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.
VideoGamer.com: Generally when people talk about Fable 2 online the conversations are fairly positive, but other games don't fair so well. Recently Denis Dyack and Too Human have come under a lot of fire from fans on internet forums. What's your take on that?
PM: Well, you know, there are ebbs and flows about games. The first thing to say is that I took it really seriously at the end of Fable 1. I kind of apologised at the end of Fable 1 about actually saying things that didn't end up in the game. I've tried to be really really careful about what I show and I think everything I've talked about in Fable 2 you can now play in there, so that was really important. But what I realise over time is that talking about a game before it's released is a dangerous game. You can just say a few things wrong and then it's like an avalanche. I feel sorry for Denis Dyack because you know, I think a few things were said wrong, there was that really unfortunate showing at E3 a few years ago. Everyone got on the bandwagon of saying things about Too Human. Now I've played it and, you know, it's a good game. It doesn't deserve a lot of that harsh criticism. But as soon as something starts it's very hard to turn the tide and pull it back again. Unless you've got something in your back pocket to say "Ahaa, but what about this?" then it's really really tough.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think there's a difference in how developers look at feedback? Do some people take offence at that kind of thing?
PM: You know, the point about it is, I don't make games for publishers. I make games for people who play those games. And if those people turn round and say "You stupid idiot. What the hell are you doing?" but using stronger words than that, then I'd just be a fool to ignore them. Part of me, when I talk to the press and people like you, the kid comes out inside me, and sometimes I get so excited. People think I'm putting it on but I get so excited and so passionate. If I started talking about the story now, this emotion builds up inside me. If I don't listen to what people say, I won't have this luxury, I won't have this amazing, incredible benefit of just talking about things that I'm doing and this amazing feeling.
VideoGamer.com: Do you think the general opinion of gamers that you're very frank and open in interviews helps improve their opinions of your games?
PM: Yeah, I hope so. I'll be honest with you. My toughest audience is the people I work with. They're really really tough. There are people that will come up to me and say "You F'ing TW@!, what the hell are you doing?". So I've got these people to actually censor what I'm saying after I've said it. I've got some rules that I try to stick to. One is, if I'm not excited about something, I just don't talk about it. If there's a feature in a game that I don't think is worth pushing up there I just don't talk about it, because I think in a way it just wouldn't work. I'm only this enthusiastic because I really am. This is not me acting, I'm a crap actor. I can't act. This is my natural self. My second rule is that I think it's totally wrong to ever say really bad things about other people. I think over the years, and I have been doing this so many years now, that there are journalists that were not born when I started talking to the press, so it's a very very long time.
VideoGamer.com: The demand on your time must be immense?
PM: It is frustrating. I want to do an hour long interview because I'm like a kid at Christmas. I've got to unwrap all my toys and show them off and say "look at this!". Today, in like 15 minutes it's insanely impossible.
VideoGamer.com: If you could have one message to your fans, not just Fable fans, but fans of your work in general, what would it be? Is Fable 2 your masterpiece? The result of all your work in the past?
PM: You know what, that kind of question is asked a lot. What's my favourite game? What's my best game? I think that because we've worried so much about what you'll feel like when you play Fable 2, I think it probably is going to turn out to be, certainly the best game Lionhead has done, and probably the best game of Bullfrog before. I always say those two companies. I can't just say myself because you've got to remember that for a lot of the stuff you will play, I am just purely the front man. There are insanely talented people that are just making me look good every single game that I do. It's funny. I was talking to Russell Shore, he's someone I've worked with on pretty much every game I've ever done except the first two, and he said "You know what Peter, this is the best we've ever done".
VideoGamer.com: Excellent. Thanks very much for your time.
Fable 2 is due for release exclusively on Xbox 360 this October.