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Micro Management

Part two of our interview with Microsoft's Chris Satchell and Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux.

In part one of our interview with Microsoft's Chris Satchell and Lionhead's Peter Molyneux, we discussed the potential of the XNA Express open development platform for Windows and Xbox 360.

Here they talk about the threat from Microsoft's rivals, and how XNA Express could herald a return to game development's good old days.


GamesIndustry.biz: With PS3, Sony's making moves into areas that you've been exploring already, with a similar service to Live Arcade, and Ken Kutaragi even mentioning the possibility of user-created content. Are you worried about them catching Microsoft up?

Chris Satchell: No. I don't think Sony has the right focus. I'm not even sure, looking at how they execute, that they even think that it's important. Like providing people with tools so that they can be creative; they certainly don't seem to do it in their professional space, so I don't really believe they're going to do it in other spaces.

And there's a long way from getting your first online service to getting something that matches Xbox Live, and that way is very tough and takes many many years of technology investment and many tens of millions of dollars, and maybe they're going to invest or not, but we're not stopping. They're not chasing a fixed target, they're chasing us constantly innovating.

Sony has attempted this route into console development before, with Yaroze. Where did they go wrong?

Chris Satchell: Sony did a couple of things wrong. It was great that they tried, it was awesome that they actually went and took that step; Sony were the first people to really do that. But they had a couple of problems.

One was, you bought your console, and then you had to buy another console that was more expensive than your first console. And the other side was, although it had some reasonable tools, it didn't have great tools. It didn't allow you into every part of the system, it closed off a bunch of stuff.

Even worse is the concept of Linux on PS2 or PS3 - you can't get to a lot of the hardware. It's not enough to say there is a path; you need to give tools that make the path easy enough to follow that you can actually do the things you want to do.

So I think that's where we do something different - we desperately care about the game development platform. How you enable the developers, how you give them a great software platform to build on. I don't think our competitors care in the same way; they have different interests.

Peter, you started out programming on home computers, and throughout your career you've been associated with PC games first and foremost. Now Lionhead is part of Microsoft, are you going to have more of a console focus?

Peter Molyneux:: The immediate focus is Fable 2 and to make that the most incredible game I possibly can, and that's going to be on 360. The whole focus is on that 360 version. What we've done is distill Lionhead down to making just two things, one of which is Fable 2, the other of which we haven't announced what it is or what it's on.

Focus is what it's all about. Making a good game has always been hard, making a great game has been elusively hard and really requires incredible focus. Certainly the big features in Fable 2 are big enough and well-polished enough to be great.

Do you think XNA Express can create a console development scene similar to the scene for home computers when you started out?

Peter Molyneux:: You know there's one thing that no-one's really talked about that was incredibly important and amazingly influential on the Amiga and the Commodore 64 and indeed on the PC in the early days, and that was the demo scene.

There were these insane people - a lot of our talent came from that demo scene - coming together and having 48 hours to create something incredible. If something like that could be organised on XNA, it's amazing what can come out. It was massive. There were halls full of people, 48 hours, no sleep, no nothing, just pure unbelievable creativity.

We did hire three top people from the demo scene at one point; one of them was responsible for the Black & White engine.

Chris Satchell: It was crazy. You'd just be looking at stuff thinking, âNo, it can't do that. There's no way it can do that.'

Peter Molyneux:: It was all about doing something which seemed impossible. I think XNA will be a fantastic way of bringing that together.

Nintendo has been promoting the Wii as a more developer-friendly machine than the 360 or the PS3 - is there anything to that?

Chris Satchell: I think it's a simpler machine. It is a pretty simple architecture to program for. On the Xbox 360, I think we have a good enough development environment that to do an equivalent experience to what's possible on Wii actually wouldn't be any harder.

But remember what's happening on 360 is that the experience people are building are so much more complex. People are making it hard for themselves, not just because it's a more powerful platform but they want to fill it out. If you look at what they do with their simulations, with their graphics rendering, with their world technologies, they're just more complex games.

I'm still very proud of the developer tools that my group has produced. I think we do the best developer tools in the industry - that's the feedback that we get from our customers. So I feel good that we're taking the system and making it as easy as possible.

Do you feel the Wii is a threat to you, as platform? The launch-weekend sales figures are even higher than 360's were.

Chris Satchell: I think the Wii is of interest, I'm not sure what its long-term potential is. It's a super-strong for Nintendo's first-party IP, but beyond that... I get that it is getting more developer support and that's good, but I just don't know if it's going to be that compelling.

It's going to start very fast, it's a cool thing that's different, but I'm not sure how big it's going to be in the long term.

Do you ever get scared that, with XNA Express, you've created a monster that will end up out of your control?

Chris Satchell: Some of the possibilities do seem really big and endless... When I think about the policies and systems we need to get in place to make sure that we can protect IP rights and so on, that's scary stuff if you get it wrong.

The thing that people normally ask me is if I get scared about cannibalising the audience for big games, and I'm not scared about that at all. I think there's always room for different kinds of content.

So yes, a little trepidation, a little âwhat are we unleashing here?', but every time I remind myself that in other media it's been a really positive thing to get the community involved. They're going to do it anyway. You don't fight the community, that's just a battle that you're never going to win. Why do you need to fight them? Let's enable them, and let people have fun.

Chris Satchell is general manager of Microsoft's Game Development Group. Peter Molyneux is head of Lionhead Studios. Interview by Oliver Welsh. To read part one of this feature, click here.

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Oli Welsh

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Oli was Eurogamer's MMO Editor before a seven-year stint as Editor. He worked here for a colossal 14 years, shaping the website and leading it.

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