LionFrog: The Making Of Molyneux

By Alec Meer on June 30th, 2010 at 10:36 pm.

I’m currently recovering from what East Coast Rail laughably calls a train journey from Newcastle to London, but is in fact three hours of sweatbox hell on a locomotive where they’ve taken the time to install wifi but felt air conditioning was an obscene luxury. I was in Newcastle for the GameHorizon conference, which is very much a business thing, but was also attended by the likes of Mark Rein, Charles Cecil and, the man I’m about to quote at length, Peter Molyneux. Here’s what he thinks of his own back catalogue.

P-Mol was there ostensibly to talk up Microsoft’s Kinect motion wotsit for Xbox (which he cutely kept calling ‘Kinext’) and Fable 3, but he also took the audience on a whistlestop tour of Lionhead and Bullfrog’s achievements to date in order to explain how his thinking’s shifted over the years. In an nutshell – the man’s all about accessiblity now, having been down the road of over-complication several times. He had a lot of interesting things to say about genesis of some of 90s PC gaming’s best-loved titles – and also some stuff that kinda hurts. And, this after all being Peter Molyneux, some stuff you may well dispute.

My notes are little incomplete due to hand-based exhaustion as a result of two days of wall-to-wall typing, so forgive the sometimes staccato turns of phrase. Here’s the bulk of it, though.

Populous

“The thing about Populous, it was a complete and utter accident, born out of my own incompetence as a programmer. I couldn’t do wallhugging so I get the user to build the land for me.
The industry in 1989 was very similar to what the social space is now. A lot of calls for innovation but a lot of titles looked the same, a lot of me-too licenses. It was only when you threw something very different into the mix like Populous that you realised that, even though these huge gold rushes are going on, people still want change and innovation. Populous kind of came out of nowhere for me and everyone, and I think that changed things a little bit.

At one point in 1989 Populous accounted for a third of EA’s revenue. They were a lot smaller then, admittedly.”

Powermonger

“Not such a successful product, because I took innovation down this route where introduced too much complexity to what was going on. People wanted the simplicity of Populous. I blame the complexity on Jez San and David Braben. We met down the pub during an interview, and we talking about programming. Everything they wrote was in machine code. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about because I wrote Populous in c. They said “c’s not a proper language, you’re not a proper games indusry person, you should write in assembly language.” So I wrote Powermonger in assembly code, and it was too complicated.”

Populous 2

“I really didn’t dedicate myself to it. It’s very interesting how in those days doing sequels was really really frowned upon. Back in the 1990s, you had to stand up to the press and say “I’m doing a sequel”, and they’d say it was just cashing in. How different that it is today, where you have to totally embrace your sequels and franchises. You have to love them and see them blossom and grow.”

Syndicate

With Populous 2, I felt slightly ashamed that I was doing a sequel, so immediately after doing Populous 2 there came Syndicate. People still ask me about Syndicate today, I think it was one of the first free-roaming games, and again it was us turning round saying ‘hey, why don’t we be innovational?” Actually I think the reason people liked Syndicate was it was one of the first games with a minigun, certainly the first game with a minigun where you can kill innocent people. I think people really loved that idea of just destroying things. It was reasonably successful.”

Magic Carpet
Full of innovation, but the interesting one was…

Theme Park

“On all formats back in the day, it sold about 15m copies which is a huge amount. But here’s the funny thing about it, what ‘s so interesting about it today. Everybody hated developing Theme Park. EA tried to close down it, they said “why you don’t you do another game with miniguns, can’t you shoot babies this time?” Most importantly the team who was making it loathed it – we had one day of strikes where people were refusing to work on it. “Can’t we have a sniper on top of the rollercoaster that takes out the people in the theme park?”

So I said why are we tring to make a game for boys who want to kill things? Can’t we make something softer? Can’t we try something different?”

HiOctane

[only sold 300,000 copies - it was made in six and half weeks when Bullfrog realised they couldn't meet their original deadline for Dungeon Keeper, but still had to get a game out]

Dungeon Keeper

“I look at that and again a little bit too complex I think, but I think the spirit of it was right. I loved the idea of turning things on their head; it’s interesting when we come back to where things are today, turning things on their head, I think there’s a huge opportunity.”

