Good and evil is barely the start of it, frankly. Fable is one of those rare, fascinating game series upon which nobody can really seem to agree about anything for very long. It's a shallow RPG, or maybe it's a canny and satirical examination of RPGs in general. It's hilarious - oh, the burping! Or maybe it's just juvenile. Let's face it: Fable's easy to the point of being obsequious, isn't it? Or maybe it's choosing to measure itself in ways that go beyond mere difficulty? It's no surprise, then, that with all this discussion churning around it, the world of Albion is so often defined by a mechanic that it doesn't even contain.
Hello! Hopefully everyone's had a chance to read Wes' spectacular feature on the life and death of Lionhead by now, but if 20,000 words isn't enough to satisfy your curiosity, I had a chat with Wes to discuss how the piece came together. Oh, and we recorded it! That's lucky!
In October 2008, Microsoft released Lionhead's Fable 2 to critical and commercial acclaim. At a launch party an emotional Peter Molyneux held aloft glowing reviews and praised the exhausted team of developers who had spent the previous four years pouring everything they had into the game. Fable 2 would go on to win a BAFTA and become the best-selling role-playing game for the Xbox 360. Lionhead was on top of the world.
The best games create stories as well as telling them, and when you ask people about a Lionhead game there's usually a good one. A friend told me how, when playing Black & White, he'd found his inscrutable cow-god familiar taking a dump in the village's food supply. He went to punish it, mis-clicked, and instead petted the beast. From then on the cow went out of its way to poo on food, and no amount of beatings would dissuade it. My friend persevered with his save for days before, finally, admitting defeat and starting over - left only with the memory of handing out monotonous beatings to a bewildered, unhappy, constantly-befouled creature.
It's a grey January morning and the rain batters the windows of the taxi taking me from Guildford train station to Surrey Research Park. Typical English weather, then, as I head to the home of a developer which has been making typically English video games for a decade.
Games used to be such hostile places. Dropped behind enemy lines or sneaking through monster-infested caverns, everyone you'd meet on your journey seemed to want to kill you. Over the last ten years or so, there's been a gentle rebalancing, however. From Pey'j to Yorda to Alyx Vance, designers have started giving you friends as well as enemies.
"How long have you got to talk?" I ask Peter Molyneux at the beginning of our Skype interview.
For the past day and a half, Kerry Turner has been thinking about swans. She's been making a game using Flixel - this is an open-source Actionscript library put together by Canabalt creator Adam 'Atomic' Saltsman - that's loosely based, she tells me, on the fairy tale about the swans and the princes. I have never heard of this fairy tale, but, as she's worked on the game for many hours without taking much of a break, Kerry has the look of a person who isn't to be argued with.
Peter Molyneux's departure from Microsoft and Lionhead sent shockwaves throughout the game industry. Not only had one of the most influential developers of all time ditched the company he founded in 1997, but Fable, a series guided by Molyneux's leadership over eight long years and across two generations of home console, was left without its poster boy.
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.
Several months ago, I buried John Romero. I dug a little hole for him in the garden, covered it with dirt, and said a few poignant words over the spiteful-but-soothing strains of Paul McCartney's Too Many People. It was an emotional moment for me, because I really loved the guy. We'd had some great times together: the time, for instance, that his home was destroyed and we went out to get a new one. Or the time he chased his girlfriend around for over an hour, before finally taking a nap in the miniature Taj Mahal nearby. Mostly, though, I just remember him pressing his face up to the water jet, his jet-black, silky, slimy mane billowing out like a raven's wing. He was a spectacular goldfish.
Peter Molyneux is a familiar face at the Game Developers Conference. He often uses it as a platform to unveil new features in Lionhead games - remember 2007's infamous dog revelation?
You may think you know everything about Peter Molyneux by now, but did you know he once chatted up a ghost's girlfriend and then killed her in front of him? You may think you've heard everything about Fable II, but do you really know why it only has one save slot? Or which two simple things could have improved the co-op?
Fable 2 is so close, you can almost taste it. After what seemed like endless delays and date slips, the first game won the hearts of many with its charming presentation, surprisingly open world and the ability to be a bisexual bigamist who sacrificed innocent villagers. At least that's how we played it.
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.
"I'm not a planner," Peter Molyneux is telling us. "I don't plan my life more than a few seconds into the future." We're sitting in a demo room in Lionhead's Guildford offices. There are timelines on the walls, and spreadsheets littered about the table. Controller in hand, Molyneux isn't admitting why most of his games show up late, he's explaining why his team decided to reinvent the wheel when it comes to co-op gaming. "Planning to play co-op for a few hours is not part of my experience," he sighs. "To me, co-op should be dynamic. If there is an opportunity, I should be able to take it, but it shouldn't interrupt my normal game."
Peter Molyneux is one of the headline speakers at this year's Game Developers Conference. As you'll know if you read the preview published yesterday, he's here to reveal more of Fable 2. Specifically he's been discussing co-op, and the innovation that will allow players to earn in-game gold by playing XBLA titles.
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."