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.

Once again, Fable: The Journey isn’t on-rails dagnabbit!

I do feel sorry for Peter Molyneux. Being such a great speaker who calmly relays his aspirational thinking to anyone who will listen, he often talks at Microsoft press conference, regardless of venue. And with Fable being one of Microsoft’s big IPs, Molyneux usually discusses its future titles. But the reason I feel sorry for him is because I get the impression his thoughts aren’t quite at the stage where he should be in front of hundreds of people but still, there he is with a Fable product, dividing the audience on whether ‘it’ll work’.

The recent hotly discussed game was Fable: The Journey at E3, a game demoed on-stage looking a whole lot like it was on-rails. Earlier this month he cleared up any confusion saying for the record, Fable: The Journey ISN’T an on-rails experience and the navigational element was removed at the last minute. Why? According to OXM, Molyneux said “The reason it was on rails was because I told the team to take out navigation, because on stage I thought, right, I need to show off magic, how cool magic is.” Funny thing was, to me, this worked because I did indeed think the magic looked cool and how different hand movements cast different spells. Molyneux went on to say: “If Dimitri doing the demo had had to navigate from one position to another, one, it would have extended the demo to four minutes from two minutes, and two, it would be slightly confusing.”

Another reason for the arguably poor showing was how little time Lionhead Studios had to work on the demo: “This project really only started, well in earnest it started about seven months ago and we started coding about four months ago.” And not straightforward coding either, the team moved from the normal Fable tech to using the Unreal Engine. This generation really is becoming the age of Unreal isn’t it?

So for a lot of people, Fable: The Journey looked iffy at best but Molyneux promises that come Gamescom in August, Lionhead will be able to fulfil their ambition of making something we all want to play. And I can see sleepless nights ahead for the studio. By August, the game would have only had just over six months development time and no doubt there’s even more pressure to get it right after the Molyneux took the negative comments of E3 so personally. I think the press and gamers often forget just how young titles can be at big press shows. It’s rare that what you see in a game stays exactly the same when it’s finally released and being a supporter of in-game demos over flashy CG trailers, I’m glad Lionhead took the risk to show off Fable: The Journey at such a raw stage rather than a random piece of footage which leaves us with just as many questions.

Fable goes off the rails

The next game from the wilds of Albion was announced a week ago at Microsoft’s press conference when Peter Molyneux walked on stage with charm only he possess to show off Fable: The Journey for Kinect. In the days following, some media outlets weren’t all that impressed with what they saw, even though it very purposefully proved Kinect can track the motions of someone sitting, with poor Mr Molyneux slapping his own wrist in frustration.

The on-stage demo looked rather a lot like an on-rails experience with the camera guiding the player’s movements as he shot spells out of his hands. With the use of Kinect of course. I thought the idea was kind of cool and like the way different hand movements created different spells but a purely on-rails Fable game goes against the whole idea of what Lionhead have been creating with the series so far. Its about open worlds and exploration, not hand-holding.

So as you can imagine, Molyneux was quite annoyed with how Fable: The Journey was portrayed. Speaking with OXM (via MCV), he said “I made an horrendous mistake on the press demo on taking out the navigation allowing players to move. I’ll state on record now that Fable: The Journey is definitely not on rails.” In the past, the English gentleman has made a lot of promises that he nor Lionhead can keep but this one seems less like an unreachable goal and simply a neglect to mention 1:1 navigation. Does that make Fable: The Journey suddenly more interesting? To me, yeah, regardless of wavering quality, I’ve always enjoyed the Fable games. For everyone else though, I’d imagine they’d probably have to see a bit more about it first. After all, it’s one of the new breed of supposedly hardcore Kinect experiences and no one quite knows how they’ll be received.

Microsoft E3 press conference 2011: My highlights

The months leading up to E3 2011 had gamers jump from being ritualistically interested to overwhelmingly excited. What were Microsoft going to show? And what of Sony? Can they really ignore the month of PSN troubles and upset? Nintendo has a brand new console to show off plus games for their 3DS, or at least that’s what we hope.

