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X3F interviews Peter Molyneux about Fable 2, BC, XNA

We've already posted the audio of our interview with Peter Molyneux, but we know not everyone is down with spoken word. As such, we've transcribed the entire interview for your reading pleasure. In this massive interview, Molyneux discusses Fable 2 co-op (he thinks Live co-op is a great idea by the way), the possibility of versus multiplayer (which is also a good idea according to Molyneux), and we even manage to squeeze in questions about Microsoft's new XNA initiative and the ill-fated BC. Find the lengthy and informative interview after the break.

X3F: The first real question I had: now that we know that online co-op exists and that female characters can become pregnant. A friend of mine wants to have my character's baby. is that possible?

Peter Molyneux: Well, this is where it gets really tricky, because I'm a reformed character now. The new Peter Molyneux has been born that never ever promises things but always ever shows it. No one's realized this yet, but everything in Fable 2 I've talked about, everything, I've showed. You know, I've showed the house you bought, I've showed co-op, I've showed combat, I've showed the emotion and the dog. I'm not talking about anything that I can't show. And part of that is because what I used to do way back when is I used to come to things like this and journalists used to say, "Can you do this? Could you do that?" And in the back of my mind I would think, was thinking, that's a really good idea. I can't wait to get back to Lionhead so I can tell everybody that I've had another good idea, and why don't we add this new feature in. And the answer to your question is it was a bit stupid of me not to have thought through the idea that people would want to have a relationship with their henchman. And, so technically I'm sure it is possible to do. I'll see what I can do to persuade, because nowadays you know, at this stage of Fable because it's nearing completion, you know me going in and saying i've had a good idea is like me going in and saying, "I'm a mass murdering killer and I'm going to kill you all."


You know, people would jump on me and throw me out the window, so we'll see what we can do. It's certainly and interesting idea. No promises.

Talking about sort of promising the moon and being hurt by that, Fable 1 was an excellent game in its own right, but because of what led up to it, a number of people were disappointed by it, and I would ask what you would tell those people when they're considering whether or not they want to try out Fable 2.

Having people disappointed with a game I've been working on, and my team has been working on, is one of the things that motivates me to make a better game. And, you know, there's very few times in your life that you get a second chance at things, but Fable 2 is a second chance, and we listened to those ... there was a hurricane of noise from people who got Fable and said, "I'm disappointed." Now, you've got to take that into perspective, because whenever you're creating something, and you're telling the world about the thing you're creating, what I've found is that you talk about an idea -- and this is why I show stuff now, rather than conceptually talk about stuff -- you talk about an idea and you talk about philosophy and theory and in people's imaginations that idea grows.

We had this terrible thing, this awful thing with Black & White happened, where the design of Black & White was actually ... was hijacked by the fan sites. Because what happened is, there were so many fan sites on Black & White, the hype on Black & White was just ridiculously huge. It was completely out of our control. One fan site would say, "What we'd love to see in Black & White is this," and then another fan site would read that and say, "We've heard that Black & White's going to have this," and then another fan site would say, "Black & White's definitely got this, and that means this," and that was completely without our control and any input at all. So, I've learned over the years is that when you're talking about something, there are always going to be disappointed people. You know, the pregnancy thing and your child. Some people will be imagining that they're going to be rocking the cart, and the kid's going to get up and they'll be able to go to school. You know, there's only so far we're going to go with the child thing.


And, I'm sure a lot of people are already thinking that we're going to go an awful lot forward and this may well be a parenting sim. It's not. This is Fable and it's part of the Fable world.

The dog is also part of the emotional hook that you have in the game.

The dogs are very interesting.

You talk about wanting people to love the dog, which ...

I don't actually say that.

Well ...

You say that. See, that's an example of you saying that.

Alright, well I suppose you would hope that someone would love the dog. And the question I'm getting to is if someone is, for instance, a cat person.


If someone isn't attached to the dog, will the game still work for that person?

Right. Here's the thing. To start off with, what I really want ... what I reckon, this is what I reckon, and I could easily be wrong here. If I really really like you, and I really tell you I think you're fantastic, you're much more likely to like me. I think that's human emotion.


And, if the dog -- and the dog does -- he absolutely loves and adores you in a way that a dog [does]. It's completely unconditional love. If you're the evil most bastardish Fable player in the world and you've killed millions of people, he'll love you. If you're the goodest, kindest, most pure person in the world, he'll love you. And that emotion that he's giving to you is infectious. And, if you've never held a dog before, maybe, just maybe -- and this is a crazy thing to say -- but maybe you'll go out and buy a dog after playing Fable. What I didn't want this to be is to be a pet sim. You know, just like the baby thing, what I said earlier.

