Peter Molyneux In Bold Claim Shocker

By Jim Rossignol on April 7th, 2009 at 1:16 pm.


VG247 have been talking to shy and reclusive game developer Peter Molyneux about Lionhead’s ambitions. They want to tell the greatest story ever. The developer said:

“The greatest story ever told? I think it’s going to be in a computer game. And I think that if I play the greatest story ever told in the same game as you play it, your greatest story is going to be different to my greatest story. And that is power.”

Blimey. I hate stories, me. Just give me a box of toys. But what about you?

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94 Comments »

  1. Hmm-hmm. says:

    Hmm. Isn’t Molyneux known to have grand goals for his games?

    Of course, I love me a good story, and if he wants to aim for such a lofty (and unreachable, IMO) goal, I’m all for it.

  2. Über Nerd says:

    Gratest story may be told by a computer game at some point in future, true, but I pretty sure it won’t be told by Mister Molyneux.

  3. Nutkins Victory Otter says:

    As I don’t believe you’d miss the point so, I tip my hat to your masterful trolling Mr Rossignol.

  4. Bobsy says:

    He’s entirely right, at least until something better than computer games turns up. But it won’t be him that makes it. Sorry, Pete.

    And Über Nerd gets there first with the exact same comment as me. Damn him to the hells.

  5. cliffski says:

    Stories are great in linear things such as movies and books.
    In games freedom+excitement > story.
    Stories imply beginning, middle and end. Games are what I do to have fun, and I want to be able to stop and start my fun at will without having to ‘finish’ stuff.
    I guess I prefer toys to games.

  6. James G says:

    I like a good story, and find that scripted narrative in games still had the edge in terms of depth and meaning over the more dynamic gameplay-derived story. I don’t think this gap will remain forever more, and I think we’ll also increasingly see developers trying to hybridise the two approaches. I know some have suggested that only the latter approach belongs in games, and I’d certainly agree that dynamic stories that arise out of gameplay are ones not seen in many other media, such as books and film. However if we look at where dynamic story does emerge in other media (largely other forms of play) such as improv, P&P RPG, LARPing, make-believe, in all cases the story still develops with large input from one or several humans. Its possibly no co-incidence that some of the most interesting non-scripted story comming out of gaming comes from EVE Online, where it develops almost exclusively from human input.

    Of course, a sandbox approach is also fun, and in them play is capable of generating experiences which are in themselves worth recounting. However that is not to say they have any real narrative depth. (Nor to say that they should)

  7. Meat Circus says:

    I can only assume that Mr Rossignol is merely pretending to have misunderstood what Molyneux said, for the lulz?

    Anyway, we all know that Molyneux’s next game will be Fable 3, after Jonathan Ross tweeted about it carelessly.

  8. NuZZ says:

    Maybe when games get even bigger budgets and greater development times coupled with competent developers. Then, lets hope they embrace at least wikipedia and MAKE-SHIT-MAKE-SENSE. I can’t wait for the day when there is a game or movie which actually tries to make the laws of nature seem applicable to the experience. One example might be all these futuristic games where every single goddamn planet in these games seems to have earth-like gravity; earth-like atmospheric pressure, density, composition… etc. That’s just the freaking atmosphere! Just think how much screw up there is. I really get rilled up. Things like this end immersion and piss me off, and I’m no scientist. Imagine how they feel! Lawl :D

  9. leelad says:

    The best story ever told is that of WoWkilluler Rasa.

    It ended very apruptly and no sequel apprently. LAZY!

  10. Sum0 says:

    My favourite games are the ones that generate their own stories. You know, when you just have to tell someone “I was driving a bike along a bridge in GTA when I flew off the edge on fire and leapt off just as it crashed into a truck and exploded” or “I only had 40 militia and a demi-cannon and I defended Warsaw against a thousand-strong army” or perhaps the epitome of story-generating games, “So this legendary axedwarf went berserk and killed his pet cow and went on a rampage before being cornered by the security forces, falling into a well and drowning”.