Black & White

“Hugely contentious. In those days there was a huge appetite for new stuff, something that hadn’t existed before. B&W became this pr and hype monster, one of the first games to have fansites. We didn’t have communities as we do now. This terrible disastrous thing happened because of that. In my normal idiotic way, I had gone out to E3 with just 3 bits of paper and spoken to journalists. So Fansites took the design of B&W and started inventing it for themselves. One site would say wouldn’t it be great if one of the monsters was a giant blueberry, then another site would say they’d actually seen the giant blueberry. This terrifying wave of hype built up around it.

It was overcooked on innovation. Not only was it trying to be an iconless interface which was ahead of its time, it combed your PC to find who you are, so if you were playing after midnight it would whisper your name on the speakers. “Peeeeeeter…” Why did we put that in, man? That was just craaazy.” [Also says something about the game being hooked up to 300 global weather stations so that the in-game weather would reflect what it was like where you lived] – “which kinda meant for 60% of our playing population, it was just grey all the time. It was this mad idea, why we did [the weather thing] I don’t know.”

Fable

“We made the transition then. We were smart at spotting the end of the PC, I could just see it tailing off, so we made the transition to Fable. It was reasonably smart idea to take a complex genre like rpg and try and make it more accessible.”

Black and White 2, The Movies

“We then had a little bit of a disaster with Black & White [2], sold a million but it was, y’know, that PC was really going downhill. The same with The Movies: nice idea, overcomplicated. Then this huge success that was Fable 2.”

Ow. Also: hmmm. The end of the PC? The vast bulk of the GameHorizon conference focused on how consoles were living on borrowed time, and social network games and MMOs were taking over. He’s trying to make that kind of stuff work on console, but I can’t help but feel it’s closing the stable door after the megabucks horse has bolted. Bolted all over our browsers. And of course there’s Steam. This old box really isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Retail game sales may be down, but as a barometer of technological and gaming progress, and an opportunity for forward-looking devs to make vast sums of money that don’t depend on the wobbly fortunes and noose-tight licensing of Microsoft, Sony and Nintendo, it’s evergreen.

And so he went to console, and console alone. He’s turned his attention to Kinect, and to the new wave of social games and microtransactions. Fable 3, rather surprisingly also due on PC, will be available as episodes, and feature purchasable in-game items, and, well, most of the buzzwords you can imagine. He describes it as now being an action-adventure rather than an RPG, which I suspect will get more than a few back ups. I’ve largely enjoyed the Fable series to date – though I know many don’t – so I’m happy to reserve judgement. Kinect, well, we’ll see. Not really feeling it myself, I have to say. I’m curious to see what Lionhead do manage to wring out of it however as, at the very least, Molyneux’s studios have always been interesting even when they’re getting it wrong.

Coming back to PC now though aren’t you, you splitters? Etc.

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192 Comments »

  1. Rohit says:

    They made HiOctane? Damn.

    • Sic says:

      I’m not entirely sure I played the full game. The demo was pretty cool, though.

    • Eamo says:

      I really liked HiOctane. The very strange thing about it however was that the game was in no way synced to an internal clock. So rather than vehicles moving, for example 10 meters per second they moved 1 meter per frame with the result that on a fast PC it was ridiculously, unplayably fast and on a low end PC it was ridiculously, unplayably slow which I suspect is why it got a lot of pretty bad reviews. As racing games go however it looked very good for its day.

    • sebmojo says:

      There’s a hilarious interview at the time where a journalist suggests that HiOctane was ‘a bit rubbish’. Mr Mol doesn’t really demur but points out how quickly they did it. Journalist: “So, rubbish, but fast rubbish under pressure?” PM: “Yeah, I guess. No, wait, what? No! Shut up!”

      “Fast rubbish under pressure” has stuck with me ever since.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      Didn’t Magic Carpet suffer from the same issue? Or was it just that the 486sx 25 on which I originally played it was massively underpowered, and the by comparison seemingly unplayably fast speed I struggled with on a Pentium III when I revisited years later how it was supposed to be all along?

