Q&A with Fable III's Louise Murray

We get the skinny on Lionhead Studio's action adventure RPG from Fable III's producer
  • Spandas Lui (GamePro Australia)
  • 21 September, 2010 16:30

In the past Lionhead Studio's CEO, Peter Molyneux, has sometimes hyped up features in games that don't make it into the final release. This was the case with the first Fable, leading Molyneux to publicly apologise to people who were disappointed with some of the omissions.

Molyneux is again the lead designer in the Fable franchise, but Fable 3 is showing every indication of being genuinely worthy of excitement.

Set during an Industrial Revolution, players return to Albion to find a land dominated by machinery and ravaged in the name of progress.

One of the significant changes to the game is the new inventory and ‘levelling up’ system which deviates significantly from the first two games. Fable 3 also introduces an advanced level of interaction with characters in the world of Albion.

More importantly, John Cleese lends his voice to the game. Yes, the John Cleese of Monty Python fame.

But best of all, the outrageous humour that Fable is known for remains wholly intact; farts 'n' all.

I sat down to have a chat with Fable 3 producer, Louise Murray, to find out more about the new features in the game, and why touching other people is a great form of interaction.

Fable 3

Why should Fable fans be excited about the new game? What changes have you implemented in Fable 3?

Fable 3 is first and foremost a story game. It’s all about the drama and you’ve got the fantastic cast. Not only do we have John Cleese, we’ve got Simon Pegg, Bernard Hill, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross and Michael Fassbender.

You know, we’ve got an amazing high quality cast; the whole point of that being that we have great quality accents and a greater quality story.

We’ve got our fantastic story and we’re really trying to move from the RPG to the action adventure game, but without losing our RPG fans.

Halfway through the game you become the king or queen.

We are being quite tight lipped on what the mechanics are once you become a king or queen — it’s all story spoilers basically.

So one of the cool things about playing an RPG is levelling up your hero and feeling more powerful and collecting things and we love that. What we don’t love is all the 2D menus and filling your stat bars out and so on.

So we have developed this place called the Sanctuary which is a living place you can visit at any time during the game and it’s really the path to your throne. It’s represented in an ethereal path with lots of gates on it and the best way to describe it for a gamer is that each gate is a level.

Each portion of the path is levelled up and you can see where you are going from the very beginning. You can see the castle up in front of you and you know what your target is.

But then on the path, there are all these chests and that’s when fable starts getting interesting, so no longer are you kind of buying your XP, then going and buying something else and hoping that’s going to level up — a very complicated system — it’s all laid out to you really clearly.

All the chests on the right are all your combat chests; so there are spells, there are ranged weapons, there are melee weapons — all of them can be levelled up. So if you just want to become a really great warrior, buy all the stuff on the right.

All the stuff on the left is all your kind of sim-style stuff.

Fable 3

Why did you guys decide on separating the simulation and combat type experiences in the Sanctuary?

We have this theory that a lot people who played Fable 2 kind of tore through the middle of it, got the story, thought “Oh that was a bit short” and put it away again.

In fact, it’s not short at all. There is a whole simulation side to it that has all the house buying, all the marriage stuff, all the managing relationships, the expressions, jobs and all those things.

They’re all there, so what we have done is put them in chests along the left of the screen. You really create the game you want to play.

If you just want to tear through the game and be the combat guy and not do any of the sim stuff, you can just ignore all the sim chests. But if you want to do both, you can open every single chest. We never lock you out of it and you can always go back and open them at a later time.

So the point of the Sanctuary is to the players more engaged in the game?

Totally. We want it to be engaging; we never want you to leave the world. We don’t want you to break that fiction.

The 2D system we had in Fable II was really obtuse. Because of that we thought, "Okay, how are we really going to make this different?" You spent a lot of time in your inventories in these types of RPGs, so we wanted it to be a proper part of the game.

We just feel that if we go to a list, then immediately you are no longer in the world. You know, we spend all this time crafting a 3D world and then we take you somewhere else. We’re hoping this time that we really kind of hold you in the world, and it’s really about you and your character, rather than a list.

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I see you guys have changed the interaction system as well.

Before we had the big wheel and you picked what gestures or actions you were going to do.

Now the game kind of picks for you to a certain extent, but the more chests you have opened, the more expressions you’ve got and the more the interactions change. They will decide to marry you, they might give gifts and even quests, which they have never done before.

Now they might ask you to collect things for them. Potentially, every single person in the Albion world is a quest-giver.

Fable 3’s world looks a lot bigger than Fable 2's.

It is actually.

It must have been a challenge developing the game that is so much bigger than the previous one.

The team that developed Fable 3 was the same team that did Fable 2, so they are all veterans at making this game. They all love it and everyone went absolutely mad with all their ideas and what we do and how big it got.

We had to cut the game down a couple of months ago because it got so big it was unmanageable to finish it.

There was so much enthusiasm for it and so much talent and knowledge about how to make this particular game.

Fable 3

So we should be looking forward to some pretty sizable DLCs?

We are going to finish this one first and have a think about that. I wouldn’t rule it out for sure. We have a few bugs left to do.

The humour and style of Fable is very interesting in that it is very quintessentially British. There used to be a lot of games incorporating that kind of humour but they seem to have died out a bit.

