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Joystiq Interview: Peter Molyneux on Fable 2, Too Human, and Lionhead's 'shocking' next game


With the October release of Fable 2 fast approaching, we sat down for a chat with Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux to talk about how his latest game has shaped up. Also, does he still think the first game was all that bad? And what does he really think about a game he's recently found himself associated with, Too Human? It all starts off – as we all do – in childhood ...

Playing Fable 2, we noticed that, early on, there seems to be a fair amount of very obvious temptation to do something "good" or "bad."

Yes, well, I wanted childhood to contain some fairly easy choices. Once you go through your first real challenge, you'll find that it gets a lot more sophisticated. I want you to just experiment, to just see what happens. What I love is the aspect of, "I wonder if I do this what will happen?" If you do that enough, then you find that the game delivers.

Gallery: Fable 2 | 35 Photos

But even though you're "experimenting," you do have to live with your consequences, right?

Right. There's no rewind button. You have to live with the consequences. If you don't like those consequences, you could reload, I guess. You can always be good, and if you've been slightly evil in your experiments you can just sort of "curve" back to the good side.

"I think it's fantastic that people still remember Fable, and some of them are really passionate about it. For me, going back to Fable is a terrible experience."

You've also got this really interesting mechanic which I didn't realize was going to be quite so interesting until the game was done, which are the orbs. What you don't realize is that there's nothing stopping you from going up to one of those orbs and saying, "You're in childhood ... I want to go through childhood again with you and see what happens if we do this and this."

You can always jump into someone else's world and see what the consequences would have been if you'd done something else. That means you don't have to restart. I never knew this was going to happen; it's really interesting.

What are your thoughts now looking back at the original
Fable? You've been critical of it in the past, despite it being well liked by many gamers.

I think it's fantastic that people still remember Fable, and some of them are really passionate about it. For me, going back to Fable is a terrible experience. I look at it and at best I would call it fractured. I don't think the story is compelling enough, the game mechanics weren't tremendously fun, the pacing is totally off, the tutorials were awful. I think the combat got too "samey" after a while. There's a whole list of problems that make me grind my teeth. I mean, I've tried to sit down and play it, as an experiment now that Fable 2 is finished, and I just can't bring myself to do it.

Looking at other game designers and development teams, who's doing things "right" at the moment?

As a gamer – and I play games every single day of my life – there's no one game that I can point at right now and say, "That is perfect." When I look back over this year, one of the high spots for me has been Grand Theft Auto IV. The characterization and the story were just incredible. I think it definitely had its flaws. The death mechanic drove me around the bend. It had me wanting to smash the controller into the wall because I had to start a mission completely over again.

"When I look back over this year, one of the high spots for me has been Grand Theft Auto IV."

I think that games like Braid show us that the "new kids on the block" can do some really inventive, smart things with a genre like the side-scrolling platformer that has been around for 25 years. It's proof that people can "come up" and surprise us all the time.

I'm looking forward to LittleBigPlanet. I think Media Molecule are doing fantastic work on giving people the tools to create some amazing stuff. I can hardly wait to play it.

Spore is very interesting. I think it turned out to be a better game than I thought it was going to be, to be honest with you.

You brought up Braid ...

It's hard! [laughs]

What was stopping someone from making a game like that in, say, 1992?

Absolutely nothing. I feel that quite often we can get too obsessed with the hardware and not obsessed enough with the actual act of invention.

The way these genres are still developing really proves that we're just these infants playing around with wooden blocks. Eventually, we're going to grow up to LEGO, and when we do we're going to be inventing some experiences that are just truly amazing.

That isn't necessarily down to hardware. I will say that things like controllers can be barriers. Evolving them is one of the biggest things that can happen in this industry. I mean, it's what we saw happen with Wii. It's created this whole segment of gamers that might never have thought about games before. While that's definitely good, I would still like to see some more core games on the platform.

Back to Fable 2, we haven't really experienced co-op yet. How much engineering has gone into your co-op experience, and how important do you feel cooperative play is in general?

It would have been a lot simpler for us to have made a "normal" co-op experience. That's why, as most games do, they force you to leave the single-player experience and kind of start the game again.

What I said was, "Look, if we want more people playing Fable 2, the 'couch co-op' is super-important." It's like the classic arcade games. Like Gauntlet – you walk up, put in a quarter, and you're there. You don't have to leave the game or go back to the start menu.

