We love Peter Molyneux - so much so that sometimes it must seem like we interview him every week. In actual fact the last time we spoke to him was gamescom in August. Today he's speaking to YOU at our beloved Eurogamer Expo in London, revealing new details about Fable III and, knowing him, putting on an interesting show in the process.
Knowing that not everyone can make it to the Expo and our auditorium will be rammed anyway, we caught up with Molyneux on the phone yesterday to find out what he's going to talk about. Sadly Microsoft insisted we don't talk about Project Milo on this occasion (it was that or no interview), but if you're interested in the Fable series, or just want to know why Molyneux's posting videos of his son on the internet these days, read on.
Eurogamer: Before we get into Fable III, I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed the video of Lucas [Molyneux, Peter's son] taking Valve to task about Half-Life.
Peter Molyneux: I know! Sam Van Tilburgh [from Lionhead] was at my house because I was really busy but I had to babysit Lucas. He was recording a video of me giving hints and tips, and Lucas has this obsession with making his video - he wants to make his own video, and it's going to involve planes crashing, people dying and the world turning sideways. Quite why the world's turning sideways I don't know. So he said, "Oh can I record something? Can I be filmed?" And Sam so kindly said okay, so I clipped the mic on, and everything you saw from that point onwards was him.
He turned around to me and said, "What should I talk about?" and I said he should talk about Half-Life 3 because he's always talking about Half-Life 3. In fact, I was on the phone to Phil Spencer, my boss, once and he grabbed the phone and said, "When's Half-Life 3 coming out? You're American, you must know." Phil tried to convince him that he didn't want to play Half-Life 3, he wanted to play Halo: Reach, but it didn't quite work.
Anyway, then the problem was that the camera Sam had couldn't play back the video, so he said, "No problem, I'll put it on YouTube for you." He put it on YouTube and then I made the mistake of tweeting about it and it just went completely insane. It wasn't meant as a Fable PR trick, I promise you.
Eurogamer: I actually really want to play Last Guardian, so I was wondering if Lucas does requests? Maybe he can do a video for Team ICO?
Peter Molyneux: Yes, well, actually it's a good point, because the first computer game we ever played together was ICO. Because I thought it was absolutely essential if I was going to recognise this child as my own that he loves computer games. Otherwise I'd have to get him gene-tested. So the first game I ever played when he could barely talk was ICO, and he loved ICO for a long time, so he probably would do that. But you're right, the Last Guardian, god, I can hardly wait to see that. I looked at ICO only a few weeks ago and it still looks amazing.
Eurogamer: I can't wait for the HD version.
Peter Molyneux: Are they doing an HD version of ICO?
Eurogamer: Yes, they're doing that and Shadow of the Colossus.
Peter Molyneux: Reeeally...
Eurogamer: Anyway let's talk about Fable III. It's going to put you on the throne of Albion, but for the benefit of people who maybe aren't up to speed on what's happened so far, what's the story so far in Fable? What brings us up to the start of Fable III?
Peter Molyneux: The Fable world is rather like the world of England, really, the legends of England. It's kind of followed what the English fairytale and legend was and has become. In the first Fable there was this place called the Guild and the Guild had all these heroes - they were kind of like Knights of the Round Table - and they went on adventures and quests. They saved the world.
In Fable 1 it was all about introducing this family called the Bloodline, and it was the most heroic Bloodline the world had ever known. At the time we were thinking of King Arthur and it was very much grounded in halfway between legend and fairytale. That story introduced one of our main characters, Theresa the Seer, and we picked up 500 years later in Fable II, where the Guild had gone into ruin, there weren't any real heroes any more, and you can think of that in the time of around about Robin Hood in England, where there weren't any magical Excalibur swords around any more but you still had massive heroes like Robin Hood.
