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Molyneux: Current Rapid Innovation Will 'Make New Genres Happen'
Molyneux: Current Rapid Innovation Will 'Make New Genres Happen' Exclusive
June 4, 2010 | By Chris Remo

Game design may have suffered from stagnation in the recent past, but it is now in the midst of far-reaching innovation, argues Lionhead Studios creative director Peter Molyneux, who believes "new genres" will emerge out of the intersection of social spaces, motion control, and emotional intent.

"There's a lot of forces all coming together at once," says Molyneux, as part of an extensive Gamasutra interview to be published in the coming days.

"The hardware manufacturers have really realized, 'Look, if we really want to revolutionize things, it's not about faster processors and more memory. It is actually about things that are being held in the player's hands," he said.

"And then you've got the side where, at last, we're starting to get what online really means," he added, pointing to the importance of social spaces and the extensive "digital relationship" cooperative features in his own upcoming Fable III.

"Thirdly, you've got us as software engineers and designers and creators actually saying, 'Hey, we can make emotional experiences," Molyneux said. "Games like Heavy Rain give you a true emotional roller coaster ride."

Those three main areas of innovation are a far cry from "only a few years ago," claims the designer, who oversees Lionhead as well as the rest of Microsoft Game Studios Europe.

"You put all of that stuff together, and you start to realize that, in two to three years' time, when we all get used to all of this new stuff, all these new colors and the paint palette of design -- it really is going to make new genres happen."

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Paul Lenoue
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One thing that might help this new age of genres and innovation is if game makers listen to non-programmers once in a while. There are lots of people in the world who are great at designing and developing games but have no programming skills. They come up with terrific ideas and can develop those ideas into an exciting new genre. Yet as soon as places like Lionhead Studios learn that they aren't professional game programmers with ten years of experience coding AAA titles, they're completely ignored.

Hey, Molyneux, I _dare_ you to participate in a forum where creative non-programmers can work together to create new genres. I'm willing to bet you can't get past that "You're not a programmer, so you have nothing of worth to say" mindset that's so ingrained in the computer game business.

Luis Guimaraes
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Innovation? where?

Paul Lenoue
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@Slade : I'm not saying programmers can't make good games, most of my favorite games were created by programmers, but when they start talking about new genres and innovation yet keep cranking out the same, tired old formulas it becomes obvious that they're so deep in the rut they believe a different strata of dirt is a major breakthrough.

Have you ever heard of a company like Lionhead Studio actually talking to gamers, or people who create non-computer games, or crowdsource a game? They don't because they're totally ingrained in the mindset that only those who code games can design a game. I can't tell you how many times I've talked with game makers and programmers who got very excited about a game I was pitching, only to abruptly stop the conversation and proceed to patronize/ignore me once they learn I'm not a programmer. And I know people who are much better at game creation than I am who never even get to start a conversation with the game companies/people because they don't enough programming lingo to fake it past the first two minutes.

If Mr. Molyneux was really serious about developing new genres he'd network with gaming people _outside_ of the usual developers/programmers/designers that focus so much on framerates, acceleration and the demands of vocal hardcore gamers they totally overlook what makes games "fun" for the vast majority of people who are turned off by the increasing sameness of most games. But when have you ever heard of a game company doing anything like that?

Bart Stewart
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Until the cost to develop comes down, the people who decide what games get made will be the same people who keep making the same games.

The first thing to happen when new modes of expression come online is not a burst of new kinds of creative works -- it's to re-make the old things with the new technology. It happened with the printing press; it happened with TV; it's happening today with digital filmmaking (have you noticed how many movies are remakes of earlier movies and TV shows?).

Only when the cost of the new technologies drops to the point that lots of creative people can afford it -- as when the explosion of low-cost CCD chips allowed everyone to own a handheld digital camera -- do we see the flowering of new kinds of content that Peter Molyneux looks forward to.

I'm looking forward to that day in game development... but we're not there yet.

Alexander Bruce
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Paul, you have the same attitude that everyone in their first year of my university always had. Every year, young, passionate people would burst through the doors and go "I have ideas!" and then wonder why people weren't leaping at the chance to develop them. Coming up with "groundbreaking ideas" is easy. Executing them correctly isn't.

If you honestly believe your ideas are amazing, get the skills required to develop them and make things happen. There's a very good reason a lot of projects don't get finished, or we see the same things again and again. It's not because there aren't people out there trying to innovate. It's that most ideas that sound good on paper aren't really that good when they're developed. Programmers who can implement things and then tell you why it doesn't work after making a couple of prototypes will know this.