    Obviously any degree of interactivity lets you make your own stories, but in something like HL2, for example – so heavily driven by its own plot – there’s little room to improvise your own.

  11. Jim Rossignol says:

    Has the greatest story already been told?! Omg.

    EDIT: Click through and read the rest of the story before commenting, btw.

  12. SInnerman says:

    The greatest story ever told is the Holy Bible starring Charlton Heston. Are games the Holy Bible? I don’t think so.

  13. Jim Rossignol says:

    Heh, I was just about to edit my post to similar effect. “The Greatest Story Ever Told isn’t the greatest story ever told, says Molyneux.”

  14. roBurky says:

    I think if games are going to tell a story greater than anything done in any other medium, it’s going to be something using a similar style to Masq. Something short, where you get to replay the same situation over and over, and learn far more about the characters than you ever could from a single linear story. A story that is more than a sequence of events, which is the normal definition of a story.

  15. RARGPHLAM says:

    I’ve always loved Molyneux, there’s just something right about the guy. Sure, his games might not be up to his vision, but he’s just so chipper and goodwilled.

    Also, this seems to hark on the whole “the greatest story ever told is YOURS” thing. There’s the very obvious problem of games being an interactive medium, so I’d suppose that the greatest story ever told would be the one in which the most meaning could be derived from the most player input.

    I think that as long as someone is dreaming of being the Dostoevsky or the Goethe or the Shakespeare of games it’s good, as long as they remember the limitations of their artform.

  16. Ian says:

    The Bible: The Game!

  17. Zarniwoop says:

    Am I the only person who thought the title read “Peter Molyneux In Bald Claim Shocker”?

  18. Sum0 says:

    Limitations, or limiTUNITY? I truly believe games can have a plot better than the Godfather, but by treating games as interactive movies, it’s not going to happen. Fahrenheit comes to mind – a brilliant piece of work (until you Jump the Train) – an engaging plot and characters and writing – but ultimately it’s not making the most of being a game. That is, you could film it, or just treat it as machinima, and it would still work.

    To make a good plot, developers just need to throw away the script.

  19. lumpi says:

    We need an anti-story revolution.
    Seriously.

    Too many new games go are made something like this:

    Hire the writer from Alien.

    Make it so, that you shoot when you press “A”. Add impressive cut scenes for advertising and gamespot video reviews. Repeat.

    Game reviewers will love it, since their only comparison are other embarrassing and trashy back stories about Nazi super-soldiers.

    In the end, you get a bad movie that only continues to the next scene once you press that “A” button. And game mechanics reduced to… well, let’s say a “B” button would be too confusing for our target audience.

  20. yhancik says:

    Peter is right, but Peter is wrong.

    Games are regarded as “bad” at storytelling because traditional storytelling makes terrible games or gaming moments (see cutscenes).
    An interactive game with a reasonable level of freedom can’t surpass a linear, passive medium in *that kind of storytelling*. You, Peter, won’t write that greatest story in a game, even if you go all Kojima with hours long dialogues.

    Games shouldn’t tell you stories, but allow you to experience them. The model shouldn’t be linear fiction, but life (although not the real one).
    This is what Sum0 was explaining above, and where Peter is right. Too bad he’s so wrong beside it :p

  21. Jim Rossignol says:

    I’ve got a huge anti-story rant to reel off at some point. It’s not quite as people might expect, however, and I think Molyneux chimes in nicely with it.

  22. Kompi says:

    I think he has a point to a degree (and I think Sum0 et all puts it rather well) – though I don’t think it’s so much about the story itself being greater but the way the viewer/player is attached to it. Of course, there’s a danger in that since when confronted with the limitations of story, the first thing many a player will do is seek to break or defy it.

    I’m told that a mark of some of the actors/resses famous for being good is their ability to improvise their character. Though how you’d teach a game how to improvise I have no idea.

    Additionally, am I the only one wohm the title reminded of that pre-show of Fable 2 with Molyneux started with him going “I have a confession to make: I am a woman.”?

