Fable 3: Story, Game and Simulation

by danhon

Fable 3: Story, Game and Simulation
Peter Molyneux

(Side note: Fable scripted in Lua)

Right, yes. Because of traffic, i Was a bit late and relied upon my sat nav a little bit too mucha nd went a little bit mad for a second but there you go.

I’m going to be talking no real surprises here about Fable 3. I’m going to take 15 mintues to talk about design challenges, and then dive into a demo, and then through questions, just demonstrate what the game is while we talk about questions.

Here’s a big difference. Who in this room was in this industry back in the early 90s. Show of hands? We don’t have colostomy bags yet, but they’re coming soon. In the early 90s, this weird thing – doing sequels was doing this most evil thing you could do. It was exploitative, people thought you were being lazy. Now, 20 years further on. Now we all love sequels, we all love taking our franchise, improving it, and that is a different design challenge than doing an original title. And at Lionhead we’re doing 2 things at the moment, Fable 3 and a project called Milo – which I believe at an award ceremony last night some comedian had something to say – good thing I wasn’t there. Ha. Ha. Ha. Otherwise I probably would’ve cried.

When we came to Fable 3, the dream, kind of – oh, we need to switch this to my presentation. I’ll switch it.

There. No? There. Yes! No, that’s the other laptop. There” No.

The Dream

IS – to create a world that both core and casual gamers can play in, which of course means a bigger audience. We need to challenge some of the preconceptions of design. What this dream means – is we want to sell lots more units. This means more money for Microsoft, we love success. But as a designer, more and more, it matters that more people play your game. And I think that when we came to Fable 1 and 2, we said – what did we do right and wrong. In Fable 2, it was an RPG, it focussed on you being a hero, it had some terribly messy things about it. Part of that, being honest, was we rushed as we always do in development, at the end, and you have this terrible phase which we all know – the world looks this beautiful with these features, and slowly transitions into less beautiful and less features, because you have so many bugs. In Fable 2, at one point, we had more than 67k bugs. We had the Microsoft Test Team – they rated us as super black. No one had been black before. They’d been red or orange. We were super black. It was utterly impossible for anything to come out with super black. We had to reduce down what we had. There were also huge design flaws, to be honest with you. One of them was, not really concentrating on the USPs, having a lot of game features in Fable 2 that people didn’t use or only used once. A great example of that was getting married. You could get married, btu it didn’t mean anything, it didn’t add anything. It was just an excuse to have sex – how much there was, whether it was going to be another hot coffee. That was it. That was a huge problem.

There was a piece of research that came out. That research came out – more than 50% of the people who played, understood or used 60% of its game features. We had constructed 40-50% of the content, people never really used. You know, it’s like designing a car with 300 buttons on the dashboard and you only need a steering wheel. That’s one of the things that we did with Fable 3. What were the things people used, that they liked, that we should focus on. We wanted to get more people to play, we wanted to take small steps to a revolution, a rebel, taking you on a clear story which we’ll talk about in a second, we wanted ot make sure people used all of our gamemechanics. When we come to the demo, I’ll be demoing big things.

The first thing- the big features – the drama. For me, for Fable 2, we’ll use our examples. I don’t think we’ve taken drama seriously enough. For me, that means: when we did Black and White, we – for those people who remember – all the voices were actually done by one person. By one single person, he had 300 different accents that he put on. Is that the best way of getting dramatic story? Probably not. In Fable 1 and 2, although we took the writing reasonably seriously, we’d actually not thought about it as a real story, a drama with beats, that has places where you really want people to get the story, understand what they’re doing now and next. What we did on Fable 3 was firstly go and create a great cast. It was incredibly hard to do. It doesn’t seem hard. But going out, having the idea – why don’t we get John Cleese to do our butler in Fable 3- the process of going from there to getting him in the recording studio is incredibly arduous and difficult, he’s enver done a computer game before, not really interested – doing it with the whole cast is really interesting. John Cleese, Zoe WAnnamaker, Stephen Fry, Bernard Hill.

