Peter Molyneux’s made a career off of psychologically manipulating gamers. His popular early PC games “Populous,” “Black & White” and “Dungeon Keeper” put players in the deity-like roles where they decided the fates of whole worlds.
Molyneux’s next breakthrough came with “Fable,” a third-person action RPG where the look and attributes of your avatar changed depending on where your actions fell on a moral continuum. If you were a dastardly rogue, then your complexion would grow pallid and you’d sprout horns from your forehead. The reactions of other characters in the world would change, too, depending how you conducted yourself. “Fable II” continued in the same vein, giving players a broader range of social actions to engage in, including marriage (even same-sex unions). The sequel also added a dog companion, which aided you in almost every aspect of the game’s quests.
“Fable III” is taking a different tack as it extends the series’ action/RPG formula. It kind of goes back to Molyneux’s earlier games by putting players in charge of a whole kingdom. But, you’re not at a celestial remove in “Fable III.” You get to see how your decisions affect the citizens in the gameworld, which ramps up the psychological tension behind the decision-making.
Molyneux has a reputation for being garrulous and perhaps a bit over-promising when he talks abut games, but the truth of it is he continues to be excited and energized by the possibilities of game design. I got the chance to talk to Molyneux during his barnstorming tour for “Fable III” and the first part of a mammoth interview starts below.
How would you explain “Fable III” to someone who’s not familiar with the series? Both in terms of the game’s plot and in terms of what you’re trying to accomplish?
So, what are we trying to create in “Fable”? For me, what we are trying to create is an experience where somebody feels, they feel involved in a story that they haven’t experienced before. That’s very, very important for me. This is the foundation rock of everything I know about, I’m going to show you know. What I’ve created first of all, is a story which has a normal traditional arc just like every story does, just like every film, every book, they pretty much have this same arc. It’s all about growth and power. “”Fable III” is all about the hero’s journey, but also about what comes after. Half of this game is all about a very standard heroic journey where you start off as a rebel. There’s this king called Logan; he rules over a country called Albion. And, with Albion, we are really talking about England. He is this tyrannical, evil ruler who also happens to be the lead character’s older brother. England’s had lots of these rulers– Henry VIII was one of them–all of his decisions are causing untold suffering in the land of Albion. You could say this is like the Philippines were or like Yugoslavia was, you could set it in either of those countries. We put you in the role of a rebel, a rebel that has to bring together people to take on the crown and overthrow the crown. Now, traditionally, you would storm the castle, the baddy would die in some spectacular battle and the prince takes the crown. But what we wanted to give players is a story which gave them a little bit more meat on the bones than that. So, we say when you go to take on the king and you overthrow the king, you become king yourself. Why not make that the halfway point of the story? Why not make the remainder of the story about the promises that you have made on the journey to becoming king yourself? And those promises are very similar to those our politicians and our rulers or rebels make to us, the poor people. And, then when you become king, the realization dawns that it’s very, very hard to keep all of those promises. That becomes an interesting story in my mind because it’s a story about power that has relevance in today’s world.
You’re basing Albion on a mythologized historical England but you’re clearly drawing from the current political moment, too…
You know when, as wonderful as Obama is–he’s a great incredible president, you know, I look up to him as iconic–but he did make promises. He made them did for probably very good reasons, which I can’t know, especially being an Englishman. But Guantanamo Bay is still open. You can see on Youtube, where he said it would be closed in a year. When even great rulers–like Obama in today’s world–make us promises that they don’t keep, it has got relevance. So that’s the bedrock of what we’ve got in “”Fable III”.
The next thing to talk about, very quickly, is who you are when you play this game, who do you want to be. Are you a core gamer that’s absolutely fanatical about combat and fighting and killing and being ultra-good and dextrous and fast, someone who knows where those buttons are instinctively? Are you someone who is fanatical about storytelling? Or are you someone who prefers a kind of lighter experience, who actually is just going to pick up this controller and you know just mash this button and not really care about being with the gamers? Are you going to care about the customization and what your hero looks like? Are you someone who is going to care about going and talking to people in the world, chatting people? Maybe chatting up a girl or a boy–or the same sex if you want to– and then getting married and setting up a home and having children and just completely going off on fewer quests? “Fable III” is the sort of game that allows all of those types of things for all of those types of players. For me, in today’s world, it’s all about accessibility and it’s all about if I should be able to hand you this controller and you should be able to play this game and do what you want to do, but still be involved in the drama.