  23. Matt says:

    You can keep your box of toys. Games that breathlessly offer me “choice! sandbox gameplay!” make me roll my eyes nowadays. Sure I can make my own story like (to shamelessly retell Sum0′s story) “I was driving a bike along a bridge in GTA when I flew off the edge on fire and leapt off just as it crashed into a truck and exploded” but it holds no dramatic or narrative weight, so in the end, it’s empty, and I lose my interest.

    I really want a game with a good story. I want compelling characters that do compelling things that send me along a compelling narrative. If it’s a good story, I don’t give two shakes if it’s uniquely mine or not.

    To me, Call of Duty 4 and Half-Life 2 were much more gratifying experiences than any GTA or Far Cry 2.

  24. Mister Adequate says:

    I can see it happening, but as has been said, games have to get out of the mindset of being linear storytelling mediums. They can be, but it really doesn’t let them live up to the potential they’ve got, ie. interactivity. And that doesn’t mean choosing between “saving the kittens” and “selling an orphan’s organs for crack money”. It means giving choices which are all tempting, which all have good and bad sides to them – pretend in FFVII you had to kill Aerith, but that you could choose not to. Then you had to find another way to deal with things (Maybe you couldn’t, and if you didn’t kill her yourself before Meteor hit, the world ended). Just a very basic top-of-my-head example.

    Also, bring gameplay into storytelling. Let’s pretend you need to buy time for your main party to escape: you can choose one or two people to leave behind. They stand and fight the enemy until they die; once they do so, you switch to the rest of your party, who have exactly as long as the others lasted to run. The value of their sacrifice varies, and if they fall in 30 seconds it won’t do as much good as if they last for 10 minutes. (And there should be another path too, where they are so hard that they actually survive, leading to a demoralized enemy force, rumors about their hardness, etc. etc.)

  25. dhex says:

    i admit to being somewhat mystified as to why molyneux gets any serious attention these days. his whole comment boils down to “your individual experiences are important to you!” which is kinda obvious.

    meaner version: who gave this asshole a copy of zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance?

  26. Jeremy says:

    I think for me, more than anything, the story is what draws me to any game. Not to say that I don’t enjoy a game like Farcry 2 which is just a lot of chaotic destruction and fun, but it would never be a favorite of mine. I don’t think we can even have the same expectations of game storytelling (dynamic) that we have of literary storytelling (linear) either, it is a completely different medium which is much more interactive, and with that there are limitations as well as freedoms.

    Something that games can do with stories that would be very difficult almost impossible for literature is to create a story with the world itself, a great example is Fallout 3. For me, the main storyline was mostly a boring, standard fare sort of story, nothing that really drew me in. Son looks for dad, manages to save the world or destroy it, and even then, the breadth of choices were ridiculously limited in terms of good vs. evil. Why would an indifferent/evil son even follow that storyline in the first place? But I digress, the world was the story for me, all the little details that drew me in, and the ability to create your own stories within this world. A family so obsessed with survival that it cannibalized all strangers that managed to find them, Vault experiments gone horribly wrong, sometimes you didn’t even have to see a person to know their story, like the tapes of the son with the father turning into a ghoul. It created a context for people to understand the world they found themselves in, and for me it made Fallout 3 one of the most compelling games I’ve ever played.

  27. Bobsy says:

    I’d like to direct the assembled company to the Empire: Total War thread over in the forum. Now, I’ll freely admit I’m not telling it well, but the story that is emerging as a collaboration between myself and the game is incredibly engaging, easily on the level of your finest Kotors. And no-one wrote it in advance. This is the magic of gaming, and it’s something that can’t be matched by any kind of intricate scripting.

  28. Dan (WR) says:

    The benefit of storytelling in games might be the personalisation that comes with becoming an avatar, but I think that the real storytelling comes afterwards when those personalised stories are shared communally like variations on folktales – at which point, is it really the game’s story or the player’s story? For great story, games need to provide freedom, not scripts.

