I had a chance to sit down with Peter Molyneux, the man behind the upcoming Fable II. Fair warning, there are a lot of details, plot and otherwise, and it’s a fairly long read.
Peter Molyneux: I say these ridiculous things like this will be the best game of all time. But I do this same talking thing to a T. We have got to make the greatest story ever told, so we went in a room for six hours and came back with Fable. If we’re going to make a really rich and deep world that you will identify with, we needed to take a route that was very different than anything that we had done before. We couldn’t wait until the end simply because we didn’t have the medium working. This time we hired scriptwriters. We hired a soundstage. We got a whole load of actors in and we had them act out the whole world of Fable II. I’ve never done anything like this before.
That was the way the demo began. We began the game as a girl and watched as the opening movie followed a bird in flight. It was the same video we’d seen earlier at the Microsoft press event.
Peter Molyneux: So the start of the game, if you want to make a truly memorable story, what are the things that are most memorable? If I write a story that is a journey for you in greatness, so you have to start with nothing. So you start with nothing at all. You’re a kid, and you start with nothing at all. You’re a kid, and you haven’t got any abilities or magic powers. And you get to find then what it would feel like to go to from being that street urchin to being more heroic and more powerful.
RandomNPC: What was the idea behind the bird of destiny?
Peter Molyneux: Well to be honest with you, it was completely my idea. I think that we take these things so seriously. All these cinematics. So hang on a second, we’re going to do a little tongue and cheek thing. Then you really realize that you’re really nothing.
The demo started off in a place called Bowerstone Castle. There was a brief cutscene, and Peter showed us that using the shoulder buttons will frame either the action or the character. This gives control to the player throughout the entire game.
Next, Peter explained the breadcrumb trail.
Peter Molyneux: How can we keep this screen clean? One way is the breadcrumb trail. I can follow it to the next bit of the story, or I can ignore it and it will slowly fade away. You can explore but don’t get lost. You can find Rose, my sister’s secret diary, and I can read it. And when I’m bored, I can go back to the breadcrumb trail. So this breadcrumb trail works extraordinarily well.
Sometimes we have to force you to look at something. But the number of those times is very very small. The total of the game is maybe ten minutes if you add them all together. So this is where the story begins. It’s a charming enough story, but then the call to challenge begins. In this game you need a call to challenge. This figure is named Theresa. She says you need to get enough gold to get this magic box that will grant your sister a wish. Her wish is to live in that beautiful castle. That’s a very simple wish. There’s no big bad monster. Just a cute simple story.
Peter then said it was time to begin exploring, but if we ever got bored, we needed only to follow the breadcrumb trail, a physical glowing yellow trail that leads to plot events. He explained that he really tried to take out the tedium that comes with questing, and that we were free to start any quest we wanted. As an example, he took up Arnum’s Image Capturing Quest. Basically, the character had to strike a funny pose for a picture, and it was done with the expression system. The longer the expression is held, the funnier it is to people in the game world. By the time that short quest was over, there was already a new breadcrumb trail leading us to a new area.
He followed it to a dog that was being bullied by a guy. The hero, even as a kid, could still initiate combat to save the dog.
Peter Molyneux: That is the very start of the game. Shall we see a bit more of the drama? One more thing?
Normally, that quest that we had just finished would be worth one gold piece, but for the purpose of the demo, it was worth the five pieces required to buy the box that Theresa told us about, but when Rose tried to use it, the box simply vanished. Nothing happened to either child, and Rose was left wondering why it hadn’t worked.
RandomNPC: What happened to that music box?
Peter Molyneux: That ‘s one of the mysteries of that game, and that’s what you’re going to have to figure out. She made a wish, and it didn’t come true. She’s fed up and just wants to go to bed.
The next scene shows Rose getting an audience with the king, so she thinks her wish has come true.
Peter Molyneux: And this, in about three minutes time is going to be the real call to adventure. The real time when you start playing this game. Theresa is a character from Fable 1. She’s your sister from the first one, and figuring out how she survived is one of the mysteries of this game.