I'm giving this dog for a very good gameplay reason, and it can't be a parrot or a cat or a dolphin. It's a dog. It's because dogs are -- and this is the science of it, and I'm only applying that science afterwards -- dogs, over thousands of years, have modified their behavior to ply into our emotions. That's a fact. That's an evolutionary fact that way back when, tens of thousands, millions of years ago, dogs shared our campfires. And, they're faces have been constructed over the years to be more sympathetic with us. So, there you go. [Smiles] All it is, really, is that this dog just loves you, and that love is quite cool and quite unique in the game.

One question I have was about ... you say that all the property in Fable, pieces of property have their own quest lines and their own tasks that you can accomplish. I'd like to ask how far along is it as far as ... every piece of property has its own quest line? And, with so many quests out there, how do you keep them from becoming a little bit too similar to one another.

Well, it's not every single house, no. That would be a little bit tedious. It tends to be that the categories of property have different types of quests to do, so shops have a certain sort of quests. Certain types of shops have a certain sort of quests. Big buildings like castles and cathedrals and churches have a whole different side of it. They tend to be more story-driven quests. Things like houses tend not to have many quests, although a few bigger houses do. Some of those are collecting quests, but the good thing is -- what doesn't make them tedious -- is that, if for example a shop has a collecting quest. You know, go and find ten of these. You're finding ten of those and you're getting them back to the shop, so you get the success from that, but then you get the money from the sales of those ten things, so it all wraps up together. And that feeds into the bigger ambition -- this is all outside the story by the way -- the bigger ambition of you having the ability to buy almost everything in the whole world, and be the lord, ruler of the whole of Albion.

Talking about money, we mentioned yesterday the Xbox Live Arcade game.



Yeah, yeah.

Some people are already scrambling and talking about it, saying that, "If I can earn all this money outside the game, will that affect the balance?" Are you concerned about that? And furthermore, can you actually lose money in the game?

This is one of the horrible things, I'm really scared about the Keystone. it's very compulsive and it's a gambling game. There's a very important thing ... that I'm talking about is that early on we took this really tiny little decision -- shows you how much, how important every sentence is when you're designing -- this tiny little decision that ends up being a massive thing. And that is that in Fable 2 there are no gold drops, and you don't get any gold for doing quests. Full stop.


And in Fable 1 there were loads of gold drops and you got gold for doing quests. To get gold in Fable 2, you have to go out to work. The reason we did this was that I really love the idea of you being a noble, famous hero who is really poor. If you go back to ancient, to English mythology and the Arthurian mythology, there were lots of the knights who were just that. You know, famous but poor. And if you want to rush through the game, you are going to be poor, because you won't have gone out to work. But if you want to be rich and famous and finish the game you're going to have to go out to work and hold down your hero job as well. I think that's really cool.

There are several ways of getting money. You can get a job, and the RPG element goes on to jobs at well, and you can get better at that job. You can become a blacksmith or a barman or a woodsman or an assassin, you can become an assassin. One of the jobs that you can get is being someone's henchman in co-op. You get money for being someone's henchman. So that's like a job. And ... um ... that means I've completely forgotten your question.


I was asking whether or not the Live Arcade game could affect the balance of earning money.

Oh, well you see this is the big problem. What we've found is these games are so compulsive and after you've been working for hours and hours at a blacksmith and you've gone up a couple of levels, and you're really good and you've accrued 5,000 gold and you think, "Should I buy a house? No, I'll just do a bit of gambling. I could buy this house for 5,000 and there's that one over there for 7,000." You go in there, and just like going to Las Vegas you blow the whole lot. The thing that I worry about that is that if it was me I'd probably pick up the controller and just throw it across the room.

What about debt? Does that exist?

In those gambling games you can get a line of credit, yeah.


It's just that you've got to work through your line of credit until you actually earn any money from your gambling games.

Alright, your talk later today is the three big features. Now from what I could see at the keynote. We have the Live Arcade game and the co-op. Can you maybe give us a hint?

Oh, now, let's be careful. The only thing I've told you about is the couch co-op.

I see.

I think a lot of people are putting two and two together and assuming that there's Live co-op, which I think is a really good idea by the way, but I can't officially say anything. I can tell you the three big things. They're drama, the drama and things like the dog and the family, and the fact is that you change physically and visibly, the world changes physically and visibly, the story changes. You know, the capital city, depending on how you play the game, can be more of a slum or can be more majestic. So, everything changes and that's very, very dramatic, so that's a really, really big feature.