    I think if games are going to generate great stories it’ll come from the interactions of different players within a game-space rather than different experiences of a single-player narrative. Although the obvious retort is that such things are easily spoiled by the ‘lol, whut?!’ crowd, even dickish behaviour can spin into a compelling narrative. ‘Bow, Nigger’ for instance. That might not be ‘story’ in the grand epic sense of something like a Bioware narrative, but such tales are usually much more interesting.

  29. Bobsy says:

    @Jim I think there’s unnecessary conflict over story in games due to people’s rather definition of what story is. I use it to cover linear and non-linear, scripted and improvised story alike. A rant against scripting is not necessarily a rant against story.

    But then PLUS! There is a steamy fight in games today between what I clumsily describe as “sport” games and “story” games. Essentially, Quake 3 as the former, Half-Life as the latter.

  30. yhancik says:

    @Kompi:
    “Though how you’d teach a game how to improvise I have no idea.”

    Well treat the NPCs as actors, and teach them to improvise.
    Give them a character, an history (not a story), define by a set of rules and numbers how they would act in certain situations, how they would interact with the surrounding world, and see what happens!

    http://aigamedev.com/interviews/stalker-alife
    http://tale-of-tales.com/DramaPrincess/wp/

    You could probably go away with it, but it *might* end up being slightly Sims-boring.
    What we’d need then is a kind of Director that would provoke a couple of interesting events around you, using the available places and characters around.

  31. Bobsy says:

    @Dan (WR)
    Bow Nigger has been invoked. IT IS TIME.

    IT IS TIME.

    30 days have elapsed. The bats shall be released.

  32. PsyW says:

    I’m with you, Matt. Why does everything have to be 100% freeform? I really enjoyed Mount and Blade, but it sure as hell wasn’t for the story!

    Yes, technically, I was making my own story as I went along, but it was “man goes to Calradia. He becomes a mercenary. After recruiting a few people with limited personalities he gallops around chasing bandits and hitting them till they fall over. Eventually one of the kingdoms recruits him, and then makes him a Lord. After a mostly successful campaign against their enemies, he retires from adventuring and lives happily ever after. The End.”

    Hm. Compelling. It may be *my* story, but I’d enjoy a sweeping, fully voice-acted narrative written by someone else more. I loved KOTOR and I still think HL2 and its episodes were a triumph. The gameplay was excellent, but the storytelling really contributed to my enjoyment.

  33. JulianP says:

    What Sum0 and yhancik said. Developers need to to fully exploit the unique characteristics of the medium for video games to advance as an exciting new arena for story telling.

  34. Paul Moloney says:

    I think atmosphere is more important than story (as in, plot). Looking at my list of favourite games, from Elite onwards, they all nail that sense of place (let’s fact it, Elite had no story whatsover, and even came with a novella in order to give it one). I’m loving Stalker, even though I only have a vague idea what the hell I’m supposed to be doing in the greater scheme of things.

    P.

  35. Jeremy says:

    I don’t think that there has to be a division between dynamic and linear storytelling within games, I think that actually has been the problem from the start. There is the main (linear) storyline that you follow until you hit a certain point, then you do 18 hours of side quests, then hit the storyline back up and finish the game. There is no continuity between choices you make in side quests(I use this term loosely) and the overall story. A game with only a sandbox would become stale very quickly.

  36. Rich_P says:

    I guess I prefer toys to games.

    Well said cliffski. That’s why I’ve always liked the Will Wrights and Sid Meiers of the world. They create games and toys, not storybooks with $60 pricetags :D.

    With Civ IV, for example, I find myself dreaming up convoluted explanations for the AI’s motives. The subsequent story of my game world, which has its own unique terrain and circumstances, is more exciting than most videogames stories, if only because I created it. I’m sure players of The Sims feel the same way about their games.

    Side note: having the AI create situations unique to your game is one of the coolest things. See Tom Francis’ article about his unique AI buddy in Oblivion Nights of the Nine.

