Peter Molyneux is a troubled genius. At the long-deceased Bullfrog he was responsible for some of the greatest PC games ever; Theme Park, Populous and Syndicate to name a few. Now celebrating Lionhead's tenth anniversary under the wings of Microsoft Game Studios, he's both proud, and disappointed that he hasn't yet achieved that "landmark" game he's always wanted to create.
In the fourth interview in our Creative Minds series, we find out how the Lionhead boss has adjusted to life under the Xbox banner, his memories and regrets from the earlier days and just what it's like working on the Xbox 360's flasgship title of 2008.
How did it feel to celebrate Lionhead's 10th anniversary?
Molyneux: Well it's a mixture of pride, relief, celebration and disappointment. Pride because it all started out around a pub table ten years ago, where we decided to start a company and maybe make a couple of games. We've achieved so much more than that. Relief because the independent game sector has really gone through the mill with games becoming so much more expensive to make and there have been quite a few casualties because of that. Disappointment because I still believe that Lionhead has a great game within it but that we have yet to fulfil that potential, and celebration because we're still here and now a part of Microsoft and so we can totally focus on being innovative and creative. I think our next game will bear the fruits of this
The company's gone on even longer than Bullfrog did. Can you tell us a bit about what it was like in those Bullfrog days?
Molyneux: Bullfrog went from being a two band in 1989, which had a meteoric rise to success thanks to Populous. It really was a rags to riches story or like an express train journey where we departed at Populous and the journey continued with games like Syndicate, Theme Park and Magic Carpet and which eventually arrived with the sale of Bullfrog to Electronic Arts.
Looking back, it was a really exciting rollercoaster ride up to that point. But then it was a huge culture shock as well; I was a developer who smoked, drank coke and ate pizza at his desk and all of sudden I was caught up in health and safety issues. Its hard to pinpoint specific highs and lows, the realisation that more than two people wanted to play Populous was an incredible high!
Going from Theme Park and populous, Black & White must have been your dream project?
Molyneux: Yes. It was Black & White that came to characterise the Lionhead style; hugely ambitious and packed full of features such as knowing what the weather was like outside when you were playing the game, "real AI", an innovative interface, correct moon cycles etc.
It was a bold approach and an ambition which everyone on the team strove very hard for, but we failed to balance the game - so it wasn't the truly great thing it should have been. Still, when I look back and think of that game which was produced by a small 20 man team, I still feel extremely proud of what we did achieve.
You've expressed disappointment with a number of your other, more acclaimed titles such as The Movies and B&W2. Why is that?
Molyneux: The Movies and Black & White 2 were made under incredible strain. We were a small studio working on four games simultaneously; Fable the Lost Chapters (PC and Xbox), the Movies and Black & White 2 - and they all were finishing together. So I think the quality did suffer.