Fable is the only one really that is left, we think. I think it’s that blend of humour and not taking ourselves too seriously, but it’s blended with quite a serious, quite dark compelling drama on top of it.

It’s just the inhabitants are funny. It’s not that the story itself is funny, it’s just you’ve got guys with this kind of accent going on asking you to put on a chicken suit.

That in itself is just funny.

Is that Fable’s formula for success?

For us it has been. I think video games take themselves very seriously and I think a lot of people take themselves very seriously with them. We don’t, and that’s possibly part of our formula.

We like to have fun.

Is it too silly? Oh, all the time! Every time I see the game character farting on somebody’s’ head I go “Really?”

But of course that is optional; you don’t have to do a fart on somebody’s head. It’s there for whoever wants to fart on somebody’s head.

You guys roped in John Cleese to be in the game. That in itself is pretty impressive!

He is the butler. Every time you go in to the sanctuary there, he will talk to you. He is in the real world at the beginning of the game — you find the Sanctuary together. He is the guy who helps you and he will lay things out for you and make suggestions to you.

You got this great adviser in the form of Jon Cleese, which is so cool.

What was his response when he was approached to be in Fable 3?

Pretty much everybody we approached about it, we told them all about the Fable franchise.

They were interested to learn more about it. Then everybody was very enthusiastic because I think it’s a great game and it’s got a great feel to it. They see games as the next entertainment platform, no longer is it geeky to be playing games.

Games are now a cool entertainment experience.

Was John Cleese a Fable fan before?

I don’t think he was, no. But he has been introduced the Fable world since then.

The touch mechanic in Fable 3, which allows players to hold the hand of other characters, is quite interesting and unique. How did you guys come up with the idea?

Fable 3

It was an idea we started playing with earlier on. In video games, you don’t touch anybody, so we wanted to go and touch somebody. So now you can hold the hand of anybody else in the world.

You can lead them to safety or you can lead them to danger. There are points in the main core story where that mechanic is very important but it’s also available all the time.

And we have particular quests which require you to use the mechanic; like rescuing somebody’s child from wolves. It just creates these great emotional moments and really quite compelling gameplay.

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Was it hard trying to integrate touch into the game? I ask because it’s a fairly uncommon thing to do.

It was definitely difficult to do. I don’t think the programmers will mind me saying this, but the hands will occasionally break [graphically] in the game.

You have got to deal with the physics and all the rest of it but I think there was definitely an element of us going “It doesn’t look good enough! We can’t release it like this! It doesn’t look good enough!” But actually, Peter [Molyneux] is really clear that you get the experience from it and people will forgive the hands splitting a little bit if you have to turn a sharp corner or something.

It’s difficult to make, but I think it has worked really well here. And of course you can drag people around to places. You can take them to the work house and sell them; obviously they don’t want to go so you have to drag people along.

It’s quite an interesting mechanic.

In Fable 1 and 2, there really wasn’t much difference whether you played as a girl or a boy. Consequently, sometimes you didn’t feel like you really connected with the characters around you. Was that one of the things you wanted to address when you developed the touch mechanic?

Yes, because we want you to connect with the main character and with the rest of the characters as well, so touch definitely came into that. But I think also, the hero in male and female form now has a voice and immediately that links you to them a little bit more closely.

In Fable 1 and 2, you were sort of this mute character who stood around witnessing everything that was going on around you. We really wanted you to have something to say about the events.

We were kind of scared at one point of giving the character a voice, because that would mean we are giving them a personality. We really wanted to get you, the player, to give the character a personally. But actually, it draws you into the drama and really helps you connect to the role which, hopefully, worked out quite well.

When was the turning point when you put your foot down to say, “Right, we need to give the character a voice?"

Fable 3

Fairly early on. It seemed like an obvious step to take after Fable 2.

We’ve had the expressions and we’ve kind of played around with emotion and trying to connect with you. Your dog in Fable 2 was actually a part of that thinking and because, obviously, having a connection with an animal is something you can do a lot easier because they’re mute.

So we are really trying to take it to the next level with the touch and expressions and the hero voices.

Do you think Fable fans will be intimidated by the dramatically different inventory and levelling systems?

No, I don’t think so — I hope not anyway — because it is part of the story and we introduce it as that.

When you get to the Sanctuary, you, Jasper [Cleese] and Walter [your combat trainer] discover its powers and slowly Jasper slowly opens up all the rooms. So it’s really introduced bit by bit. But it’s all part of the drama.

So you’re easing the players in.

Yes, we don’t go “Here are a million things”. Your Sanctuary starts empty.

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Why did you guys settle on an Industrial Revolution kind of setting?

From Fable 1 to 2, the world moved on 500 years. From 2 to 3 we’ve only moved on 50 to 60 years and it’s really about the Industrial Revolution beginning to come in. The people of Albion have discovered how to make machines, so that all starts to be around the landscape.

It’s also part of the fiction. Logan, the king, is really trying to get the land to be as productive as possible so that means work houses, lots of logging; trying to generate as much money from the land as possible. So that’s shown within the setting. But if you want to change it later, there are possibilities there.

What are some of these possibilities?

You have to make your decisions.

Clearly the world is in great distress when you start playing Fable 3 and the people need a hero and they need someone to help them out. There is a big story twist later which we are not talking about at the moment.

I think we really explore the questions of leadership and how difficult being a leader actually is. It’s something that is explored in the later half of the game.

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