How time flies. It's been a whole year since we interviewed Peter Molyneux at the Game Developers Conference, and now here we are again, interviewing Peter Molyneux at the Game Developers Conference.
But he's got plenty more to talk about as it's been a busy 12 months for Lionhead. Last June Molyneux unveiled Milo & Kate at E3. Two months later, he revealed Fable III at gamescom. And just yesterday, he delivered a big long speech at GDC.
Afterwards, Eurogamer sat down with Molyneux for a chat. So how is Fable III coming along? How will it work with Natal? How does Molyneux think Move compares? And how long did he manage to last in the interview before mentioning the word "dog"? Read on for the answers to all these questions. Except the second one.
Eurogamer: Can you talk us through the new Fable III information you revealed in your GDC speech today?
Peter Molyneux: The big things are the GUI and the combat stuff. We talked about making it more like Street Fighter and Soul Calibur than the previous Fables, and how the old GUI was a real barrier towards people getting into some of the things that worked in Fable - but that people didn't realise worked.
In the old GUI, everything was list based. Ever since I've been doing game it's been all about 2D GUIs. We're replacing that and saying, 'Right, we cannot have a single list in the game - everything you've got must be in the world.'
That caused us to invent these things called the Guild Chambers, which you discover after playing for about 10 minutes. Slowly, you unlock different rooms in the chambers which give you different functionality.
Eurogamer: Like the dressing room?
Peter Molyneux: Yes. It's more than a dressing room, it's where all your clothes collections are. You've got literally everything from a sock drawer to a jacket drawer.
Then there's your armoury, where you collect different swords, guns and magic objects. There's also a little bit of extra crafting we're going to allow you to do within the armoury so you can enhance the weapons you've got.
We've got the treasure room, which is the place where we show off all your Achievements and we show how much gold you've got. It's really interesting because normally gold is expressed as a single number on the screen. In Fable I and II, that number just went up. Now you can physically see these piles of gold growing within your chamber. You can use Touch to pick up gold and rub it on yourself, if you so desire, which some people will really like.
Eurogamer: Is that what you like? Do you have a little treasure chest in the corner of your office at Lionhead so you can rub gold on yourself at any time?
Peter Molyneux: Absolutely, that's what I do every day. I open the treasure chest, pick it up and stuff it down my underpants. All those five and 10-pound notes.
When you first discover the gold chamber, you've got a couple of hundred gold and it's this tiny little pile in the corner of this vast chamber. When you become king, the chambers start filling up with these mountains of gold. Then, because you have all these promises you have to keep, these mountains of gold gradually dwindle away. It actually makes the feeling of wanting to be rich more impactful because you can physically see it coming in and going out.
Eurogamer: Going back to the dressing room, you revealed today that John Cleese will play the butler who picks out your clothes... How did that come about?
Peter Molyneux: The reviewers who reviewed Fable III said, 'Ah, the humour's very British, it's a bit like Monty Python.'
So we thought, 'OK, we'll just go out and get the best Monty Python team we possibly can.' This is the new world of these big franchises. You can go to people who, just a few years ago, would have looked at you like were some lunatic if you suggested they do a voiceover for your game. The cast of Fable III, of which John Cleese is a member - I don't know of another cast in any game that's as big and strong.
Eurogamer: Did you get to meet John Cleese?
Peter Molyneux: It's done in two stages. One has just been done in LA - literally last week they recorded him and that's the first stage. Because he has so many lines, once we've put all his dialogue in we'll refine it and go back, and that's when I'll get to meet him.
Eurogamer: Are you learning all his lines from the dead parrot sketch to do at him? I bet he loves that.
Peter Molyneux: I bet if I came in and started doing the silly walk, I'd really endear myself to him...
Eurogamer: Is anyone filming this meeting? Peter Molyneux vs. John Cleese, could be a six-part series...
Peter Molyneux: He is a very iconic character. I'm quite nervous about meeting him. He's got this very bizarre sense of humour and he's had a really interesting life and you know, this amazing iconic thing of Fawlty Towers - what do you say to a guy like that?
Eurogamer: "Will you be in my game?", apparently.
Peter Molyneux: How can I direct someone like John Cleese? 'Can you be a bit more silly, please?' It will be interesting.
Eurogamer: Going back to the new GUI...
Peter Molyneux: So before, it really was the case that people didn't change their clothes because they couldn't be arsed to go in and scroll through the lists. We realised you could get to the thing you wanted far, far quicker if we put it in the world rather than in a 2D list. And the length of time it takes to get to the 3D interface is shorter than it took to get to the 2D interface.
Then you've got the dog there...
Eurogamer: Let's just do a time check: you managed to go eight minutes and 34 seconds without mentioning the dog. That's quite good.
Peter Molyneux: That's how long into this interview before I mentioned the dog, is it?
Eurogamer: Yes. I think that's a new record. Although you did manage to get through 11 minutes of your speech this morning without using the word "dog".
Peter Molyneux: Haha! That's very well timed.
[Lionhead combat specialist, Josh Atkins, sitting in the background: "We should start doing that at work."]
The new dog is all about Touch for me. That's been a hard one to get through. Because I could have gone in and said, "Hey, let's have touching people," and when you work with a team it's like a force of will to sell it to them. "We don't want to do Touch," you know...
Eurogamer: Are they like, "Oh come on Peter, is this another one of your mental harebrained schemes?"
Peter Molyneux: Yes, it is. That's exactly it.
It's one thing to have a mechanic where you can go and touch things, but how are you going to use that to make me feel like this is something really important? It's only when we started realising that dragging people to their doom and throwing people in your dungeon actually feels so much more emotionally engaging.
