After arriving 10 minutes late for his Develop Conference keynote, Peter Molyneux took another 10 minutes to plug an Xbox 360 running the latest build of upcoming role-playing game Fable III into a projector set deep within the bowels of the Brighton Metropole hotel.
Once ready, though, Molyneux didn't look back, showing off a multitude of new game features as he played the game live. In doing so, the Lionhead boss surprised his audience: he slagged off his own game, Fable II.
Afterwards, and having had to agree not to ask him any questions about Milo & Kate, Eurogamer sat down with Molyneux for a chat. Read on for his take on review scores and why he thinks the iPhone is where it's at.
Eurogamer: I enjoyed your presentation today.
Peter Molyneux: Really? I thought it was a bit scrappy.
Eurogamer: You were late, so you didn't have much time to prepare.
Peter Molyneux: I had a proper demo, and it took 10 minutes to boot.
Eurogamer: Your enthusiasm and passion for the game still came across.
Peter Molyneux: I love what I do. We love making Fable. We really do. I can remember 18 months ago sitting around the table with Josh [Atkins, studio design director] and Louise [Murray, head of Fable franchise] and a few other people, talking about... The way you design is you make these pillars, first of all - it's going to be about this. We just stopped at one moment and said, 'This is f***ing amazing, man! We get to do this cool stuff! It's amazing.'
Eurogamer: Your role now is at the executive level. How do you stay so passionate about Fable? How are you still so excited by it?
Peter Molyneux: How can you not be excited? Just think about it. Just for a second think about what I actually do. I wake up in the morning and I go to work and I sit down and I get to inspire people and I get to inspire them with ideas I have. I promise you, the day I get tired of that is the day I pop a cyanide tablet and shuffle off this mortal coil.
This is going to sound horribly yucky, but it's an incredible honour to do that. It really is. To have people's trust, first of all. People trust their lives, their careers and their futures to your hands. It's just amazing.
Even though I'm talking to you now, if I'm not careful I could get really super-emotional and break into tears. That's how amazing it is.
Eurogamer: Over the last decade or so gaming has become a more serious business and people are more cynical than they ever were.
Peter Molyneux: Yeah. In a way that seriousness and that, oh God, every time you do a game you feel like you're putting all the chips on the table, in a way that is a great thing. It's not a negative thing. That means the opportunity is so big.
Sure enough, we don't have room for mistakes. At the moment we have room for mistakes on this sort of thing [points to iPhone], on handhelds. But on the triple-A franchises... You're going to spend millions, man.
Whether you like it or not, whether you're an exec like I am, or whether you're a junior programmer, you've got someone up there looking down on you watching you spend that money. That in a way is a good thing because it makes you more honest. You know you've got to turn around to these people and say, 'Look, this is why I'm spending this money.' In a way, if you do it right it can be a great thing.
Where there's still a huge problem - a massive problem I have - not so much with Fable because Fable's a proven franchise now, but with this other thing we're working on, and anything new I come up with, it's getting people to see what you're trying to do, what you're trying to invent or create, before it's actually done. That is insanely hard to do.
The best analogy is if I had invented the bicycle. Let's say you've never seen a bicycle before, but you were funding me. I say, 'I've taken all your money and I've invented this thing. You sit on this saddle and you balance on two wheels and you go 16 miles an hour, and it's going to be the most universal mode of transport around the world'. You would look at me as if I was crazy.
Even if you saw the bicycle, you'd still say, 'No way am I going to go on one of those.' It's not until you sit and ride the bicycle that you realise this idea is going to work. So often with big ideas, whether they're parts of game, like in Fable III, or whether they're entire games, it's hard to get people to see the pictures in your head.
God, I ranted for hours answering one question! I apologise.
Eurogamer: You said there were aspects of Fable II you weren't happy with. Eurogamer gave it 10/10 and it sold millions of copies.
Peter Molyneux: I know you did. That was one of the first reviews that we saw. You know, this is what you don't realise being journalists - and you should, you should do this, it would make your life so amazing - when you give a score to a game, you should cherry pick one of those teams and you should go to them with the score. What you don't see is what we do when we see that review.
