“The problem with storing your iPad in your underpants is the lovely buttock-crease imprint on the screen, and you’ll have to remember to take it out, because I did sit on it once.”
This intimate storage method is a particularly strange habit of famed game designer Peter Molyneux’s, especially considering the ironic effect of keeping his pricey tablet against his bare ass: “People strangely don’t want to share mine,” he half-jokingly tells me.
Particularly strange because the Brit loves the concept of people touching things…at least in his gaming projects. While talking to the press about his last game, Fable III, he used to describe how he wanted his virtual characters to connect via physical contact — and he wanted the players to feel this bond, too.
He’s taking this philosophy to the next level with 2012’s Fable: The Journey, an action/role-playing game that uses the Xbox 360’s motion-sensing Kinect to, well, connect the player to the world in his television set. Whether it’s petting (or comforting or healing or whipping) your best-pal horse or casting magic with gentle to “I’m going to blow you the hell up!” movements, Molyneux wants you to feel his game in a way you’ve never experienced before.
Why the obsession with touch? And what exactly does he have planned for the Kinect that may change the way future developers use the platform? We carefully sat down for an interview with Molyneux during the recent Xbox Spring Showcase 2012 (check out our other news and previews) to find out more.
GamesBeat: What is your deal with wanting to make sure that the gamer is always attached to something in your games? You went over that with Fable III. You wanted the touch…
Peter Molyneux: Yeah…I wasn’t terribly happy with Fable III.
With gaming, you used to just mess around and try things out and experiment, and wonderful things would happen. That still happens in games like Minecraft for sure, but why shouldn’t we approach that with a device like Kinect and say to ourselves, “Well, hang on a second. If Fable: The Journey never tells you how to do something, if part of the experience and the joy is discovering how to use your body, just maybe that will feel far more enjoyable than me giving you loads of tutorials.” And that’s what is wonderful about Kinect. The rules haven’t been set.
The trouble with controllers, you know, is all the rules are now carved in stone. You never pick up games anymore that use the controller in a different way. They all use it in exactly, precisely the same way. Your thumb is on the thumb stick, your finger is on the trigger, you pull the trigger, and a gun shoots or a sword swings or a spell is cast. That’s it. There’s no invention; there’s no inventiveness anymore at all.
I love, I adore, that Kinect is new. I adore the fact that people don’t understand how to control the games. I think that’s going to feel fantastic. And when you’re in The Journey, and we give you magic, we just say, “You’ve got magic.” We don’t tell you, “Raise your hand.” We just let you solve the problem. Then you discover exactly what it feels like.
Sometimes I want to throw spells like this [aggressive throwing motion], because I’m pissed off. Other times I want to be gentle. I want to be subtle. But I let you make up your mind as far as how you approach that, rather than those hard and fast rules on controllers. Does that make sense?
GamesBeat: That makes sense. When did that kind of light bulb turn on for you as far as wanting players to put actual emotion into their movements for the Kinect?
PM: Everything that you do is very analog with the Kinect. It’s not digital at all; it’s not on/off. You’re not pressing a button — it’s the speed of your arm, how much force you’re putting behind it. When you start doing that, you wonder, “Why am I pushing my arm out so much?” And you think, “I must be facing someone that I really, really want to kill.”
The great example of this is riding the horse. When we first implemented it, we had a system where you went, “Snap” [reins-whipping motion], and he walked. Snap again and he trotted. Snap again and he galloped. That was it.
And it was rubbish. It was absolute rubbish because what Kinect allows you to do is to be far, far more analog than that, and we realized that if I get you to put in as much effort as the horse is, to really sprint, then it actually feels like you’re far more emotionally connected with the horse. And that’s wonderful.
So now it’s all about — we actually wrote this [in our design documents] — you talk to your horse through those reins. You can make him laugh; you can tickle him with the reins. It doesn’t really have an effect on the game, but it is an emotional link between what you’re doing with your body and what happens on screen. And if we get that right, it really is glorious.
GamesBeat: Why is that so important?
PM: To start off with, I think it’s important because it’s another discovery. And also, what we’re trying to do is immerse you in a world, isn’t it? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to make you believe you’re actually there. And if you’re using your body in the way that you use your body, rather than the way I want you to use your body, then you’re much more likely to feel like you’re there.
GamesBeat: Can you give some examples about how we can use the Kinect in deeper ways than we’re traditionally used to? Like during the demo, when the player pulled the arrow out of his horse with an awkward angle, and the horse winced in pain?
PM: The healing. It feels lovely to place your hands on things and heal things. There are a few times that we dot things around the world for you to heal, because we know people like to do that.
So there’s one moment — I hope this stays in the game. We have to be careful because at this stage of the project we do cut things, and things like this are easy to cut, but it’s the spirit of what it is rather than whether it’s actually in the game. Anyway, there’s a little bunny rabbit on the side of the road, and it’s dead. And I know that some people love bunny rabbits, and they’ll want to reach down and use the power of the gauntlets to heal the bunny rabbit.
Unfortunately, the side effect of healing is that you can heal anything in the world, but something else living has to pay the price for that. So if you heal the little bunny rabbit, there will be a little puppy dog bouncing along the road…bring the rabbit back to life, and the puppy falls down dead. I love the choices and the consequences of that.
GamesBeat: Now, don’t you feel like there’s a bit of an overlap between the puppy-loving audience and the bunny-loving audience? It’s not that you’re giving joy to one group and —
PM: Absolutely, absolutely. But I can just imagine people’s reactions. “Oh my God, what have I done to the puppy?” As the rabbit hops away. And there are a few times we use this in the story. Someone comes to you and says, “Please help me. Please help me. I’m really badly wounded.” And you know that, OK, this is your friend in the game, and they’re going to give you something, but when you heal them, someone else is going to get hurt. I love the morality that gameplay gives.
PM: So often we think that emotion in gaming is all about storytelling. It’s all about a story you tell and the characters you’ve got. And that is incredibly important, but I find there’s a lot of emotion in your connection, your ability to connect to the world.
You can sit back, and I can tell you the most wonderful story…I can get the most brilliant screenwriters and the most brilliant actors, and I can probably make you cry with a story. But you’re far more likely to be emotionally engaged if you are involved, if it is your choice. It’s your choice to heal that rabbit. But the consequence of that is the puppy dies.
It’s your choice whether you want to thrash your horse, and the leather hitting the back of your horse will hurt your horse. And the next time you stop, you’ll see bits of blood dripping from the reins. That’s your choice. And maybe sometimes you have to push your horse and hurt him, but you’ll still feel emotionally engaged. I think that consequence of your choice and your gameplay makes that experience far more connected.