Michiel Hendriks
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@Paul "Idea men" are a dime in a dozen. If you are new to the industry you better bring more than just ideas. Being a programmer helps the most, because other can assume you've at least to implement your ideas to see if it actually works. That's why they turn their head when they hear you're not a programmer, because it means you haven't actually tried to see if it works.

Ideas are great, but you won't know how great they are until you've actually tried it. There are millions of stories by game developers where their initial idea was completely overhauled when they actually tried it.

kevin wright
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comment from WAY above:

"Oh you guys are just here to make our tools, just make the game work for us! It should be the designers, not the engineers, leading the discussion".

Should be more like " you guys NEED to make good tools (that IS a big Part of what you ARE here for) and FULLY support integration of of game content/assets/elements. Working WITH Art & Design, not apart from it- (and this goes for all the disciplines involved).

Michiel- you are an asshat- I am an artist and designer, and I implement ideas all the time with no help from programming. Being a programmer helps the most? Really? That's your Key Statement? Where do you live, 1990? Frick- ever heard of Prototyping or Pre-viz? Your attitude is EXACTLY what Paul is getting at- programmers, ruling the gamespace (mostly- again, your verbage)- it really aint like that- heres why: draw something cool programmer- make the lighting "feel" more warm and inviting in this area- implement a level design element in this section that makes the player "exerience", programming can assist implementing this (or building tools to assist in the crafting process) but no amount of programming can do look/feel/experience (immerse).

This is not a war of disciplines to get the upper hand (and know that academia and publishers fuel this infighting- don't give em the satisfaction). They tout their posterboys as "demigod-status" creators when we all know full well it is a group effort- Ever seen a quarterback win the game all alone? Yeah- never happened.

So, everyone stop being dumbasses, and work together- EVERY discipline is equal and necessary. Sheesh.

Paul Lenoue
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@Slade: Granted, being an outsider doesn't automatically mean you can innovate, but conversely it's all too common that those on the inside automatically assume that outsiders are incapable of providing any input. Just look at the responses I've garnered here. Alexander treats me like a naive college freshman, Michiel labels me as nothing more than "an idea man" who knows nothing of the industry. They base their entire opinion of me based on a couple quick comments. Did any of you ever consider the possibility that I've been studying this field for years? That I've been developing and honing these "ideas" for years based on what I've learned of the industry and what feedback I get from professionals (before they learn I'm not a programmer)? How do you know my ideas are worthless, ignorant or impractical when you refuse to even listen to them? This is why I have to pretend to be a programmer with fake credentials just to start a conversation with an insider.

I'm not saying the insiders are mindless drones who can't think, although if you look through the responses here one could come to the conclusion that this is what you lot think of outsiders. I'm just commenting that if you really want to innovate you should set up a forum where outsiders can converse as more or less equals. And by "converse" I don't mean responding to every post with "You're not in the industry, so you know nothing."

Rather, they should establish a forum where average gamers could post suggestions along the lines of "I would like to play a game that does A" and the designers/programmers/etc. respond with something like "How would you bring that about?" or "How would you keep it interesting past the initial experience?" With a back-and-forth conversation like this people have an outlet where they could share and develop good ideas while the game makers who are looking to innovate have a new field of creative resources to access. Blizzard does this in their forums and look at their success, yet the vast majority of game businesses close themselves off to player input during the initial development stages, if not entirely through the whole process and afterwards.

@Kevin: Right on! The best games come from everybody working together. The problem is most of the industry actively ignores a large part of the business: the people who want to play games. Instead of opening a public forum asking "What do you want?" they churn out the same old formulas and ask "Do you want cliche 1 or cliche 2?"

kevin wright
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Cliche, boxed three times; its what is killing our current gamespace. Either too much or not enough is being thrown towards developing- then there is the age old cock-blockin going on by the console developer, Mkg/Vendors and publishers alike, in an attempt to control shelf space, profit margins and so forth. Not to make room for awesome new properties that push innovation, but to merely attempt to hold their retail space with formulaic and retreaded IP over and over again. Greed and Hubris; Hubris and Greed. It is literally killing the industry (as perhaps it should be; it doesn't work and I think they know it; they are just running with it til its time to cut it loose) and forcing us to strike out and trailblaze our own frontiers.