Eurogamer: What do you do?
Peter Molyneux: You know what I'm going to say now: 'It's f***ing amazing!' I can remember getting that Eurogamer score - because remember, this is where honesty comes in - before that you had been really critical about Lionhead. These things hurt, just like anything else.
I can remember standing in the studio holding up this f***ing 10/10 from Eurogamer. Everybody cheered. It was great. It was like getting a huge award. It really was. You never see that. The press never sees what it feels like to get a 10/10.
Eurogamer: Do you think PR people would allow us to do that?
Peter Molyneux: They're pretty hard people to work with. Personally, I wouldn't ask them.
Eurogamer: We'd get in trouble for that.
Peter Molyneux: You shouldn't report on it. You should experience on it. You should. If you've thought a game was that good, and you've played it and you've read it and the team's worthy of it, you should turn up and say, 'Look, we want to tell you what score you've got.'
Eurogamer: Maybe with Fable III we will.
Peter Molyneux: Who knows? You might not give it a 10/10.
Eurogamer: Your presentation suggested you're trying to increase sales of Fable by making it more accessible.
Peter Molyneux: Definitely. Absolutely. You could see that in the demo.
Eurogamer: That must be hard to do that while keeping the loyal, core Xbox 360 fans happy.
Peter Molyneux: Yeah. That was pretty tough. The word accessibility can be misinterpreted for easy. It's nothing to do with easy. Easy soon becomes tedious in my book. Accessibility means there are consequences to you not being good at the game. It means your game experience will be slightly different.
But you don't want people getting confused or bewildered or bored or not knowing what they're doing. Personally I absolutely loath - detest in fact - being killed, going back five minutes, being killed again, going back five minutes.
I'll give you a good example. I played Farmville. In one sense Farmville is hugely accessible. I've got to take my hat off - in the last 18 months it's probably one of the most innovative games there's been, because it used your social network as part of the game experience. There were lots of things about it.
But there was one terrible thing about it, which made it less accessible, even though it sold 90 million. Your crops died. Why did they do that? I think they did that because they were frightened about accessibility. They were frightened not to give people a consequence.
So, accessibility has many pitfalls. It doesn't necessarily mean easy. It just means clear and understood. If I'd had time to set it up, what I was going to do was throw the controller out to the audience and say, 'This is how accessible it is. You do the demo. I'll do the talking,'
Eurogamer: Perhaps accessible is a dirty word when it comes to hardcore gaming.
Peter Molyneux: Well it shouldn't be. With Fable, because the weapons morph, if you're crap at combat, your weapon's going to look not nearly as good as if you were a hardcore gamer. You weapon is going to be bigger, is going to have more moves unlocked, you'll be able to trade it, you'll be able to show off.
Every time you die your weapon gets a tiny notch in it. That's accessible, and it's real consequences to you being non-core. I can look at someone's sword and I can almost say, 'Right, this guy is an amazing gamer. It's a perfect sword.' That all makes sense. It's building accessibility and core into one thing.
The fast weapon switching we've added in, I know the most casual gamers will just go like this [button-bashes]. That's all they're doing. No matter what I say, no matter how many times I say you can hold the button, they'll totally button-bash.
You're beating your head against a brick wall if you try and force them to do anything else. You have to take the controller away from them if you want to do that. But that doesn't mean I should just support button-bashing. You can now in Fable III be button-bashing, and you just slip your finger to the other button and you can shoot your gun at the same time.
Or you can button-bash, slip, and hold the other button, and you're charging up a shot. I love that. I know that 50 per cent of our audience will never discover it. But the other 50 per cent will love it. I love the fact that you and I can co-op together and we can use those combinations in ways to get through a battle far better.
Don't forget, if you do it really successfully, your weapon gets better. That's the levelling up which I really, really adore.
Eurogamer: What games have you played over the course of Fable III's development that struck a chord?
