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Microsoft's Peter Molyneux

The creative director on the industry's need to change the way it works, Fable III and the iPhone's future

GamesIndustry.biz So what pushes you to go to the level of ambition that you do? Lots of people make fantastic games which are simply bringing very good levels of polish to ideas that are already out there. World of Warcraft has often been cited in that respect.
Peter Molyneux

Well, I'm going to beat myself up about this, because I think a lot of the time it's been purely me - not Lionhead as such - and I get too excited about the idea, but not so excited about the implementation. So the idea can fall flat, it's poorly executed, or it's just an excuse where I should have addressed some other issues.

But I think I'm learning now - ideas are important, but the implementation of that idea and the execution of it, how clear it is... that's probably more important.

GamesIndustry.biz Is that one of the reasons why Fable II was such a successful game, then?
Peter Molyneux

Yes - I think that's part of it. I got hugely excited by the dog, and I think it worked really well. Yes, I wish the implementation of it was better - and it is better in Fable III - but that is where the idea and implementation starts coming together.

I think if it had been previously, back in the Black & White days, you'd be able to slap or stroke the dog, or teach him to talk - I don't know, whatever ridiculous thing I'd have come up with! But the simple idea was: "Why not give a player a dog, just a dog. Let's not go crazy on the invention stuff, let's just keep it simple."

GamesIndustry.biz As a device, it's a companion for the player.
Peter Molyneux

I've got a Fonz 'shark moment' - you know, where he's jumped over a shark on his motorbike... and after that Happy Days was s***. My inverse one of those was when I thought of the idea in Black & White of introducing weather patterns in the game that were the same outside your window, that was my 'shark moment'.

Fortunately I woke up and thought: "Why the f*** did I do that?" If you lived anywhere in the world, you don't want the weather in the game to be outside your window... you want the opposite. It was a dumb, stupid idea.

GamesIndustry.biz There was a bit of scorn about the dog when you first talked about it - although it felt quite natural and easy once you played it. And to be fair, only those people whose lost their dog (either through the game or at the end) really understood how much a part of the experience it had become.
Peter Molyneux

It was you being emotionally involved. For Fable III we've talked about the dog a hell of a lot, and we were thinking about what we should do this time. I'm not going to spoil anything, but we wondered if we really needed to do something major this time, like chop one of its legs off or something - and go bizarrely over-the-top.

It will be interesting what you think of the dog this time - I think you'll be most impressed by how little we've done with it, because it didn't need more stuff, laser bolts strapped to the side of its body or more features.

GamesIndustry.biz It reminds of the observation about razor blades - over time the Big Thing has been adding more Blades, but now we seem to be at the tipping point where companies are reversing that trend, and suddenly the Big Thing is that a razor now has Fewer Blades... There's a lot of pressure on franchises to add a certain number of new features to the version for the Big Thing - and sometimes they're there for the sake of that number. How do you avoid that temptation?
Peter Molyneux

Indeed... in fact there are less features in Fable III than there have been in any of the other Fables before. But what we do with those features is far, far better.

I think you have to be completely honest, and every time I have an idea, is it really going to make a big difference? We have this really big line which asks - and I take my hat off to Louise Murray, who's the head of the Fable franchise for this - "Is that idea just a good idea, or does it make the game better?"

So often a good idea can actually make the game worse, or another feature can make the game worse. I think you need to be super-honest with yourself, and you've got to work with people who - and this is where politics can be so destructive - are honest, will look you in the eye and tell you if something's not right. And I do work with those people.

GamesIndustry.biz That must leave the marketing guys scratching their heads though: "So, hang on, you're giving us fewer features to work with here?"
Peter Molyneux

Marketing is very tricky and hard to work with. They suffer the same problem as everybody else - the game that they get to market, they it so late... The conversation always goes like this:

"We'd really like to see the game, so we can decide on the marketing message." And then there's the fatal line: "We've seen lots of games - don't worry about the quality, we can see past that." As soon as they say that, I feel like saying: "Look, let's just not look at the game at all."

It's very hard for people to see, when you've got a purple box on the screen, that the dog is really cute. They're thinking: "Er, it's a purple box." It's very difficult for them - we've always had a problem working with Microsoft, and we've got some great marketing people at the moment (hi Steve) who are always pushing the envelope a little bit. They know our features and what we're doing, and with Fable III there was this whole thing about touch.

But part of the desire to make a really clear story was also about being able to give something to marketing, so they could get their teeth into it. So the story of Fable III is that you're a revolutionary, there's an evil tyrant king - you're going to overthrow him and become king yourself. That's it - and you can imagine their eyes light up, because there're about 12 things they can get their teeth stuck into.

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Phil Elliott