Peter Molyneux has a long, storied history in gaming. From the first god game in the 80s to the Fable trilogy on current generation consoles, Molyneux has strived to push the medium forward, with varying degrees of success. His latest project, Fable: The Journey, utilizes Kinect to create an emotional experience unlike anything players have come to expect from the series. We sat down with Molyneux for an extensive discussion on the game's Kinect functionality, the on-rails debate, creating emotional attachment in games, Peter's inspirations, connecting The Journey to past Fable titles, and much, much more. Enjoy!
Gaming Union: How did Fable: The Journey come about?
Peter Molyneux: It started about seven months ago when Microsoft came to us and said, 'Look we want you to do a [Kinect] experience for the core gamers'. So we sat down and thought through the problems with that, and the first thing was figuring out how we can make Kinect more engaging, more engrossing, and more emotional than any control-based game or any Fable game has ever been before.
I'll admit that Kinect has got some problems. As an input device it has some real problems. Without a thumb stick, navigation is a real problem. You haven't got any buttons, so ordering the player to do something can be somewhat of a problem. But what Kinect does have is a great sense of freedom and emotion. So that's what we've tried to do with Fable: The Journey.
GU: After Microsoft's press conference, a lot of people came away thinking The Journey is 'Fable: On-Rails'. Is that accurate?
Peter: It's not on-rails! That is exactly the opposite of everything we've done so far with Fable. The press briefing and these demos have to be so tight that we didn't have time to show how you navigate around. We just set the press briefing demo on-rails.
I'm going to try and convince you, absolutely, that it's not on-rails. I've written this on the wall [Points to message that reads: IT'S NOT ON RAILS !!!]. Why would we ever make a Fable game that was on-rails? Fable is all about freedom. Not only freedom to go where you like, it's freedom to be who you like. Fable: The Journey definitely, 100% has to encompass that.
To a certain extent, we need to convince you that Fable: The Journey is a 90+ [review score] game, and if it was on-rails our chances just go through the floor. It's NOT going to be on-rails.
GU: I understand you don't want people to perceive The Journey as an on-rails game, but the combat section you showed definitely is on-rails. Why is that?
Peter: That does feel on-rails, and that was my fault because I said, 'Look we've got to be on stage, it's definitely something that has to work'. So [the on-foot navigation] we showed is not something that exists in-game.
When you're off your horse, you can move around freely. There's two ways you can move around; either using body tracking to lean one way or the other, or you can actually gesture left and right. It just so happens that if you go too far away from your horse and carriage, bad things will happen. I don't know if you have played ICO...
Peter: Right. Well if you left the little girl behind then bad things happened and it's the same here. We don't like you navigating too far away from your horse and carriage, because that's your home - you've got lots of people with you and they're all depending on you. Emotionally, we don't want to take you too far away. A lot of the game takes place around the horse and carriage.
GU: Can you explain the player's relationship with their horse?
Peter: We want to make you believe your horse is alive. You are going to bond with your horse. When you first get your horse, it doesn't know you and you don't know it, but after a little while you can teach it things. For example, you can teach it whatever voice commands you want. If you want to say [Makes clicking sound] 'Move on', it will learn that word. If you want to teach it 'Move on you old nag bastard', you are completely free and open to do that.
GU: So you can make custom verbal cues?
Peter: Absolutely. You can use your own vocabulary. I just know somebody is going to... well, god knows what obscenities they're going to shout at that horse, but whatever floats your boat, that's fine with me. There's a lot of drama we're going to put into that.
Because your horse is a living thing it's going to get hurt. They're might be creatures leaping onto the back of your horse and tarring flesh out of it, or you can with magic create a whip and use it on your horse. If you really want to go faster, you can use the whip but it's going to cause the horse some distress because you're pushing it so hard. It's really a method of transport that's unlike anything I've seen before, because you are bound to your horse and your horse is bound to you. Depending on how you treat your horse... well, it's going to be really interesting.
What I should have done for the demo is shown a piece in the game that's absolutely fantastic. It's a bit over-the-top, but there's a piece, fairly early on in the game, where you're in this forest - you've got lots of different tracks you can take - and as you're moving slowly along all these eyes close in on you. All of the sudden, these creatures start attacking you. They're attacking you for one simple thing: they want your horse to eat. So they're leaping onto your horse and ripping bits of flesh off. You've got to try and get them off with magic as your horse is bolting off course, and you're trying to get him back with voice commands to calm him down. Unfortunately, a wheel comes off the side of the carriage and it turns over. Your horse is hurt and can't get up. You're standing there with all this carnage and creatures closing in. That's pretty emotional gameplay. You won't want to wonder through the woods with all that stuff going on.