Peter Molyneux: Left 4 Dead 1 and 2. I thought the co-op in that was cool, man. I thought it was great. That's a great game about accessibility. They didn't do what would be the obvious thing, which is, you're playing co-op, you get your head bitten off by a zombie, you have to wait until the next safe house. Instead they built the regeneration system. They actually really cared about it. You can find the pack and regenerate someone. Great. Fantastic. Loved that.
Uncharted 2: wow! That took me by surprise at Christmas. The quality of that game, their acting... For the first time in a computer game, I really wanted to find out what happened next in the story. I thought it was good to great, that story, and the characterisation and the voice acting.
We still haven't in Fable III even now because we're not mo-capping, got the same performance level a lot of those titles have.
Heavy Rain was amazing. Just the sheer number of outcomes they had in their game was amazing. There were some moments that were great emotional highpoints. The kid in the shopping arcade with the balloon - so super smart to do. The crawling over the glass, even though I knew it was just a character, I felt I was crawling over glass. That was cool.
I know this is going to sound like a strange one - the racing line on Forza was great. That racing line - I suddenly realised, this is why I only play racing games for 15 minutes. It's because most racing games I play, they think I know how to turn a car. I don't. I only realised that when I first got that racing game. It made me feel smarter.
So, just a tonne of games.
Eurogamer: You still get time to play games then?
Peter Molyneux: I play games all the time.
Eurogamer: How do you fit it all in? You must be an insanely busy man.
Peter Molyneux: A lot of it is thanks to portable stuff. A lot of the games I enjoyed in the last year have been on the iPhone. I've played a hell of a lot of iPhone, now iPad games. I can play and smoke cigarettes at the same time.
I have, honestly, played a mobile game while driving my car. That is seriously hardcore. I have been addicted. The first time I did that was with Advance Wars on the DS.
Eurogamer: That's a great game.
Peter Molyneux: It is. Just driving with your knees and just taking one move. In your mind you're balancing crashing or making the wrong move. Hmm. I definitely don't want to make the wrong move!
And, the last thing is that I have a son who loves to play computer games, and that helps a hell of a lot.
Eurogamer: A lot of people at Develop have advised against getting into triple-A development.
Peter Molyneux: Yeah. Now our budgets are in the tens of millions, that advice would be good. Constantly in our industry we think we're unique. We're not. This happened when TV came along, and there was film.
I bet you there were people in a conference in the 1950s, saying exactly the same thing. Film is dead. The cinemas are all going to close. TV is where it all is.
I bet you people were saying, 'Oh don't go make a film now, it would be a disaster.' Guess what? There was a little bit of jiggling around for a few years, and now you've got TV - it's fantastic, and sh*t. And you've got film, which is fantastic and sh*t. You've got both and they live together. That's exactly where we're going to come in.
You've got this new thing on the block and it is this multitude of platforms. We used to have very clear platforms. It used to be whatever Microsoft had, whatever Nintendo had, and whatever Sony had. That was it.
Then slowly, over the last five years, there's been an invasion of handheld, the invasion of Apple, the invasion of Facebook, and the real and credible force that Zynga has become, which has given us this multitude of platforms.
Film does this very well. They don't just do a film. They do the merchandising, the books. They try and make it a big event. That's where we're going to end up.
If you think the production quality on these things [points to iPhone and iPad] is going to stay still, and not climb up through the millions, you're wrong. It's going to happen so fast. We're just one or two successful games or franchises away from consumers turning around and saying, 'I don't want to play that crappy looking thing. I want to play this shiny thing.' That's what's going to happen.
The power under the hood of these things is climbing on a daily basis. The iPhone, if you look at what's happened over the last two or three years, it's doubled in power and performance. Soon it'll get to the stage where you can do really quite cool stuff. Really quite cool stuff costs a lot of money.
There is a window of opportunity on handheld and on these other platforms, which is going to get narrower because the costs are going to go up. That's my insanely childish view of it, anyway.
Peter Molyneux is the head of Lionhead Studios. Fable III will be released on 26th October, simultaneously for Xbox 360 and PC.