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The Lion King is dead: Peter Molyneux and the paper napkin incident

Thursday, 8th March 2012 13:58 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Microsoft’s loss is gaming’s gain. The news that Peter Molyneux has decided to revert to indie development is the best you’re likely to hear this year, says Patrick Garratt.

He’s sold untold millions of games in his time; he’s a member of the AIAS Hall of Fame; he holds an OBE; he’s a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; he holds the GDCA Lifetime Achievement Award; and he’s now the owner of that tear-stained BAFTA Fellowship. He made Populous, for God’s sake.

Yesterday’s news that Peter Molyneux has left Lionhead and Microsoft is by far the cheeriest story to yet emerge from games in 2012. The big cat has finally escaped the circus.

I spoke to Peter in San Francisco last week. He was at Microsoft’s Spring Showcase doing PR duties for Fable: The Journey. I tried to get some time with him on the first day of the show, but he was being filmed with Geoff Keighley. Lydia from Microsoft UK managed to get me a 15 minute slot on the second day, however, for which I’m eternally grateful. Being creative director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe means your time’s at a premium.

Peter never recognises me. I must have interviewed him a dozen times. I was the only British reporter to speak to him at E3 2010, after which we shared a conspiratorial conversation about Milo and its suspicious absence. I spent over an hour with him and lifelong PR Cathy Campos at Lionhead once, talking about his career for a Sunday Mail feature that never aired thanks to some fuck-up with a photographer. He told me about how he’d received death threats and had to be guarded by US security forces, and how he loves his Nissan Skyline but can’t drive it for shit. I think I’ve interviewed him for every Fable game. Every time I speak to him it’s the same. I’m introduced, and I always make as if I know him, just to see if my face or name has yet seeped into his memory any further than those of the hundreds of people he’s given the same answers to month after month, year after year. This time was no different.

“This is Patrick Garratt from VG247. Have you met Peter before?”

“We’ve met, yes. Hi, Peter. How are you?”

“Yes, we’ve met,” he says, but his expression belays the lie. “Pleased to meet you,” he adds as he shakes my hand and looks at the floor.

Wake-up call

Peter Molyneux is always tired, and this is one of the reasons I’m so pleased to hear he’s finally kicked his time at Microsoft to the curb. He’s a very nice man. He’s mad as a bat. I’ve never worked with him, obviously, but he comes across as a genuine, emotional person. He actually cried during his BAFTA Fellowship acceptance speech last year. You can tell he cares. That this energy will now be focused back into pure creation rather than management is obviously for the greater good.

I have a cold at the moment, and half way through the interview last week, during which I was fluffing some nonsense about the future of Kinect while apologising through a film of snot, he got up from his chair and fetched me a tissue, a paper napkin lying on the carpet. He didn’t have to. He wanted to, because it was a considerate thing to do. Further, his brain doesn’t suffer all the bullshit of oh no I can’t blow my nose on this napkin what the fuck will people think and if I can’t blow my nose on this napkin a piece of paper which isn’t designed for nose-blowing but rather mouth-wiping then I’m sure this guy won’t want to blow his nose on it either. He just solved a problem without pretense. Logic. As I went about happily blowing my nose, he talked about walking round the horse in Fable: The Journey and how it would have been stupid, and how he always has to have something that arrives as a product of your personality during play, because that’s how he can connect to you emotionally. When you talk to him about games it’s never about level design and box-checking. It’s always about psychological engagement and concept. Peter Molyneux is not your average games developer.

He also clearly isn’t that bothered about his appearance. He was staying at the same hotel as us, the Mark Hopkins up on San Francisco’s hill, and he appeared for breakfast wearing a sloppy grey sweat-top and some nondescript trainers. He was wearing the same later for interviews. What he does care a great deal about, however, is creating the content he wants to create and being lauded for it. I think that’s important to him, as it’s important to any creative. He’s a self-professed “believer” in games and the future of games, but you don’t further a medium in a bubble. Everyone wants to be told how good they are. He may not care about floor-trampled napkins and what shoes he has on, but that’s because he’s not seeking approval for his dress sense or his hygiene habits. He’s seeking approval for his games. Maybe he realised cranking out Fable into every niche Microsoft supplied for it wasn’t the best use of his remaining time.