The other thing is accessibility, especially in the RPG genre. This tends to be for people who love RPGs. Personally, I love them. I love levelling up, collecting things, exploring, gathering things, wealth, experience. I love all that stuf. A lot of the times, especially in games that we’ve done, most of the games we’ve done – the RPG happened not in the game, but in the 2D GUI, in the pause menu. You collected stuff in the game, but used it in the 2D menu. When you think about it in design terms, is that right to say to people – you can spend 1-2-3 hours collecting experience, but when you level up, it’s done in a really basic tedious almost DOS-like way. The other thing in Fable 3 was Co-Op. A lot of people in Fable 2 whilst I think it was an achievement to get it in the game, they said – we hate the idea of having one single camera – so detaching that, so to do things more in Fable than just fight. Fable allows you to do lots of stuff. Talking to people, getting married, having kids. Why can’t you regard co-op as someone to do that with. All the game features – pretty much all – you can do the same with a co-op partner as you can with the NPCs. Uniquely, you can marry, befriend, chat-up your co-op player. Whilst us gamers – two blokes – don’t want to get married, have sex, have children. There are other people who have to say to their wife or darling, I’m going to go off and play my game now, well now you can get married to your partner in real life – why don’t we have an intimate moment while we play Fable 3- obviously it’s not quite asa realistc, but a lot less messy. Perhaps. And being able to do that and to have kids, that’s a nice thing, isn’t it – why don’t we have a child – not in real life, in a game. At least you can offset that time when you have children by at least mont. I love that, and I love the idea of sharing, sharing what you’re able to do, the idea of I am grinding for gold, you are grinding for experience, I love the idea that one co-op person can buy a house and another person can earn money to customise it. That sounds great.

the other thing that’s itneresting is the actual story threat. In Fable 2, the interesting thing – i was talking to the press back at E3 – every interview I asked what the story was. None of them could remember anything. They couldn’t even remember the meta, the big plot point. The Spire being built, this evil guy doing it. That seemed wrong to me. Without having a clear structure. One of the things we wanted to do was to have something very clear about the story. The story in Fable 3 is this simple. You are going to be a revolutionary who is going to overthrow this tyranical king who is doing horrible stuff in Albion, gather forces, storm the castle, take him out and then become king yourself. People are much more likely to remember that, to anticipate it, to clearly understand it. Very often especially with the Fable series, the big story point, what you’re doing it and why is often lost in the noise of a lot of characters. Something very clear and simple is very key.

But that’s not enough. We have to get people to care. So what we found was we really needed to reinforce this rebel point. About a year ago, we started off, we have this evil king, Logan, he’s not a nice guy. In fact, he was genuinely unpleasant. That was a word. They didn’t get it, he wasn’t terrible enough. We kept on layering more and more awful things for him to do. Now by the time you play the game, within the first 15 minutes, he’s done an unforgiveable thing. Every 10 minutes, we remind the player by what they see, not by voice necessarily, the consequences of his tyrannical rule. It’s so easy to forget why I’m here – that’s why we do that. Especially with a game like Fable. In Fable 2, people got hugely distracted with earning gold, houses, and even though we had something like the breadcrumb trail, you still needed to remind people this is why you’re here. That’s that awful thing – av oice saying, why don’t you go to Bower lake and find the… that was repeated every 2 minutes. Instead we try and do it more subtly this time.

Again, letting people be who they are – that’s not only who they are physically and how they interact with things in the world, but who they become when they are king. I love this idea, even though I know very few people will be tyranical like king, I love the idea that you have the opportunity to have your kingdom be even worse. You may be that sort of bastard. Constantly reflecting what the player does. That’s why we have John Cleese – he reflects that, as well as people in the world.

One of the other things – humour. Humour is making people laugh in Fable is absolutely essential. We’ve got a brilliant writer, Mark Hill, fantastic, humorous dialogue – John Cleese, Stephen Fry, then they are naturally funny people so I would say, abotu 20% of the lines you will hear are actually from their mouths and minds rather than from us. It’s important we give them the freedom to do that.

