Gamescom 2010: Fable III Interview - Peter Molyneux Weighs In On The Kinect Debate, Talks Fable III
Written Wednesday, August 25, 2010 By Dan WebbView author's profile
As well as going hands-on with Fable III at this year's Gamescom, we also had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting Kinect and Fable with the legendary Peter Molyneux - one of the truly brutally honest games designers left in the industry.
It's the first chance we've really had to talk with Mr Molyneux on the whole Kinect issue, but having the chance to delve deeper into the design process of Fable is always a pleasure, especially when the Lionhead and Microsoft figurehead is so candid.
Expect talk about dogs, parrots, core games and Kinect and the token morality question. Get comfy, it's a long one...
Being a huge supporter of Kinect and now Fable III will no longer be shipping with Kinect support, what is your opinion of the lack of core games for the launch line-up?
Well, I've got two thoughts about it. I mean, today I did a demo of Fable to the people on the showfloor and there were lots of people there and that question came up – “Will there be Kinect in Fable?” - and I asked the audience, how many people want Kinect in Fable? About ten hands went up, and so I asked, how many people definitely don't want Kinect in Fable? About 300 hands went up, and the problem is - I absolutely love Kinect, I adore it and I love Fable - but crafting a great core experience for Kinect is going to take some time, it really is.
There are a lot of things that are going to have to be designed and thought about from the ground up. It's taken about seven years to get to the point where A is the standard button for accepting things and a lot of games made in the early stages of controllers, the movement was here (the d-pad) and aiming was here (the right stick), so that's just a controller. I think until we actually have the time to make a truly fantastic, amazing core experience, we shouldn't attempt to do something. And we were going to do some stuff in Fable, but I've got to be honest with you, it was just too gimmicky. I don't think it did Fable or Kinect justice.
Do you regret announcing the Fable and Kinect association?
No, I don't. I mean, I'm fascinated with both Kinect and Fable, and I'm definitely not saying at this point that we're not going to do a Kinect and Fable, but I'm definitely saying that we have not had enough time to balance a quality experience that I'm happy with that does Fable or Kinect justice. And incidentally, I think Kinect is a real revolution. That's not me as a Microsoft person talking to you, that's purely me as a game designer, because it really does change a hell of a lot. It's an important moment – I think – in gaming.
Was it just that the Kinect stuff wasn’t natural and didn’t fit in with the game? Was it a gimmick?
It wasn't natural. I sat down with Kinect and thought, the truth about controllers and games like Fable is, about 70% of the time, you're just doing this (Molyneux pushes forward on the left thumbstick), that's all you're doing and if you'd never seen a controller game before and I just said, “I've got a new world of gaming. Forty-million people will love this gaming device.” So, what do you do? “This.” (pushes forward on the left thumbstick again) You would think I'm insane. But we have to functionally replace what that does and those micro-movements that make you feel involved and engaged during control. And the trouble with something like Kinect is, I can't ask you to do something like this (points gun forward) or even worse, I can't ask you to do this (Molyneux runs on the spot). Twenty hours of doing this (continues running)? I've got to think of something completely new and fresh and different to do that keeps you engaged, that keeps you feeling like you are part of the world, but doesn't exhaust you. Now I know what that is, but it took a lot of prototypes and a lot of playing around with that, and a lot of asking yourself, am I standing up, am I sitting down, what am I doing?
Fable III picks up 50 years after Fable II, so what impact will that shift in time have on the gameplay?
Let's talk about that and let's talk about the story in Fable 1, because that was a problem, that was a rubbish thing in Fable 1 and Fable 2. Let's be honest about it. The gameplay was gimmicky, it wasn't connected to the story, marrying people didn't really have an effect, going and farting in people's faces was funny, but it was a gimmick. There was a whole collection of unconnected toys, so we really thought about that in Fable III, that's the first thing. The second thing is feeding things into the drama and story and then the third thing is deciding on the pace of the game. But we're going to go to the levelling-up stuff, so we've tackled all of this in one neat package.