Wake up Msft/Sony/EA - here it comes- a world without you trying to control fun. Thats right- you dont own the web. I cannot wait.

No (true) innovation = dead console/Publisher/IP; remember Sega/Commodore/Atari?....I do. Failure to innovate well with others.

John Ingrams
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I am not a programmer, I am in marketing and management, but I have been a gamer for 25 years as well, so if I had $5 million to start I would have a $100 million plus company within 3 years - that's how many gaps there are in the CURRENT market, never mind 'new genres' and facebook this and casual/natal that!

Jon Gregory
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I don't know if new genres as we think of genres, lines that divide different games, are going to come out of this. If anything we may see the elimination/merger of certain genres entirely. For example, the JRPG. No matter how much you may like it, that genre is dead. Right now it is almost entirely dominated by one name, Final Fantasy. Other than that, honestly, no one outside of Japan really cares about JRPGs. Lots of Japanese developers are also starting to take their games in a more western direction already. So we may see a merger of the Japanese traditional RPGs and the current western RPG sometime in the near future. Whether or not that is falsely identified as a groundbreaking innovation or winds up a train wreck has yet to be seen. But basing of most of the other forays by a traditionally Japanese developer into the western style haven't been very good.

Personally though, getting back on topic, I think everything is just going to become a mishmosh of different game elements. Like Mass Effect for example. It has elements of an RPG, as well as an Action Adventure game, and a shooter with the newest one... but it doesn't fit neatly into any one of those categories. It's core is an RPG, yes, but if you really break it down it's sitting somewhere in the center of all of those elements. We're seeing that a lot now. Fallout 3 is another good example. Yeah it's an RPG, but its FPS elements are strong. So we're looking at games that don't fit anywhere but you can't sit there and come up with a single new genre name to define them. That's because gamers today are so spoiled. They want everything in their game and by their standards something like a traditional linear RPG along the lines of Final Fantasy XIII is garbage. They see it as nearly unplayable, where as a decade ago the linearity of the game wouldn't have been an issue.

Gamers demand multiplayer, co-op, an RPG-esque rankings system for their online play, an open world, etc. Things that seemed absolutely fine one game ago are quickly becoming archaic. Like Red Dead Redemption. The game is great, and it has everything that I could ask for in a game as a gamer, but the mission structure that seemed fine with me in GTAIV now seems outdated and ridiculous to some extent when compared to the completely free form mission structure and story advancement of a game like Fallout 3 or Mass Effect. I can't say hey, Bill Williamson ran away, I wanna go after him right now. Gamers have been spoiled into thinking that these things that they like need to be in every game, and this causes the genre lines to be eschewed.

If you told gamers, on any game related news sites out there, that you were going to give them the single most intense single player story driven experience that they had ever seen, but it was going to be mostly linear progression, no co-op, no multiplayer. People would freak out. They would literally write your game off right then and there. They expect the genres to be combined in some way shape or form and the industry, by setting the multigenre machine in motion, fueled that fire. I'm not by any means saying that I don't like the games that successfully combine different genres, it just makes it harder for people who want to make stellar games that don't do that. But it's kind of become the standard.

Michael Khuc
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@Kevin and Michiel

I started out as an artist and decided to start programming too. Programmers beat artists hands down when it comes to design. A game skeleton does not need immersion as much as it needs other factors, getting things to work and checking off limitations. Feasibility is a huge criteria in design. That's pretty off-topic but I just wanted to share.

Michael Bennett
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This whole discussion is completely absurd. Without designers the game wouldn't happen. Without artists engineers will be forced to make a text game just as without engineers artists won't make anything much more interactive than an art gallery. Without a clear organisational heir-achy and direction nothing would happen at all (until somebody clawed their way to the top and forced everyone toward a common goal) so the producers are needed too. A good programmer needs at least some artistic sensibility to fine tune the little things that make a good game great (like making sure the heads bounce in just the right way) and everybody else needs at least some or will unavoidably pick up some technical knowledge. Value is determined by scarcity relative to demand, and good executives are hard to find so they have the greatest value attached to them. They also usually have the least fun, longest hours and least fulfilling job. I'm yet to meet anyone in the game industry I dislike. If you really want to complain about your working environment go into investment banking. They are ridiculously well paid, never sleep, work constantly and they're all angry and lonely. I'm not kidding when I say a 100+ hour week of crunching numbers and writing reports is normally required.

