30 great devs in 30 years: Lionhead
4th Nov 2011 | 18:10
Lionhead doesn't have a huge list of games series to its name (in fact, it has three) and yet its still one of the most well known studios in the world let alone the UK.
That may be, in part, down to its charismatic and media-friendly head Peter Molyneux and roots in another influential UK studio, Bullfrog.
But that's not to take away from the popular games that Lionhead can lay claim to, which have undoubtedly cemented the studio's reputation.
Location: Guildford, England
Killer quote: "Peter Molyneux is the most lauded British developer of all time." - CVG
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".
One of the most influential figures in the games industry actually got his first real break in the industry by accident when Commodore International mistook his baked bean exporting business for a networking software company and sent him ten free Amgia systems for porting software.
After taking the opportunity to build a successful database system for the Amiga, Molyneux and business partner Les Edgar went on to form Bullfrog, which is where the future Fable founder created the likes of Populous, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper.
Louise Murray Head of Fable Franchise at Lionhead. She joined the games industry 8 years ago as a project manager at Burnout house Criterion, before make the move to the Microsoft Games Studio to produce the original Fable.
Louise was promoted to exec producer for Fable 2 before stepping up again for her current role.
"Lionhead is all about innovation, trying to do new and different things," she told Edge this year. "We don't want to do licences and just make solid games, we're very designheavy and design-centric - that's our big focus. While we're good at the technical things, that's secondary. It's about asking if we can do something that's going to delight and intrigue - can we do something different?"
LIONHEAD GAMES WE LOVE
Black & White is an RTS 'god game' that wowed critics and consumers upon release simply for the amount of elements it brought to an incredibly detailed game world.
It wasn't the most accessible game in the world but it boasted superb 3D graphics and artificial intelligence techniques.
Real depth, however, made Black & White satisfying for those willing to put in a bit more time than they would for a mindless shooter. The game is open-ended enough to allow many different play styles as gamers chose to be merciful gods of vengeful balls of smite.
"I love Black & White, but I still think I could have made it a lot better," Peter Molyneux admitted to CVG this year. "I was too distracted, too agitated by new technology again. Lionhead and myself started to get involved in Project Dimitri and The Movies and Fable. There were so many things, it was just crazy. It makes me cringe to think of it now."
Black & White is a project Molyneux still toys with the idea of revisiting.
"It's definitely one where I could think of five things I could do with it tomorrow," he added, "especially with all the motion control stuff like Kinect. The whole idea is to make you feel godly, to make you feel powerful. Using more than your thumbs or fingers to do that would be great."
Nevertheless, its strength is once again in its depth, putting together beautifully realised worlds, open-ended gameplay, a slew of RPG elements and cheeky humour.
The series kicked off with Fable in 2004 but it wasn't until Fable II when the series truly delivered, delivering gamers quests of morality and heroism from Lionhead ever since. There are few games that will make your choices feel quite so important.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Lionhead is currently working on Fable: The Journey - the fourth game in the RPG series but the first for Microsoft's motion sensor, Kinect.
Molyneux explained: "Microsoft came to us and said, 'Hey, could you do a game for Kinect?' We had been working on Milo for well over a year so we had lots of experience with Kinect, but this is a challenge which is not for the faint hearted, to be honest with you.
"I think that the core are pretty tied to their controllers and I think what we need to do is prove that Kinect can have a game as full and engaging and as easy to control as anything that you could have on a controller."
Molyneux promises he has "a very clear idea where Fable will go in the future", but what of the man himself? This year alone, he's had to make room in that Lionhead cabinet for a BAFTA Fellowship and a GDC Lifetime Achievement Award. Does he ever think it's time to hang up his boots?
"That can't be true. It can't, damn it! I feel like everything I've done in the past has led to this moment now. It's time I used all of my experience and all of my failings to make something truly great."
Although Molyneux and Lionhead are sometimes accused of over-hype prior to a games release but the studio has always strived to offer deeper experiences than those that are already on shelves.
Fable brought solid RPG mechanics to the table but, more importantly, it offered both humour and journeys of morality.
It's this exploration of deeper themes in gaming that has informed the studio's direction going forward. Projects like Kinect's Milo & Kate aimed to challenge how we thought about game design.