Peter Molyneux: You played a character still part of this Bloodline. We still had the Theresa character there who didn't seem to have aged but was certainly a lot wiser. You went out and saved the land of Albion again, but this time you saved it from a character called Lucien, who was building this Spire. We never quite said why he was building the Spire. So then Theresa guided you to save the land of Albion from him. At the end of the story you beat the bad guy and you come to Fable III.
Eurogamer: And Theresa of course said that you could have the land of Albion but the Spire was for her.
Peter Molyneux: Exactly. The Spire was for her. And you don't know quite what she was doing with the Spire. So we pick up Fable III, 50 years has moved on, when you left Fable II you left it being the unquestionable hero of the land and people then went on to crown you king. In that 50 years you then died and bequeathed your heritage to two of your children - one, called Logan, you bequeathed the throne to, and one you didn't seem to bequeath anything to, which is the youngest of all the children, which is the character you play.
Now, Logan seems to have gone a little bit mad. He's become this huge tyrant and he's ruling Albion in the most despicable and awful way, and there's a lot of poverty and suffering. He's executing people for standing against him in the most minor and trivial ways, and that's where the game really opens.
Eurogamer: So what happens when you start out in Fable III?
Peter Molyneux: You wake up in the morning, in bed with your dog. Your butler Jasper opens your curtains, you're a prince, you go out of your bedchambers and meet your girlfriend, and your girlfriend - or boyfriend if you play a girl - tells you how the land is suffering. You then go to the front of the castle where there's this big protest going on, and that's as far as I'll take the story...
But you start off as a prince, and within about 25 minutes you become a revolutionary, because we've got this big dilemma and dramatic point that happens in the first 15 minutes.
Eurogamer: When you were playing Fable II yourself, were you good or evil, or were you somewhere in between?
Peter Molyneux: Well, I tried to be evil, but I realised - and this actually shaped a lot of Fable III - that a lot of choices were so unbelievably despicable... In the end I saved my dog, I mean I had no question about that, I don't care about killing thousands of people just to save my loved ones. So like most people I tried to be evil but couldn't help going down the side of slightly good. I think I would say in classic Dungeons & Dragons terminology that I would be chaotic evil or verging to neutral.
I'm not a reliably evil person, let's put it that way.
Eurogamer: I always have difficulty because I feel like I have to go to one extreme to see the best that a game has to offer.
Peter Molyneux: That's what's so interesting about Fable III. The first really big, true moral choice you have is far less about good and evil and far more about... Actually. for example, this doesn't spoil anything by me saying this, the very first choice you have in the game is whether you want to kiss your girlfriend or hug your girlfriend. Well there's no good or evil there. The second moral choice is you've got to give a speech to the staff to motivate them, and do you give them an aggressive speech or a passive speech? That's less about good or evil too.
I think it spoilt the game a bit if you felt like you had to go down the good or evil path, so they're much more thoughtful, and certainly the first big one you get after 15 minutes makes you go, "What?! There's no way I can... There's no right decision here." So you get much more of, "Oh, what would I do?"
Eurogamer: Rather than, "What will get me the best stuff?"
Peter Molyneux: Yeah exactly.
Eurogamer: You've been working on Fable for the best part of 10 years now. Where did the original idea come from and did you see it coming this far?
Peter Molyneux: Well, I'm a really ambitious person - that's been my problem. It was me, Dene and Simon Carter were sitting making a game called Dungeon Keeper at my house, and we were talking about role-playing games and how ridiculous it was they didn't have this big story arc, they'd just have this slightly crazy... Okay you play this game and that's the end and then they have to reinvent themselves. And wouldn't it be great to make a role-playing game that, first, wasn't massively techie and secondly had this idea of you are how you play, rather than you are what you choose at the start of the game.
We then spoke through this big story arc and definitely spoke through the idea of moving on through time - that you shouldn't stick to one particular period, that you should be able to move through time. Since we thought of that there have been things that came out that were like that. One of the things that's very similar in terms of the epochs it's moving through is called Black Adder.
Eurogamer: Yeah I guess so. They take a similar cast but move between time periods.
