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The ups and downs in the history of Fable

Peter Molyneux is one of gaming’s most famous designers, the boss of Lionhead studios, and Microsoft’s European Creative Director. Last month we presented a snippet of our chat with him at Microsoft’s February showcase. Now, finally, here’s the rest of the meeting of minds, almost entirely unabridged. Only almost, mind you – because Pete sure can talk.

How has your take on Fable – how it works, what its aims are – changed over the years?

Let’s just talk about me as a director and the ideas that I’ve pushed and bullied through in this thing because the team is an amazing team. They’ve done a brilliant job.

I think the first mistake with Fable 1 was that I really mistook the idea of game features as goodness. I just stuffed it full of game features and didn’t think about the mechanics of those features or how to explain them to people or how to exploit them in the story. I can remember going into meetings three months before the game was on the shelves and saying, “I’ve just had this brilliant idea, why don’t we do this?” That was just insane, man.

It was insane. You know, if you go into a shop and pick up a box and it’s covered in small writing in six-point font with all the features and its gadgets, you know it’s not going to be a pleasant experience. But if you go into a shop and there are other products… I mean, Apple do this ‘it’s a phone and it’s beautiful’ thing with their packaging, which is exactly it! Suddenly you’re, like, “oh right, so that’s what I want.”

Fable II was the dawn of the realisation that it’s not about the number of features you’ve got, it’s how we exploit them and what they actually mean to the player.



The story of Fable 1

Once a great kingdom, Fable’s Albion has been corrupted by an evil king’s use of magic and is now a largely lawless collection of townships and villages. It’s the time spoken of in Fable II as an age of heroes, one of which is a child born in Oakvale. After losing his entire family he grows up to become a hero himself, seeks revenge against the bandit who killed his father and imprisoned his mother, and eventually finds himself in possession of the former king’s magic sword. Four different endings await based on the hero’s slant towards good or evil, and whether he chooses to save his sister or the sword.

It was with Fable that Molyenux learned not to deliver a game which falls short of his promises. While Fable was massive, loaded with sidequests, and was a genuinely unique take on the RPG, it was criticised for its ‘missing’ features – ideas like childbirth which Molyneux discussed in interviews but never found time to squeeze into the game.


Fable has become more accessible with each entry. Would you say it’s a brave move to simplify traditionally beardy RPGs?

No, I think what it just comes down to is that you can design a game around ten percent of your audience if you want to but you’re probably being a bit lazy. Because you know what? The world moves on, man. For example, Coronation Street has continually reinvented itself over and over again. That’s the genius of what makes that programme so unbelievably successful. It’s a format that’s got a life of its own. Why shouldn’t Fable be the same?

I love the idea of surprising people and getting people to do everything the game is capable of, and that’s all down to what they understand and the accessibility of what’s there. You know, I like Expressions and I like the ability to be able to emote but there’s just no real reason for me to do that in the game – but then you introduce the Touch system and the Follower system and suddenly you’re, like, “of course!” Now it fits in, now it’s part of the game, now there’s a reason for me to do that. There’s a consequence to me doing that and it all adds up.

Did simplifying things in Fable II take the RPG out of the game?

I’m not sure I personally call Fable an RPG. I mean it’s certainly not a nineties RPG. In a way you could look at it as an action-adventure. There’s a lot of drama, there’s a lot of story, there’s a lot of emotion in there, but we’re still levelling up. And you know, I love that levelling up mechanic; I’m not the kind of person who likes being given a pre-canned character and saying “this is you, no matter what”. But that’s just me, and that’s not to say it’s not okay to make games with Master Chiefs and all that – they’re brilliant, brilliant games.

So why dump the usual experience system?

The absolute main reason is that most people didn’t understand it. You know, that’s just wrong. I really thought about why you just get experience for combat; it seemed wrong too. This game is about expressions and getting married, and doing things in the world should be as important as fighting. Everything you do in the game, including what you wear, including the way you fight, including the touch and expressions, can gain and lose you Followers. So for example, if I marry someone in the game, and that was the daughter of someone significant, say, the Mayor of the town, I get more Followers.

Same with the health bar. Here’s the thing about removing the health bar – we haven’t removed anything; we’ve just copied other games. In first-person shooters the health bar’s in the world. When your health gets low the corners of the screen go red, sometimes it gets black and white, sometimes it gets fuzzy – that’s a health bar, man. In Fable II we were making that bar smaller and smaller and last year when we were working on Fable III that bar was one pixel high. Why not just do what everybody else is doing and just put it in the world?