So E3 has barely even begun and the highlights are already vast in number. Microsoft officially kicked things off with their Press Conference and did so with the wealthiest franchise, Call of Duty. Yes, Modern Warfare 3 was demoed live on an Xbox 360, a point made even clearer when the “please reconnect controller” error popped up on screen. Deliberate? Probably. But hell, Modern Warfare 3 did look really rather good and ran incredibly smooth on a five year old system. The gameplay shown still had that Call of Duty game style and execution which has become more of a criticism than complement but with the last two titles selling like crazy – both on release and the years after – it’s not a huge surprise that Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward, the co-development team, are sticking to a tried and tested formula.

After the shooting was over, Crystal Dynamics took to the stage to debut gameplay from next years Tomb Raider reboot and boy, does that look good. Graphically it’s more impressive than previous iterations as both the environment AND Lara have a realistic quality about them. Since Lara is on her own, she was constantly talking to herself, saying things like “I need to get out of here” referring to the cave she was imprisoned in by some scrappy-looking vagabonds. It added a great feeling of tension and fear without coming across as contrived but we only saw it for a limited time. Continuous chatter from a frightened teenage girl can go from dramatic to annoying very quickly I’d imagine. That being said, I don’t think I’ve ever been as excited for a Tomb Raider game as I have been for the reboot and the demo just underlined that fact. The Tomb Raider reboot is said to be coming some time next year.

Next up for my personal highlights just so happened to be the next game in Microsoft’s line up. Mass Effect 3. Big boss Ray Muzyka spoke of ME3 being the beginning of something big and that it’s the perfect time to jump into the franchise. A little late if you ask me seeing as there’s been two awesome games before it. Nevertheless, ME3 adds something extra to all the sci-fi shooting and sexual tension. It adds Kinect. Inclusion of motion controls has been rumoured for a while after the game’s box art featured a Kinect logo on it and thankfully hands-free gaming won’t hinder what has so far been a brilliant controller-based series. Because strictly speaking, it isn’t the motion camera ME3 uses. It’s the microphone. Kinect will allow players to issue strategic commands to team members by telling them where to go and what to do on the battlefield. Not only that but conversations can be had by actually talking to the characters, saying the responses shown on ME‘s conversation wheel instead of selecting them with the right stick. I really like both those ideas, a lot, though am slightly sceptical as to whether it will feel a bit gimmicky. But I have faith in BioWare. For now.

The will they won’t they drama of a Halo 1 remake came to an end with an official announcement of Halo Anniversary doing exactly what you’d expect, remastering Halo. The original campaign has been spruced up considerably for the Xbox 360 with classic multiplayer maps and online co-op to boot. One thing I really appreciated about the recent Halo games is the omitance of the Flood. I hate that enemy type. I mean really hated them. Now they’ll be back in HD to annoy me all over again. Joy. But that aside, I’m quite looking forward to reliving my time as a 20 year old gamer playing Halo for the first time and thinking how a relatively unknown game can be so important to the industry.

E3 just wouldn’t be E3 without Peter Molyneux making an appearance in a Microsoft’s press conference telling us about the next big Fable game. This year won’t be any different with the announcement of Fable: The Journey which looks to be a prequel using Kinect to do things like control the reigns of a horse and carriage as well as the combat of the game. The demoer was raising his hands to ready magic, jolting them forward to release it onto the hobbes that needed eradicating. Varying hand movemens and gestured seemed to launch different kinds of spells so my initial fears of Fable: The Journey being no more than a Kinect shooting gallery maybe unnecessary. I can’t but wonder how the game will be received after Fable III ended with not so much a bang but an unhappy whimper from the audience. Can Kinect bring the series back to a happy place in our hearts?

Remember the announcement of Star Wars Kinect last year and how staged it looked? This year sees another dubious demo but at least there was more footage that represented what will be in game. Things like waving your hands to swish a lightsaber around or raising obstructions using the force by lifting your hands in that air. All this set in the prequel era of Star Wars which, admittedly, isn’t the best time for fans of the films but makes the most sense for games. That way there can be numerous Jedis and locations known by more than just the hardcore. Events like Pod Racing look to also make an appearance no doubt similar to Kinect Joy Ride in its controls. I really liked the Pod Racer game a few generations ago so welcomes another dip into that particular sport. I just hope it and the rest of Star Wars Kinect lives up the the hype.

