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Talking with Peter Molyneux, part 5

Talking with Peter Molyneux, part 5 (photo)

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In the final mega-sized portion of my interview with iconic game designer Peter Molyneux, he holds forth on what he’s been playing so far this year and bits of games that he’d like to steal. He also shares his concern about “Fable III” might fare this year and how a life of petty crime started him on the path to the video game business.

(Click the links for parts one, two, three and four.)

I’m just curious, did you play “Alan Wake?” And, if so, what did you think?

I liked it. I actually went to Remedy’s studios and saw them. They are brilliant. I mean, gee, they are so good at telling stories. I thought it was a brilliant, brilliant story, I really did. You know, I personally am greedy for these moments which kind of felt Hitchcock-y. I wished there were more of those moments. But yea, it was pretty good. What did you think?

Well, Alan has an unfortunate tendency to self-narrate. I just found it to be increasingly encroaching where he seemed to constantly say stuff like “I have to find the key to unlock the door…” I know that, Alan! Relax.

Yeah, yeah. [Laughs] He is that way.

But, don’t get me wrong, it’s still among my most favorite games this year.

It was very clever, a very cerebral story. When you got into the story, then I think it was really, really cool, but I know what you mean by that. There was something, it was kind of like a flaw in a diamond, there was something slightly off about that. I thought it still was an amazing effort.


But I’m in the camp that would much rather play something like “Alan Wake”–something that’s thematically ambitious if a little flawed– than a “Halo” wannabe that nails all of its modest, deriative goals.

I do worry about “Fable III” in the middle of this, this huge sea of “Halo: Reach” and Kinect games and “Call of Duty: Black Ops.” I wonder if “Fable III” is going to keep its head above water, to be honest with you.

You’re still delivering something that lots of people aren’t, you know? I mean, I want to see what my sword comes out looking like. The entire game could be a holistic customization experience, with a lot of flexibility and mutability built into the system. And as much as we tend to want something emergent in games, the scripted moments still matter, too. A friend of mine and I were playing separate games of “Mass Effect 2” at the same time and we’d both stay up late and chat over IM saying, “Did you just do this? What happened for you in that one scenario? Those people died in your version?”

I love that so much. I love the sort of discovered experience. I really do and it’s just a wonderful thing for a creator to hear those stories. It’s great.

I’m not trying to wind you up here, but you talk about all of these titles that are coming out in the holiday season. How many of them rely on emergence as an organizing principle? A lot of them don’t. They rely on safer principles, more known quantities and that’s why they come out in the fourth quarter. They’re less risky. For example, if a game now doesn’t have online multi-player, it’s basically trash. Everything has to have a built-in community. But what I mentioned–talking about with friends about “Mass Effect”, about having our unique versions of “Fable III”–that’s a more organic, genuine community to me.

I agree with you, by the way, on the rise of all these games adding multiplayer. It’s not that so many games have multi-layer but it doesn’t seem to add at all to the experience. It’s just done to be part of the shopping list. “What, you haven’t got multiplayer? Oh well, that’s another reason you’re not going to be successful…” That’s not a reason to put it in.

When “BioShock II” came out, the hue and cry sounding from the hills was that it wasn’t a game that needed multiplayer. Like, at all. The first game made its rep from being narrative experience, a story-based experience. So what is multiplayer in that world giving me? What is a deathmatch mode in that game doing for the story?

It just didn’t fit. Same with “Uncharted 2”, actually. I played “Uncharted 2,” that had multiplayer, and you were kind of running around as characters from the game. And, it was kind of like why am I doing that? I loved Uncharted, I thought it was one of the best new titles of the last few years, but multiplayer was pointless. Have you played “Red Dead Redemption?”

Yes, I love it but, you know, there’s been a little bit of backlash…

What has the backlash been?

People think it’s padded, like the narrative isn’t necessarily as lean as it could be. But, if you ask me to choose between less and more, I’m generally going to choose more…

I loved it, I really did. I’ve only just got to the “Mexico”

A friend of mine said that, by the end of the Mexico stuff, he was feeling a little fatigued. He wanted a little bit more editing.

It’s very interesting because this is what we were talking about with gameplay and pace. Because there were a couple of times where I kind of felt that the letters on the map were a bit too much, just tell me which one is going to move me through the story. There’s one where I’m obviously going to end up falling in love with this girl or whatever; that’s what I think is going to happen, but do I want that? That’s all I wanted. Just tell me the shortcut and that would have been fine.

I think their big victory there is like in terms of tone. They just establish a tonality of the world that carries through, even if it’s stuff you do in other games. You know, with collectibles and stuff, they spin it so well that you feel like, “Alright, this makes sense in this world, even if it is just another thing for my trophy case.”

It all fits inside the world.

Rockstar really showed, I thought, a maturity in their game-making sensibilities. Maybe it is because it’s supposedly so autocratic over there, but this feels like the most mature thing they’ve done.

I agree. Certainly it’s more successful.


It feels fully realized. You can see the influences peeking through, but they kind of synthesize that stuff into something entirely different and bigger. I mean, I’m not going to lie to you: the first time I was riding a horse and went to pick up some herbs, I was like, “I love this!” I didn’t care about unlocking a piece of clothing, but doing things like hunting animals and searching for herbs felt like they connected me to a world like in a different way.

There was some brilliant mechanics in it. I’d love to have had time to rip off a couple… but the tapping of the horse and the holding of the X button is brilliant.

The auto-follow. Yeah, that was really, really great. You surprised me buy saying you loved the “Uncharted” games…

Really? Why? [Laughs] I loved the second one because of its pace and you feel that the characters are really cared about. Yeah, it has its flaws and the plot is linear but, you know, the beauty of the landscape really transports you.

It’s interesting when you think of how far things have come. In fact, did a post on this “Insane Console History Video“; take a look…

Oh, wow…

It’s pretty much just a slideshow of old consoles.

Those are from my time… This is amazing!

08202010_Console_History_Still.jpgWhen I watched this, I was, like, “Oh, man, I’ve never even heard of some of these.

You see this one? This is how I started in the industry. And I saw this Binatone TV Master in the window of my local electronics shop and immediately ran home, stole money from my grandmother’s purse and went back and brought this. It must have been about 60 dollars. I got it home, played Pong on it and got bored after about a second. Then I took it apart and hid it under my bed. It was my big shame. It was my huge shame that I’d stolen this thing. I think my parents though there were porn mags under the bed, but I kept yelling “Don’t peek under my bed!”

It’s funny when you see the connections between things that are happening now and things that were happening then. A few of these things have super-elaborate gun peripherals and stuff, and it’s amazing because you would never get away with that today. Like, not at all. It shows how everything is cyclical too.

Yet it’s a complete different world.

And also like, again if you let this thing scroll all these companies you will never hear from again. They just fell by the wayside.

Some of these companies I remember. Look at those controllers! Wow, look at that. Aw, I remember this one! Now I actually hatched an entire plan to go and steal that.

You were a vagabond!

[Sheepishly] I was. Yeah, I was.

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