They say it attracts chicks, but when it comes to the value of scars in Fable 2, Peter Molyneux's betting gamers will prefer to display the unblemished flesh that signifies fighting prowess instead.
The volte-face to traditional masculinity concerns the way Lionhead's founder and his design team have decided to approach the tricky concept of death in the Xbox 360 sequel to the three-million selling Xbox role-playing game.
"In Hollywood, the hero doesn't die," Molyneux said in his Innovations in Game Design at the Develop conference. "Rocky's face looks like a battered melon, he's down on the canvas, and it seems to be all over, but one look from his wife, and suddenly he's back on his feet and swinging again."
Fable 2 will take a similar dramatic approach to the concept. Drained of health points and laid out on the ground, players will have the choice of losing experience points - the game's key method of building up a selection of fearsome fighting moves - and immediately jumping up to regain the action, or letting the enemy close in and work them over with stabs, kicks and punches. "You will feel violated," said Molyneux. Worse than that, when you eventually get up again to fight another day, the marks of your beating will remain for all to see.
However, with over a year to go of development, there seems to remain some uncertainly in Molyneux's thinking on this point. "What we're wondering is whether vanity has enough potential to increase the drama of whether you win or lose a fight?" he said, suggesting that the 12 months of polish, polish, testing and polish could end up with the system being significantly tweaked in the process.
And despite declining to talk in real detail about Fable 2's online features, the assumption of this argument is, NPCs in the single player mode aside, the key issue is how players' vanity will play out in the reaction of online players towards characters with lots of scar material; something that would visually demonstrate a lack of skill.
As for the reason behind such a radical rethink of gaming's death mechanic, it came from what Molyneux described as his dislike of repetition.
"I hate repetition, sitting through the same cutscenes," he said. "At the moment, we have only have tension in combat because players know they'll have to play the game over again if they die. We've been trying to think up a better way of having tension. Everyone is going to die sometime in the game. Death is part of drama but in Fable 2, it won't be a frustrating thing. That's our golden nugget."
Push The Blue Button
Another area Molyneux focused on in his talk was the way Fable 2 would be made accessible to both hardcore and more casual players. This is best illustrated by the game's one-button melee system. Instead of complex button presses being required to launch impressive combos, Fable 2's automatic combat system is about making use of the environment and props, together with proximity to the enemy.
"Your character is the most intelligent game character ever. He will always do the most intelligent thing he can," explained Adam Language, the Lionhead developer who prototyped the one-button combat system.
The result is something both the button-masher and the Ninja Gaiden expert will be able to use, albeit resulting in very different on screen actions.
"Gamers treat the button-masher with disdain but we don't want to make them feel foolish," Molyneux said. "We want to make them feel like the hardcore, but they won't get so many rewards as the hardcore player."
This divergence will be governed by the amount of experience points players accumulate. As with a standard role-playing game, experience points will be rewarded for more complex moves, and the more experience you gain, the more points you'll get to spend on improving the types of moves, your character can pull off.
"They will look a lot cooler, not a bit cooler," Molyneux said, of the difference between hardcore and casual players.
Reaching The Next 30 Million
But despite the multi-million sales his games have racked up over the years, Molyneux still isn't satisfied. "We're not where we thought we would be," he said, in reference to the wider popularity of games. "The most successful game sells 20 million units. We should be selling 50 million."
Molyneux also complained that few people finished games. "A lot of it is due to pacing and giving people too much to handle. We want everyone who starts our game to finish it. If you haven't played for a couple of weeks, it will tone down the difficulty slightly and not immediately throw you into a big boss battle."