The combat, the fact that it's so accessible. We really thought about this and designed it this way so that you could sit down and play with someone else, and you could be the most skilled fighting game person and play with someone of the least skill and you both have a fantastic time. So, the combat is a big thing. Being able to design your own combat style is very, very interesting combat stuff.

The last thing is co-op and sharing.

In the co-op you mentioned being a henchman for, I assume, whoever your joining. Is that an automatic system? Is that a quest you have to accept? One thing that a lot of the press noticed [at the keynote] is that there were two people playing but there was only one dog. As a henchman that makes sense.

There's a technical reason why we can't bring in two dogs, because they're very, very expensive. And they take like 50 milliseconds. Of our 200 millisecond budget, 50 milliseconds is taken up by the dog, so if you have two dogs your frame rate's going to be under 20 frames a second. So, that's a boring reason, and there are ways we could have got round that. We could have stopped your dog coming in and stopped him being so much of a simulation. We could have not drawn the fur and all that stuff, but then it starts getting confusing, so it's just easier just to say in this version of Fable, you can't bring a dog in.

Moving away from Fable 2 just for a moment, I wanted to ask you if Lionhead is still looking at BC. That was a project that a lot of people were excited about and it was sort of towards the end of the Xbox life cycle, and then Fable came around after that. Are you still looking at that project? Or would you ever consider it in the future perhaps?

I love the idea of BC. It's amazing to me that people still bring BC up, because it has been four years since it was put on a shelf. The last time we spoke about BC was about a month ago, talking about "Okay, maybe we should think about BC. Is now the time right for BC? Is the idea big enough for what we need to do?" At the moment, there's no plans to develop it, but it's definitely the first thing on the shelf if you see what I mean.

[Back to Fable 2] We have co-op. Are you at all interested in adversarial modes, which is something that American gamers in particular really enjoy?

What do you mean by adversarial?

Versus multiplayer.

PVPs ....

Right. Is that something that you're looking at at all, or are you sticking with co-op?

Sounds like an interesting idea.

The last question I have about the Xbox Live Arcade game, has Lionhead looked at possible -- outside of Fable 2 -- doing things like Live Arcade games. You've seen Rare has done Jetpac. Certainly Lionhead has a history of some games that could work well on Live Arcade.

I'll tell you what I've really wanted to do for the longest time, and it's just trying to get through the maze of complexities and legal things. I've really wanted to put up ... we have experimental group, and these experimental groups get started up when we finish a project. A lot of people have sort of downtime while the next project gets ramped up again, and that's when a lot of experiments get done. Quite a lot of those experiments are complete standalone games. There's one called Doodle Bomber. There's one called Dirt Car Racers. There was like five of them when Fable finished. And I'd be really keen to put some of those up, and to put some of the experiments up. Like today, I'm going to be showing off the early combat prototype from Fable 2. The experiment that we did to try and prove that combat worked. I'm going to be doing a bit of that in my talk. And I'd love to put that on Xbox Live Arcade and say, "This was the inspiration for the Fable 2 combat, what's everyone think?" And put up there all the variables that people can tweak and change. I think that would be great.

Have any of your designers taken a look at Microsoft's new XNA strategy with the Community Games?

Yeah, we have and it's quite exciting. I find it a very exciting thing. I do think that it's tough making a game. It's hard making a game. What's going to be interesting is if people use that, they're going to be pretty passionate people to get into the industry. So, we'll be certainly looking at that, and we have done. We don't directly support it at the moment.

What I would -- this is purely and utterly pie in the sky, which I said when you first walked in here I don't do anymore, but this is kind of so pie in the sky I'll probably get away with it -- what I would love to do -- and this is something we used to do on the PC and I think it worked really, really well -- is to allow a little configuration file for Fable to be compatible with XNA stuff, so that you can write mods essentially that go into this configuration file and feed into Fable. So, it kind of links in. All the Keystone stuff we did is actually that. That Keystone game was developed by a completely separate arm of Microsoft called Carbonated Games. They're the ones that did UNO and stuff like that. All we've done is worked on this bridge between two games. Why can't we make that bridge available to anybody in XNA? I think it would be cool

It would be. Well, I suppose that's it. Thank you very much for your time.

Thank you very much.

I'm looking forward to Fable 2.

Well, so am I.

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