Peter Molyneux: They do, they do. And it's kind of similar-ish to our timeframe. They started in the Dark Ages, then they did Elizabethan times and that's when Fable II was, and then they moved to the cusp of the industrial revolution with King George, then World War I. That's not a clue to what Fable IV will be, by the way.
Eurogamer: What sort of things have you learned about the people playing Fable over those 10 years?
Peter Molyneux: Well it's very interesting. Certainly with Fable II, more people who are playing it are not core gamers. Most of the people are core gamers, but there's a lot of partners of core gamers that really enjoy it, and a lot of women who enjoy it absolutely for sure. Some women are fanatical about it. There's this one family in America that lives like Fable people. They dress like Fable people.
Peter Molyneux: Yes. The husband and the wife and the children all dress like people from Albion.
Eurogamer: Do they have a massive stone talking door?
Peter Molyneux: [Laughs] I don't know. They've got a dog. Apparently they got a dog when they played Fable II. I'm just really terrified what's going to happen to them after Fable III. It could go horribly wrong. It could be a really negative press story - it's all lovely and sweet after Fable II but after Fable III I'm not so sure.
Eurogamer: Do you plan to stroll around the showfloor this weekend helping people out? Issuing wisdom and instructions?
Peter Molyneux: I do love doing that, although it does make the PR people very nervous. I love just watching people play. I think that's the best thing I can do - to see whether people are excited or bored, and how quickly they get bored is a really fascinating thing.
More on Fable III
Eurogamer: How much of that observation of people playing informs what you do in development?
Peter Molyneux: You have to look at what people are playing and what they're doing. Even noticing how people are sitting when they're playing is really instructive when you're trying to balance and pace a game.
Eurogamer: What's a good way for someone to sit when they're playing Fable?
Peter Molyneux: I want them to be sitting back, I want them to be completely relaxed, but then when I offer a choice, the ideal thing is if they just drop the controller to their lap and just pause for a second, because that means they're not just reacting - "Well obviously I'll choose A or B" - because choices aren't about that, they're about thinking about what something means, because if it whirls round in your head a bit then you're obviously a little bit more emotional.
Eurogamer: How does Fable III Kingmaker work?
Peter Molyneux: The way it works is rather like Foursquare, where you can go to a location and you can check in at that location. When you're actually registering in Kingmaker you get put onto the side of the Loyalists or the Rebels, and depending on how many people check into a location, that location then becomes controlled by either the people who support the King or the people who are rebelling against the King. On the day of launch we're going to see who would win the battle and who controls what areas of the UK.
That's a really cool little game, but the other cool thing is that every time you check in you earn Fable gold. So you've got another motivation to do that, so when you come to Fable III you've already got hundreds of gold. If you pre-order Fable III - and this is us being blatant about this - you multiply that gold by two.
Eurogamer: Do I get anything for having about four billion gold in Fable II at this point? I think I would if I loaded it up now anyway from all the rent on all my properties.
Peter Molyneux: Yeah, that's a lovely feature isn't it? We're hoping it's going to be in the final version. I'm afraid you don't get anything for that - that was all the King's gold, which Logan has squandered.
Eurogamer: That's another reason not to like that guy.
Peter Molyneux: Yep. Exactly. We should have actually shown him spending all the gold you made.
Eurogamer: So the game obviously must be close to being finished if not finished entirely. How do you like to celebrate the launches of your games and will you be doing anything special for this one?
Peter Molyneux: Well we used to go down to the local café at six in the morning and have a really greasy breakfast in the old days when it was very clear cut when you were finally finished, but the finish always drags on a little bit. There's always other languages to do. But we are having a really lovely super-duper launch party, which should come as soon after release as we can do it, so that will be a great celebration. For me personally, not having to fly all around the world would be great.
Eurogamer: That's a good thing about the Eurogamer Expo - it's just down the road in London.
Peter Molyneux: Yes, that's fantastic.
Fable III is due out for Xbox 360 on 29th October.