Senior design director Josh Atkins is currently hard at work putting the finishing touches to Fable III, the latest adventure game from Lionhead Studios. We caught up with him to find out what's changed for this sequel and if other morality-based games have had an influence.
Q: Could you talk about what you learned from the previous games, what you think didn’t particularly work well in the past and thought you wanted to change in Fable 3?
Josh Atkins: I think we’ve already come out on the record saying that we weren’t happy with the co-op. And so there are three things that we set out to do in Fable 3, and re-inventing our co-op was something that was definitely one of them. For us, we needed to make it a Fable co-op experience. We’ve allowed two heroes, two dogs, and split the cameras up so you can wander around separately or not. That, I think, was a core failing of Fable 2 - the fact that you were jammed on one screen together. It didn’t feel natural. So we’ve allowed you to roam free and feel like a full hero. If you come in my game you can level, you can get gold, you can get items - you will feel like part of the game and not a second-class citizen. We basically fixed what was wrong with Fable 2. But on top of that we had to decide what makes a Fable co-op experience. One of the key points in Fable is to make you feel something and make you have an emotional moment with the game. Therefore what we’ve done is try to create new forms of relationships for players to have with the person you’re playing with. So you can get married, have a family, buy a house, have a kid and feel like you really live in Albion.
Another one was the idea of the GUI. We wanted to make the experience of interfacing with the game seamless, and feel like you’re always in the game. Those are two things that we looked at in Fable 2 and thought we could have done a lot better. The map’s the third one. We made this full-on [3D] map that is a way of interacting and interfacing with the game you haven’t seen before.
For us it is really important to make something that is really different. So the key tenet is something that has a great story. Very few games do humour well, so we make sure that there’s a nice mixture of drama and humour. And then very fun, accessible combat is a very big tenet for us. On top of that it’s just the breadth of the world and mixing all of that together. It’s tough to find a game that does it all at the same time. So we like to think we have our own niche, but we certainly look to other games for inspiration.
Q: Could we go back to co-op for a moment, because that seems to be an area that has had the most changes. How exactly does Fable 3 co-op differ from Fable 2?
JA: The first thing that you’ll notice that you’ll be playing in the same world together and you are on different screens. For us there were a lot of facets to thinking about what happens when you’re in different parts of the world, how do we make sure the game feels like you’re actually playing together but feel like you have your own goals and your own things to do. First thing was making sure the combat worked in two-player. Lots of games do this, it’s not an uncommon thing, you play Halo or you play Gears of War. What we’re going to say is very few games have ever done this level of co-op gameplay in a game that has levelling RPG elements. So when the two of you are playing together you’re able to level your hero out and become more powerful. The important thing from a design standpoint is make all the attacks work well together and have a benefit against each other. If one player is very good at melee and another is very good at ranged attacks then there’s benefits both with how the enemies behave and the experience you’re getting.
We didn’t want there to be any kind of penalty to having somebody else in your world, so everything that you earn in that game is shared completely 100% between both players, zero penalty to it. However there is also a slight benefit to the player [who has entered your game] in that they also earn a salary as a player. They will earn gold for going into somebody else’s game. There are only benefits [for playing together]. We have actually turned co-op into the most lucrative job you can have. You can change the settings of your game if you don’t want people joining you but it’s a pretty great way to make money and a really unique idea.