Fable’s foibles

Earlier today I posted a story about Fable creator, Peter Moluneux and how bad he felt about the showing of his latest game, Fable: The Journey due to the poor reception it received. Turns out his feelings of woe don’t stop there as Gamasutra found out. Moluneux told them how ashamed he was at the ‘weak’ scores of Fable III and how it didn’t reach the five million units sales goal Lionhead Studios had predicted. And much like his reasons for Fable: The Journey, the third game suffer because of a short development cycle.

“The game came together very late. That is one of the things that we’re changing; that is just such an old school way of working. That being said, I still think it was a good game! I just don’t think it was a great game that took us to 5 million units. I know I probably should say it’s a great game just respective of whatever it was, but the Metacritic score was sort of low-’80s. I think I’m pretty ashamed of that, to be honest, and I take that on my own shoulders, not the team’s shoulders.”

It’s highly commendable for a veteran games designer like himself to take all the blame and plays into another discussion as to whether games should be accredited to an individual like movies do. Should the next full Fable game be called Peter Molyneux presents Fable IV? If he’s willing to burden the hate if it doesn’t live up to par, then maybe it should.

Back to the Gamasutra talk and Molyneux tried to add a little bit of positive spin saying “[Fable III] still sold millions and millions of units, and it’s probably going to net out, with the PC version, closer to the 5 million than perhaps you would think; but it’s not the dream. It didn’t end up being the game that I dreamed it would be, because I thought the mechanic of the ruling section were really good ideas. I thought they were good ideas, but we just didn’t have time to exploit those ideas fully.” It sadly didn’t end up being the game fans dreamt about either. I wanted to love Fable III, I really did and to begin with, I did. There are still some brilliant ideas and great moments but a few to many duff ones too. Like the latter half of the game where you’re the King or Queen which didn’t really do anything other than frustrate. Again, neat idea but awkward execution.

With a franchise like Fable and a company like Lionhead with it’s quirky style and humour, there’s certain expectations that come to mind when playing. Fart jokes for example. But Molyneux hates the idea gamers approach his games with preconceived ideas : “I hate the fact that people know what to expect from something like Lionhead,” he said. “‘We know what Fable‘s going to be; we know what’s coming next from Lionhead.’ I hate that idea. We should, again, double down on freshness and originality without sacrificing – because often originality can sacrifice quality – without sacrificing quality.”

I’m all for innovation but there is some value in keeping a certain formula. In the case of Fable, its stories, characters and utterly British sensibilities are what make it great and what I’ve come to expect from a studio like Lionhead and wouldn’t view this as a negative. Molyneux went on to reiterate how he and the team have learned a number of lessons from the criticisms of Fable III and that their working habits have changed accordingly. Hopefully not too much however. I wouldn’t want Fable IV being drastically different to III, just better.

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Pre-owned vs piracy. Which is worse?

With the PC release of Fable III around the corner, developers Lionhead Studios’ Mark West told Eurogamer that to them, piracy is actually less damaging than the pre-owned market. Stealing games online is still an issue but he believes the honest players out there will go out and buy your game if they like it whereas pirates are decreasing the opportunity for future titles. “It’s just a depressing situation we’re in that people don’t think it’s worth spending money on computer games,” he said. “What they’re doing is making sure there are fewer games coming out in the future and more people out of work, which is a terrible thing. Unless you sit down and meet a pirate face to face and have a conversation about what it does, I don’t think anything will stop them.”

Lionhead views pirates as a bit of a lost cause because they’re unlikely to every buy their games but luckily, the studio has been able to cover the cost of development with the earlier Xbox 360 release. Everything after that is purely a bonus. “For us it’s probably a no-lose even with piracy as it is.” West claims. “But, as I say, second-hand sales cost us more in the long-run than piracy these days.” It’s an odd one to get your head around but when you think that someone who is willing to buy your product does so at a cheaper rate by purchasing a pre-owned game and therefore all profits go to the shop instead of developer, it’s no wonder studios are livid.