"It's not until you leap into someone else's world that you truly get an appreciation for just how unique yours is."

Then I thought, "Co-op is sort of unfair. If I go into your game, I don't get anything. You get all the stuff, since you can continue on playing after I leave." That's why we've made it so that, using profiles, any experience that either player gets in co-op, they keep.

I want you not to plan to play co-op, but for it to be something opportunistic. It's not until you leap into someone else's world that you truly get an appreciation for just how unique yours is. How different your dog is, your town is, the way people treat you, and so on.

This isn't any kind of a hint at anything, but it really gets you closer to that sort of massively multiplayer sort of feel. It's when you're down in a dungeon and you see someone else running along the gantry up above you, and you know it's me, you do feel a part of this community. People do this back at Lionhead – they'll see me down below and they'll wait at the top for me to get there and then we'll just talk about it. They'll say, "Hey, did you find that chest down there?" and I'll say, "Oh, no – I missed that!" I love that aspect of the game.

So ... Too Human. We were wondering if you've played it?

Just a tiny bit.

What do you think?

I think that anyone who finishes [making] a game deserves a gold medal. Finishing games is incredibly hard. Especially finishing games that have been going on for so long, where you have a lot of time to sit about saying, "Oh, we should go about things this way, or this way."

"I'm sure that Dennis Dyack is going to come and kill me now."

In the end, I think with Too Human ... it has some gems in there, but they're hard to find. Again, I didn't play it for terribly long. I quite like the combat and felt it was accessible, but I just ... if I got my hands on the game, I'd rip out a few of the things they did and just concentrate on the core. It just slightly forgot about what it was trying to be. In a way, it tried to be something it was not. It felt – and again, I thought it did some things really well – that there was something slightly off about it. I'm sure that Dennis Dyack is going to come and kill me now. [laughs]

Looking at Rare – another Microsoft-owned studio – it's afforded the ability to create games for other platforms, specifically the DS. Is that something you're also able to do?

We're not doing anything like that, but if we had a good case for something like that I think it would be taken seriously. DS is a very interesting system. If we were to do something on it, I'd take a serious look at doing something unique with the stylus and touch screen mechanics. I think the best game on the system is Phantom Hourglass by a long, long way. It's just such an amazing achievement.

At the end of the day, I've found that if you want to do anything, from a handheld title to a bid-budget game, you've got to be super professional and take it very, very seriously. Microsoft put a lot of trust in us with Fable 2. I mean, we didn't have to go and do a lot of the stuff we've done in it. Some of it's quite mad, really. They didn't have to let us do it, but they saw that we were being very professional.

I think that, when you commit to having a game done within a certain amount of time, you can't just go off down some wandering path with your design. I coined the term, "It's finished when it's finished." I've come to realize, though, that there's a time to be creative but then you just have to stop and make the game.

It's what we did with Fable 2. We did all of the experiments – the stuff with the dog, etc. – right up front at the very beginning. We had that stuff and I said, "That's it – that's all I have to play with." I used to walk into the office back in the days of Black & White and literally six weeks before we shipped say, "I've have a great idea! Let's do this!" and you just can't do that.

It's not that you can't be creative, you just have to be smart about your creativity. There's a time to be creative and a time to implement that creativity.

So, what's next for you? What about "the project that's no longer called 'Project X?'"

Yes, there's the experiment that I'm not allowed to talk about. [laughs] The idea when we started Lionhead was that, while we were working on a game or games, there were always going to be these experimental teams.

People at Lionhead could go onto these teams and do things, and then come off of them, but people would always be experimenting. Some of the things [they came up with] would be stuff that we'd actually use in games. Other stuff would be these sort of mad experiments.

One of those experiments – a fairly ambitious one – was started just after Black & White was finished in 2001. I was pretty interesting ... it was going somewhere. Then, about 18 months ago, there was a real breakthrough. This fantastic breakthrough. We had some other ideas, but this was something that just shocked people. It was almost unbelievable what this experiment led to and, well, we'll just have to wait.

I've already promised to the community that I will never talk about something until I'm ready to show it and be absolutely sure it's playable. With this experiment, I'd like to do that sometime within the next year, but whether I get my wish or not remains to be seen.

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