Interview: Peter Molyneux talks Fable
11th Aug 2004 | 15:44
So it's now Fable day three and following our hands-on preview of Fable's first few hours and our exclusive chat with Big Blue Box's Dene and Simon Carter, we're going to round off our Fable coverage with a double treat today.
Not only do we have an exclusive interview with gaming divinity Peter Molyneux printed below, where he talks about Fable's wife-sacrificing options, burly men in dresses and drops some delicate hints on the prospects for next generation platforms, but we've also secured a massive Fable walkthrough movie, lovingly narrated by Big Blue Box MD Dene Carter.
Fable the director's cut indeed!
For the sake of complete journalistic accuracy we should make clear the interview was conducted in July, just before Fable went gold. However it's only now, having successfully shaken off the +5 spell of non-disclosure that we can reveal the full and shocking truth. This is Fable - straight from the designer's mouth.
Fable is nearly done now. How are things going during the last phase of the project?
Molyneux: Well yesterday we had 73 bugs, today, for the first day [ever], we've got zero bugs and we've got this thing called a release candidate which means that the CDs we make today could be the final CDs which make the game.
That would be a miracle of tremendous proportions. Sometimes you have to do this 20 times over, sometimes you have to do it five times over, but now it is finished, essentially.
You've mentioned that Fable has been four years in the making and involved the consumption of hundreds of pizzas and curries. How do you look back on the process now?
Molyneux: Yeah it is four years since that conversation with Simon and Dene [Carter] and we've had about four years, maybe a little bit longer. At that time there was just us and the Fable team. And going from nothing, not even having an Xbox, not even knowing about the Xbox, to a team of 70 people, with a lot of the team over in America on the Microsoft side, which means almost a 100 people making the game. The last four years has been a pretty remarkable experience.
I mean, there's been a lot of very, very hard work and long hours. You know what we wanted to do was be really ambitious and I think we're pretty happy with the result.
Here's how it started: I wanted to do a console game. I'd never done a true console game, but you can't go onto the consoles and do a game like everyone else, so I wanted to do something different. I've always had an incredible passion for role-playing games and I was thinking, "Right, how can we do something different and ambitious, something that's never been seen before and yet is familiar?"
And that's really where Fable was born from, a passion for RPG games. It started by saying, "Right we're going to make people feel like a hero, make people feel like a hero in this amazing, simulated world where you can do anything you want, but still play through the story." And absolutely we've achieved that.
There's things that have been much tougher than I'd have predicted. I was really naive, I'd never done a game about a single person before, it had all been about god-like beings, though I suppose Syndicate was perhaps the closest...
But it has been a real experience: doing it for the Xbox controller, it's been a real experience doing the combat system. The combat system... It's not good enough just to have button bashing, but you've also got to have something incredibly simple so that people can play, but there's got to be lots of variation in that.
There's been lots of challenges on the way. There's some things - because I started talking about Fable over three years ago, literally when Fable was no more than a couple of concept sketches - there are some things which we thought about in those early days, for the simulated world, which we dropped because they really didn't make sense.
We had this idea, which was a pretty mad idea really, about all the vegetation, all the trees would grow around you, because you play the game as a hero from a kid to middle age, and it'd be cool if they grow with you.
The trouble is on a console of course is that you've got a limited amount of power. If 15 percent of that power goes to growing trees, then your hero can do 15 percent less. So there have been things that have been dropped, but there's tons of things which have been added - this expressions system which is really unique and enables us to do things which have never really been done before in a console game.
So could you give us some examples of what other groundbreaking gameplay and technology that Fable employs?
Molyneux: Well, the most incredible thing about Fable is the fact that there are lots of examples where people play the game in a certain way and things happen that were never designed to happen.
Yesterday one of the players was playing around and he managed to get married and he decided that he'd take his wife out on an adventure with him. And this adventure involved breaking into people's houses and taking their stuff. It's not a quest in the game, it's just something he decided to do.
She was saying things like "I should be back home now" and she was getting a bit nervous. Then he got involved in a fight with some guards and he dived behind his wife for cover and she took the blows for him and died.
That sort of cool emergent stuff is fantastic. Well, it's fantastic for me to see because I think it's just incredible and there's lot of examples like that. I think it works incredibly well. Look at the nine different monitors in today's preview day - everyone's hero is different. They all look different because every person who plays the game is a different games player.
Whether you want to be good or evil, more famous or less famous, whether you want to have scary tattoos or long hair - it's completely down to the way you play and what you want to do.
Again, there was someone yesterday who was running around in a dress. When he walked around the nearest village everyone was pointing and laughing at him, that is cool stuff. On top of that, you've got a story which is always there, so when you've finished messing around with the other stuff, you can always go back to the story.
Interesting, so how will the interaction between the main story and all the various side-quests and Fable's other distractions work?
Molyneux: Well here's the thing. I'm absolutely aware that although it sounds like it's really cool to have a game where you can do anything you want in it, actually it gets pretty boring after a while if you don't have some overall objective. So the story is constantly saying 'go there, do this, you should go and save this person...' but on the way we give you loads of temptations.
The design ethos behind the game is always "try to delay people going to bed". When I'm playing a game I always think, "Okay I'll just do this bit and then I'll go to bed" and so if you can delay that... But the story itself? The nice thing is that there are some things you do in the world which are woven into the story as well, so it sort of all adds into itself.
The story itself was challenging and actually it's a really good example. The first iteration of the story was absolutely huge, I mean it was about the rise and fall of nations and actually it was far, far too big and we've been refining and streaming the story and making it fit.
In Fable, you obviously invest a lot of time in developing your character. Do you ever foresee the ability - much like the creature in Black & White - to be able to take that character elsewhere?
Molyneux: Yeah, yeah. There is a wish list in Fable of things that we couldn't do and one of those things is having that ability. For a long time we did have a feature where you could import your hero to other people's games, that was one of the things we had to drop, because it meant we wouldn't be able to release the game for a very long time.
But that's one of my favourite features from that list. You and I with our individual heroes playing together in one world, that could be very cool. One of the things we do that is very unique is that once you finish the story and the credits roll up, we don't kick you out of the world. The world is still there and you can keep going, but it would be really nice to actually play with someone else's character.
Xbox Live gives you the ability to add additional content into Fable. Is that something you've looked at?
Molyneux: We would really consider doing that, and actually we've already started planning about some of the things we could add. Whether that's a reality or not, I'm not sure.
I mean Fable is Live-aware and there's a feature which I'm not sure if it made it in actually. Up to three weeks ago it was in, but if you're Xbox connected, the names of the people in the towns were the names of your buddies.
And if you killed or married or insulted those people in the game, they'd be sent a message saying for example "You've been killed in Fable". It was a nice little gimmick, but it's one of those features when you get to the end, you've got to sacrifice a few little things like that.
So what's after Fable for Peter Molyneux?
Molyneux: Well I'm now working on the Movies and Black & White 2, and I'm also thinking about what's beyond that.
What about the prospect for new platforms like handhelds and the next generation of consoles? How do you feel about those?
Molyneux: There's some really amazing opportunities, not least of which Mark Healy at Lionhead did, this project called Rag Doll Kung Fu - that would be so cool on the DS.
That is one of the real joys of what we do, being able to work on all these new formats.
Fable walkthrough movie