And one of the biggest problems with Fable and Fable II was the whole morphing system. It just didn’t work because it was based on experience spending; all those thousands of hours we put into the morphing system was all dependent on people spending experience – which they didn’t understand in the first place! Our fatal schoolboy… well, my fatal schoolboy error, was to have essential gameplay features locked in that experience screen. Everybody wanted Block so everybody had to spend experience on Strength, so that means there was one whole morph no-one ever saw. It was stupid. Me being stupid.

17 comments

  • Slayer11496 - August 5, 2010 4:14 p.m.

    I love the two earlier games, and I'm sure Fable III will be no exception.
  • Vitoruss1 - May 17, 2010 9:19 p.m.

    I personally don't care if he hasn't fulfilled his promises in the past. The man is passionate about his craft and yeah, I'm going to buy what he says. I myself noticed an odd disconnection from Fable 2 because I couldn't physically touch anyone, but now it seems that that issue is being addressed (which I am very happy about). All the more power to you, Peter.
  • blairjacobs - May 7, 2010 2:31 p.m.

    o and albion is a great world minus the load screens
  • blairjacobs - May 7, 2010 2:27 p.m.

    molyneux is overly ambitious, fable was a good game, fable 2 dissapointed, fable 3, fingers crossed
  • tacoman38 - April 29, 2010 6:10 p.m.

    zeppelins?
  • kkokko - April 29, 2010 3:14 p.m.

    Cmon guys, Peter admitted that he made stupid mistakes in the past few games. But fable and fable2 were still fun to play. I actually think this would be a great evolution for the fable series, I'm really excited about this. The thought of dragging people to their demise, fulfilling promises as king, wielding unique weapons and stuff are actually cool. I'm really in to role playing in fable, now that they used touch, I think it would be a better experience. It's not all about fighting and stupid quests now. You can actually be a person and live a life here without getting bored(except if you played for like a 100+ hrs). But that is IF peter pulls this off. I really hope he will, cuz if he does, this would be one of the best games out there. Good luck to fableIII
  • usmovers_02 - April 29, 2010 2:27 p.m.

    I'd be shocked if we don't see Elderscolls V at E3 (please!!). And wow the Fable franchise is spirling out of control which is really too bad because Fable 1 is one of my favorite games of all time:
  • OnyxOblivion - April 29, 2010 10:42 a.m.

    YES! He's not making Natal mandatory!
  • adamasunder - April 29, 2010 10:29 a.m.

    All I here from Pete these days is how much money he can wring out of as many people. He seriously looks at Coronation Street as an influence? It's the law of the lowest common denominator. Make it as bland and unchallenging as possible and make it shiny and *bang* loads of money, but no respect. Fable 1 was a great little game, full of promise. Fable 2 was a glitchy mess of a game that was embarrassingly easy. Fable 3 is going to have to be proper good to turn my opinion around. Where the hell is Elder Scrolls 5?
  • crumbdunky - April 29, 2010 8:49 a.m.

    Everyone wants to knock Peter-and I can understand why even if I totally disagree with them. I LVE his over enthusiasm. He's like a kids with a tenner in a sweetshop and that excitement is brilliant for a man who's been doing this for so long. Sure he promises more than he delivers but who doesn't? Kojima does it, Jaffe does it and Cliffy certainly does it. It only seems worse with PM cos his ideas are usually more believable to start with and get our attention more easily. F2 wasn't what we'd hoped for, true, but it wasn't THAT bad and had great promise so can't we just wait for number three(second games are always hard, imo)and see if more of his wild enthusiasm actually seeps into the game this time?
  • Redeater - April 29, 2010 2:55 a.m.

    Peter is full of crap. He is the James Cameron of videogames sans awards.
  • Billiam101 - April 29, 2010 2:20 a.m.

    Sounds pretty good, but can you ever really trust Peter to do everything he says he will?
  • Wriggly - April 29, 2010 1:01 a.m.

    Sounds like The Sims if it were an action-adventure-RPG. @Fuzunga With you on that one.
  • Fuzunga - April 29, 2010 12:46 a.m.

    Let me summarize the ups and downs of the Fable franchise in two lines: Ups: Fable Downs: Fable 2
  • Doctalen - April 29, 2010 12:40 a.m.

    Didn't he say the same thing about the Emotes in Fable 2?
  • Cyberninja - April 28, 2010 11:58 p.m.

    sounds good.
  • scruffy35 - April 28, 2010 11:42 p.m.

    purple

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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