  2. goodgimp says:

    I really can’t stand this guy. If he believes the PC platform is “dead”, then please dear God, let us PC fans play possum until he forgets about us completely.

    • Moni says:

      He didn’t say the PC was dead, it was just going downhill at one point.

    • Nick says:

      “We were smart at spotting the end of the PC”

      ?

    • Deadend says:

      End of the PC as the end of the PC as the industry leader where the big sales, big tech, big idea games are. Which is true in terms of the market. Lionhead makes Blockbuster games, the PC hasn’t really had many Blockbuster games this decade, compared to the consoles which seem to have a BIG NEW THING, every 2 weeks, which often ends up on PC as well.

  3. Skinlo says:

    Hmm, I didn’t mind Peter before, but now he called PC gaming dead, I don’t like him anymroe.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Look how smart he thinks he is. Smart smart smart.

    • bob_d says:

      Look at the yearly PC games sales numbers since 2001… After years of rising sales, 2000-2001 marked the point where sales actually started *going down.* They’ve continued the death spiral ever since. For someone who had been making ever-more complex and expensive games for more than a decade at that point, it surely looked like the death of the PC from a commercial point of view, because in many ways it was. The rest of the industry is only now figuring that out.

    • Thants says:

      [citation required]

    • Rinox says:

      @ Bob_d

      Those sales numbers don’t include digital distrubution which started taking flight slightly later. So using the PC sales numbers of the last 10 years to prove a point is always dangerous.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      60% of activisions revenue is from pc
      xbox live has 10 million subscribers steam (only 1 of the pc’s many platforms) has 11 million regular users
      xbox 360 install base 28 million pc install base 250 million gaming PC’s

      hows that for some stats biznatch!

    • bob_d says:

      @ Thants: Google it. Various industry sales trackers all point in the same downwards direction, though as Rinox points out, they don’t track download sales. Digital distribution may more than double the box sales numbers, but the PC game is still in competition with consoles, online game item sales, MMO subscriptions, and phone games that weren’t part (or at least a significant part) of the market even 10 years ago.

      @ Rinox: You are correct, but the most optimistic guestimates (with *more* downloads than box sales) I’ve seen on digital distribution still don’t put the sales numbers on much of an upwards curve. A modest upwards slope would still be bad, though: game development costs have always been on an fairly steep upward climb, and while game sales were on the same slope, things were fine. The “expected costs” and “potential revenue” lines for AAA titles are in the process of actually crossing over right now, so even a best selling game can lose money, which is pretty much the first time in the industry’s history that this is true. What this means is the entire funding model for the industry is in the final stages of the process of breaking.

      @Sombrero Kid: “60% of activisions revenue is from pc”
      Translation: World of Warcraft is keeping Activision afloat. This is actually bad for the industry as a whole, as MMOs are the cost-efficient time sinks of the gaming world. That means WoW players aren’t buying as many games as they otherwise would, nor spending as much money on games overall as they otherwise would. WoW dominates the PC sales charts when a new expansion comes out, and there was a month or two last year where the top half of the top-10 sales chart was Blizzard games (none of which were new, and two of them were 9 year old games). That is NOT a good sign for PC game sales.

      “xbox live has 10 million subscribers… steam…”
      Unfortunately those numbers don’t say *anything* about how many games people are buying, nor how much money they’re spending on those games.

      “xbox 360 install base…”
      The Xbox and (especially) PS3 install bases are actually pretty bad compared to the previous generation of console sales and especially to console game development costs right now. Developers are having to make games cross-platform just to make their money back. Just because the PC is doing poorly doesn’t mean the console isn’t *also* doing poorly…

      “…pc install base 250 million…”
      250 million is how many PCs were *sold last year,* but that includes business machines (which traditionally is the majority) and low end netbooks and computers bought purely for web-surfing; higher-end “gaming machines” for home use have actually made up a smaller minority of sales than usual in the last year or two. Plus, what does “gaming machine” even mean, when freaking *Apple* owns 90%+ of the high-end PC market at the moment (n the US at least)? Again this says nothing about how people use their computers or what games they buy (they could all be playing Farmville).