Interestingly, there's a mechanic in role-playing games called levelling-up, we all know what it is, we all love it and we all love the idea of starting at level 1 and progressing to level 10. We wondered if we could use levelling-up, reinvent it a little bit, so that it would help us with a.) the gameplay, b.) the story and c.) your compulsion to play.
So, the story in Fable III is very simple. You're a rebel, there's an evil king, he's called Logan, you've got to get followers and when you get enough followers, you attack the king, take out the king and become king yourself. That's the story. And this word 'followers', we got very interested in and very fascinated with. We realised, if you crossed out the word 'experience' and made levelling-up less about combat and more about gaming and story and replace the word 'experience' with 'followers', then we could invent this place [shows the road to Logan’s castle in-game] where you spend your followers.
You earn followers through everything you do in Fable III. You get followers for fighting well, you get followers for doing quests, you get followers for marrying well, you get followers for doing well in business and you'll lose followers for doing badly in business, getting divorced, dying in battle or failing quests. So followers equals power. The more followers you have, the more gates you're able to go through and when you get through the final gate, you're ready for that battle, you’re ready to take on the king and his forces. So, levelling-up is part of the story, it's part of the same game mechanics and that's pretty cool, but we wondered whether there was something else we could do.
One of the problems with Fable 1 and Fable 2, was we gave you a big bag of stuff and we just gave it to you. We kind of puked these game features on you and then just let you choose whether you do them or not, it was up to you. You had no control over when you got something or when didn't get something, and people forgot about it. So, now we've invented something called 'gameplay chests'. In each level and between each gate there is a chest and in each chest, there is a piece of gameplay, an entire gameplay mechanic. For example, in here is the 'friends expression' pack. If you want to play the 'friends' game, which gives you the ability to go and make friends with people - once you become friends with people, they become your followers and anybody in the world of Albion can give you quests – then unlock that box. If you want to play the 'simulation' game – buying and selling houses, running a business – then open the landlord box. If you hate all that stuff and you just want fighting and combat, then you can open the red chests, which are all about combat, spells and special moves. That means the game flow, the levelling-up, the story, what the game of Fable is, is all integrated into this one system. God knows how you're going to review it, I don't know.
The interesting thing is, because you spend followers to open these chests and the gates, it means the speed-runners will only get one or two of these chests per gate. The grinders will do exactly what they want to do. They'll grind and get enough followers to gain all of the boxes before opening the gate.
When you play your own game like Fable with moral choices, do you find yourself adopting the good or evil route?
I'm as conflicted as other people are, in that I'm tempted by evil but attracted too much by good. But I think Fable III is far, far, far less about good and evil, because actually those moral choices happen in a lot of games that involve good and evil stuff and they're doing this big set up between just and unjust, cruelty and kindness and you're the only person in the world who knows these things, what's right and what's wrong, so it's less about that and more about the kind of choices we have. It's very interesting morally, because we've got these things called 'promises', and as you get followers, you've got to promise them things. Promise that you'll abolish slavery, promise them that you'll give them back their land, that you'll abolish child labour, so when you become king, those are the choices you'll have to make. Which of these promises are you going to keep? There's this classic philosophical problem of five people walking along a rope bridge, they get to the middle, one of the people is overweight, the rope bridge starts to break, what do you do? There's no right or wrong answer. There's only your answer which is the right thing, so I think for me – I haven't yet played Fable III – I've played through it a thousand times, but it's not until I actually go into a shop and buy a retail copy, sit at home and not have 32,000 bugs to worry about, that I'll be able to find out who I really am.
You've kind of levelled-up at Microsoft by getting to your new role and made a lot of promises along the way. Which of those promises do you want to keep?
Haha. Good question. Yeah, in a way Microsoft is like a little kingdom actually. Well, not so little really. I think we as human beings always make promises either to our boss, to ourselves or to our partners and I mean, I always over-promise. I think that's what I do in the press a lot. I over-promise and under-deliver, and I'm sure my boss at Microsoft would say that, definitely. But I'm passionate and autistically, I believe in my promises, but I've never once lied to you, I've always told the truth, because everything I say, I passionately believe in. That same thing's true about Microsoft, so I'm just going to tell them, I'm going to make the greatest game of all time, that's it! Just give me loads of money and leave me alone to do it!