Now let’s talk abotu the GUI. I can talk about it here. That’s the GUI. This for me in Fable 3 is the biggest feature. This is our GUI that we had in Fable 2. It was based on these lists. We asked the player to scroll up and down the lists, these lists had sub-menus. They meant that you, the player, had to keep an eye on the left and right hand side, which is in complete opposite to what we did in the main game, we asked you to look at the top and bottom. Again, it seems like bad design. These submenus often had submenus, those submenus could have up to 300 items to scroll through. That’s just not good enough for today’s world. You can’t get people excited about scrolling down some menu. A picture of a sword is not going to do it for people. The first thing we did was, the crazy way that I work. Right, Fable 3 – no single list in the whole entire game. Everything you do is in the world. To be honest with you, that was a crazy thing to say, but I set the problem for people. They’ve done a fantastic job. We’re going to take a look today. We’ve measured how fast it was to do things in here vs how fast it is to do them in a 3D world. The main portion I wanted to replace was the map in Fable 2 which was boring, tedious, no one even knew it was a map, the second was how you level up. Levelling up is such a wonderful thing to do but atrociously iplemented. When we look at it I’ll show you.

On combat, I think – Josh Oatkins has done an amazing job – all his work. So an amazing job to take one button combat we had in Fable 2 and make it really, really work. Now the stuff you can do is really amazing, very tough to balance freedom and balance and accessibility to balance it with the difficulty curve that core gamers require versus casual gamers.

So I could go through these slides, but let’s just switch to the demo.

We’ll switch to the demo now, while we’re doing it, we’ll take some questions.

This is oldschool. Me doing a demo and a talk at the same time. This is the build as it is at the moment. Firstly, we can look at anything. I’m not policed anymore. Secondly, there are a lot of bugs. A tonne of bugs.

What I’m going to show you is very near the start of the game – EscapeCave. This is within the first 25 minutes of the game. I’m going to show you how we’re introducing game features. THis is a another huge mistake we – I – made, throwing features on a player. Going to give you al lthis and chuck it on the player. This time we’re going to be a lot more paced. One of the things we do – 2 things – we give you the game features slowly, but secondly, you choose the game features.

That voice there is someone called walter. He’s your mentor character. Where we are in teh story is that we’re just escaping the castle. We’re escaping my brother, the tyranical king. There’ sjust 3 of us. This is our first unveil that you’re going to be the hero. ONe of the things you can do is import your saved game from Fable 2 and that allows us to theme part of the world around the Fable 2 game. There’s some small things that are happening. Basically, in this tomb here is the hero of Fable 2. You are playing his son or daughter. This is just the point where you discover that you are a hero. For those people who are fan of deep mythology. It’s always the second son or daughter. My mentor is going to help me through the whole game. This is King Theoden from LotR. Bernard Hill, thank you! Absolutely fantastic character. Something nasty happens to him, I won’t spoil what it is. I pick up the guild seal, I pick up the seal… This is when you first become really powerful. Why has it gone black? This is when you get first powerful. I’m going introduce you now to this. This is the equivalent to our experience screen. Those bars when you get 16 to 17. This is our visual equivalent. This woman here you can’t hear – the volume’s low – she’s Teresa, she’s explaining this to me. Each of these gates is a level just like level 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 6. As we travel through them, we unlock them by playing the game, we’re getting nearer and closer to becoming king. I love that visual metaphor, the journey to rule, the road to power. It also introduce our one and only currency for the player to think about. It’s guild seals / followers. You get it for doing everything you do in the game. In Fable 2, you only got 4 different types of experience – thrown all that away, replaced it with this. You get stuff for getting married, chatting people up, doing anything in the world you can get this currency. You spend it on – I’ve just gone up a level by opening a gate. You spend this experience on – I’m going to fly you somewhere. You spend it opening gates and this stuff. These chests are essentially – these are your different abilities that you can choose to spend your seals on. You can buy houses – this chest here. You may want a big bastard sword. So in this chest, you can get big bastard swords. You can choose your game features as you journey. Hopefully I haven’t messed things up. Teresa has explained this to me – open this chest up. That’s the global way of levelling up. There’s another levelling up mechanic that I love. That is that you can level up this. It looks phallic at the moment – this is your fist of power – (laughter) – what it is, all weapons, every single one, the gauntlet that you wear, the sword that you hold, the hammer, the gun, the rifle, those will level up. The actual physical thing will level up. They will all morph to reflect what sort of fighter you are, how good you are. That allows me as a player, as a gamer to craft by use some really cool unique weapons which I can trade, or gift, to my friends or enemies. Let’s go back to the game now. I do that by going through here.

