My conversation with the co-founder of Lionhead Studios and Microsoft Game Studios creative director continues, as he holds forth on integrating cinematic techniques into his game-making and re-inventing gameplay staples to fit the ideas in “Fable III.”
One thing I noticed is that, even from the opening cut scene, this game feels a lot more cinematic in its presentation than “Fable II.” Things flow a lot smoother and there’s a lot of more exposition going on in the background, even when your companion character Walter is kind of walking and talking with you. Was this shift a conscious decision?
Absolutely, it was. In fact, we got a professional film director in, an American. A fantastically, amazingly talented person. He directed a lot of the shots and a lot of the action. We had a professional voice director in to direct the voice performances. Because I think you have to judge yourself harshly. In “Fable” especially and in “Fable II,” they were kind of like stories told through the eyes of a kid with a video camera. You get the extreme zooms and the pan shots and that’s it. But this time, now, it does feel much more formal and that totally adds to the drama. The sense is that you have to do this now. There’s all the mechanics and things that we’re proud of, yes. But you do need that level of professionalism in the other aspects. You need to think more like a movie director, when you are coming and trying to tell these big stories and that sharpness is just as important in these cut scenes as it is in the actual game itself.
What’s interesting about what you are saying is that, if you’re on point, it can dovetail into a maturation of presentation and a maturation of content, right? Because it feels like you are trying less for a bipolar continuum of morality and that you want a lot more finely gradated strata. And if it winds up feeling more movie-like, then you probably can delineate the themes a bit better. I mean, that’s probably your hope.
It’s true although, you’ve got to be careful. There’s this line that you cross where the person involved in playing feels less like a participant and more like an observer. And if you ever cross that line, then actually you just confuse people. For example, there’s that opening bit that you just played. It probably took you about about 13 minutes to play from start to finish. That used to be an hour and a quarter. And we used to have you wandering around the gardens, and you did something with your dog, and then this servant girl smashed this vase and all this stuff. It was just pulling you along from A to B to C to D, and you kind of felt like “OK, well, just take me to the next thing too.” We lost that sense of drama. What we had to do at the start, was we had to say “You’re a prince, your brother is an evil guy and something terrible has happened that starts this revolution.” Actually, even where it’s at now is going to be shortened down even more, in order to get you into character. We want you feeling like you’re part of this world, rather than feeling like you are observing this world. It just goes to show that you never stop learning how to, you know, do these things.
“Fable II” introduced a loyal pet dog as a way of streamlining the way you move about the world, as well as creating a constant emotional bond. What are you re-thinking this time around?
Since we’re so keen on customization, we wanted to give people a better way to interact with all their stuff. So, at a certain point in the story, you’ve discovered this sanctuary with Jasper, your butler who’s played by John Cleese. He has been unlocking different elements of it, kind of like the Batcave. At this point, you’re going to break into this renegade camp and Jasper lays out a disguise for you. Now, the way you get to sanctuaries is just pressing the start button. Just like any other game. Normally you press the start button and it brings up some abstract 2D screens, which have got options and configurations. That felt boring and confusing the last time we did it in “Fable II”. Instead, you just immediately jump to the sanctuary and get to what you need the same way you navigate around the game. We can just walk inside the door, we can walk inside of clothing room and you can see the shelves fill up with what you’ve found.
How else are you changing up the way customization works in “Fable III”?
All your weapons will morph and change in appearance, depending on how you use them. So, the curvature of a sword, the number of notches in the sword, the hilt of the sword really is dictated by the number of times you die, the number of times you use flourishes, etc. A sword that’s very straight means you’ve been using quite a lot of force in attacks. If you use of a lot of overhand swipes, it will be a little bit more curved. These notches here dictate the number of times that you’ve died. This handle has to do with with your moral alignment and your quest. All of these are combined together with thousands and thousands of different options and the same applies to the guns and the magic. So the weapons are very, very cool and look unique to you.