A Microsoft employee called Josh has shot Peter Molyneux's husband in the head. Molyneux confirms that this impossible to undo, and that his child will now be sent to a nearby orphanage. "You can get your kid to follow you," he points out, but you can't quickly get hitched again and dump the sprog on someone else. How about playing a sort of Pied Piper to other people's orphaned children? "You can go around and collect children," he says. "Whether or not that stays in to be honest depends on legal. What I worry about is children witnessing horrific things, like death of parents and stuff like that."
So then, it's business as usual for Lionhead, and Peter Molyneux - one of Britain's chattiest and most ambitious developers. Fable 2, another third-person action RPG, is due out later this year and for GDC he's got some new things to talk about. The biggest one being - as you might by now have guessed - co-operative play. "Everything in Fable 2 is fully co-operable," he says proudly. A second player with another Xbox controller can join at any stage of the adventure and stay for ten minutes, ten hours, or however long he or she wants.
"Co-op is quite good in other games," says Molyneux, "but for me it's not complete, because the thing I've really wanted is if I come into your world, I want you to pay me." When someone joins your game, you can negotiate the terms of their involvement, sliding bars left and right. Perhaps you get 50 percent of their earnings, or 30 percent of their experience. Which is great, providing of course they don't murder your husband.
The reason this is relevant is that the other player gets to take their loot home with them. Stats and characters are now centralised online, so you can roam the worlds of other players and then go home and spend your cash. It's more expansive than that, too. As Microsoft reveals during its Game Developers Conference keynote two days after we play Fable 2, certain Xbox Live Arcade games will allow you to earn virtual money that you can then spend in the world of Albion.
"It's more than one game," he says of the XBLA interaction. One of them is called Keystone, although he's not sure which one is going to be announced and says he can't talk about it, although he does say it was his "seed of an idea". (He doesn't want to stop with Xbox Live Arcade, either. As he points out, Microsoft is "a really big corporation". He starts spitting out ideas: "the more words you type into Microsoft Word, the more you might earn Fable gold! You guys would be away!")
Back in the real world, Keystone and its ilk won't be Lionhead-developed games - they are games from other Microsoft Game Studios developers. They aren't even anything to do with Fable. "You will be accruing Fable gold, and then if you buy Fable later on it will automatically recognise your gamertag has got this much Fable gold on it, and import it." You'll also be able to launch some of these XBLA games from in-game pubs. It's all gone a bit, dare we say it, PlayStation Home. But with husband-murder.
So let's talk about that gun. Last year Molyneux used GDC to espouse the game's drama, introducing your canine companion and emotional relationships, and then at E3 he talked about the one-button combat, which is meant to be ideal for casual and core gamers alike. But there are other buttons too: Y fires a gun, and B performs magic, which is another thing he can't talk about ("They knew that I was going to want to show all the stuff off, so they've crippled me," he says at one point, glumly).
The combat all follows the same rules: tap the button to do things quickly, or hold it down to charge up the sword, manually aim the gun or unleash more powerful magic attacks. "It's important that you feel it's super-accessible," says Molyneux, "but also that it's incredibly deep so if you're a gamer you feel there's a lot to get out of it." A bit later he shows us some of that depth, moving out of a powerful sword attack to fire the gun behind him in a smooth double-kill action, sending a frog-headed lizard dwarf thing flying in slow motion. "I will get more experience for doing that," he points out. There are co-operative elements to the combat as well, making it worthwhile to coordinate rather than hacking away separately.
Another new button is the "lookout trigger", which works a bit like Gears of War's Y-button. Whenever it flashes and you press it, the third-person camera changes position to highlight the most interesting thing nearby. In our demo, it's a pair of enemies chatting round the corner. Molyneux points out that apart from this, the interface is pretty sparse - largely, it would seem, because a lot of the more obvious gamey things have been rolled up into the world. Why bother with an alert indicator, for instance, when you can just have the dog growl?
As with the first game, everything has consequences. If you choose to be a woman, you have to carry and give birth to your child, which cuts into your adventuring. If you use the game's 'emotes' excessively, it affects perception of you. And as ever, while there is a plot (Molyneux bites his tongue to avoid spoiling it, but does insist that it will "push your morality to the limits"), you're not fenced in. To demonstrate this, he actually hops a nearby fence bordering the farmland you shared with your dead spouse, and starts mucking about in a ditch.
"At the moment, the story is just part of the Fable world. When you finish, the credits roll, but you're free to wander around. You can end up buying everything in the world; every house and every castle. That's a whole mini-game of exploration in itself, because everything works in simulation; if you buy and sell in a certain region, it will affect the house prices."
On top of that, Fable 2 has "got all the normal things you'd expect from a sequel". The world's "ten times larger", with 12 free-roaming above-ground regions and "something like 30" underground ones, plus, "I dunno, 100 more swords, and 200 more pieces of clothing, and all of them are augmentable and there's jewellery and all that stuff - blah blah blah. On the list goes." (Although it might end up being less - let's face it, morale in that part of the office just took a hit.)
Anyway, our time in Molyneux's company is about up, and so we reach the point where we came in: Josh blowing his husband's head off. Just prior to this, as the female avatar and her murderous accomplice enter the lush meadow adjoining the farmland Molyneux owns, his son rushes towards him. "Mum - I thought you'd never come back," he gor-blimeys. "Don't ever leave us alone again." "That's so sad," says Molyneux, sounding soppy. "I'm going to be an adventurer when I grow up," says his son, "and I'll have a dog just like you." All this time, Molyneux is saying, "yes, yes..." wistfully. He loves this world. These people are more to him than toys, there to be shot to amuse journalists. He snaps out of it.
"So I think it's looking pretty cool. It's going to be out this year - holiday season this year. It's really ambitious, there's a lot of stuff in there. There's a lot of freedom in there, and co-oping ends up being much, much bigger for role-playing than any other feature we could have put in." He's not wrong - when you murder someone's creation, you're crossing a line that very few games have really established. Conceptually, it's somewhere close to the idea of taking down massive spaceships in EVE Online; the grief you cause is palpable, with actual, real life consequences, and not just the in-game ones for which Fable's recognised. We can understand why Molyneux wells up about it. Fable 2 is sort of emotional.
Providing, of course, that all this makes it in. We hope it does.
Fable 2 is due out exclusively on Xbox 360 this year.