If you're at all serious about video games you'll know who Peter Molyneux is. He's a man with some of the biggest ideas in the business. This ambition, however, has proved in the past to be his Achilles' heel. He gets so excited about the games he makes that he often falls foul of over-hyping his creations. We all remember the unfulfilled promises from the original Fable. Now, with Fable 2 inbound, he's learnt his lesson, or so he says. In his most intimate interview of E3 the industry legend tells VideoGamer.com about forum posters giving him ideas, poor old Denis Dyack and why Fable 2 is his greatest ever game.
VideoGamer.com: There's an awful lot to Fable 2 isn't there?
Peter Molyneux: There is. That is the biggest worry.
PM: Well, when you've got such a big game. It's not a long corridor, and this isn't a criticism of games like that at all as I think they're fantastic, but when you have a game that is a corridor, you know that when a person moves from here to here, they're going to have these weapons, they're going to be in this state, they've just seen this before and seen this afterwards. Life is a lot more predictable and a lot less chaotic. In Fable people can go anywhere. They can save up and buy any weapon. They can troll the whole thing through and just grind, and level themselves up anywhere. They can kill the quest givers that are in the middle of giving quests. It's chaos and so when you're balancing the game you end up biting your nails and thinking "Jesus. I just don't know what people are going to be at this stage". That's quite a frightening and scary thing.
VideoGamer.com: We love fresh ideas and things in games that are different, but I guess we don't think about how nightmarish these things can be from a game development point of view.
PM: You know, it's hard. There's a couple of things to the game. You know the ambient orb idea? This is where it really works well. What I found is that I walked in on the testers one day - there is like an army of testers, some in America, some in Japan, some in UK - I walked in to those in the UK and I heard them say "Ready, steady, go!" and they were having ambient orb races. Everyone was lined up on the starting line and they said right "we're going to get through this quest and see who goes fastest". I never thought of that. I never even began to think of that stuff. All the combat, because the combat is so flexible, the scoring system on the combat is dependent upon on the moves that you do in a chain, that means that I have no idea what people are going to do in the combat. It is quite frightening, it really is.
VideoGamer.com: Fable has a large following, especially online, with people frequently talking about it and Fable 2 on gaming forums. They're a vocal minority, but do they matter to you?
PM: Yes, they do. I do read the boards. I do occasionally post under a pseudonym. I've got to thank those guys for some features in Fable, because we wouldn't have pursued those features without opening those boards. Sometimes I feel like I have to go into therapy after looking at the boards, to be honest with you. You open them and you look at it, and you know, sometimes they said crystal clear things where you think "Jesus, how could I have been so dumb to do that?". There was a crystal clear thing with the sneaking - holding down the trigger to sneak and how horrible that was and how much people hated it. I thought, "How dumb was that? How could I have been so stupid?". And then there are very confusing things, which make me as a designer go insane. One of those was, there was a whole thread on one of the boards, all about the length of the game. The thread started with someone flaming Fable. "I finished this game in 10 hours. It's too short. RPGs are supposed to be 60 hours and de de de de de." This thread went on and lots of people agreed. Then the thread slowly changed and other people said that they really loved it and that 12 hours was just about right, and that Fable is one of the only games they ever finished. That kind of left me as a designer thinking what the hell do I do? Half these people want it the same length as it was, but the other half want it infinitely long.
That spawned this idea. I sat down and tackled it as a design problem. The solution turns out to be really simple. The solution was not to give you any money for doing quests. You may think, "well, how does that change anything?". Well, money you can spend on lots of stuff. You can spend it on houses and clothes and making yourself look unique and weapons, and all of the usual stuff. You also can spend it on owning parts of the world, which is really important. Fable 2 ends up about 12 hours long. That's how long it takes a tester at Lionhead to go from one end of the game to the other. That's a reasonable time, but if you play the game in 12 hours you haven't done anything off the golden line that you saw. That means you'll end this game a poor, lonely, unpopular hero, famous hero. Whereas if you spend a bit more time, a few more hours, you'll be a bit richer, your clothes will be a bit finer, you'll finish the game looking better. You can spend a lot of time working on owning parts of the world, and that's when it suddenly dawns on people that when you finish the story, the game doesn't end, it just carries on going. You've finished the story and you've lost a lot of opportunities of making money in that story, so... the answer to this almost unsolvable problem was that I'll let you decide. You decide how long the game is because you decide what you want to be in the world. If you want to be poor, if you want to be unpopular, if you don't ever want to get married, then sure enough this game will last 12 hours. But if you want the full experience, it's going to be much much longer than that.