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Interview: Lionhead boss Peter Molyneux


Love him or hate him, Peter Molyneux is a major figure in global entertainment. His habit of "upselling" his projects has earned him the nickname Six Gun Pete, but we found the Lionhead boss in relaxed form in Los Angeles last night. We spoke with him after going hands-on with Fable III.

The Microsoft Games Studios Europe creative director talked about Fable, his relief at Kinect's formal reveal, and why Milo isn't on the showfloor at E3 this year - to most people, any way.

Warning: Mid-way through the interview, Molyneux dropped a big Fable II spoiler. You've been warned.

Hit the break for our full chat with him.

[Interview by Patrick Garratt]

VG247: I’m not going to talk about this game [Fable III] first. I want to talk about the other game. The one we didn’t see and the one I want to see: Milo. Where is Milo, Peter?

Peter Molyneux: So, it is in development, it still is in development. We’re continuing to develop it; it was decided not to show it here at E3. You know what I’m like, I would show it every day of the week. And actually, you when I look at it, I think there’s some smart reasons why we didn’t show it.

Now, it is pretty amazing, it is actually on show to celebrities. But it is amazing; it’s ten times more amazing then you think it is. You can see it in July if you go to Oxford. Because I’m doing a talk at TEDGlobal on Milo in July.

VG247: I’ll do that.

Peter Molyneux: It’s worth going to. And it’s an amazing honour to be able to do a TED talk. It’s a big thing.

VG247: How pleased are you that Kinect has finally been announced? Obviously, you are a huge ambassador for the system.

Peter Molyneux: You know, I’m going to say some really positive things here. The huge problems that Microsoft and their technical team solved is just an outstanding feat. And really, that technical team, who aren’t getting any press or any recognition, really deserve a medal, because they took one of the hardest problems to solve and they actually solved it. And it works. It works well.

And the experiences that you see at launch are good, they’re robust and they work. But I would encourage you and the whole world not to think of those experiences to define what Kinect is. It just gives you a glimpse of the future. I think that those launch titles are great, but the second wave of titles is where the real greatness comes.

VG247: You're talking about next year?

Peter Molyneux: Here’s the thing. When you’ve got something as radical as what that is, when there is nothing in player’s hands, when you’re thinking about seeing their body and their face and hearing their voice, it’s going to take some time to bake.

And really, it’s only been around for a year. These are huge design problems to solve.

VG247: You’ve said that you built Kinect functionality back into Fable. You said that quite early on. That’s still the case, clearly?

Peter Molyneux: Yes, it is. It’s another thing that was chosen not to show at E3, or not to really comment about.

VG247: Well, I just played it. I want to kill Walter, and I wasn’t allowed. Why can’t I kill Walter, Peter?

Peter Molyneux: Well, you can kill him. We’ve just disabled that. That is part of the story which is being crafted for the game.

Now, it’s a problem when you’re at somewhere like E3, because the thing about Fable is I want you to actually love Walter. The character is voiced by the actor [Bernard Hill] who played King Theoden in The Lord of the Rings, and we built him up for about six hours for this point that you just played then, downstairs. When he goes blind... I don’t know if you saw that moment?

VG247: Yeah, I did.

Peter Molyneux: I want you to first of all feel angry that he’s gone blind. And it’s so much more interesting that he’s gone blind than died, because being blind is something we’re all scared of.

After that, you go into desert and you’re literally dragging him along. And as he gets weaker and weaker, he gets heavier and heavier and you get slower and slower. And I want that point to come where you just think “I’ve gotta leave him”.

VG247: I did leave him.

Peter Molyneux: I know, but it's an A or B choice at the moment. I want that to be more emotional, and I want you to be walking away from him and him to be calling out and saying, “Please, please don’t leave me." I want you to feel the emotion of that moment.

It’s very hard to capture that at E3. If you choose to kill him, then you should be able to kill him, for sure. Of course, when you’re king, you can do all sorts of things to him.

VG247: The lady that was showing me the game downstairs said there were children in the game, and that they were working. I asked if you make working conditions for the children better and she said yes immediately.

Peter Molyneux: And you can make them worse.

