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GC: Lionhead wants games to be equal to movies and TV - Backer

Molyneux's pal spreads word.

Dark blue icons of video game controllers on a light blue background
Image credit: Eurogamer

Fable 2 staging director Georg Backer has spoken of Lionhead's desire to put games on the same footing as film and television drama by introducing "emotional, motivational, dramatic and immersive gameplay".

"We want to achieve that games are an equal choice of entertainment as movies and TV are," said Backer - delivering Lionhead's GCDC speech instead of Peter Molyneux, who had to pull out. He went on to reveal that the developer had sought counsel from film editors, fighting specialists and professional wrestlers, among others, to help create a unique combat system that delivered on the developer's intent.

He also spoke of how the team got together and acted out scenes and quests from the game in order to test dialogue and ideas. "We go with five people in a room and read through a script - and realise 'that doesn't work' or 'that's too long'," he said. "We did that several times and it was always very interesting."

Key to the design of the game has been developing game concepts around the principle of "staging". "What that means is that if you have a gameplay level, let's assume you've been beaten to near death and all the people believe you're really evil - if you then for example walk through a dark forest you should feel like you're alone; it's at night; there should maybe be wind howling but no music; you could hear footsteps but no one's there; you walk into a town and people pull their blinds down, turn their lights off, and you really get the feeling all around you." If you then redeem yourself, each element of the scene would perk up.

Meanwhile, individual assets might not be made the way you imagine. "If you design assets you often base them on real-life things," Backer said, "but if you talk to people in the film industry they don't care about real life very much...they only care that the drama is conveyed on-screen." As an example of that accentuation, he said, a man in a film growing increasingly dishevelled might be put into a larger suit than one he had worn in earlier scenes in order to give the impression that he'd lost control of his appearance. It's that spirit that Lionhead's adopted in framing Fable 2.

Other elements geared towards this approach include the dog - "an essential part of our attempt to bring that across", according to Backer, in that he's "a nice communication vehicle between the game and the player", reflecting the hero's emotion as well as probably digging up bones and that.

Backer also explained how the one-button combat system played to these ideals. It needs to be accessible, flexible, emotionally and motivationally rewarding and dramatic, and give the character a visible sense of progression. "It shouldn't just feel like any other fight when you fight...we want you to understand why you have to do this it part of the story? What do we want to deliver at the end?" he asked rhetorically. The combat experience will change, too, he said, depending on the hero's skills, enemies, location, environment, audiovisual representation and user. To help with this, they spoke to a "sword master" who's worked on the Troy and Gladiator films. "We asked him how do movies do amazing fights...We learned quite a lot about how the display of a fight in movies on-screen is different to real fighting." They also got a pro wrestler to bang their audio designer's head against a mattress to help with R&D.

Prototyping the combat also took them through a phase of consultation with a film editor, who initially thought their attempts to shoe in film cuts and the like were a bit comical. "Editing is all about making sure the user does not lose the perspective - and in big action films with big cuts and edits you still have a clue what's going on," Backer said of the experience, before showing off a very early version of the game's combat system - a character moving around in a 3D town using one button to kick rocks at adversaries, hack and slash, block and parry.

"We are only just scratching the surface," Backer said in conclusion. "For us, this is a really new thing and we really desperately want to make sure that this drama and emotion gets pushed in games."

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