At GDC 2010, you gave a speech about all of the things you were going to bring to Fable III to increase its reach, and you talked about your goal of hitting 5 million units. But it seems that Fable III didn't quite reach the goals that you'd hoped for, at least perhaps creatively.
PM: Yeah. I think last year we were just on the cusp of possibly getting everything we wanted in the game, or possibly having to come down and edit very heavily to finish the game in what was two years. You have to remember that, you know, Lionhead -- especially me -- has never created projects in less than two years. This was the first time we ever did that.
Just after that point, we then sat down, and, partly because of the way that we worked -- the process, the way that we designed, and the way that we crafted -- meant that the game came together very late. That is one of the things that we're changing; that is just such an old school way of working.
You have these ideas called pillars, and then you rush away and develop these pillars. About nine months before the game is due to be finished, you've got to bring that whole thing together and then -- "Oh, wow! The game's this long!"
Every game, unbelievably, you sit down: "Good grief! It's twice as long as I thought it was going to be!" You just can't afford that in terms of development when you're developing by the second.
So when we came down to it, the edit -- I think the ruling section in Fable was the one that really suffered a lot here. The edit was very harsh and hard to actually make the game fit.
That being said, I still think it was a good game! I just don't think it was a great game that took us to 5 million units. I know I probably should say it's a great game just respective of whatever it was, but the Metacritic score was sort of low-'80s. I think I'm pretty ashamed of that, to be honest, and I take that on my own shoulders, not the team's shoulders. I think that, when you have something like that, which you can feel as a kick in the teeth, you have to pick yourself up and fight even harder.
That being said, it still sold millions and millions of units, and it's probably going to net out, with the PC version, closer to the 5 million than perhaps you would think; but it's not the dream. It didn't end up being the game that I dreamed it would be, because I thought the mechanic of the ruling section were really good ideas. I thought they were good ideas, but we just didn't have time to exploit those ideas fully.
I've been here before, and it just means that you've got to make whatever you do next twice as good. You're going to make the process and the planning process much, much better because, in the end, that's where you really suffer.
So you're chasing a moving target.
PM: Yeah, you're chasing a moving target. God, it would be so lovely to talk about an example here, but I can't; but I think there are some very, very obvious things that you should do if you're a studio like Lionhead -- very simple and obvious things.
I'm not breaking the confidentiality by saying this: you've got to look at the quality of what you make, and you've got to ask yourself, in all honesty, "Is it good enough?" Or should you be doubling down and saying, "We're really going to surprise people with the quality of what we make"?
You should say that about the uniqueness of what you're making, as well. I hate the fact that people know what to expect from something like Lionhead. "We know what Fable's going to be; we know what's coming next from Lionhead." I hate that idea. We should, again, double down on freshness and originality without sacrificing -- because often originality can sacrifice quality -- without sacrificing quality.
We should take a deep look at what people really enjoy about the experiences that might have made and try and focus on those rather than focus on the gimmicks, which we kind of love to develop. That is being a little bit self-critical, but I think that there's times that you have to be self-critical. I think the worst thing that could have happened to Fable III is if it sold 4.99 million, because I think that would have made us slightly complacent, and complacency is always the worst place to be, in my opinion.
In particular, something that interests me about Fable is that you talked about things like making leveling and taking it from an abstract into the way your character develops. Moving things out of the GUI and putting them into the game concretely, thinking that would make the game more comprehensible. How did you find the reaction people had to those sorts of changes?
PM: This is absolutely an example of everything I just said. So just take that example. I thought the idea of leveling outside the GUI, but leveling in the environment and the world was actually quite a good one, but I'm not sure...
The real dream of that leveling process was that, as you went through each gate, there would be these tough choices for the player. Which chest should I open? This one or that one? The feeling that you're going through the game at your own pace, but having to make these tough choices, was never actually realized.
This is another thing where the process of us doing the game -- the game came together so late that we had so little time to balance and refine what those chests meant and the leveling-up implications of it; there was just a few weeks to do it. That meant that what could have been a great mechanic turned out to be a good idea.
I don't think that good ideas are a reason to do something; I think it has to feed into the overall experience to be a great idea. I liked the idea of not pressing the pause key and going to some abstracted GUI; I think that worked reasonably well, and people didn't argue about it.
The dream was that there would be an intelligence about that place, which was led by the John Cleese character, which made it feel really alive; and again we didn't have the time to craft that into what that dream was.
It's because of those things that, now, when we approach development, it's very different, because we want to know precisely how long the experience we're crafting is up front, rather than waiting to the end, so that we have a clear idea how each of these mechanics is used, how they're meted out, how they're exploited, and how they're really used to amplify the whole drama of what that is.
So we've got a very, very different process of designing now, which means that, this time around, if we did have a Journey to Rule or if we did have -- I'm not saying that I'm giving you any clues there -- then it's going to be part of that golden thread that we're making up to the player. We've spent a long time thinking about that and doing our research on how you can have a creatively-led production process and how you can take the complete randomness out of the way that a lot of ideas are developed and evolved.