  4. Nick says:

    Yeah, I’m sure that was why B&W 2 and The Movies didn’t sell well. Oh well, Fable and onwards are all arse anyway so beyond some interesting ideas (which rarely get implemented well) I think its him that went downhill. Smart at spotting the end of the PC.. riiiiiiight.

    • myros says:

      Exactly what I thought reading that. The Movies being little more than an average game had nothing to do with it being ‘to complex’.

      Ive noticed that with a lot of statements Molyneux makes, he seems to exist in his own little temporal universe where cause and effect are whatever he decides they are.

      Interesting character anyway.

    • Idle Threats & Bad Poetry says:

      I own the movies. I still do on Steam, but I’ll never play it again.

      Maybe by complex he meant “tried to be two different things at the same time.” While it was trying to be a game and a machinima studio, it was only mediocre at implementing both things. Some players just really wanted to make movies, but the unlocking-through-gameplay mechanic REALLY got in the way of that, not to mention other aspects of gameplay, like movie star fatigue. On the other hand, it was sort of a movie themed “Sims” game, which wasn’t bad but wasn’t wonderful either.

    • RagingLion says:

      For the record, I really loved Black and White 2.

    • Bremze says:

      I really liked B&W even with it’s numerous faults, but absolutely hated the sequel. It simply ripped out most of the stuff, that made B&W good and then replaced it with even more tedious micromanagement, which was already bad enough in the first game.

    • disperse says:

      @Bremze

      I agree. I loved the idea of B&W but the execution left a lot to be desired. The “iconless interface” was horrible; the movement was like being a paraplegic dragging yourself across a glass table. And the parts I liked (interaction with your creature and villagers in a sandbox) were overshadowed by the parts I didn’t (RTS, crappy fighting game).

  5. westyfield says:

    “HiOctane

    [only sold 300,000 copies - it was made in six and half weeks when Bullfrog realised they couldn't meet their original deadline for Dungeon Keeper, but still had to get a game out]”

    Does this sort of thing happen a lot? It was a bit of a ‘woah, wait, what?’ moment when I read that.

    • TenjouUtena says:

      It used too, at least. Contracts with publishers usually listed games and deadlines, but not _specific titles_, so development companies would &$@! out stuff to stay in contract and continue to get funding.

      In fact, according to myth and legend or whatnot, studios would buy almost complete games from other studios to ‘release’ them.

  6. Mike says:

    How can such an awesome guy be so unawesome towards PC:P

  7. Moni says:

    Aww, nothing about Magic Carpet?

    • Nick says:

      Yeah, that was really ahead of its time with its terrain deformation and so on, great fun too, shame about the sequel.

    • Alec Meer says:

      He did say a couple of lines, but for some reason my notes just say “MagicCarp” at that point. Just couldn’t type fast enough, basically.

    • Alec Meer says:

      Just been through almost inaudible recording, and in fact he says almost nothing about it. I’ve dropped his reference into the quotes above anyway.

    • Omroth says:

      Magic Carpet certainly my favorite of the lot. I read somewhere he didn’t do much design on it – that could be why he isn’t talking much about it.

  8. Nick says:

    Also his comments on why he thinks some of the Bullfrog classics sold well illustrate the fact he just doesn’t get it.

  9. edosan says:

    Peter should really let Blizzard know that The End of the PC came and went so long ago — they should know about that.

    • RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

      He isn’t talking about something that happened or is happening, he is talking about the cataclysmic event that will remove all personal computers from the world, somewhere next year.

  10. Amarth says:

    @Nick: What was wrong with Magic Carpet 2?

    • Nick says:

      I dunno, I just found it kind of boring compared to the first one, never really been able to put my finger on exactly why, I just didn’t enjoy it anywhere near as much. Plus the final boss was a really boring slog.

  11. jackflash says:

    PC didn’t go downhill. Molyneux did.

    • Dominic White says:

      Last I checked, he was raking in the cash hand over fist. He’s head of Microsoft Games Studios Europe now, or something, and the Fable series have been his biggest selling games by far.

      He’s moved away from niche PC gaming, and into being ridiculously popular. The level of denial from the internet is amusing.

