsters Conan couldn't scratch.
Peter Molyneux, B&W's lead programmer and a person who occupies a place in the gaming celebrity roster somewhere near David Braben and Richard Garriot, has admitted that B&W's save feature went in late in the development process. It's not all it might be. It's not broken, but it's slow. And it's weird.
(Long after this review went up, I wrote an article about why so many games, even now, have problems with saving.)
When you save most games, you get a copy of the whole game-state at that moment. Black & White doesn't work that way. It saves your Creature statistics, your personal alignment and your world state separately. This is the weird part.
So when you restart the game without creating a new player profile, you keep your previous alignment - good, evil or indifferent. When you load any saved game or join any multiplayer game, you keep your existing alignment and Creature, and anything that happens to either in that game stays with you if and when you go back to single player.
It's impossible, within the game, to go back to a previous Creature state. If your Creature's grown five feet, gained a scar on his tummy and developed a taste for people, loading an old save game will take the world back in time, but leave you with that exact same Creature.
This also means that you can give up on the standard single player game for a while and play some Skirmish games against the computer, or multiplayer games on the Internet or a LAN, and then come back to the single player game with a bigger, beefier, brighter Creature.
Unfortunately, it's impossible to save a multiplayer game. Normally, the game auto-saves when you quit. Quit a Skirmish game with the same expectation and it'll just be dropped on the floor, but you can still save it if you go to the fancy-pants save/load room in your Temple. You can't save a multiplayer game by any means, though; quit out and your creature changes will be saved, as usual, but your half-conquered island will be discarded.
In single player mode, by default, Black & White autosaves your game while you play. The save/load room in your Temple keeps the autosaves like any other save, and you can hop back to any one you like. This is fine as long as the saves only take a couple of seconds, but as you progress in the game, they can take much, much longer - more than a minute.
Nobody's come up with an adequate reason for this, other than that it probably has something to do with the afterthought-ish nature of the save system.
You can turn off the auto-save, fortunately. That gives you the chance to play for seven hours without saving and then have your computer crash.
It is, thankfully, possible to speed up the save process, which also hurries up the sluggish B&W startup procedure.
Speeding it up
B&W only has one kind of install - there's no minimal/custom/full option when you install the game. This standard installation doesn't copy the entire contents of the Music directory on the game CD. If you manually copy the Music directory contents to the matching directory on your hard drive after you install the game, suddenly startup and saves don't take as long.
Startup still pauses a bit, though, because of the game's CD-check copy protection. No CD, no game start; if you play LAN games, you need as many CDs as you have players, or you have to swap discs.
According to ancient tradition, 0.0001 seconds after B&W came out, out came a no-CD crack for it, which solves this problem. And also, of course, lets pirates play the game from a copied CD without the special copy-protection errors on it.
You can get the crack from that cheerfully wretched hive of scum and villainy, gamecopyworld.com, and it works. At least, it does on the current, unpatched, v1.0 version of the game. But if you're using the patched executable that comprises the crack, you can't join Internet games. It's handy for LAN games, though, while we're waiting for the "LAN spawn install" add-on we've been promised some time soon.
I can't say I'm nuts about B&W's Gesture system for casting spells. It was touted as being another of the game's big features, but it's really just a gimmick. Drawing strange sigils on the screen to make things happen is an interesting idea in theory, but dang it, I can't draw a good looking heart on a piece of paper with a pencil. Trying to draw one on screen in order to cast Heal on my poor beat-up creature, under pressure, is just annoying.
The idea of the Gesture system, of course, is to remove the interface clutter that surrounds the world-window in other real time strategy and god games. No icons, no buttons. But, to save the player from keeping notes about which spell's cast with a clockwise square spiral and which one needs an anticlockwise one, entering magic mode gives you a crib-line of available spell symbols at the bottom of the screen. If you could click on those symbols to cast the spells, it'd be great. But you can't. So it's sort of the worst of both worlds.
Once you find out that you can press M to enter magic mode and R to cast the last spell again, things get considerably simpler.
But I still can't draw a heart in a hurry.
(Hint: The bottom of the heart has to come to a point.)
There are some other niggles.
For a start, B&W's unstable on some systems, though given what a demanding game it is, that's quite possibly the computer's fault more than it is the game's. B&W's certainly not the non-stop crashfest that some games are before their first patch; on my system it flops out to Windows or hard-reboots the computer when I look at my Creature stats from the startup menu, and the sound occasionally dies until I restart, and that's all that goes wrong. The sound problem only shows up once in a blue moon, and the stats one, while annoying, isn't crippling.