I’ll end my first lengthy article about E3 with a game Microsoft closed their press conference with; Halo 4. Coming Christmas 2012 is the start of another trilogy of Halo games staring Master Chief and Cortana as they do battle with, well, I don’t actually know. The reveal was short but very sweet and looked to be set directly after Halo 3, when the Chief was frozen cryogenically on board a distant space ship. Something disturbed his slumber forcing him to burst out his pod, grab the holographic honey and see where all the noise was coming from. It didn’t look good. His ship was being destroyed by some unknown force that looked a little like Unicron from Transformers but obviously isn’t. Thought how awesome would it be if it were?! That was pretty much all Microsoft and 343 Industries showed but it was more than enough to arouse the audience and left me wondering what else E3 has in store after such an eventful beginning. I can’t wait to find out!

Is one second enough?

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After scooping a BAFTA for recognition of his contribution to video games, Peter Molyneux of Lionhead Studios released an ominous short and sweet teaser for the company’s next game. From the video, the game is called 1 Second Perfection (like an unfortunate nickname for a high schooler) or at least that’s its working title.

The video quotes famous Elite developer, David Braben who once said: “Why can we not make a game that will last days, not just hours?”. Now that we’re well and truly in that era of video games with some titles lasting numerous years, Peter Molyneux has asked a question of his own: “Can we create a game that lives forever but is only played for 1 second?”. I don’t know, can you? After both those quotes pop up, something that looks rather like a thrown-together robot with glowing green eyes turns to look at the viewer. “How would you play your 1 second” flashes on screen followed by the name and announcement of an open beta coming in Autumn this year.

In the past, Molyneux has been highly ambitious with his games, maybe too ambitious perhaps which resulted in his apology to the public for promising things in games that were never delivered upon. Is this just another one of his wild ideas, never quite working out the way he wants them too? I still believe the man’s a visionary and we’re lucky to have someone like him in the industry. The games – mainly his Fable series – may have over promised and under delivered but that didn’t stop them all being great games and didn’t stop our connection to their core ideas. How would I play my 1 second? I have no idea but am keen to find out what Lionhead are offering.

Milo was never a real boy

As the US today greets Microsoft’s attempt to lure over the casual audience, Kinect, Alex Kipman, who created the device, answers once and for all just what happened to Milo. Interestingly enough, Milo as a game or even a product never really existed in the first place. When Kinect was first revealed back in 2009, Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux debuted a piece of tech that had a virtual boy interact with a real human. Known as Milo, the tech was often dubbed as being a full game but according to Kipman, it was never something that Microsoft had ever suggested. Milo was nothing more than a sandbox and a tool for developers to hone their skills with the tech of Kinect. Kipman said: “[Milo] was never really a product, I will tell you that the technology developed in that sandbox, and by the way we continue to develop technologies in that sandbox, has migrated pretty closely to what you see in a game called Kinectimals.”

But confusion still lingers as too whether we’re getting the whole truth. Back in July, the developers behind Kinectimals, Frontier, denied the use of Milo in their virtual pet game saying: Kinectimals has been in development since before we saw Milo. It is built using Frontier’s own technology shared with other Frontier games in development, and ideas evolved from earlier games like Dog’s Life. There has not been any involvement in the technology or design by Lionhead. Milo and Kate is a completely separate (and intriguing) development from Lionhead.”

See? Baffling isn’t it? The only thing that it is certain is that Milo as a game was never meant to be. Poor Milo.

{Thanks Videogamer}

Wiil you marry me in Fable III?

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Lionhead Studio’s regal adventure Fable III is now out in America and will shortly be arriving in Europe. As an act of kindness and celebratory goodness, two of the development team give a walkthrough on the features on co-op multiplayer such as how players can marry one another. Like a number of unprotected vagabonds, the two create life and now starts the bickering of who will look after the tyke while the other goes off slaying. It’ll all end in tears y’know. The video doesn’t show any bedroom gymnastics but is still as creepy as it is endearing. Is there anyone on your friends list that you’d like to rear a virtual baby with?