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Interview: Peter Molyneux talks Kinect, Milo, and Fable 3


Just after Engadget Show host Josh Topolsky finished grilling Peter Molyneux on stage this past Wednesday, we wrangled Molyneux for another interview. First and foremost, we had to clear up what happened to the promise of Kinect in Fable 3 -- and we already told you his answer to that -- but we also wanted to venture into more general discussion.

Molyneux spoke openly to us about the potential of Kinect, his personal struggle with promising game mechanics that may or may not end up in the final release, and how the success of Fable 2's episodic release will influence his studio's future.

Joystiq: You told Josh on stage just now that Kinect wouldn't be featured in Fable 3 at launch. Could you please expand on that?

Peter Molyneux: What it really means is we probably could've done some little side-quest with Kinect, but I love Kinect so much and I love Fable so much that I think we needed to have time to develop it. We have got a team working on Kinect stuff, if I was a betting man it would be appearing in Fable at some time, it's just not gonna be at launch.

There were, at some point, plans to put it in at launch, right?

We had some prototypes. We did some prototypes and we had those back in March, April, May, but then we were looking at those prototypes and I just asked myself -- and I blame myself for not putting it in, to be honest with you -- and I just said to myself, "Is this what people would expect Kinect to be in something like Fable?" And the answer, quite frankly, was "no." We're still working on that stuff, we're still adding stuff to it and, as I said, I think the future for Kinect and Fable is probably bright.

As a designer, as you get used to Kinect, it's such a different experience for me as a designer -- for any designer. Everything you do with Fable 3 is through people's thumbs, essentially. So to turn that into seeing a body and hearing a voice and seeing your face -- it is a tough to do, but when you get it right, it's fantastic.

"This time I think I've underpromised for the first time .... which is a pretty cool place to be."- Peter Molyneux

In the past, you've had a lot of freedom in developing your games. But as the years have progressed, you've toned down the hyperbole quite a bit. Is this a measure of working under Microsoft? How has it affected the way you develop games?

It was because of one particular moment. It was when Fable 1 was finished and suddenly there were all these people who were sending me emails, wrote on blogs, wrote on our community website, and they felt honestly cheated. They felt I had betrayed them. They felt I had made promises, and, you know what? I agreed with them. Because, the thing is, I am the worst PR person in the world. I'm not a PR person. All I am is a designer. I sit here, in front of journalists like yourself, and I just talk enthusiastically about stuff in the same way ... this is the way I talk when I talk to the team. And then expect you and people to filter that stuff out and say, "Oh he's talking about a game feature that's not yet implemented or talking about an idea which he hasn't really explored" is just not fair. So what I said to myself is this -- and this is really why I haven't gone into any real detail about Kinect, 'cause it's a perfect example of this -- "I will not talk about anything unless I can actually demo it." Unless I can physically show and prove to you that this is the feature and then you, the journalist, can interpret my words by what you've seen on screen. And that has worked much better. I still have this police force behind me, stopping me from saying the wrong thing as you just saw [PR woman laughs], but, you know, it's just not fair to get people excited about features that aren't going to appear in the game. And I completely agree with it. I think the fans and the people were right to call me out on that stuff.

"Absolutely not every idea is anywhere near mine at Lionhead. It's a real collaborative effort."- Peter Molyneux

Clearly that's changed the way you speak about games to the public, but has it changed the philosophy behind how you develop games?

Yeah, it has. It's changed a lot of stuff, because now it's thinking about if I want to talk about this, I need to demo this. I'm not saying this is the utopian moment that's changed me and made everything perfect, but when we thought about Fable 3, I thought, "What am I gonna show first? What am I gonna demo?" Not what am I gonna talk about first, but what am I gonna show first. So if you go back with Fable 3, I first talked about the story. Fair enough, you can't really demonstrate a story -- we talked about what the story is, but that's how the story ended up. Then I talked about the touch mechanic. Just a small mechanic in the game that we actually demonstrated on stage there [referencing The Engadget Show]. I actually showed that touch mechanic. So it's really important for me.

At Lionhead, there's a "creative day" where employees are allowed to kind of do whatever they want in terms of game development. Have any especially amazing ideas come out of that? Made it into Fable 3? Are you interested in pursuing any titles from that program as downloadable releases?

There's been a lot of stuff in the past. We've got one of these creative days later on this year -- November I think it is. We actually had ideas for how characters move which we've implemented into games like Milo. A whole range of things, some of which are in progress, some of which have never made it. I actually showed one of the creative ideas off at GDC back in 2007 I think [ed. note: it was 2005] -- something called "The Room." It felt like it could've been a product, but it never quite made it. I love that sort of creative freedom that we give people -- the one button combat from Fable really came out of one of those creative approaches and I love that. I think it makes us all smarter. Absolutely not every idea is anywhere near mine at Lionhead. It's a real collaborative effort.

You've been the head at MGS Europe for some time now and I'm hoping you could tell me how that's changed your role at Lionhead, and ultimately affected your day-to-day operations.

Mmmm, not really. To do something like that, what it actually means is going around and hanging out with the teams and giving more moral support rather than designing their games for them. And that doesn't take up a lot of time. For the past two months every day I've been doing Fable. And for a month before that, every day I was doing a project called Milo. And maybe one or two days a month I'll go and visit places like Rare and I've been around to a lot of developers. To be honest with you, I think I've learned more from them than they've learned from me.

