Fabled interview: Peter Molyneux at X10

It doesn't take much for Fable III designer Peter Molyneux to get going on and on about his latest project. We even managed to squeeze in a few questions for the Lionhead boss, who was on hand at yesterday's X10 media event to unveil his studio's next grand fable.

Of course, it just wouldn't be polite to kick off a conversation with Molyneux without first checking in on the little one.

Joystiq: So, how's Milo?
Peter Molyneux: Good. You know, I can't even confess that we're doing anything on it, but what we're doing is very, very unique. It's very, very different. It's much, much, much more than you could imagine from what you saw at E3.

It's interesting. Everybody asked about him. He was super controversial. To be honest with you, in a way, I knew we were going to have this controversy, because it was a boy. It was a boy.

It's like, kind of like Up. You know the Pixar movie? The hero was an old man. You don't do hero films about old men. They smell of wee, don't they? But if you want someone to look at something and say, "God, that's different! That's just different." I think it really did work. Everybody remembers it. Everybody looked at it and thought, "Gee, that is not like anything else." But, you know, you have no idea what that experience really is.

It is a wonderful experience. I'm always going to say that, man.

Fable III ...

Fable III.
You know, Joystiq gave Fable II our Game of the Year (2008).

I know you did! It means a lot to the team. I remember that.

So, let me ask you. I'm very interested to see what you think of this transition. Because this is a big, big step that we're making with Fable III.

Well, there was all this hubbub in the past few days about, "There's something about Fable III that is going to piss people off!"

[Laughs.] You know, it's turned into, and I've had press today say, "That's such a PR thing to do!" -- that it's a PR strategy. The whole thing is, I was standing in a taxi queue in Copenhagen; it was minus 15. It was freezing cold. I was talking to this journalist about being a game designer and saying, "Sometimes you have to do things that are going to upset people. There are things in Fable III that I'm sure are going to upset people." That was it! I had no idea that it would then turn into this "hubbub."

As it turns out, it's true. In Fable III we have taken away the experience system.

"So, you're standing on your throne, and everyone is looking at you in awe, because you are the powerful god-like figure that you were destined to be."

It is no longer there. Experience is a core mechanic of RPG games, and we've removed it. "Why?" Because experience is all about combat. Fable is more than just combat. We're not saying that combat is any less or diminished, we're just saying we needed a mechanic that covered the entirety of the game; experience wasn't it.

People didn't understand what the difference between red experience, blue experience and green experience was -- they just didn't understand it! Over half the people didn't really care about what color the experience system was. It was just wrong. So, when you remove it and replace it with something called "followers" -- you get followers for everything you do in the game; whether you're nice to people out in the street, or nasty to people; who you marry; the family that person comes from makes a difference -- it brings followers to you; you're going to have to have a certain number of followers before you take on the evil tyrant king; you've gotta have a certain number of followers to do something else. That all makes much more sense.

There is a justification for these changes: It's like the health bar. You know, the health bar in Fable III was destined to be this pixel-high line at the top left-hand side of the screen. No one was looking at it! No one even knew it was there!

Why have it? You just put the health bar into the world. Just like FPSs do. You know, the screen goes red at the edges and ...


Exactly, desat– we're not going to do exactly the same thing in Fable, but, you know, these are things, as a designer, you think, "Okay, health bar -- now I know what I'm doing." That's when things go wrong -- when you don't question-mark the foundation stones, which are actually milestones in the end, because when we removed the experience system, suddenly that was a huge liberating experience.

We didn't have to explain it to players. We didn't have to explain "red and blue and green." We didn't have to have a leveling-up system -- which I love leveling-up in role-playing games. We didn't have to base it in some "2D screen." We could base it in the world. We could base it around you and the things that you did.

Where am I getting the energy to talk so passionately about things at this time of the day? [Laughs.]

So, this approach to leveling up: From what I understood from the demonstration, there's this idea that your "uniqueness" as a character is based on your type of weapon and how the weapons themselves become unique. Leveling up, though, did you take a look at that and say, "Is there some other way to express that?"

Here's the thing, and this is the horrible truth: Leveling up -- I love leveling up. I play role-playing games, and I love the concept of leveling up. But, you start in Fable III as a slightly clumsy, unfit, kind of spoiled prince-character. That's where you start. Then after an hour, I want you to see the difference in the character that you've got. You've gone up "levels." Your character looks different. They've experienced different things. I want you to see that "level" there. There are places in the world where you can enumerate that level, if you want to.

