Peter Molyneux joins the 'Are games art?' debate and reveals more of Fable 2.
In part one of our interview with Peter Molyneux, published last week, the Lionhead boss revealed how he's planning to revolutionise combat in games with Fable 2.
Here, in part two, he talks more generally about his vision for the future of games, and offers his perspective on the long running debate over whether they can be considered an art form.
Q: GamesIndustry.biz: You've always been outspoken in your beliefs about what games have the potential to offer and where they could go. What's your view on the question of whether games are an art form?
Peter Molyneux: Of course they are.
Q: Why would you say that is?
Why would you say they weren't? I'm very glib about that because this is a philosophical question. Before I really answer it, you have to define what art is to you. If art is described as something which promotes a reaction in you and lets you glimpse something that's more than reality - then yes, of course they're an art form.
I'm absolutely sure that computer games are part of our culture now, so they are art. I don't think there's much of a debate there really.
Q: Well, for example, we recently interviewed Tony Davidson of the design charity D&AD. He said that games aren't art, because they're based on a business idea; they're designed to make money. There are commercial drivers behind them; they're not created for their own sake.
That's true of a lot of computer games, the same as it's true of a lot of films. Look at Citizen Kane - some people would regard that as the greatest film ever made, something which epitomises what you think of as art in cinema. Was that made for commercial gain? Probably, probably there were backers who made a commercial gain.
Compare that film to Ico. If they wanted to make that game sell loads they would have had, I don't know, huge breasted women like Tomb Raider in it. But they didn't, the made something which was there to get a reaction out of people that were playing it.
You can pick examples in paintings, film, computer games that are both the epitome of art and the epitome of commercialisation.
I would argue that there's a worrying trend in computer games, that commercialisation is becoming so important because it costs such a lot to make a game. But I wouldn't say computer games are devoid of artistic content, absolutely not.
Q: On the subject of commercial pressures - when you look at the software charts, often the top spots are occupied by movie tie-ins which aren't actually much good. But they're what's selling, more than some of the more innovative titles, so isn't that what people want? They're not buying Ico in the same numbers as they're buying Harry Potter...
That's a different argument. When you're making Spider-Man 3 are you making it to make an artistic statement, or because you think you'll get people playing computer games?
I will say this: if this industry doesn't start waking up from the slumber it's in at the moment and realising we're not making people go 'Wow!' any more, we are going to become increasingly niche.
We need to look at the sense of wonder everybody has when they see a screen, and how many computer games are really getting that. That is art because it pulls people in, just like a piece of great art.
I want to play Spider-Man 3, of course I do... But what I desperately want I don't see very often these days: that moment I had when I first saw computer games. When I first saw Street Fighter, my eyes were glued to the screen. You look back at it now and it looks really rubbish, but it was incredible at that time.
We have to get that sense of wonder back into this industry, and that's a real obsession of mine at the moment.
We've had games like Lara Croft, which was iconic; the first time she came out it was a real wow moment. Before that we were playing with plumbers and hedgehogs, and suddenly a person with breasts came on the scene and it was just like a revolution.
There was a moment with Grand Theft Auto - a game where you can have freedom for the first time, where you can drive round and do stuff. That was a real, groundbreaking moment, and I'm waiting with bated breath for another one of these.
Q: Is Fable 2 going to provide one?
I'm building it because I really care about that sense of wonder. I hope people see the same thing I'm seeing. It would have been so easy for us to turn round and say, 'Okay, let's give you three more swords and six more spells and make the world five times bigger.'
Personally, I'm 48 now and that doesn't do it for me. I want more, I want to feel immensely proud of what we're doing, and that means taking big steps.
We didn't have to put a dog in there. No one was asking for a dog. On no forum did it appear. And we didn't have to revolutionise the combat - in fact the combat was highly praised in Fable 1.
The point is, we can still do things that amaze people, and that's a fantastic position to be in.
Q: What about your other projects? You once said you're working on a game which will let the player relive their entire individual life. How's that coming along?
No comment. You can imagine, being a part of Microsoft there are people with hugely sharp weapons standing outside this room, waiting to use them if I comment on that in any way, shape or form.
But, I will tell you, and I think I will get away with this: everything I've just said, all the things that I'm excited about, casual games and accessibility and a sense of wonder - I'm talking as much about the other title we're working on here as I am about Fable 2.
Peter Molyneux is founder and president of Lionhead Studios. Interview by Ellie Gibson. Part one of this feature was published last week.