Another annoying detail: You can't fast-forward through the how-to-control-the-game tutorial at the beginning.
The Electronic Arts Technical Support FAQ for the game points out that the tutorial informs you of "vital information to let the story of Black & White unfold". Which is true. But when it's already unfolded for you more than once, and you've restarted the game so you can spend more time on the early levels and do things properly, just being able to click through the demos when a given player's started another new game would not, in my opinion, mortally wound the game.
Some things you can't skip through are that way for a reason. Most notably, the Singing Sailors. You'll know 'em when you meet 'em. They are the way they are as a test of your forbearance.
And another annoyance - there are only three multiplayer/Skirmish maps in the standard distribution, which is rather pokey. I presume that more will come out soon enough.
Want more? No problem. For reasons difficult to determine, B&W loads your last save when you run it. Every time. The restored world is there in the background behind the initial what-do-you-want-to-do menu. If what you want to do is play multiplayer or Skirmish, the game now saves again. And if you back out of the multiplayer or Skirmish menus, even with the intention of quitting, the game loads again. And then saves again when you quit.
Building things can be annoying. As with good old Populous, the kind of building you can create is determined by the place where you build it - bigger buildings need more space, and even if you've got the seven scaffolds joined together that you need to build a Wonder (which boosts the power of things related to the particular tribe that owns the nearest village), you'll only be able to build a little Abode if you put it in the wrong place. There's no ghost-of-the-full-sized-thing unless you're in the right place already, though, so you just have to feel around - and it took me a little while to realise that you can only build a Cemetery outside town.
There are a few plain old bugs, too. Levitating trees on invisible mountains. Fields that catch on fire, and don't go out for a long, long time, no matter what you do.
The single-player game also suffers somewhat from The Curse of the Stupid Level.
Real Time Strategy game players know what I'm talking about.
"OK, great! You just built a big base and learned all about flanking the enemy with your cavalry, deploying pikemen in front of your archers, and sending an assassin sneaking around the back to kill the enemy wizards while they're distracted by the battle! Wasn't that fun! Now, for the next mission, you have five minutes to get Pete the Pencil-Necked Footman through this maze full of hidden pits so he can unlock the back door of some damn castle, or something. Heck, we don't care, we're just trying to make you play some other game than the one you bought!"
You get stuff like that in B&W here and there. Fortunately, it's almost all in the "silver scroll" side quests, which you don't have to do.
The most blatant such side quest I found was one where you have to move a multi-part temple from the edge of the water up the shore by playing Towers of Hanoi with it. At least that one's quick (if you know how to play Towers of Hanoi, that is). Following some darn guru around a spiral mountain so he doesn't see you do it, that's more annoying.
Still, if it all irks you, you can get through without bothering with any of the silver scrolls. As long as you don't have console-gamer-itis, which forces the sufferer to find all secrets and complete all quests in every game they get, you'll be fine.
B&W has something of a touch of the Pokemons. There are lots of extra Creatures to which you can transfer the soul of your original one. Some of them are "unlocked" with simple downloadable files that you can get from places like this, and you get access to others if you complete particular quests in the game.
As well as releasing a trickle of creature-unlockers, the B&W team promise some other tweaks and extras in future patches and add-ons. There's no map editor yet, but there will be; that'll cure the lack-of-maps problem smartly, even if there aren't many official maps released. And there should be a LAN spawn installer soon.
There are some other, less-amazing extras in the pipeline.
The Creature doesn't yet dance in time to your CD or MP3 background music. That'll be in a patch, apparently, along with villagers that talk to each other, and play soccer "if their relaxation is high". There'll also be a creature skin editor, in addition to the standard "tattoo" system that lets you mark your creature's skin as you like, as long as your creative inspiration fits in a 64 by 64 pixel greyscale BMP.
B&W enthusiasts are already making mouse-macro programs to do miracle drawing for you, backup programs to allow you to easily do "proper" saves (not to mention guard against a drive failure destroying your prized Creature), and creature-only backup programs like this one that automate the file-copy and registry-tweak process.
Not to mention custom-made no-enemies "sandbox" maps like these. It's no big deal to edit the Skirmish map description text files to make your own sandbox, in any case.