Then Peter zoomed the camera out to show the size of Barlstone saying that eventually, the player would get to explore all of that region. When asked if there were a lot of cities that size, he said that Barlstone was the biggest city, the capital. But there was another big city called Bloodstone, and the player can actually end up owning all of it.
The next thing we knew, we were in front of a man named Lord Lucian, and apparently, he’s the game’s villain. Lucian explained that he was going to perform a test to see if the children were heroes. Lucian then asked Rose, “Would you kindly step into the circle.” Peter explained that this phrasing was used intentionally as a nod to Bioshock. The test is positive, and Rose is, in fact, a hero. So Lucian takes out a gun and shoots her. Then he points the gun at you and pulls the trigger. The game cuts to you falling out of a window, but Theresa is there at the bottom. She says that death is not my destiny.
Peter Molyneux: I was working late one night, and I wandered down to Russell Shaw’s office, he’s the guy that does all the music in Fable. So Russell had tears in his eyes. I asked him, what’s the matter? He said, I just finished Fable II, and it’s the greatest game I’ve ever done. And I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever done. To have someone like Russell say that to me is an amazing thing.
RandomNPC: Will this game be accessible to people that didn’t play the first game?
Peter Molyneux: Absolutely. Although there’s the Theresa reference, she’s just another character. It’s really important to me that people that haven’t played any of these games, or even an RPG be able to play this.
When the game started up again, Peter wandered around a bit, and suddenly a breadcrumb trail appeared. It appeared slowly at first, and he said that was to test how much the player uses it. It only appears when the game thinks the player needs a bit of help.
Peter Molyneux: The unique thing about this game is you can be anything you want to be in this Fable. You can be mean and nasty, or you can be kind. Fantastic story, role playing game that allows you to be who you want to be.
One of the most amazing things about this game is the dog. It’s just a dog, but we’ve done a lot of things to make you feel it’s a natural dog. If there’s any treasure, your dog will sniff it out. He’s not at all like the creature from Black and White. We’ve tried to craft this game so that anyone can pick up and play Fable.
When asked if the dog could become injured, Peter replied, “Your dog can get injured, and if you want to be heartless, you can run away from it. And in true Disney style, it’ll eventually track you down, dragging itself to you. It might take six hours, but it’ll get there. ” When he was asked if the dog required feeding, Peter said that you don’t.
The last thing Peter showed us was how to make friends. He clicked on a woman, and it showed her name was Mary, she was middle class, straight, and romantic. Peter explained that if she really liked you, you can marry her. Also, the game supports both polygamy and same-sex pairings. Also, once married you have the choice between protected or unprotected sex. If you chose the latter, you’ll have children, and your family gets woven into the story. But marriage isn’t all fun and games. If you chose to get married, you must take care of your spouse. If you neglect or cheat on your spouse, they can and will divorce you and take half of your assets.
After the demo, things evolved into a QnA.
RandomNPC: What is your favorite aspect of Fable II?
Peter Molyneux: I mean I could pick co-op. I did the dog, and I’m also pleased with that
but I think it’s the story. I think it’s a blend of all these cool features, and we’ve got some amazing features, and it’s an emotional rollercoaster. I’ve pretended to do it before, but this is the first time.
RandomNPC: How big is the game world?
Peter Molyneux: I don’t know. I don’t have any statistics. The game world, as it is now. Bower Lake is a pretty big explorable region. Everything is free roamable, so I guess the answer is “big.”
RandomNPC: So what would you say to a person that says if you’ve played one Peter Molyneax game, you’ve played them all?
Peter Molyneux: I’d be really surprised really. I’ve tried to do a lot of different things like Populus which was more of an RTS. And the Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper. And then Black and White, and then Fable. But I think I know what you mean. People get kind of confused about the be good/be evil thing, but really, this is only the second time I’ve done it. The first was Black and White, and Fable is now the second.