Do you work with a narrative designer on the game? How does the responsibility with creating and implementing the story with the core gameplay design shake down?
JA: There are a couple of us that oversee the story and how it weaves into the gameplay. There's me, there's a lead writer who is the owner of the actual story and dialogue of the characters, then there's our lead scripter, who is also a huge participant in how the story flows and the activities and missions work.
The three of us work very heavily with Peter on the breakdown and outline of the story, and we're left to fill in the middle bits and review those with him on a pretty regular basis.
There are three of us, from a design standpoint, that are the core story people, but we also have a combat team that focuses on the creatures and combat, and we work very closely on the audio and art animation teams on how to build the story in a compelling way, from what a character will look like to who will voice them.
An interesting story would be how we ended up with John Cleese as our butler. We began with the idea that we wanted to reinvent the way the player interfaced with the game; effectively, we wanted to reinvent the GUI.
That wasn't really what we started out doing. We wanted one crazy way for players to customize their hero and feel like everything was really integrated, rather than having a weird 2D menu you have to go to.
We came up with the idea that if you have to go to one place to change your clothes, your weapons, do all your activities, we really should have a butler. Then we started talking about what kind of character the butler would be, what kind of personality he would have and who we wanted him to be.
The more we talked about him and figured out what he looked like, we came up with a list of actors that we thought could play him. At the top of our list was John Cleese, just based on the personality of the character we had come up with.
When you approached John Cleese, did you have -- I'm assuming this was earlier on and you didn't have all his dialogue. Approaching someone like that, to say, "Hey, we have this idea for a basic character concept, are you interested?"
JA: Basically what we do is concept art for what the character looks like, then we write a bio, then we write sample lines. I'm not super involved with the agents and the Hollywood-y fancy bits, but we try to create a package for that actor that makes them feel like they understand the character they are going to be playing.
We've said out loud that the voice actors we've compiled are the best cast in the history of games. What's interesting about having such a deep cast is that they end up bringing a lot to the role, you want to give them enough to work with that they understand the character.
But you also want to work it so that they can bring something of themselves to it and get involved in it, and you want them to enjoy the process. We send them a bio, and a lot comes out in the studio, through improvisation and things like that. It's a bit of a give and take with them.
To talk about this idea of scrapping the GUI and going for more direct in-world control and representation of your character, I can totally understand the impetus behind that, but it also seems like it could be a tremendous challenge and a potential pitfall to create something that does work for people and is comprehensible. Can you talk a bit about that process?
JA: The interesting thing about our efforts with that is that we started out and it was one of our big things to reinvent for ourselves. We started out by asking ourselves what he hadn't done well, and we wanted to improve it. In Fable 1 and Fable II, the GUI was fine, but it wasn't great.
We sat down and said, "Let's fully integrate it and make it one seamless experience. We did a lot of things. We broke it down into the things that a player will want to do, and not so much focus on how to over engineer it to focus on the things they might do.
We wanted to focus on the things that a player will want to do, that will come up in the average play experience, and we tried to make those perfect and not worry about the sideways, outside stuff that could come up. We tried to make this as clean an experience as we can for the person who is having the experience we feel they should be having.
That's kind of a good angle to approach design in general from, I would think, especially on things like RPGs, scope can spiral out of control very fast.
JA: Yeah, and from a design standpoint, it's easy to stand there and go, "What if, what if, what if?" I don't want to create the impression that we don't spend time talking about depth, but we definitely ask, "Is that really going to happen, or are we just dealing with the outside chance of some weird occurrence?"
We did think a lot about something like the iPhone when we were looking at our GUI, because the reality is that it doesn't do everything, but what it does do is so good and so clean that you don't think about all the things it doesn't do.
I don't think you should be criticized when looking at Apple when it comes to UI design; I don't think that's something to apologize for. (laughs)
JA: I tend to look at their stuff with great awe and admiration, and we definitely took a lesson about not putting the kitchen sink into every single feature, but try to make it as smart and as clean as you possibly can.