OK – I’m going to walk on. Any questions about this stuff so far?

Q: (inaudible)
A: Absoultely, it’s crucial to let us take that choice – as a woman, you start the game as a princess, you have a boyfriend – my mind was going somewhere with that – the good thing is, a bad thing about Fable 2. All our women did look like russian shopkeepers, in Fable 3 I’m glad to say that they have curves and soft bits. All morphing of course.

So we’ve reintroduced this one simple thing. We get this animation here, I don’t like it at all. This is this one fireball spell. Now probably of our 3 combat systems what’s changed the most is the spell system. Just go down into this – the escape cave. This was built by my father, the hero of Fable 2, he knew this was going on, this is like the batcave, you can think of my butler as Alfred from Batman. Here we have the cave. One of the tcool things about Fable – this is not a vista. This is all navigable. We’re going to be wandering down here later on. Looks like a vista. I love that most of our tech – our levels are 4x bigger, if you can see it, generally speaking, you’re probably going to be navigating it. Incidentaly, this – down here, these four icons, this whistle, getting rid of it. We hate this thing now. If we don’t have that, then you just have this beautiful clear view. This is what we want it to look like. No bars, stats, numbers, we don’t need them. They’re inside the world. We’re travelling along here, these two guys, they’ll comment on things I do, they’re companions, you spend a lot of Fable 3 time travelling through – it’s hard to do this and talk. Oh, we’ve got some bats. I’m going to show you some magic – you can tap the btuton, and push with joypad, I fire at range. Or you can hold and you build up and charge the spell. We don’t ever cap these holds. If you really want to, I’ve done this years ago, if you want to go to bed and rest a coffee button on your b button and wake up 12 hours later, then absolutely, you can do that. You can see some of that. How it enhances. I love that feeling of power, of why should we cap these things. What we do change is that you level up the gauntlet. So it unlocks special moves. The other thing is that we change the chargeup time. I’m going to go forward to another level and take another question. I really want to show you the GUI.

Let’s do that now. Not working. Ah, OK. I have 15 minutes. Geez, I haven’t even started the demo. Any questions? In the middle.

Q: What you were saying about keeping the player focussed on the objective. What happens when you become king? By the sound of it, it becomes a dead end. You achieve everything, how do you intend to keep the player focussed after that?
A: The temptation to keep the player focussed – I want to talk about that actually. Either have this voice saying – you should go over there, over there, or even more lazily, have a bar saying you should go over there. I don’t think that’s – what we’re trying to do here is to keep you engaged but allow you freedom. The breadcrumb trail had its critics from Fable. They really don’t know I’m showing this off. They’ll be so angry.

Fable 2 had that version of telling people. Now, setting up in the player’s mind this mentor character. If you’ve got walter or Jasper later on there are other characters, then that’s a great way of helping you with that reminding system. Not pushing, but making that character sensitive to what you’re doing. If you’re hcatting up a girl, they’re not going to come up to you and say go to the lake, go to the lake. With Walter, if he sees you doing something, he’s going to say – I';m going to wait in tihs pub, when you’re finished, come and get me. The breadcrumb trail will update from going to the lake to going to Walter. We fade it up and down depending on what you’re doing. If you’re in the midle of buying a a house, we’re not going to have this throbbing glowing thing. In the balance thing – we’re balancing this thing – the breadcrumb trail. If I took this and for a few minutes, it drastically changes peoples experiences. That’s what’s so lovely about designing a game around it, it replaces the map. If I fade it out to almost nothing and you’re standing still, I fade it up, I can pull you along. You do’t feel like you have this voice in your head.