That being said and slightly ironic is West’s comments about future releases or the lack there of due to piracy and pressumably pre-owned games too. If there wasn’t such a high volume of games coming out, more people maybe inclined to buy a full price version instead of waiting for pre-owned copies because they’d actually have the cash to pay for it. When you have so many games coming out all the time, it’s really quite hard to justify every purchase. Publishers have tried to discourage second-hand sales with free online codes allowing access to freebies and content for early adopters, penalising anyone who re-buys a game by making them pay for said code. It’s not always popular but a move towards reclaiming the profits.

What’s harder to get across or even solve is how everything about games has increased tenfold except the price. They’ve always been around the £40 mark if not more even back in the days of the NES. However gamers have changed. The market has changed and what people expect for their money has dramatically changed. Never before has the debate over a direct relationship between a game’s length and cost been so pronounced and with 59p games being all the rage with pocket gamers, some people doubt the value in full-price titles. There’ll always be the avid fans who will buy a game brand new around its launch but even with all the pre-order incentives and online passes, the option to pay less for something almost as complete is just too good to ignore.

Try before they die

Hey jerk face, get a load of my piece of meat… ahem… sorry, just getting ready for People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm which comes out at the end of next month but is to be teased to gamers in a week or so. EA has today announced a demo of the gritty, foul-mouthed shooter available via PSN and XBL on January 25th featuring unlockable upgrades for the full game. The demo offers a taste of the Echo mode that constantly compares your kill scores with those of players on your friends list making an already competitive action game all the more sporting. Lionhead’s Fable III had a similar system that tallied your in-game achievements with friends’ and fast became a crafty way at keeping me playing for longer than originally intended. In Bulletstorm, there’s the skillshot system with increasingly creative ways of killing enemies to discover so expect plenty of group discussions and forum posts about how to pull off that ultimate kill. Ah, nothing like the artful demise of a grotesque mutant to bring people together eh?

Christmas and canines come to Fable III

It’s no secret that Fable III had one or two issues. Starting like a dream and ending with a whimper, the one constant feature throughout the game was its dog. Not as much of a star as your faithful companion in the second game but still a loveable addition. If you’re still playing Lionhead’s third romp through Albion and find the choice of canines a tad tiresome, the Dog Breed Pack DLC could offer a helping hand. Or is that paw? No, that’s a terrible pun… Anyway, the add-on costing 240 MS Points (£2.06/€2.88/$3) turns that pooch into either a Doberman, Poodle or German Shepard. I don’t imagine this being a hugely popular download nor do I think anyone would ever use the Poodle for anything other than comically ironic purposes but the Doberman looks menacingly cool.

For the game’s King or Queen, a free Santa hat is available now to spread a bit of Christmas cheer to your citizens. Though it would need a hell of a lot of cheer to bring smiles back to my loyal subjects. They hate me! That’s what I get for being the good guy huh?

Review: Fable III, Understone Quest Pack (DLC, Xbox 360)

Instead of being the revolutionary experience we were lead to believe it would be, Fable III‘s final moments left a sour taste in a lot of gamers’ mouths. However something about it and the whole game for that matter, did gel together rather well. The combat. So when I finished the main quest I was in dire need of some fun and the promise of more rhythmic battling in the Understone Quest Pack for only 400 MS Points was an alluring one indeed. How wrong I was.

Translating this into real money, the pack costs £3.43 but is hard to justify that price. You get one mission and two mini-games, all of which are as short on entertainment as they are on time. The mini, or rather micro, games are another bash at Reaver’s Wheel of Misfortune and a shooting range courtesy of the mercenaries. Both these experiences have appeared in previous Fable games as part of the main game so why they are paid DLC is beyond me. Especially when you thing how giving Lionhead were when Fable III was released, offering free bonus content from day one. Saying that, I did quite like the shooting range for the prizes it dishes out like any fairground marquee. But instead of almost dead goldfish in plastic bags, the mercenary who runs the range rewards you with gold or items. The lock-on targeting that Fable III has did take away some of the fun though and boredom began to set in fast. The Wheel of Misfortune was something that I found equally tiresome when I played it as part of the main quest so having a second crack at it did little to excite me. There are also a couple of new weapons to be found in the add-on but since I played it after completing Fable III, the weapons I already had were far superior.