    • Mr Labbes says:

      Fable is not in any way inventive, though. It’s fun, and I enjoyed playing it, but Mr Molyneux is not the kind of creative genius he thinks he is.
      Also, Milo and Kate.

    • Nick says:

      Dominic, considering the marketplace has exploded in size since his last successful “niche PC game” its hardly surprising the Fable series has sold more, now is it?

    • Manley Pointer says:

      Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper: brilliant, creative games. From the way Molyneux discusses them, you can tell he has no idea what made them good. Fable & Fable II are half-interesting implementations of ideas that have been around a long time in RPGs. He “went downhill” when he decided to play it safe and take fewer risks. He harms the industry in general by posing as a creative force, when he’s really only interested in delivering generic products and trumpeting his own genius. He’s a marketing man, not a creative man.

    • jackflash says:

      Dominic, I wasn’t referring to the amount of money he makes.

    • Jimbo says:

      Actually, I suspect Populous sold more copies than Fable 1 or 2 (internet seems to agree) – and obviously on a fraction of the budget. I wouldn’t be surprised if Theme Park sales were up there too.

      Fable sells well, but not *that* well.

  12. Dominus says:

    Peter did some great titles back in the days, but know all that matters to him are money.

  13. Bruce Rambo says:

    Dungeon Keeper? Too complex? What :(

    I loved that game and its sequel. I’m still disappointed we never got a third installment, although I’ll admit I wasn’t a fan of the way they tried to make it story based …

  14. Mitza says:

    I used to love this guy, but he managed to turn that admiration into ignorance. Funny thing is, I can forgive him for the hype he (and not the fansites, Peter) created around Black&White but he forever lost me at Milo. Watched that presentation and just wanted to slap some sense into him.

  15. Jimbo says:

    Bullfrog were just incredible. In 5 years around ’90 they put out Populous, Syndicate, Magic Carpet and Theme Park (amongst others). In the last 5 years, Lionhead have made Fable.

    Honestly, a little bit depressing what the industry has forced Molyneux to become in order to remain successful. His studios have very closely mirrored the overall state of the industry, I’ll say that much. The audience wants the same game over and over again, so that’s what the industry gives them. I don’t dislike Fable, it’s just that a man of Molyneux’s obvious and proven talent should not be wasting his legacy repeatedly making the same game. Especially a game as vanilla as Fable.

    I’m a little surprised we haven’t heard about some kind of Black & White / Kinect game yet. That interface was absolutely ahead of its time and almost seems like it could have been built with Kinect in mind. The Kinectimals stuff also looks like it was lifted straight out of Black & White – I was half expecting the girl to start slapping Skittles across the face.

    • Robin says:

      Molyneux as gaming’s Ben Elton?

      I think he made his own decisions rather than being railroaded into anything by the climate of the industry. Like Will Wright, he’s found a benefactor who wants something innovative and mainstream but can’t articulate what that is, and with a great deal of spectacle and showmanship delivers something that ticks the necessary boxes.

    • Archonsod says:

      I’m not sure Molyneux deserves all the credit for Bullfrog’s success. I mean Muckyfoot was also ex-Bullfrog, and what little they produced (Urban Chaos, Startopia) is still head and shoulders over anything Lionhead have produced.

  16. BigJonno says:

    He may waffle on at times, but I’ve yet to play a Molyneux game I didn’t enjoy and I’ll still take him over ten generic FPS designers any day.

  17. godwin says:

    BTW, speaking of Populous, and ‘god games’ etc. I just saw this, don’t think it was reported during E3
    http://kotaku.com/5574590/someone-talented-is-making-video-games-best-volcano

    It doesn’t mention PC, but Eric Chahi says yes in an interview
    http://www.facebook.com/notes/project-dust/qa-with-project-dust-creative-director-eric-chahi/125651140808038

  18. The Great Wayne says:

    Haha… Hahahahahaha. End of the PC, good one.

    The guy seems he could use some sort of humilty. Or just stop taking drugs.

  19. Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

    Amiga players: PC is DEAD!
    PS1 players: PC is DEAD!
    PS2 players: PC is DEAD!
    N64 players: PC is DEAD!
    XBOX players: PC is DEAD
    XBOX360 players: PC is DEAD!
    PS3 players: PC is DEAD!
    etc. etc.
    And I laugh every bloody time. Srsly, they are like Augustinus Aurelius expecting the second coming of Jesus Christ..

