Some of my fondest game-related chuckles came at the pretentious, British expense of Peter Molyneux, the founder of Lionhead Studios and 22Cans. Each and every time he surfaced in some sort of interview, my younger brother and I would bag relentlessly on his unbridled passion for the way your character’s dog would wag its tail when he/she was happy. Now, keep in mind, at the time it felt like he was one of very few videogame developers that gravitated towards the spotlight. But it seemed as if Molyneux was always on the brink of tears, waxing whimsically about horns sprouting out of your character’s head after one too many bad deeds. What a pussy. Lol.
Fable II launched in 2008. I was 25; an almost-man, if I’m being generous. At the time I think I probably got about 15% into the main story before losing interest. And time went on. Molyneux made two more Fable games, and collectively blew our minds with his Kinect ‘Project Milo’ demo.
Things were looking good for Molyneux, and Lionhead Studios as a whole. Yet, at the same time, the soft-spoken, bald British man tearing up over a virtual boy with an objectively silly name inspired many bad imitations and some mean-spirited ribbing from yours truly.
“It seemed as if Molyneux was always on the brink of tears.”
And then things went quiet. Fable Legends seemed to languish in development hell indefinitely, and the warm, bespeckled Mr. Molyneux seemed to fade out of the spotlight. I read somewhere that his enthusiasm for his games led to hyping up features in interviews that never made it in, causing outrage amongst fans of later titles like Curiosity and Godus. When I read earlier this year that Lionhead Studios was closing its door, a small piece of me was sad, even though he no longer worked there. As goofy as I thought he was, there was something classic about listening to Peter Molyneux gush about Fable.
So, in an effort to alleviate some of my Jewish guilt, I purchased Fable II on Xbox One a couple of weeks ago. It had been eight years since I had dipped my toe in last time, and after about ten minutes, I understood why it is so important to have people like Peter Molyneux in gaming.
“I’m sorry I didn’t give you the respect you deserved back then, Peter.”
Attention to detail. The cut-scenes are well directed. And I mean really well directed, like HBO quality. The music dances in at just the right time and swells appropriately, as opposed to just constantly droning on in the background as it does in almost every current-gen game. All these things I took for granted in my original play-through were now, at age 33, a great deal more impactful.
Simple things like strolling into a town as the sun sets over castle walls and being greeted by groups of children really draws the player into the world in ways I haven’t experienced in quite some time. Perhaps it’s my own maturity as a creative brain and (sometimes) writer, fighting for originality in Hollywood, a place not well known for taking risks, that has me feeling far more empathetic to Mr. Molyneux’s passion.
But with the closing of Lionhead Studios, I wonder whether there is still a place for future Molyneuxs in the gaming industry. With the release of No Man’s Sky, Sean Murray comes to mind. He’s smart, passionate, soft-spoken… British. Or maybe Peter’s path is just the natural evolution of the great creators: you either die a Sean Murray, or you live long enough to become a Peter Molyneux.
Regardless, I will be playing Fable II to completion this go around, and taking the time to appreciate the love and care that went into it. That’s what happens when you get older; you appreciate the little things, the attention to detail. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the respect you deserved back then, Peter. You’ve got it now.
Also, Fable II looks fucking great on Xbox One.