Prash Nelson-Smythe
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I agree with Christian K,

Molyneux is quite the hype machine. He is a very accomplished game designer and I've enjoyed some of his older games (not played recent ones) but he doesn't half talk crap.

I would love it if someone got him to promise to an interview a few weeks after Fable 3 is out.

Cory Livingston
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We should be trying to seperate ourselves from genres, not make new ones. Designing games with specific genres in mind tends to limit ideas to those usually found within that genre. If we're looking to innovate, we should be adding features based upon how they will play within the game, and not because its a standard for Genre X.

Christopher Shell
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@Cory Livingston

I agree with you in that trying to design games to fit in a certain genre tends to have you start with a fundamental "framework" of the genre which inherently limits you to the ideas and mechanics usually found there.

Some of my favorite, most interesting games of all time (Shenmue, Shadow of the Colossus, Trauma Team, Heavy Rain, Lifeline) are games that I'd struggle (and don't even try) to place in the confines of one well-known/defined genre. Its not surprising that I find them to be some of the most creative and memorable. I'd love to see future of game design that starts and ends lacking the notion of a genre classification.

Michiel Hendriks
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@kevin wright

You misunderstood what I was saying. I wasn't speaking in absolutes, but responding to the post by Paul.

Having some programming experience, and thus being able to create a proof of concept of your new or innovative gameplay mechanics, helps the most to show off your ideas and keep the attentions of others in the field. (Or find a programmer that can work out your ideas into a proof of concept). When you have design experience you can show off designs of game worlds etc. Something which is difficult to do for most programmers. Of course designers can do some gameplay proof of concepts, but would mostly be based on the gameplay mechanics already exposed by the tool you use. There are quite some possibilities to create a new "game experience" with existing gameplay applied in a different way. For example Heavy Rain didn't really use any new gameplay mechanics, it's just quick time events used in a different way, and it is some that could be prototyped without the need of a programmer. But trying to do create new things like they did with Narbacular Drop or Braid is going to be really difficult, if not impossible to do without the need of programming.

When you are an artist/designer and have more professional experience others are more likely to keep listening to your idea for new mechanics than when you have no professional experience. Yes, it's a sad fact. But it's not like everybody is going to perform a full screening if the history of the guy that just presented an idea to see if that person would even know what he/she was talking about.

When you're new, and you can program, people will still stop listening when they hear that you haven't tried to implement the idea yet.

Matt Ross
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I remember the good old days when innovative new genres were just about a new way and formats in which to blow shit up.

yes, even sim city, the whole point of that game was gaining full appreciation for your city and how everything linked together so as to make the unholy destruction you would inevitably reap all the more rewarding.

Mark Venturelli
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Stop feeding the "idea troll". There should be a death sentence for using the word "I have great ideas" in a creative environment.

Mark Harris
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Good lesson in the comments here, Paul, if you want to extract something useful. "I have great implementations" will get you a hell of a lot farther then "I have great ideas". Honestly, that's true for every line of business, not just video games. There are plenty of free or cheap resources out there that can help you put together a quick and dirty prototype. Merely attempting to put your ideas into practice, even if the attempt sucks, will still get you much farther than just your ideas.

Keep the ideas flowing, but try to implement some of your stuff. Who knows, you may end up liking that part just as much as fleshing out the ideas!

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They're have been ridiculous comments on here by people who clearly don't work in the industry.

A.K.A Everyone saying how programmers ruin the game and what not. Or everyone above Bart.

Programmers in the development cycle don't run the game. Mostly, the ENTIRE staff reviews each part of the game and looks at the pros and cons.

Programmers make the world HAPPEN. Everything has to be programmed to do something. Hell, even the animators do some programming with the programmers.

And I thought this website was full of people who knew what they were talking about :)

Sean Parton
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@Robert Gill: This is an open forum in a public space where anyone who wants to make up a pseudonym can post. Certainly, the subject matter and general tone and direction of the forum will bring certain people forth, but really, this is the internet we're talking about.

That said, I do largely agree with your post. I work in a fairly "engineer-strong" environment, and even if programmers do largely drive many of the decisions, it's with good reason (we're not a gigantic studio, and we make mobile games). And even despite that, pretty much all of the disciplines can get in on voicing their opinion and ideas, and as a designer, I also go out of my way to troll my coworkers for their thoughts as well.

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@Sean Parton--- My apologies for not making my statement above clear. I meant that many on here claim or act as if they actually work in the industry.

That said, what is it like working for a mobile games company? I've always been curious about those type of games.