  37. Rich_P says:

    I think atmosphere is more important than story

    Team Fortress 2 soundly agrees. Not much of a story, but the atmosphere is absolutely perfect.

  38. Bobsy says:

    let’s fact it, Elite had no story whatsover

    WHOA THERE HOMBRE.

    Do your own experiences, your path through the game, not count as a story?

    HERE IS A HINT: THEY TOTALLY DO.

  39. Jim Rossignol says:

    Didn’t the original Elite actually come with a novella bundled in the box?

  40. yhancik says:

    your path through the game, not count as a story

    It’s again a question of “what to define as a story”.
    I guess here Paul meant “pre-written story”, as the one Molyneux is hoping to write one day :p

    Hey, to me the “atmosphere” is part of the story too. It’s an unwritten story of your surrounding.

    I suppose the “story” of the “anti-story” people is the one about your character. “You will start here, talk to this guy, find that object to unlock that zone, where you will meet this character who will [...] and finally save the world”.

  41. Bobsy says:

    @yhancik, exactly. See my earlier post. In fact, I’ll repeat it:

    @Jim I think there’s unnecessary conflict over story in games due to people’s rather definition of what story is. I use [the word] to cover linear and non-linear, scripted and improvised story alike. A rant against scripting is not necessarily a rant against story.

    And I think it’s the latter rather than the former that Molyneux is getting at. I’m totally with him, but at a discrete distance so no-one thinks we’re together or anything.

  42. yhancik says:

    Yes, Bobsy, that’s what I was referring to by my “again”… and then somewhat forgot what you exactly said and ended up repeating it :p
    But I couldn’t agree more!

  43. Xercies says:

    I like linear games definitly more then sandbox games, I kind of get bored killing prossies in GTA4 so I will just go through the story. I like JRPGS which is just the story and little interaction except moving forward, maybe I’m a bit strange in that regard but most of the great stories I think come from JRPGS especially Final Fantasy(I know what your thinking).

    But I can see sandbox gaming, i just don’t think YOUR story will be ever good as godfather was, remeber you have all that emption and all that sub text and all those signs. Is going over a bridge while its exloding really that intelligent as Godfather. No, and no matter what the game can allow you do do it will never reach those heights because a skilled person is not crafting it.

  44. Gap Gen says:

    I think Alpha Centauri’s story and the way it’s handled is well done. It does have an overall narrative, but it fits seamlessly on top of whatever metanarrative you’re unfolding in playing the game. The written text is powerful enough to be interesting and motivating but sparse enough not to impinge on what the rest of the game tells.

  45. jackflash says:

    Funny how he still says “computer game” even though he doesn’t make computer games any more. I guess part of him remembers that he used to make good stuff for a good platform.

  46. dhex says:

    the story v. “story” (or the reverse if you like) thing is easily illustrated in the theory of jrpgs vs. wrpgs (i.e. satan v. god)

    jrpgs are locked into their stories somewhat like an adventure game. the combat and everything else is grease for the story to slide along.

    wrpgs are far more mutable, and in a few rare cases a la ps:t the story and the game are nearly one and the same. how you play determines how much or little you learn.

    the actual experiences are probably somewhere in between those two extremes.

  47. Bobsy says:

    @yhancik

    We should totally marry.

  48. Paul Moloney says:

    “Didn’t the original Elite actually come with a novella bundled in the box?”

    Yup, as mentioned, indeed it did – The Dark Wheel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Wheel) wonder do I still have somewhere? Written by Rob Holdstock of Mythago Wood fame (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Holdstock)

    I remember turning off the bedroom light and putting my Star Wars soundtracks on full blast to get the full emmersive effect.

    P.

  49. Paul Moloney says:

    Yup, just to be clear, every game has a story (“Pacman swerved left, just missing Clyde’s downward feint, and dashed off screen. Momentarily, the ghosts were confused…”) but not necessarily a plot.

    P.