Things it helps to know
* You can go into magic mode without doing the spiral Gesture. Just press M. And R repeats the previous spell - you don't have to do the "R" Gesture.
* The Tab key cycles through all of the Village Stores you own.
* Alt-1 and Alt-2 slow time down and speed it up, respectively, in the single player game.
* The L key selects and deselects the leash. The B and V keys cycle through the three leashes.
* To turn on the Creature Tips in World (level) One, and know what your creature's thinking when you hover the mouse over it, and what effects your praise and punishment are having, just start a Skirmish game and then quit out of it. By default, Creature Tips aren't activated until World Two, presumably to avoid confusing newbies.
* Don't beat the living daylights out of your Creature, no matter what it's done, unless you want it to turn into a bitter, evil delinquent. If a Creature does something bad and you beat it to or beyond the 100% mark on the Bad-Boy-ometer, it'll be more likely to do whatever the bad thing was in future, just to spite you.
* You can leash your Creature to flags on a Village Store or Temple, which gives him more of an inclination to help with whatever that flag's about, if he can. Leash him to the wood flag and he'll cast Miracle Wood or harvest trees; leash him to the offspring flag and he'll make Breeders.
(When King Kong tells you it's time to get pregnant, you get pregnant. Even if you're a man.)
* If you're irked by the endless Villager whinges - "Food!" "Wood!" "Offspring!", not to mention the sepulchral female voice that says "death" every time one of your Villagers carks it, set the Help feature to "No Help". Your Advisers will still tell you things, but the peasants won't be uppity any more.
* Different Creatures have different stats. There's a table at Black & White Center here. And you can see what all of the beasties look like in good, neutral and evil alignments at Planet Black & White, here.
* There's a cap on prayer power, which is I think linked to population. Worshippers eat a lot while you're building up prayer power, but they don't eat any more than normal villagers when the mana reservoir's full. Some players have wondered how the worshippers find a moment between meals to actually get any worshipping done.
If you want more spell-casting grunt than you can get from the prayer power cap, you have to build Miracle Dispensers and cast spells onto them, which will turn the spells into one-shot Miracle Seeds which you can stockpile. That's if you want to be good.
If you want to be bad, you can sacrifice things at the appropriate Temple altar. You can sacrifice anything living, but cows and pigs and trees don't give you much prayer power. Humans are so much better.
They give you power according to how much life they have left. Which means little tiny happy children are the very, very best thing to sacrifice.
Ain't nothin' like getting influence over a Village owned by an enemy, setting a zoomed bookmark on his Creche and another one on your Temple, and running Embodiment Of Evil Airlines ("50 one-person flights a day!") between the two, converting his precious population into zot-points for you.
And remember, through all this as your Temple grows spines and your hand turns red and taloned to indicate the unmitigated blackness of your heart, your Creature can still be a total sparkly angelic pussycat.
Human sacrifice also gets you around the feeding-worshippers problem. Worshippers go home to sleep when they're tired, but don't leave the Temple to eat. So they can starve up there, unless you feed them.
You can leash your Creature to the food flag of one sector of your Trivial-Pursuit-counter-shaped Temple's worship area and have him help keep that sector's worshippers fed, but each sector needs a separate food supply. So if you tether your Creature to the food flag for one of them and he makes plenty of grain fall from the sky there, the others will still starve.
You can leave tons of food lying around at the Temple, if you've got it. But if you're happy to be evil, you don't need any worshippers at the Temple at all. You can convert piety into power in a more, ah, direct way.
To play B&W, you need a pretty powerful PC. You need a bit, but not a lot, of Creature-training patience. You need to understand that if you play this like a real time strategy game, you'll go nuts. And you do need to like god games. If you can't stand god games, it's a good idea to steer clear of anything with the Peter Molyneux signature on it.
Some hotly-anticipated games debut as a quivering mound of bugs, and end up being perfectly playable after a few months of patching. B&W's not like that. V1.0 of this game's got its quirks, but it's not a disaster. There's no harm in being an early adopter.
There's already a good population of on-line players, so you're not stuck with the highly scripted single player campaign if you don't like it.
It's gorgeous. It's fun. Creature fights in towns look like one of the better Japanese monster movies. And, although the B&W world isn't as totally interactive as the hype might have suggested, you really can play it good or bad or in between. Interesting single player, fun multiplayer, what's not to like. I'll be playing this for a while.