But I want you to be able to understand, "I'm doing this -- I'm at this level -- and I'm going to get to this level." Now, it's all about visually how we can exploit that and make you feel powerful. So, at "Level One" you just look like a normal human being. As you progress to Level 2 and Level 3, we start introducing this ... it's called an "Emotive Tattoo" -- although it's not really called that in the final game.

What that does is: when your character gets excited or angry or is stressed, this "Emotive Tattoo" comes through. It starts off as a little red or blue filament showing your alignment.

"If you've killed lots of people, then you've got a ring which is dripping blood."

As the game progresses and you "go up levels," that tattoo starts to cover the entirety of your body. As you cross over from Level 12 -- I think it is -- to Level 13, you start growing these wings on your back. When you're king, and at your full power, your wingspan is massive. This filament that's flowing through your body is glowing enormously. So, you're standing on your throne, and everyone is looking at you in awe, because you are the powerful god-like figure that you were destined to be. That is the point of your maximum power.

That is leveling up, man! That makes me feel great! Where as, if leveling up is a number, like, "I'm Level 18, and I can't wait until I'm Level 19," you know, where's the feeling, man? Why am I doing it? I'm just doing it to change one digit on that number! I mean, I can do that on a calculator for Christ's sake and save myself a lot of hassle.

That's what I mean by "leveling up." And then, applying that leveling-up methodology: visually showing it; giving gameplay differences for it; applying that to weapons, as well. You know, suddenly leveling up becomes much more rich and much more in the player's control. It's about alignment and leveling up, and it's about crafting weapons and using weapons, and it's about being the person you want to be -- seeing yourself and saying, "Oh my God, yes. I am that evildoer!" or, "I am that good-doer." That's pretty cool stuff.

So, you reach that level -- and you said the game is about "power."

Yes -- about "feeling the power."

So, you're there on your throne -- and you're powerful and you're at that "level" -- and you have followers, but then someone comes to you and, says, "You promised to turn that factory into a school or tear it down entirely." Is your character going to "level down" for losing followers?

this is an interesting thing. Now, I have promised these guys that I'm not going to talk about the "rule" section. But, once you've got followers, once you've got thousands of followers behind you, and you feel like Obama must have felt when he was inaugurated -- Imagine how he felt when he stood on that platform and he thought, "I made it." We're going to give you that moment of joy, man. Absolutely, we're going to give you the moment of joy.

But, just like all of your presidents, there is that moment that comes after that inauguration speech where they seem to go into some room, and they walk out and have aged ten years. I look at Obama now, and he just seems to have aged -- you know, we're going to play with that. There's a lot of drama in that side of "rule." Which, to answer your question succinctly, I'd have to tell you a little bit about that drama ...

With great power, comes great, great responsibilities. Mixed with every choice, a consequence -- I think it's really interesting.

What about the magic system?

The magic system is being completely redesigned. We wanted to give you the ability to craft magical weapons, as well as craft swords and guns. Magic is now based around objects, like rings. So, if you've got on the "Ring of Fire," then when you tap the magic button, you will cast quick fireballs; if you hold down the magic button, you will charge-up a fireball -- we don't cap that. So, if you happen to keep -- and God knows why you'd want to do this -- if you did keep your finger down on the magic button, you will continue to charge up to "thermal-nuclear" levels.

So, that's cool. It's simple. It's accessible. The cool thing is that we allow you ... you fortunately have five fingers. So, if you take off the Ring of Fire and put on the "Ring of Storms," then if you tap and hold the button you cast storm- or vortex-based magic. The cool thing is, you can also put back on the Ring of Fire, and then you cast a combination of storms and fireballs. In other words, we allow you to weave your magic together in any way you like. Depending on the magic objects you have, it's a weave of the magic system you have. Because you have five fingers -- there's a primary finger, secondary finger, and so on -- whatever you have on your prime finger is your primary weave, that is weaved to the second one, the third one and the fourth one ... it's fucking cool, man.

The thing is, when we did this, first of all, we really struggled to invent the GUI to do it. You know, "How are we going to do this?" But as soon as we said rings and you put them on your finger -- it's easy, man. You just put the ring on and take it off, if you want to have a different weave. And all those rings morph and change the same way the swords and guns do. So, based upon your alignment, if you've killed lots of people, then you've got a ring which is dripping blood. The rings grow in size and have their little spikes on them depending on your Gamerscore, and, yes, well ...

Well, we can't wait to see more.

Editor's note: Interview conducted by Randy Nelson.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.