The king is dead

I’m sure we’ll discover in the coming days what his reasoning was for leaving Microsoft, but I’m equally sure it’ll have something to do with being able to work on creative projects with a great deal of freedom and getting back to what he loves: making games. For you and I, Peter’s decision to move on is incredible news. There are exceedingly few developers that can boast success levels remotely close to Molyneux’s. He’s sold untold millions of games in his time; he’s a member of the AIAS Hall of Fame; he holds an OBE; he’s a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres; he holds the GDCA Lifetime Achievement Award; and he’s now the owner of that tear-stained BAFTA Fellowship. He made Populous, for God’s sake.

No one deserves the accolades more. Peter Molyneux is British gaming’s national treasure, a genius creative who’s pushed games in areas no one else has dared. Yes, he’s failed on more than one occasion, but that’s because he’s tried. In such a risk-averse industry, that’s rare. If you push you will fall, but he never stops. Going it alone again means he can experiment in ways a large corporation would never allow, that he can remain on the road of innovation. I sincerely hope that the next time I sit down with him he doesn’t know me from Adam. And I hope he pretends he remembers me, because that means he still doesn’t want to offend people. I hope he continues to seek approval, because that means we’ll see his best work. I hope he stays true to the revolution. I hope he continues to believe.

Because no one was ever immortalised for putting names to faces, were they?

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17 Comments

  1. Johnny Cullen

    Look at his Twitter today. As Brenna touched upon in a tweet already, it’s great to see him so enthused and approachable again. I don’t think you would have got that from a Molyneux tweet if he was still at MS.

    #1 3 years ago
  2. DSB

    The thing that puzzles me is that the Microsoft thing is virtually identical to what he did with EA.

    He sells his studio to a soulless publisher who won’t let it breathe, then he leaves, starts a new one, only to repeat the same sequence of events.

    Pretty much as soon as he sold to Microsoft, everything went to shit. At EA they managed to make a few proper titles before going that way, but it’s still extremely consistent.

    I’d press him on that in an interview. If nothing else then off the record.

    #2 3 years ago
  3. Telepathic.Geometry

    Although I openly admit that PM’s hyperbolae about what his games are going to be (and then don’t become) winds me up dead bad, I think that anyone can see that he’s genuinely a nice guy in person, and loves games, and I loved Black and White back in the day, and as a gamer, I have to like this guy…

    Good luck Peter. Make something new.

    #3 3 years ago
  4. Patrick Garratt

    I think it’s just the reality of indie triple-A, really. There are so few studios left. I guess Epic’s the biggest, and that’s supported by Unreal Engine. It’s really great that he’s gone indie. Very exciting.

    #4 3 years ago
  5. Deacon

    I’ve done a fair bit of Pete-bashing over the years, but even I can see that he is a truly nice guy, with great vision.

    Does this mean he can stop copulating with Kinect and get back to what some of us people like to call ‘proper games’?

    #5 3 years ago
  6. DSB

    @PatGar Gearbox, Bungie, Insomniac, Respawn.

    It’s never going to be perfect I suppose. They all need to work with publishers to stay alive, but at least they don’t live or die by the whims of a single CEO.

    @5 I’m an avid Molynaysayer (I just invented that) but I agree, he obviously has his heart in the right place. He’s not offensive in any way, just kind of Asperger in his approach sometimes.

    *edit*

    Oh, I just remembered when he was hyping Black and White back in the day. I do hate him a little bit for that.

    #6 3 years ago
  7. Lahanas

    Actually, it’s not a loss for Microsoft, it’s a gain. The guy is the most overrated developer in the industry, all the time his mouth writing checks his ass can’t cash.

    #7 3 years ago
  8. Patrick Garratt

    @6 – Yeah, you’re right. I dunno why he does it. I’ll ask him next time.