This is only about 15 minutes further on. [wolves]. You can see that I – again, very simple combat, I can build up a massive spell. Now here’ sthe thing I love. This button here, when you pressed it in Fable 2, it bought up the 2d gui. Now it bring sup into this place, the sanctuary. In this place, this is where your butler lives. We’ve only just discovered it. The sanctuary is part of the story. And so he is unveiling, unlocking, these different rooms which are coincidentally, our game features. This is my dressing room. To change my clothes, I walk up to something and press A, that’s it. I’ve changed my clothes. Not wading through hundreds of options. I can use the stick to alter parts of my body, we know few people will do that. I can scroll through this. You get more manequins. Also we unlock more stuff in this room – you can learn about dying, the road to rule, some people never dye stuff. Any time, I can press the start button, back in the game. That’s how quick it is to swap between it. The thumb stick usage is less than going through a 2d menu. I love that, I love it’s in the world. This – the living map. We call it al iving map. It allows you to scroll round. Albion is still alive in this map, it helps in your journey to rule. This is where I am at the moment. Earlier on if I’d gone into it, you’d see the wolves there. It makes you feel you’re still in the world. Any questions about what you’ve seen there?

Q: I wondered if you’d done anything – you’ve almost touched on it – to address loading.
A: I know, I hate loading. I really hate it. I knew everyone. Now I know journalists are going to slag us off about it. This level here is a pretty vast level. I’ll fly around it a bit. You can see it’s vast. We want to try and keep you in it for as long as we can, everything navigable. We’ve got a big problem – a lot of our world is persistent. We can’t afford the memory footprint of keeping it in memory. We experimented with stream loading. Let me just cheat.

Q: I only just got an XBOX 360 a couple weeks ago. I haven’t played Fable 2 yet. I played Fable 1. I bought it as a late game. What I wanted to ask – you had companions – those two henchmen are like your companions. Do they beat the shit out of you when you do bad things – stop that, stop that, he doesn’t deserve it, blah blah blah.
A: The question was – do your companions beat you up. Certainly, they – John Cleese – he’s not a physically strong person. He doesn’t beat you up. He does chastise you verbally. And some of that will make you laugh. People will love that idea, you can do ridiculous things, when you’re crowned king, you can put on a chicken costume. He’ll comment on that. For Walter, when you become a rebel, he’ll turn round and say – that’s not right what you just did. He doesn’t stab you in the heart, he does comment on what’s right and wrong. Making you feel not guilty – not a good emotion – making you feel the consequenes are important. I don’t think they’re with you the whole time. Jasper is there for a lot of it, he’s in the sanctuary.

Q: In Fable 2 your actions never seemed like they had much consequence. You could piss them off, and 30 seconds they’d love you again.
A: Yeah, they didn’t have an effect on the meta story. What we have now – we have promises. On your journey to rule, we are – (Brightwall Village) forcing you to take promises. They’ll say I will support you on your journey to become ruler if you promise to do this. This might be a huge thing. It might be reinstating lands. It might be promising to turn a factory into a school. In this case, we’re going to Brightwall, this was a university town, the Librarian says I’ll follow you if you’ll give us the money to reinstate. You are completely free to totally ignore and rub their noses in the promise and do awful things or to keep the promise Everything changes around the world. Promises will change the entirety of the makeup, some will change individuals. We’ve just turned up.

This is me going off quest now, the breadcrumb trail is fading in again, I’ve decided I don’t want to do that, I want to walk up this person, take them by the hand and go for a drink. Why? Because I’m make him my friend, he’ll like me and he’ll follow me. Anyway, Fable 3…

Q: Can you build up armies that way?
A: Yes, armies, very good question. We give you – you have got an army. Do you enter into a battle with 100k of your troops.

Q: You friended him, can you do that to a bunch.
A: They will follow you around the world, they will comment on you. Is that a core game feature, no it’s not. If I want to I can play the entirety of the game, holding this guy’s hand. But why you’d want to do that, if I start doing things, I wonder if I can odo this. Belching. ONly got 2 expressions at the moment. Do that again. Going to try to take hand again. No. I need to do a bit more work on him. If he gets scared, you’ll end up dragging him along, on the ground.