What of the new mission? The actual Understone Quest? It’s essentially a bunch of small arenas that are populated with zombified hobbes and wolves. Without spoiling the story, they’re part of a security system that you must overcome. And you’ll be overcoming the same thing over and over again. Once that is taken care of, your hero will arrive at the town of Understone, a community living under Bowerstone with new shops and houses to exploit. One resident helps you continue the mission and once more you travel from one arena to another, fighting swarms of the undead. Like I said earlier, I really liked the combat in Fable III so this kind of thing should be just what I wanted from an add-on. True, it should have been but it was far too easy for a maxed-out king and over all too quickly. At the very end there is a moral choice to be made and one that I thought by picking the good option, would resolve one of my major problems with Fable III‘s end game. It didn’t. Bugger.

If any of the above sounded interesting to you then I’d say go for it, the Understone Quest Pack is right up your alley. On the other hand, if you’re left thinking that this DLC doesn’t sound like great value for money, then for you, it really won’t be.

Verdict:

Okay
But not a lot more. Hardcore fans of the franchise/genre maybe a little more forgiving of its issues.

Note: I’ve recently changed my scoring system for reviews. Click here for more details.

Musings: Who really needs exploding barrels?

Not trying to mimic the great comic Jerry Seinfeld but ‘what’s the deal’ with exploding barrels? It’s not a new invention for video games nor is the questioning of their relevance. It’s only because Treyarch have littered Call of Duty: Black Ops with them that I ask the rhetorical question. Like a lot of gamers – around six million to be a tad more precise – I’m up to my neck in Black Ops right now and between the good points, very good points and painfully cheesy moments are these canisters of unknown origin, waiting for a bullet to cause major damage.

That’s fine, I get that, I understand why an exploding barrel next to a number of enemies is advantageous to the player but they become really quite bothersome when I was downed due to the buggers. Black Ops is a bit of an exception to be fair however as there were quite a few times in the campaign mode when I was killed for seemingly no apparent reason but the times when a sentence flashed up saying it was because I stood too near a barrel really wound me up. It wasn’t because I have an issue seeing them more that their existence feels a little jarring. I would prefer a game without them, which may slightly reduce my offensive options but does mean I wouldn’t pause in frustration and angrily ask myself “why are there so many damn exploding barrels in a village?!,” for example.

Because really, who needs a barrel that appears only useful as a bomb? Okay, so the Michael Bay flattering fulmination they produce is particularly eye pleasing however it also feels a bit lazy to include them in a level rather than having an altogether more creative way of disposing of enemies. Better points for sniping, a greater level of intelligence for opposing forces or just simply alternative routes for combat. I’d take all of the above over the shooting of a barrel. I tend to find that weaknesses in level design, mechanics and even story begin to show whenever there’s one near by. Maybe I’m being too harsh and maybe they have their place as a video game icon but jumping from Black Ops to Fable III and finding yet more exploding barrels caused a little sigh of disappointment.

Lionhead wants your help to rid Fable III of its bugs

Bugs are the scourge of any developer and in this day and age of multiple online patches for consoles, many games are released before all of them can be caught and squished. One such title fallen victim to glitches and guffs is Fable III which only came out last week but is already being criticised for one too many issues. To resolve this, Lionhead Studio wants your help and has launched an area on their official site where gamers can submit any problem they’ve had with the hope of them being fixed in an upcoming patch. The team state that: “There is no ETA on [the patch], seeing as the process of game development is a slow, long and lonely one, so please bear with us. I hope to be able to update you in the near future.” Lionhead also promise that the reported problems are check on a regular basis so they’ll hopefully be caught and dealt with.

Regardless of Fable III‘s infestation, the game trumped its predecessor’s sales becoming the 4th biggest Xbox 360 launch this year and crowning it with the number one spot in this week’s UK video games chart. Bravo them.

{Thanks Videogamer}