With Fable 2, the game was released episodically on Xbox Live Marketplace after the initial retail release. Do you foresee that happening with Fable 3, or other Lionhead titles for that matter? Is it possible for other studios to publish games like that on Xbox -- Remedy with Alan Wake, for instance?

That episodic content was really successful. 1.6 million downloads and that was incredibly successful. It's gotten Fable up to one of the top selling games on the 360, you just don't see it 'cause it doesn't appear in any charts. I love that approach, we still have the power to do that in Fable 3 -- to split things up episodically, absolutely. Although we're certainly not gonna be there on the date of release, we can do it at any time afterward.

It was definitely a success. For me, if I'm someone who can't save up $50 or $60 or whatever it costs in this country, then it's a way for me to kind of break up and enjoy it segmented. Especially if the first episode is free. I really believe you should give away the first bit of it free and then charge for the rest.

At E3 in 2009, you and Steven Spielberg presented Kinect [then Project Natal] to the public and it showed a lot of promise. I'm wondering how you feel about the critical reception a year out.

Well, to start off with, what do you think of it?

Frankly, the handful of games that I've played have made the Kinect device feel kind of "tacked-on." There wasn't much depth. They didn't seem to take advantage of what I've seen from Kinect in tech demos -- the kind of stuff that's very impressive.

I think the reason for it is that it's so ... different. I think we can do core games with it, I think we can do totally immersive games, I think it enables us designers to do unique experiences that've never been touched before, but that takes us time, man. It really does. When we transitioned from the PC to the console with Fable, it took us five years to do that. And that's just going from a mouse to a controller.

And this is like going from a controller to nothing. It just takes -- for us to get that right immersive experience -- it's just going to take a little bit of time. I'm sure that's going to happen. And I'm fighting for that to happen with Milo and whatever we do with Fable in the future. It just takes time. And this is one of the reasons why I'm absolutely vehement about not giving a release date for Milo. Because as soon as I give that release date, then I'm on this express train and it's gotta get finished. And it requires so much artistry and balancing and tweaking and polishing. Because -- and I'm not saying this as a Microsoft person, I'm talking purely as a designer -- I really truly believe that something like Kinect, changing that input device, could make us leap forward in the form of entertainment we make.

"God, the way we develop games has to change. It's always had to change."- Peter Molyneux

But doing that in nine months? To be a launch title is very, very hard. And, actually, I've played [Kinect] Sports. I've actually played a hell of a lot of Sports. And it's pretty good. And [Kinect] Adventures is pretty good. Considering the amount of time, I think they're pretty good experiences. I think anybody that gets Kinect that and buys those titles, they're not gonna be disappointed. But they should really, really be excited by what comes next. 'Cause that's what I judge Kinect on is what the next step is.

To follow that up, how do you feel about the way games are developed in this industry? As you say, there's a release date announced and then there's a marketing cycle and things inevitably get cut or don't get polished because there's not enough time. Does it need to change? Is it working?

God, the way we develop games has to change. It's always had to change. Now, if you look at the big shift -- there's this huge panic that's happening in the computer games industry at the moment. I think the industry is feeling that what defines us is slipping through our fingers. Is what defines the computer games industry more to do with social and mobile and Facebook and iPads and iPhones and iTouches? Or is it to do with Call of Duty 3s and Call of Duty 4s and the huge sequels? There's a gulf in between and we need to resolve this. Because these consumers are over here -- these casual consumers -- they're starting to get a bit bored, because we keep on supplying experiences which I have seen that are very similar to casual experiences we gave casual gamers in the 1980s. And these people here are just demanding so much more and more quality -- every holiday season we just raise the bar a little more. And the real secret here is to change how we make games. Definitely. The whole production process.

The insane thing -- and I'm gonna go off on a rant now -- when we're forced to make an announce date not only by someone coming down and saying, "Thou will announce," but we're forced by the very nature that we make games. The whole thing's concentrated on the holiday season. What ended up happening was we end up implementing, implementing, implementing, implementing, and then we have this tiny amount of time to actually polish. It's like making a car, and before it goes into the production line, never test driving it. Or it's like -- actually, this is more what it's like -- shooting a film, but never editing it. Just literally saying, "Okay, we shot that footage." And that has got to change. Definitely. And already some companies are changing that and you can see some really fine results from them.

For example?

I think some of the processes that were put in place by games like Heavy Rain and Uncharted 2, and Bungie are very very good at doing this -- finishing their game way before they need to launch it. I think they're the professionals that we all kind of aspire towards here.

Is there anything else you think our readers need to know about Fable 3 or Milo or, well, Peter Molyneux?

Wow, man! Fable's already been covered in Joystiq and so has Milo I think. The only thing I'll say is -- and again, this is me as a designer -- I think Fable 3 is far and away the best Fable we've ever done. I think the team -- Luis, Josh, John McCormack -- they're just brilliant people. The other thing about Fable, I think it really comes across that we love doing what we do. That we love the world of Fable. I think that really comes across in Fable 3. And, you know, this time I think I've underpromised for the first time. Which is a pretty cool place to be.

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