    • Antsy says:

      So true. I remember being told that when I splashed out on a Pentium 2 400. PC Gaming will continue as long as PCs are sitting in people’s homes. Also, I’ve NEVER been asked to get off the PC because Generic Soap Girly Bollocks Reality Makeover Programme #23422 is about to start.

      So, there’s that….

    • Ravenger says:

      One of the primary advantages! My PC is MY PC. I don’t have to stop playing my PC games to let my wife and kids watch the brainless tat that passes for TV these days.

      One of the reasons I rarely play my Wii (despite having some good games on it) is that it’s on the main TV downstairs, so I have to almost ask permission to play it. So I don’t even bother.

  20. Auspex says:

    Strange that he didn’t mention his inventing of the dog.
    I suppose he was only talking about games though.

  21. Tei says:

    The people like Molyneus created art and science, and are now doomed to make Fable 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 , 9 , 10 , 11, 12, 13, 14,… tills his mortal body dead, and beyond. He has done more in the PC in 4 weeks, that he will do in his whole life in the consoles.

    But he is a cool dude, and has made some of my favorite games, so thanks for that :-)

  22. Jimbo says:

    Gaming moving from consoles to Facebook is not a victory.

  23. Freud says:

    The last game that had his name on it which I really enjoyed was Syndicate. Dungeon Keeper was of course an awesome idea but turned out to be rather boring to play. Everything since I haven’t been close to finishing since they were so boring.

    Granted, I haven’t played Fable II and it might be awesome. Fable was horrible though so I suspect not.

    • Freud says:

      Sorry, missed Magic Carpet II. That one I also enjoyed quite a bit.

  24. Monkeybreadman says:

    Maybe he was referring to an unreleased fantasy fishing simulator

    • Monkeybreadman says:

      REPLY BUTTON HATES ME.

      That was to Alec and his MagicCarp reference

    • Mr Labbes says:

      I hear Milo and Kate has fish who read your movements and emotions and can react accordingly. It’s quite impressive, the Kinect.

  25. Ricc says:

    Well, if he said “The viability of making PC games the way we used to is dead.” then I’d probably believe him. He certainly didn’t abandon the platform for no reason. I’m still glad that Fable 3 will also be on the PC. Maybe not for this one, but the next Lionhead game, anyways.

  26. Sinnerman says:

    I really enjoyed Syndicate and Theme Park on the Amiga but I can’t be doing with games like Fable at all. Not even sure what it is supposed to be. A bad Zelda game with farting simulator attached? It’s probably for the kids though and I shouldn’t judge it.

  27. Ed says:

    So he blamed PowerMonger’s failings on David Braben and Jez San being elitist (pardon the pun) about the language (C) that he used to write Populous.

    What a load of twaddle – it’s not as if the language the game is written in has any bearing on the game’s design – in fact writing a game in Assembler would in most cases likely reduce the scope for complex gameplay on account of it being bastard hard to write and debug.

    Also, it’s not like he was under any obligation to write it in ASM. He chose to do so.
    My opinion of the man has lessened. I suspect I shall be writing more comments in this thread…

  28. Dave L. says:

    “it combed your PC to find who you are, so if you were playing after midnight it would whisper your name on the speakers. “Peeeeeeter…” Wait, what? I’m quite certain that Black & White never did anything remotely like this. Was he so out of touch with the development of that game that he thinks features got in that never existed?

    • Ed says:

      It did, you know.

      It had a database of player names voice-overed by the same person who whispered “deaaaaath”.
      Utterly pointless, of course.

    • Salt says:

      Black and White did indeed whisper your name. It was pretty rare, and your name had to be on a list of those that they’d recorded, and the game had to manage to find out what your name is (it may have just gone off what you named your profile when you started the game.)

      B&W was full of so much innovation. Most of it didn’t really work, but I loved seeing it all.

    • Ovno says:

      Definately, used to whisper “Deeeaaaaatttthhhhh and Riiiccchhharrrddd” used to freak me right out especially as no one believed me….

