Lionhead Studios had pitched a mature-rated Fable 4 project set in an industrial-age to be developed using Unreal Engine 4. But it was rejected by Microsoft which had switched the IP over to a “games as a service model.”
Lionhead wanted to make a “darker and grittier” Fable 4 instead of $75M Fable Legends
According to a highly detailed chronicle of Lionhead Studios over on Eurogamer, the studio’s former art director John McCormack detailed the Fable 4 pitch – which didn’t interest Microsoft.
“We wanted to hit the late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne shit,” said McCormack, adding the game would have made use of tram cars and flying machines.
“It would be darker and grittier. And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humor,” he said. “I was like, man, this is going to be fucking brilliant, and everybody was really into it.”
Bowerstone in the original Fable was a small town, which as the games progressed grew into a large town with the release of Fable 3.
In Fable 4, Bowerstone was London with Jack the Ripper walking the streets as a Balverine in disguise. The game would have relied on British mythology. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde would have been present in the game with a “Fable twist,” adding to the “weird fucked up London environment”.
McCormack and the rest of the team at Lionhead wasn’t pleased with Microsoft’s dismissal of the proposal. He said this was one of the reasons he left in 2012 and formed Another Place Productions.
“It was like, you’ve reached your cap of players for RPG on Xbox and you need to find a way to double that, and you’re not going to do it with RPG,” he said. “I thought, yes we can.
“I said, look, just give us four years, proper finance, give us the chance Mass Effect has, Skyrim has, the games at the time. They’re getting four years and a lot of budget.
“Give us that, and we’ll give you something that’ll get you your players. ‘Nah, you’ve had three shots and you’ve only tripled the money. It’s not good enough. Fuck off.’ That’s what I was annoyed about.”
Plus, Lionhead knew fans wanted a Fable 4 on Xbox One, not the F2P competitive multiplayer Fable Legends.
Over time the team grew especially disheartened with development of Fable Legends, which according to sources started out as Project Opal. Others claim it didn’t.
“It would be darker and grittier. And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humor. Everybody was really into it.”
What was corroborated by all, is that Project Opal was an ambitious project which worked as a village builder on PC, a resource gatherer on mobile, and a shooter on the Xbox console. All tied in together. And it “worked.”
As development progressed on Fable Legends the team struggled. One of the reasons cited was because it was unfamiliar with developing a 4v1 title. There were also issues of balance which the team found a “real challenge” due to the heroes and the villains having leveling up at the same time. Many other contributing factors – such as it not being “fun to play” – were involved, each of which are outlined in the Eurogamer feature.
Sources state Microsoft put $75 million into Fable Legends, and it was only a “couple of updates away from open beta” before it was canceled. This lead many at the studio to believe the tech used in the title would be used to develop Fable 4. Moral was high over the possibility and many felt relief that Legends was coming to a close. Unfortunately, Microsoft also closed the studio.
“The biggest stab in the heart was that for roughly six years the studio had pretty much been tasked to develop games that Microsoft wanted us to make to show off tech,” said a source. “Very few people wanted to make Fable: The Journey and almost nobody wanted to work on Fable Legends.
“It felt like the time was right to finally make that Lionhead 2.0 claim and build the game everyone wanted to play and we all wanted to make Fable 4.”
It’s also worth noting that when Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux left, quite a few employees didn’t “appreciate” his “greatest trait” which was “keeping Microsoft at bay.”
“Peter could do what he wanted and he could say no to Microsoft about almost anything. He had that power, and when he left we suddenly felt a bit more vulnerable,” said the source.
As previously reported, some of the staff formed a team to try and save Fable Legends as “Project Phoenix” and while Microsoft was originally supportive of the idea, and two Chinese companies and other firms expressed interest.
Unfortunately, the consultation period allotted by UK law had ended and the studio shuttered on April 29 before any deal could be inked.
This just covered the basics of the feature on Eurogamer. It is really in-depth worth the read if you are a fan of Fable and Lionhead.