Roaring Trade

Peter Molyneux on revolutionising combat in games and what he thinks of Little Big Planet.

Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux is one of the best known figures in the development industry, perhaps for his outspoken views on his vision for gaming as much as the titles he has produced.

His latest project is a sequel to 2004's Fable, and he's recently been revealing more of the game - specifically its combat system - at E3 and Develop. In part one of our interview, Molyneux explains why he's trying to revolutionise the way players fight enemies, and reveals what he thinks of Lionhead alumni Media Molecule and Little Big Planet. Visit next week for part two.

Q: How would you describe your approach to Fable 2?

Peter Molyneux: You can approach a sequel in one of two ways. You can say, 'I'm going to give people more of what they want and make it better,' or you can say, 'I really want to make some huge strides forward.'

I've always said there will be three really big surprises in Fable 2, one of which I spoke about at GDC this year - the story and how we're going to tell it. The second one is about combat - what it is, how it's exciting and why it's a different combat system from what's been done before.

It's really about trying to revolutionise something that has been standard - for us, anyway - for decades. What does it feel like to hold a sword, to fire a gun, to use magic, and how can I make that feel much more exciting than it ever has before?

Q: You could say Nintendo has taken a step in that direction with the Wii. You can use the remote like a sword, or a magic wand...

You're quite right, the visual thing is one thing and the other thing is what you're doing with the controller and how that feels. If it was on a Wii, you would be waving your arm around. I would argue that with Zelda they did that extremely well.

Our challenge is to make you feel cool about the buttons you press on the 360 controller. What you do to unlock the cool stuff that you see on screen is part of the revolution I'm putting forward.

I'm not saying this is going to be bundled with a new controller - I'm categorically not. I'm saying probably the biggest thing is what we're doing with the buttons you press and the sticks that you move.

Q: Going back to the Wii, you've previously talked about how you personally are lazy when it comes to playing games - you like to sit on the sofa and you don't necessarily want to stand up and wave a remote around. But how do you make combat feel real and exciting in the way you're describing without some kind of motion sensing controller?

It's all about making you feel heroic. It's how you feel when you're [engaged in combat]. In Fable 2 you're going to be doing it a lot, you're going to be doing it for hours, and the thought of me leaping around the room sometimes is very exciting - but if I had to do it all the time I would collapse in a heap of exhaustion.

Q: So it's more about replicating the emotional experience of combat than the physical?

It's both of those put together. You've got to take it holistically; you mustn't make people feel stupid, but also you mustn't make people feel they can just close their eyes and press a button and that's it. You feel like you're getting better and more powerful.

My dream for the perfect combat system is something where I can play Fable 2 for hours and be really good, and you can walk in having never played it before, and I'm desperate to go to the toilet so I throw you the controller - and you're able to not only hold your own but get through a battle.

Then I come back and show you how immensely cool I could be, so neither of us feel stupid and both of us feel powerful. Accessibility but depth is the real core of it.

Q: You've talked about the emphasis on one-button combat. Hasn't that already featured in a lot of games? Isn't it just button bashing?

What I'm saying is, the skill isn't the number of buttons you press. It's when you press the button, how long you hold it down for, where the player is when the button is pressed, where you move the stick. If you start to think of it like that, it's not hack and slash - it's much deeper than that.

If I can use the environment as a weapon, a cliff edge or a wall or bottles on the ground, suddenly it's not about the buttons I press; it's about where my character is and what he's doing.

So sometimes you'll press that button and you'll swing a sword like in other games you've played; sometimes you'll press that button and you'll throw bottles or plates, or throw your opponent onto a spike. There's a huge list of variations.

Q: Are you trying to bring an element of strategy into one-button combat?

For those people who want to think more, I want to give them a huge amount of depth and a huge amount of gameplay. That comes down to what you get for defeating the enemies - which is another whole conversation.

People don't want more than button bashing. For a long time we said, 'Oh, people shouldn't button bash.' People like doing it; I don't want to make them feel stupid just because they button bash.

Q: I just wanted to talk briefly about Little Big Planet, which is being developed by Media Molecule, who of course came out of Lionhead...

When I saw it, I went - excuse my language - 'F*** me, that's brilliant.' I think they've gone out and done exactly the right thing. They haven't tried to build the most gruesome effects that ever existed, they've produced a game which makes people smile, and put a huge amount of love and passion into it.

I think they're fantastic people, they're incredibly talented, and I love everything they're doing.

Q: Do you wish they were back at Lionhead?

Of course I do. I've known them for 20 years, so I miss them. They're fantastically talented. There's a lot of pressure on their shoulders though - can you imagine what it's like? To set up a company 18 months ago, to come up with a totally new game idea, to be showcased as part of the keynote at Sony and to a certain extent for the life of Sony to be on their shoulders...

That's a hell of a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of three geniuses, it really is.

Peter Molyneux is founder and president of Lionhead Studios. Interview by Ellie Gibson. Part two of this feature will be published on next week.

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