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It's 2019 and there's still no way to play Black & White without the original discs

(Image credit: Microsoft)

Lionhead no longer exists, its intellectual properties absorbed by Microsoft when it bought out the studio and then closed it in 2016. Since then, none of the studio's games have been updated for a prosperous eternal life on PC. Fable 2 is still an Xbox 360 exclusive. Fable 3 was removed from Steam years ago, only playable by picking up keys from third-parties. But the absence of a new, reliable way to play Black & White—one of the highest rated games on the GOG remaster wishlist—hurts the most. 

Without those old CDs, players are stuck in purgatory, digging through boxes for old CDs or driven to piracy. Even then, getting Black & White to run on modern PCs isn't easy.

Why care?

Black & White is still the only game that's made me feel like a god. This isn't to say it gives you infinite, unbound power from the get-go or that it was the deepest and most strategically-varied of its kind, but Lionhead's first stab at a 3D version of the genre made your influence on the world feel far less abstract than in earlier god games, like Populous and Dungeon Keeper. 

In Black & White, you're a huge physics-bound hand, and it's the primary way you interact with the world. You, sometimes literally, massage the sandbox to steer it in your favor. 

I have great memories of abandoning any hope for promoting sensible theology and just sat tossing fireballs and rocks at the edge of my influence—impassable borders determined by the reach of your believers' faith—and into opposing villages dedicated to another god. Eradicate them or terrify them into complicity. It was monstrous, but great fun: a clumsy way of progressing articulated by a physics game, almost like skipping rocks across a placid lake. Winding up my weird physics hand to give a fireball or boulder just enough momentum to reach the isle far across the map, just catching the edge of the village, was delightful. 

My giant pet would observe and begin to think that suffering is good because daddy godhand sure inflicts a lot of it. I'd never hit an animal, digital or otherwise, so I'd pet them and feed them, reinforcing whatever behaviors they observed or were naturally inclined to, just like my real pets. They're welcome on all the furniture and get treats whenever they like. Good thing I'm not actually a god. 

The usual numbers and menu-based micromanagement was made simpler and more comical, too. Depleting your village's stocks to instill suffering and fear, or dragging unwilling villagers between buildings to assign jobs or promote love-making transformed flat, statistical decisions into godly labor, the barrier between your mouse hand and the world effectively invisible. 

I'll never forget the first I picked up a villager and realized that they too were a simple physics object. I made so many little people fly. I'm not sorry. I don't represent the whole of the playerbase. Shoutout to those good gods casting kind miracles to keep their believers happy and healthy, their pet well-behaved and saintly. I just don't have the dexterity or patience to spin those plates. I'd rather toss them at villagers across the way. 

Black & White reflects your behavior in the quality of life of your believers, in the behavior of your monstrous pet, in how competing gods fill the gaps in your ideologies to steal away followers—its one of the few games to make the binary morality system work, because you're not making appeals to power based on Good and Evil. You already have the power. The consequence of your choices is immediate, often surprising, and extremely malleable. I miss it.

So what's the holdup?

Hard to say! Black & White was a fairly popular and critically lauded game back in the early '00s (PC Gamer gave it a 94%), but it's since faded into relative obscurity. A big obstacle: it was published by EA back when. The money and time required to put out an updated, stable version and broker a deal with EA likely hasn't made financial sense for Microsoft. Not yet, at least. 

Microsoft's recent renewed focus on the PC gives me a little hope. The new Xbox app is simple, but works well, especially if you're a Game Pass subscriber. Game Pass on PC is an excellent deal that's only getting better. It's not hoarding games on the Microsoft Store anymore, allowing future releases to at least hang out on Steam. Maybe updating and mobilizing its entire archive of games fits into that ethos, too (see Age of Empires 2: Definitive Edition). 

And with strong rumors of a new Fable game due for reveal at any minute, what better way to commemorate the occasion than by making Lionhead's catalog readily available to everyone? Give Black & White 1 and 2 a facelift, bring Fable 2 to PC, and toss 'em into the Game Pass stew and on Steam, with Halo Infinite, Gears 5, and the whole crew. Give players the old with the new. Let me throw the little men into the ocean again. O' Powerful Corporation, hear this prayer. 

James is PC Gamer’s bad boy, staying up late to cover Fortnite while cooking up radical ideas for the weekly livestream. He can still kickflip and swears a lot. You’ll find him somewhere in the west growing mushrooms and playing Dark Souls.