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Interviews

Peter Molyneux: The Fable of a Fellow

The Lionhead boss recalls his career lows and highs following his BAFTA triumph......

Peter Molyneux is... a would-be thief, whose frenzied coveting of his college's Apple 2E "hatched a really elaborate plot to steal it".

Peter Molyneux is... a "very poor programmer", whose crisis of confidence led him to feel "insanely self-conscious" and "stupid" in front of fellow designer David Braben.

Peter Molyneux is... the most lauded British developer of all time, who strives to "creatively step where others fear to tread" - and who swears his next Fable will "stand head and shoulders next to the greatest games ever made".

Initiator of innovation, enthusiastic exaggerator, disciple of doubt; the father of Fable plays a number of varied, often contradictory roles in his own mind.

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Little surprise, then, that his games have become characterised by character; driven by Molyneux's "little people" who "create life, a whole breathing world inside your computer".

These mini eco-systems - from Populous through to Magic Carpet, Theme Park, Syndicate, Black & White, The Movies and many more - have enhanced the existence of millions.

Their appeal goes beyond mere charm and personality; they are designed to put power in the hands of players whose control over real life's bigger picture is nibbled at and withered by teaches, bosses and government.

You might expect the man who invented the God genre to have a cast iron confidence in his craft; one which may warp to aptly deific proportions on his receipt of the BAFTA Fellowship.

But Molyneux, now 51 and with a giant cabinet full of glimmering accolades in the reception of Lionhead, still finds himself beset with the same professional insecurity that has dogged his career.

"In the early days, everybody else I knew in the industry programmed in machine code," he tells CVG.

"They knew how many clock cycles each instruction took and had all these tricks to add numbers together. I just programmed in C - which to them was like the language for nursery kids. I remember David Braben and Jez San were almost talking in binary, it was that technical. They asked me: 'What do you programme in?' When I told them, they literally turned their back. I felt stupid."

These niggles make all-too-snug reasoning for why Molyneux, the self-confessed "bloke with the big mouth", often finds himself "speaking a lot of utter bullsh*t" to the press. Perhaps, the logic goes, his trademark bluster is a reaction to (or a light-handed distraction from) the Doubting Tom within.

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But Molyneux's immense faith in his team's ability to more than compensate for his foibles suggests otherwise. These days, his role is a combination of ideas man, designer and manager; he leaves the ultra-technical stuff to the "geniuses" he judiciously employs. And although he admits that he's occasionally guilty of becoming over-excited by his projects, one thing's for sure: there's nothing artificial about his passion.

"I love what I do to the point of annoying and frustrating friends, colleagues and my wife," he says. "Every breath I take, I'm thinking about computer games. I love playing them, I love making them, I love thinking about them.

"In fact, I prefer doing any of those things to that terribly tedious activity of watching television or - equally tedious - talking to people. My fantasy, absolutely, is to be able to shut the world down for a while so I could just concentrate solely on computer games."

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