Few game developers speak their minds as honestly as Peter Molyneux, and while it's landed him in trouble with publishers and gamers alike in the past, it doesn't seem to be hurting his overall reputation as one of the industry's most interesting personalities. Just before he unveiled Fable 2's typically iconoclastic take on co-op at E3, we caught up with him at Lionhead's offices to discuss, among other things, the dangers of complexity and how his team feels when he goes off to speak to the press.
Eurogamer: Fable 2's coming out in 2008 - is that too soon?
Peter Molyneux: There're two things that tell me now is the right time to release Fable 2. One is obvious: the game's coming together, you can play through from start to finish, all the mechanics work, and it's got easily the best story Lionhead or Bullfrog have ever produced. I can say that globally-scary thing with full confidence. The second reason is, everybody here feels it's the right time. When you're developing a game you have to wait for the maturity to come, like a cheese. There comes a point when the mature cheddar turns into a stinky cheese, and now is the right time for the game to be released.
Eurogamer: As a first-party, does Lionhead have the kind of relationship with Microsoft where you can say that it's not ready yet?
Peter Molyneux: Yes. But there's a time to say it's not ready and now we've passed that time. That was about nine months ago where we all sat down, and said, "These are the things we've got left to do, can we do it?" We all mutually decided that we could do it.
Eurogamer: With games as ambitious as both Fable 1 and 2, can you ever really feel they're ready to be released?
Peter Molyneux: There are things that you can polish more brightly, and there are things that you regret. Normally, the things that you regret are decisions that you took years ago, when things were going in a certain direction. Where I've got a slight regret is that, as in Fable 1, there's a hell of a lot of distractions in Fable 2: buying a house, moving your family in, decorating it. Like before, there is this undercurrent of systems that perhaps one percent of people will discover, and I wish I had the time and skill to actually expose those for more people.
Eurogamer: So you have all these ideas, is it always a struggle to bring them together coherently?
Peter Molyneux: Yes, and I think I've been more guilty perhaps than anyone in the industry of making games with mechanics in them which don't mean anything. They're very nice, they sound good, but when you come to play them, there's a kind of feeling of what should have been. When I think back to Dungeon Keeper, and even the original Fable, they were incredibly guilty of having those mechanics in them where at the end of the day you think, "So what?"
In Fable 1, all of the world's economy changing, the prices changing, the villagers' reacting to you, that was a tiny proportion of what the game was about, and when you think about the number of times that I spoke about that, it would seem that it should have been a lot more important than it actually was.
In Black & White 1, famously, it was announced that the weather in-game when you were playing would be the same as the weather outside for real. And that actually worked. We had 300 weather stations sending updates to your machine. In fact what it meant was that people in Britain probably just played a grey Black & White, which is pretty depressing.
There was an enormous amount of effort to do that, and it was a feature than meant nothing. We never told anyone about it. We never said, "Hey, look at the sky here and look at the sky outside!" To be a good designer you've got to think about the experience, and that means right from the very first moment. Just because I think we've made an amazing eighth feature, does that make the game better or worse? I would argue now that your poor little mind has to think about eight different features rather than seven, and even seven is too many to start off with.
It's far better to cut it down and have a smaller number of things, polished. The dog is the perfect example in Fable 2. The dog is polished to make sure that the limited things that he can do, he does well.