Eurogamer: When I interviewed you at the last Game Developers Conference, you promised there were "three enormously big things that will surprise and shock you" about Fable III. Have you revealed them all yet?
Peter Molyneux: Touch is definitely one of them. The emotion of Touch, having these expressions, is definitely one. The Ruling section, the journey to rule and being king, that's the second one. I've yet to do the third one.
Eurogamer: So... Are you saving it for E3?
Peter Molyneux: If I had my way it would be today.
Eurogamer: That's what you said last year.
Peter Molyneux: Well I know, but I have to obey my lords and masters, otherwise I would just let it burst out. But not to give anything away, there's lots of really good stuff about co-op stuff, which is interesting. There are some nice cute things that we're doing just prior to launch. And obviously we've got new things like Natal to talk about as well. So I think all of that is going to come in one big lump, probably at E3.
Eurogamer: I recall asking you if one of the big three things was a cat or a parrot...
Peter Molyneux: Yes, we didn't do the cat or the parrot.
Eurogamer: I've got a new theory: two dogs. Is the third thing the fact that you get two dogs?
Peter Molyneux: I can tell you now, you will definitely see two dogs in Fable III.
Eurogamer: So does your dog have puppies?
Peter Molyneux: I didn't say puppies. I am being cheeky by saying two dogs, but it is two dogs. Two dogs and they will be sniffing in the way that dogs sniff. It's just who owns the other dog that's the interesting thing.
Eurogamer: So just to recap, in Fable III you can shove gold down your pants, sniff a dog's bottom and perform grinding American man hugs, as you said in your speech. This game sounds amazing. 10 out of 10.
Peter Molyneux: Haha! Yes, 10 out of 10 right there for those original features. What I said about the rabbits, though, and your dog, that's more exciting actually. There's a lot of play on rabbits and the fact your dog completely loses it around rabbits. It's going to make you laugh a lot.
Eurogamer: You've also been showing off the overhead map today. When you look at the game like that it almost looks like an RTS...
Peter Molyneux: It does, but don't think you're going to be sending troops and making tanks and all of that stuff - you're not. You're going to be able to feel like, 'This is my kingdom. OK, what's happening over there?' I've got to be careful of spoilers but there are some functionalities we haven't talked about, within the ruling section, which make that really important.
You're not going to be suddenly playing an RTS game, it's still very much an action adventure. It just so happens that if you are ruling Albion you need to see this map and have a feeling of what's going on. You will be able to do things like set taxes, and you will be able to see things going wrong - that's important.
Eurogamer: How concerned are you about the move away from RPG to action-adventure? Don't you risk alienating some of the series' fans?
Peter Molyneux: Yeah. I mean, I said this line about how people are going to get pissed off, and I think this is really what I was talking about. I'm a little bit worried about it but I think Fable had already made that transition already. We had tweaked the experience, we had a tenth of the numbers other role-playing games like Fallout and Dragon Age have. They've just got numbers everywhere.
Rather than saying, OK, we're an RPG but we're trying to broaden the RPG, what we're saying is we love the idea of RPGs in terms of levelling up and feeling powerful and collecting things. Those are great mechanics which you don't often see in the action-adventure category. So why not take all that stuff and then say hey, we're more like action-adventure than we are RPG?
I'm not saying we're not going to have all that cool stuff from RPGs. I'm saying that if you were to describe this as the first Fable to the press, you probably wouldn't say it's an RPG - you would probably say it's an action-adventure.
Eurogamer: What's the thinking behind the changes to the combat system?
Peter Molyneux: We're going back to games like Soul Calibur and Street Fighter, and saying, 'What makes those games such great fighting games? Why can't we have that sort of validity and smoothness?'
That again makes a game like Fable feel less like an RPG. Because traditionally RPGs are more about turn-based stuff than they are about making combat feel fluid and smooth. They're more about, OK I'm fighting with the +5 sword, rather than fighting with your own sword which has been crafted by you.
Eurogamer: Where does Natal fit into all this?
Peter Molyneux: Um... These are things I will possibly talk about later on... I mean I do think Natal does enhance the Fable experience. But you can expect us to use Natal to make you laugh and to surprise you and to give you this feeling of power.
There are some very obvious things we could do, like controlling the GUI in Natal, and it doesn't really excite me. What I want to do is give you things which really add to the Fable world. There's some cool stuff.
Eurogamer: Have you seen anything of the PlayStation Move?
Peter Molyneux: Yes, I have seen some of it. We're not really surprised, are we? I mean at E3 last year we saw they were having a wand, and that's kind of what I expected. It looks like they've taken a step forward but it's not as big a step as something like Natal, I don't think. This is purely me talking personally, but I think maybe it's slightly more a device for the core than it is for the casual market, because I think it's quite precise.
As a designer it's another one of those things I'd love to get my hands on and to play around with. As a consumer, everyone's talking about motion control now - I mean, I'm starting to get confused. It's kind of like the arms race, with the Wii MotionPlus and now the Sony Move and now I'm getting kind of confused.
Eurogamer: Is your invisible magic stick better than their magic stick?
Peter Molyneux: To be honest, it's all down to what us poor old designers do with this stuff, because all these guys do is make the hardware. Whether we utilise that hardware in a real way or whether we just take shortcuts, that's really going to be where we succeed or not.
All of this stuff is making all the designers sweat. I've met lots of designers at GDC and we're all very bleary eyed at the moment because every rule we've got, we're having to throw away. We haven't got buttons any more - we've got motions and arms legs and faces, and that really is tough.
I don't think the first wave of these motion control titles will be what you expect. Just as with every hardware chain, it's the second wave where they usually come up with stuff that's interesting. So the second wave could be really cool.
Fable III is due out for Xbox 360 later this year.