Fable creator Peter Molyneux outlines Lionhead’s original “steampunk Victoriana" vision for Fable 4 in this 2014 interview

Microsoft is almost certainly going to announce Fable 4 at E3 2019 after a huge Fable 4 leak on Reddit. The news that Fable is returning has been warmly received, but word of a future setting, not to mention rumours that Albion and Aurora are now "lands reduced to fables", not so much. While we’ll likely learn about this new direction at Microsoft's Xbox E3 2019 media briefing this Sunday, original creator Peter Molyneux actually outlined a far more futuristic vision in a previously unreleased 2014 interview. 

The thing is, Fable was never designed to be this static thing. At its core, it is an adventure game series with a heart and a distinct sense of humour; that needn't be constrained to one time or place. As far as original Fable creator Peter Molyneux is concerned, Fable was always meant to move through the ages, It was always meant to take the core hero's journey, the clear and defined morality system, and give you the opportunity to experience it in new and equally fantastic settings and scenarios. 

"The long story – the very, very long story – for Fable, when we first spoke about it [at Lionhead], took you from an earlier Albion to five-hundred years on, and then the plan was to go all the way up to the modern day," Molyneux told me in an interview back in 2014. We were supposed to discuss the making of Fable ahead of its tenth anniversary but, as with most interviews with the man himself, we quickly got off-topic and onto the topic of big ideas. "So you would no longer have a hero with just swords, magic and ranged weapons, but you'd have a hero with the same morality influence in the modern day setting...  but that would have taken Fable 10 or something ridiculous to do."

Fable 2

Fable 2

"The plan was to go all the way up to the modern day"

Peter Molyneux

It could well have taken Fable 10 to get there, although original developer Lionhead was on the right track to achieve this storytelling dream before the Xbox One came along. As you may well remember, the original Fable was set in an early version of Albion before the studio leaped 500 years into the future for Fable 2, with the world resembling Europe in the early 1700s. For Fable 3, Lionhead jumped a further 50 years ahead, with Albion caught up in an industrial revolution of sorts. Fable, as a concept, was always designed to progress with the flow of time. And I just so happen to know where it could have landed next. 

"There was a whole a whole sequence of concept art about a Fable set in a kind of steampunk Victoriana age," Molyneux told me, noting that while it "certainly wasn't off the ground while I was there" the team were in the early stages of trying to envision what this era would have looked like in the classic Fable style. Would this have been Fable 4 or a spin-off? Molyneux had an answer for that too. "It would have been a Fable 4, yeah. It would have been Fable 4 and it would have been fascinating to do. Focusing on the idea of becoming famous and becoming a hero, but the world had changed. It would have been interesting, actually."

Bending time

Lionhead hinted towards broader steampunk themes in the Fable 3 2011 DLC pack Traitor's Keep

Lionhead hinted towards broader steampunk themes in the Fable 3 2011 DLC pack Traitor's Keep

The thing to remember, Molyneux suggests, is that because Fable has such a unique look, an unmistakable art style to match its core storytelling and morality systems, it really could go anywhere and still be true to the spirit of the series. "You could look at a character and say, 'yep, they are from the Fable universe!' which I always thought was very strong. [We] did do the concept art of a steampunk-era, and that still held true to the overall art style of Fable. It looked good," said Molyneux, who goes on to note that the progression of time wasn't just a narrative concern but something reflected in the world design and art style too. "It was an amazing thing to see how Bowerstone, the capital of Fable, progressed. It went from, in Fable 1, to just 20 houses and then in Fable 3 it felt like a city that had districts. You could see that sense of progression in it."

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At the time, back in 2014, when Lionhead Studios still existed, I did reach out to the studio – Molyneux noted that this artwork was sat in a vault somewhere and that it may well share it should I ask nicely – and I recall being met with a friendly 'no comment'.  But on the face of it, it makes sense. And it makes sense that Playground Games (rumoured to be the developer of this all-new Fable 4) would want to progress through time once again, making a 'medieval themed' Fable game with 'new continents' following the destruction of Albion and the passage of 'eons' of time. 

"I think it's all down to the passion of the team that's making it," Molyneux told me at the time, as we discussed whether Fable had a future as a single-player RPG or whether the Fable Legends-style direction was more suited. "If there were people passionate about it, they could make a Fable 4. There's plenty of scope left in the story... although they've killed off Theresa now in Fable: The Journey, of course. She was a major character to kill off, so you'd have to create a few new interesting characters."

Theresa played a big part in the Kinect-only adventure Fable: The Journey

Theresa played a big part in the Kinect-only adventure Fable: The Journey

"If there were people passionate about it, they could make a Fable 4"

Peter Molyneux

I paid that last comment no attention in 2014, yet here we are in 2019 and it made my chuckle. The leak today mentioned that Theresa and a Heroes Guild were being 'preserved' on another planet via a demon door, that the Jack of Blades and The Spire could return in some fashion too. The mention of Theresa returning sent a few fans into a tailspin this morning, and her being cleared off of the board clearly bothered Molyneux back in 2012 when it happened too. Perhaps Playground will be looking to revise this part of Fable's history. 

The rest of the leak regarding alternate planets to play on also drew ire from the internet-at-large, but  it isn't out of the realms of possibility for Fable. None of this is. In fact, we may have already ventured out into the solar system once before in Fable. Back in Fable 3, should you locate the Mourningwood Demon Door, you will find yourself whisked away to a desolate hellscape of a planet. A cold and eerie place, a planet – known only as 'Planet One' – where little more than an orrery can be found, one that allows the player to shift the environment, time of day, and the local celestial bodies. 

At the time, I thought it was little more than a misplaced opportunity for Lionhead to demo its impressive lighting engine; now, I can't help but wonder whether it had always planned on taking us away from Albion and off into the stars. Still, had Molyneux never left Lionhead, had the studio never been sent on the fool's errand that was Fable Legends, the mind can only imagine how close we'd be to that modern-day Fable setting and the controversy that would have followed it. So perhaps venturing into a world of medieval fantasy, time travel and planet hopping won't be so bad after all.

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Josh West
Editor-in-Chief, GamesRadar+

Josh West is the Editor-in-Chief of GamesRadar+. He has over 15 years experience in online and print journalism, and holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing. Prior to starting his current position, Josh has served as GR+'s Features Editor and Deputy Editor of games™ magazine, and has freelanced for numerous publications including 3D Artist, Edge magazine, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. Additionally, he has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh likes to play bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in a few movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.