Peter Molyneux on Fable III
What is Fable III? We know it's the third game in Lionhead's popular adventure franchise. We know it's got videogame visionary Peter Molyneux powering its development. We know it once again unfolds across the fictitious kingdom of Albion. And we know it's built around the idea of providing players with a better sense of gameplay freedom. But, beyond being in the dark regarding the second half of Fable III's narrative, what we don't know is whether Lionhead's latest creation is a sandbox third-person action adventure or a more traditional RPG.
After spending a little time with Molyneux during a roundtable presentation at Gamescom 2010, we've come to see Fable III as neither RPG nor third-person action adventure - at least not in the strictest of terms. Specifically, while the game has contributing elements plucked from both popular genres, Molyneux's ambition to give players a palette of gameplay attributes with which to paint their own individual experience has seemingly left Fable III without a definite identity. But that's not a bad thing.
If the roundtable had a 'big reveal' it centred on the game's apparent lack of a conventional RPG experience system and how Lionhead has strived to fill the void left behind whilst also treading carefully to appease established Fable fans and attract those who've never before wandered the sprawling realm of Albion.
"Firstly, about the story, this is all about you becoming King and ruling a kingdom," opened a strangely restrained Molyneux. "And to make that powerful and impactful and meaningful, the first act of the game is all about you starting out with no one that believes in you and gradually getting people to follow you."
"Followers are very important," he added regarding a new system that dictates when the player can launch their in-game revolution. "Gradually people will follow you and you'll have more people that believe in you. And when you've got enough followers you'll be able to take on this evil tyrant King who's doing these unspeakably terrible things to the beautiful world of Albion."
"You take him out, kill the bad guy, and then become King yourself," the Lionhead boss explained above the din coming from the nearby Halo: Reach demo booth. "And then you decide what sort of kingdom Albion is going to be. Are you going to be an even worse tyrant, are you going to try to be a better person. All the promises you have made on the journey to becoming King - just like those that politicians make on the journey to becoming Prime Ministers or chancellors or whatever - how many of those promises are you going to keep?"
Molyneux then teased us by hinting at a "big drama" that will be unveiled to the player after they've assumed Albion's throne. Although unwilling to be pressed into revealing any concrete narrative information, we were left only with Molyneux's cast iron belief that it's "a very interesting story to tell."
The in-game demo accompanying the roundtable opened in a lush and green environment, typical to Albion's established design but noticeably richer in terms of fidelity and detail. Described by Molyneux as a "classic Fable quest," we find the hero beneath the imposing walls of a renegade outpost, sent there on an infiltration mission to kill the renegade leader secreted within. But, rather than being just a standard assassination quest, the person responsible for assigning the mission is willing to gift the player with 100,000 followers upon completion. However, with the camp's gates firmly closed and seemingly no clear way in, Molyneux then announced that "we need a disguise," and promptly introduced the first of three innovations: The Sanctuary.
"The trouble with RPGs and action adventure games is what happens when you press the Start button," he described. "Suddenly the whole world goes to sleep, some abstract 2D thing comes up [on screen], and you're left being sucked out of the world."
In order to counter that sensation of being sent into some kind of disconnected limbo state, Lionhead has created the in-game and interactive Sanctuary and tied it to the control pad's Start button.
Resembling opulent private chambers certainly worthy of royalty - and watched over by a stiff-collared personal butler (John Cleese) - The Sanctuary is available from early in the game and serves as a multi-purpose portal enabling the player to quickly change clothes, select weapons, access the world map, and more. Clearly taking the place of the tactical pause screen so often utilised in standard RPG titles, The Sanctuary is accessible from any point within the game and at any time, even during the heat of combat.
Duly clad in an appropriate renegade disguise with which to sneak unnoticed through the camp's gates, Molyneux quickly shunted us on to the second of the roundtable's promised innovations before heading back to the game, shifting focus to the wealth of melee, ranged and magical weapons lining the walls of The Sanctuary's armoury.
"We had this moment during the weapons meeting where we were trying to think of 200 new weapons for Fable III, and we were just bored," he began. "And that's when we realised, "actually the best person to make the weapons for Fable III is the person playing the game." So we thought about players crafting their own weapons, we liked that idea. And what we realised is, the way you craft the weapons should be a reflection of how you fight."