There's a reason Peter Molyneux is smiling in this picture. He was nervous to reveal the "revolutionary" new feature in Fable 2. Several people on his own team told him not to do it. In fairness, it's definitely a risky feature. No one in their right mind would call it revolutionary at first glance. Yes, the intertubes were right: Fable 2's secret new feature is a dog. That's it. So, why is Peter smiling? He's smiling because he just convinced a room full of jaded journalists that a dog is revolutionary. Yup, it's a dog, but believe it or not, you will love it.
So, how is a dog revolutionary? The GDC Fable 2 discussion centered on innovation. In fact, the presentation was called "Putting Innovation into Fable 2, or how to live up to promises." That last bit is more than likely a reference to the flack that Molyneux received for claiming that the original Fable would be the greatest RPG of all time. The question, then, is how does Fable 2 live up to its promises? How does it become what Fable should have been? First, the obvious: Molyneux revealed that there would be more of everything in Fable 2. That means more weapons, monsters, locations, and magic. All that, according to Molyneux, is easy. Lionhead, he asserts, is about innovation. The next step, says Molyneux, is emotion. Not just any emotion either. No, Fable 2 aims to make players feel love.
To this end, players will be able to raise families and have children. Children will take on the look of the player character and will react to what the player does in the world. For example, should you run out and slay a dragon, on your return home your child will burst through the door and praise your accomplishments. This gives you a sense of accomplishment. Still, says Molyneux, family and children are easy. They're cheap. What about love? Enter the dog.
The dog in Fable 2 is a completely dynamic creature. It grows and morphs along with the player. Evil dogs will be more Doberman like and good dogs will be fluffier and cuter. The dog is intelligent and takes care of itself. In fact, players have no direct control of the dog at all. The dog is autonomous, but bound by a few rules (similar to Azimov's rules of robotics).
Starting with the first rule, the dog won't be a chore do deal with. It can handle itself and it won't do anything to aggravate you. For instance, the dog will not alert enemies to your presence until you're ready to fight. The dog also pays attention to how you play and reacts accordingly. If you fight with a sword, for example, the dog will concentrate on enemies that have guns, as those enemies prevent you from getting close enough to attack. It's very cool and requires no extra input from the player at all.
The second rule, and this is the clincher, the dog loves you. It protects you, it looks to you for approval, and it will follow you to the ends of the earth. Of course, you don't have to like your dog. For instance, if the dog is wounded, you can choose to leave it limping in the woods. The dog still loves you though, and it will find you. As Molyneux puts it, you may find yourself talking up a floozy in a pub, only to hear a scratch at the door. Someone opens the door to reveal your bloody, battered dog. Characters will respond to this, saying things like "who would do something like this to a dog." Molyneux hopes something like that will make players feel bad. He also hopes that growing and playing with the dog will produce a bond with the player. "If I can get you to care about something just a little bit," says Molyneux, "then I've got you."
He definitely got me, and judging from the room's reaction, he got us all. The dog's antics had the conference room enthralled. Laughs erupted as the dog chased its ball. A chorus of "awwww" broke out when the dog came limping back to its master after a battle. This concern grew even more when Peter showed us that you can simply walk away from your wounded dog if you wish.
I know, the concept sounds absurd -- and it was the last thing I expected -- but the dog has me hooked. Molyneux made me care, and I wasn't even playing. When the presentation began, Peter said that Fable 2 is aiming for "wow" moments. It looks like he just scored the first one.
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