How are you looking to improve the co-op aspects of Fable III since Fable II was fairly limited in this department?
Let's look at that. It was absolutely rubbish. It was one of those features that we only half-implemented at best, so we've looked at this and we've said, a.) when you come into my world, you should come in as your hero. Your hero, you bring him in with all the weapons and customisation choices, you bring in your dog: you should be yourself. b.) When you're in my world, I should be able to say, I want to go off and do this job for a while, and you go off and quest, so the camera is not being attached. When you are fighting together, one of you can go off and get some health potions, so keep these people off me. You can really, truly co-op together. Then c.) there are some really charming things about Fable we've given you, so if you want, you can hug your co-op buddy, you can touch them in inappropriate places, you can have sex with your co-op buddy, you can marry your co-op buddy and you can have children with your co-op buddy. Or, you can have a business partnership if you don't feel like exploring your sexuality in that particular way.
What can we expect to see in Fable III in terms of world-morphing? Will there be key events that change the world at all in Fable III? Can we expect more in Fable III?
Absolutely. Especially when you're king. What we found in Fable II was that there was some level-morphing stuff, but people found it very aggravating that we had to remind them that this was the decision they had made. That is completely solved by you being king, because people will come to you and say, “Sire, if you do this and this, this will happen” and “If you do that, this will happen” and it just makes more sense.
Having a dog has proved very popular in Fable. Did you ever anticipate that?
I don't think the team really wanted to implement the dog, because there was this constant battle with the dog to keep it just a dog. In Fable III, interestingly, there was this idea from the team to give him a 'super bark', so he could knock over enemies with his bark. I said, “Look, we've made a dog. There's no new features. We're not going to do any more press on it, it's just a dog. He can't run at 60 miles an hour, he can't bark and knock down trees, he's still just a dog.” Yes, we will use him as part of the drama, but he shouldn't be anything more than a dog.
And do you think the dog will remain a part of the franchise as it goes on?
We did talk about turning the dog into a parrot, bizarrely. When we found we were getting John Cleese to play your butler, we thought if we had a parrot, we could do the parrot sketch in the game! Wouldn't that be cool!? Then we realised that would be a bit silly. I like the dog but I think if a lot of our systems become boring and it's there just for the sake of having it there, then we should change it. I still like the idea of having this companion that relies on you and you rely on it, and it's a real thing in the world.
Do you think you'll be as critical of Fable III a few years down the line as you are of Fable II right now?
I'm no fool. I've read the reviews. I'm not saying anything that hasn't been said in a review. I could choose to ignore it and blindly go on thinking I'm the greatest designer of all time, or I could just accept them as what they are, which are failings in what could have been a great game. And yeah, the co-op was rubbish, the 2D interface was confusing and bewildering, and that experience spending system – guess what – 30% of people filled up the first experience bar, then the second experience bar, then the third experience bar. Why? Because we presented it to them in that order, which is just bad design and I could choose to ignore it, but I think places like Develop where I'm stood in a room filled with 400 programmers and designers from the industry, well if I wasn't honest, then what am I doing standing there? It just doesn't make sense, so I don't know. I mean, the problem with games development is that you get to the bug-fixing phase – and we had 32,000 bugs in Fable III - and that's when all the horrible stuff starts happening. It's when your light map resolution goes down and your textures get reduced, and the gameplay here that you thought was so wonderful has so many bugs in it and has to be ripped out like dissection. We're down to just 46 bugs now, so I'm happy that we're not going to lose anything, but it's not until I truly walk into a shop to buy my copy to play at home that I really know the game I made, even though I've played it thousands of times.
When you do finally become king, is there as much impetus to continue playing as there is in the first half of the game?
Fable III is scheduled for an October 26th and October 29th release in North America and Europe respectively. Don't forget to check out our Fable III Gamescom hands-on here.