    • Rinox says:

      Also, in Dungeon Keeper, the game would announce “IT IS WITCHING HOUR” at midnight and (iirc) make it cheaper to cast some spells for a while. Fit the game so perfectly!!

    • Boldoran says:

      I can verify it did. And man did it freak me out. It happend out of the blue and I did not belive my ears so I turned to my brother who was sitting right next to me at the time and asked him if the game just called me by name.
      Fortunatly he heard it too and so I did not have to question my sanity.

  29. Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve always viewed Peter Molyneux as a sort of Jekyll and Hyde character.

    He talks big, he makes good presentations and he seems to still have good ideas in his head. However, it seems that those ideas aren’t fully realised in his games these days. Perhaps it’s because there are too many people involved in making games, and too many compromises are made.

  30. Shagittarius says:

    Molyneux designs games the same way Mr. Garrison designs cars.

    • Ed says:

      Ah but Mr. Garrison didn’t hype up emergent properties of the cars he designs – and Mr. Garrison had legitimate cause to blame others for the failing of his products.

      The interfaces are pretty much the same, though.

  31. Ted Brown says:

    I think it’s fair to say that Peter might not mean “the PC is dead” as a platform, but that its interface (mouse and keyboard) is too complex, and limits the potential audience. Consoles, on the other hand, have a simplified interface, which plays well to his game design goals. Consoles, in other words, are more mainstream, and I think that’s where he wants to be.

    • somnolentsurfer says:

      With the possible exception of the touch screen, the mouse is the single simplest input method yet devised.

    • Ted Brown says:

      Sure, a mouse is elegant. But it’s made for selecting and moving things. In game terms, you’re pretty much talking strategy games, which are not mainstream. You have to add a keyboard to really flesh out a PC’s control possibilities.

      Do you know of a traditional, console-style action game (like, say, Fable II) that uses just a mouse?

    • pkt-zer0 says:

      Does Silver count?

    • Archonsod says:

      The Sims can be played with only the mouse, and it’s hard to think of a game that could be more mainstream.

      Though the real question is whether the keyboard is a necessity or a convenience. You could probably play most games with the mouse alone, but since most people have two hands and a keyboard you’d want to take advantage of it even though it’s not necessary (see pretty much every RTS game).

    • karthik says:

      I find the keyboard and mouse setup much easier and more intuitive than a controller.

      I think it’s just an issue of what you were introduced to first.

    • Thants says:

      The idea that mainstream games are made for people who think the mouse and keyboard are too complex is very depressing.

    • Reiver says:

      I feel that so many console games work around the limitations of the controller and end up with a less than perfect interface. So much is context sensitive but that’s very limiting as it results in a lot of frustration as a open the window and slide in stealthily can, with a dodgy detection, become a smash the window and alert everyone (Splinter Cell) or a jump to a ledge can become a leap of faith (ass Creed 2). Not that a keyboard is perfect but i find that in PC games the fault lies with me more than the controls.

    • Jad says:

      For someone who just stepped out of some Stone-Age Amazonian tribe, a console controller might be less intimidating than a mouse & keyboard, yes. But anyone who has used an electronic device more complex than a television has used a mouse and keyboard, and probably for thousands of hours. My grandmother knows how to use a mouse & keyboard. She can probably type at a higher WPM than me, she was a secretary after all. She has never picked up a controller as far as I know. Ask her where the WASD keys are, she’ll know without looking. Which one is the triangle button on a Playstation controller? What the heck is a “right bumper” on the Xbox?

  32. somnolentsurfer says:

    Did he talk about Creation at all? I remember being well psyched about that for a time.

  33. Xercies says:

    I quite like him and i haven’t found fault in any of his games that he made(though I never got into the hype of Black and Whit, and Fab;e so i guess that colours my impressions a bit) but i do think he has sold out a bit to much to the all seeing eye of microsoft and he seems to be just making fable sequels which is a wasted talent really for him since he should be making really innovative games. Damn you microsoft!

  34. Pijama says:

    For all his brilliance, he is becoming quite an arsehole.