    #8 3 years ago
  9. ukslim

    All the praise is well deserved. But I don’t know whether to submit the paper napkin story to Pseuds Corner or OBN.

    #9 3 years ago
  10. Moonwalker1982

    I’m sorry, he may be a real good guy and what not. But after reading this…i just think he’s a huge idiot as well.

    http://beefjack.com/news/molyneux-slams-controllers-as-tedious-and-boring/

    People keep blaming MS…but are we forgetting he was Creative director of MS studios Europe? Not just some positiion….it was him always having a big mouth about revolutionary features, and while several of those made it into the games..they just never felt revolutionary at all. They felt simplistic and flat out boring. It was him who was clearly a big Kinect supporter, also as you can read in the link above.

    #10 3 years ago
  11. Moonwalker1982

    @8

    Might as well ask him why he did the same for Fable 1,Fable 2 , Fable 3 and also Fable: The Journey. Its just my opinion, but i think he’s getting way too much praise here. Yes Populous was no doubt amazing, not my kind of game but i can see why it was something special. Black & White was special too. Fable was fun, but it already started to go downhill there. There was so much mediocre stuff in Fable 2, not even funny. Don’t even get me started on that….final….boss? And Fable 3? No fucking comment!

    #11 3 years ago
  12. Joe Musashi

    Looking at the current header images, there’s a strange sort of symmetry :o

    JM

    #12 3 years ago
  13. Da Man

    I remember reading a long time ago about his first game and how he was so disappointed he couldn’t make a quick buck, when he was certain it’ll be that easy, he went somewhere doing database programming.. And then been doing that for a decade or something.

    Comes across like a whimsical pompous overrated person imo. Not that he’s the only one of course. Perhaps for once since 2004 we’ll have a great Fable game now.

    #13 3 years ago
  14. fearmonkey

    I have always loved Molyneux’s enthusiasm and love for gaming. I would love to have a few hours to talk with him and Warren Spector, that would be an amazing discussion. I don’t understand people’s animosity toward him, yes he has over promised in the past, but its due to his enthusiasm that I feel enriches the game industry.

    I am a bit saddened to see him leave MS, as after Peter Moore left, Molyneux was the only person that is interesting at MS. During the original Xbox’s days and the early 360 days they had Ed Fries, Peter Moore, J allard, etc, Now they have talking suits that have absolutely no personality at their E3 conventions, they bring up people like Cliff B from epic to fill in that gap. They need to hire someone that knows how to talk to a crowd.
    Even if you don’t like Sony, They have a much more entertaining group of people to watch these days, and Kevin Butler is genius, the Bruce Campbell of gaming.

    I have always loved the fable games, though I still like the original the best. The story in the first one is still the best, though the sequels have the graphics and gameplay improvements, the original is still the best.

    I wonder where this leaves RARE. Wasn’t Molyneux placed in charge of not only Lionhead but Rare last year or the year before, to help guide them rather than dictate how they do their games?
    I imagine like Halo, Fable will continue, but I will miss Molyneux doing the demos at E3 with his charming personality.
    Fable the Journey doesnt interest me as its a Kinect game, But Im looking forward to Fable 4, and when It releases, I’ll silently say a toast to peter and the Carter brothers who are also no longer at Lionhead.

    #14 3 years ago
  15. Psychotext

    The guy is awesome. I hope more than anything that he has fun doing whatever he chooses to do. He’s clearly never really been suited to corporate life and I think it would be nice if Microsoft was the last time he’d find himself in that situation.

    Now go and create something batshit mental Pete. :)

    #15 3 years ago
  16. Da Man

    Problem though is that 343 have the key people from Bungie who were around since the beginning, like Frank O’Connor. I don’t know if there’re any at Lionhead.

    J Allard and Peter Moore were the epitomes of corporate suits.. I don’t see how having a personality helps here.

    #16 3 years ago
  17. Moonwalker1982

    And people are still blaming it on MS? Wow..just wow.

    #17 3 years ago

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