VG247: Right. It’d be fair to say you are obsessed with these sort of moral choices. It is a life-long obsession from what I can gather.

Peter Molyneux: It is, it really is. It started in Black & White and it went on. Half of these choices you make in Fable III are made while you’re becoming a revolutionary.

And they’re very easy to make, these promises to people. Take our politicians, for instance. And what we’ve done this time is that those promises become choices later on: do I keep my promise or do I break my promise?

There’s this character called Paige, and she says, “Look, when you’re king, I want you to turn all of these factories into schools." And you have that choice. The consequences of taking that choice later on is really interesting, because that is what power is all about. It's all about choices.

It’s all about you just saying, “I don’t care I promised that, you know, times have changed.” And there’s a really interesting saying which I wrote on the wall: “Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely." I think that’s a really interesting thing for people to feel.

We allow you to be king, and we make it very hard for you to keep all of your promises.

VG247: I remember you saying - I think it was in the first Fable or Fable II - that very few people were actually evil.

Peter Molyneux: That’s very true. Especially Americans. Like, five percent of Americans were evil.

VG247: Do you expect to see a similar trait in this game, or are you going to force people to maybe be a little more evil?

Peter Molyneux: Well, I’ve got a really, really interesting stat to do with Milo that’s even more interesting on the good and evil side. But I think when you actually give a choice to be blatantly evil or good... I suppose some Americans really struggle with the evil side. Take the end of Fable II, for instance: will you save your dog and let all these people die?

People find it a little bit easier to make that decision because it’s less about what they’ve been taught as kids, that you must never be bad or never swear. And it’s more about, “Oh my God, what would I sacrifice to save my loved ones?”

There’s a lot more of those sort of choices in there. You’ve made these promises and you may want to be good to all of them, but you’ve got limited resources. That's what our presidents and prime minister struggle with - I mean, in America, Obama promised faithfully that he would shut Guantanamo Bay, he would revolutionize the health service and neither have happened 18 months later. What happened?

He could have just picked up the phone and said, “Shut the damn place”. Why couldn’t he do that? And I think that’s a very interesting moral choice. People will struggle more with it because there’s no point in putting these moral choices if everyone chooses good all the time.

VG247: I had heard quite a lot of talk earlier this year that Fable III would be a pseudo MMO. There was a lot of rumour about that. I’m assuming that’s kind of correct, in that you still have some kind of multiplay?

Peter Molyneux: Yeah, we’ve still got the Albion orbs. Now you can invite any of those, or any of your friends at any point in the game. They come in as their own hero with their dog. They are free to do whatever they like in your world, so be careful.

VG247: Can they kill characters?

Peter Molyneux: They can kill characters in the game.

VG247: They can literally affect the story?

Peter Molyneux: They can affect the story. There are times we make sure that doesn’t happen. As the owner of the world, you’re the only one that can turn safety off.

Because we felt it was very frustrating and unfair if someone had come back to a town and someone’s slaughtered your entire family. But if you turn off safety, then it’s fair game. Also, you are free to marry your co-op player and you’re free to have children with your co-op player.

That means co-op players can have sex.

Or, if you don’t want to do that, you have your man and you’re playing with another man, you are free to go into business partnership, which is kind of almost the same as getting married; but with a man.

VG247: Can you be gay?

Peter Molyneux: Absolutely.

VG247: You can?

Peter Molyneux: Oh yeah.

VG247: Can you get married?

Peter Molyneux: Yeah, you can have same-sex marriage. And you can adopt as well. And there’s sexual diseases. Getting that through Microsoft geo-poli is tough, I can assure you.

VG247: How are you finding the 360 as a piece of hardware? Are you finding it limiting at the moment? Are you up against it?

Peter Molyneux: I’ll tell you what; it’s a brilliant thing that we’re releasing Fable III on PC. Because, I’ll let you know, I still love the PC. I think it’s a different machine nowadays; it’s got some weirdness about it.

I still like the 360, I just miss the, “Hey, what it’s going to turn into next year?” But you know, it’s definitely a nice bit of kit. I think things like Kinect really extends the life a bit, for sure.

Fable III release on October 26, 2010 for Xbox 360 and PC.

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