    • Dominic White says:

      To be fair, his ‘fans’ have been baying for his blood and making angry, backhanded comments pretty much incessantly since Black & White.

  35. unclebulgaria says:

    Syndicate is why I own a PC. I played on a mate’s computer for about an hour then spent four hours on a Sunday night working out how I could research miniguns – budget, forecast, the works.

    I spent the next six months badgering my parents into getting me a PC – which was then delivered with a copy of Colonization to boot!

    I cannot ever remember being so happy. Peter and Sid wasted my mid-teens – and it was glorious.

  36. Postal says:

    What does it say about this man that he is so negative about his work? He really didn’t have much of anything positive to say and I think that’s puzzling. I have very fond memories of Populous, Theme Park, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper etc… Even if the games did have problems, they were still great. Why does he see all these games through such a dark prism? These games weren’t overcomplicated! That’s pure craziness. Dungeon Keeper was genius. If he thinks PC gaming is dying, that his games were too complicated, and that the future is with console titles that are a safe bet rather than innovative and daring… it means he has rationalized selling out to the point where he sees his past triumphs as failures. That is some powerful rationalization.

  37. Schwolop says:

    It absolutely did do this, and I remember being completely freaked out by it the first time. And the weather thing was awesome! And the winamp dancing bear plugin. And the smiley face footprints on April Fools’ Day. And the fact that some programmer spent hours writing vibration code for a mouse that <1% of their audience owned.

    Black and White was an amazing game with hundreds of flaws that I couldn't care less about. The ideas Peter thinks were stupid and pointless now are some of the things I remember the most. I've long said my biggest disappointment with Fable 1 was realizing when the citizens first called me "Chicken-chaser" that it wasn't actually anything to do with all the chickens I'd been kicking. Seriously. How hard would it be to choose a title based on statistics of what the character had been doing recently? About a few hour's worth of programming hard? If that?

  38. rmyroberts says:

    If he considers The Movies “too complex”, then I really don’t want to see what he’ll come up with next… though admittedly I never really cared about or played most of his games, now that I look back through them.

    It didn’t have a lot of replay value, but I don’t think excessive complexity is something you could blame it for. Anyone who’s played any RTS before should be able to figure it out. I thought the floorplan interface for managing stars and employees was pretty clever, and the game as a whole was pretty fun and had good production values.

    Unless he means “too complex” as in “too ambitious” (heh!) or “too much stuff to code” (as in the make-your-own movie feature, etc.)… but I don’t think the game shipped with unfinished features or anything, at least none that I can recall.

  39. roBurky says:

    That bit about the making of Theme Park is very depressing.

    • Tei says:

      Theme Park is 100% psychological terrorism. Wen a children is lost (pathfinding problems with your design) he start cryiing, and YOU CANT STOP IT, and IT GOES AND GOES AND GOES.
      We are wired in a way, that earing a baby children activate all the alerts, and press all the buttons ( Ask any newbie parent ).

  40. Psychopomp says:

    Considering he’s gone on record lately saying that Fable 2 was too complex, not really surprised that he thought his best stuff was too much.

  41. BooleanBob says:

    *reinstalls Theme Hospital*

    • pulseezar says:

      I think that was one of the first playstation games I bought. Bloaty Head, King Complex, 3rd degree sideburns…loved it!

  42. Billy says:

    I went to GameHorizon last year and State of Interpendence (supposedly indie oriented) this year, they’re interesting conferences but always left a bad taste in my mouth because the whole conference is about games as a business. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s very much a business oriented conference and you expect to hear talks from Playfish and IP consulting firms and whatnot, but when listening to people like Molyneux, the Oliver twins and so on (although Charles Cecil was a real exception) talk, it’s very much about creating games with the most stable and profitable financial results.

    This is a completely unfounded opinion, but I always get the feeling that the years of the endless strain of development and securing finance has either jaded or sucked the creativity out of them. Both with Lionhead’s attachment to Kinect and Blitz’ attachment to 3D tech, they seem like they want to do something innovative but are looking for completely external sources to draw from.

    Every conference and session lately seems to be about accessibility*, microtransactions and social gaming, with the whole justification for doing these games being entirely financial but with a sense of puppetmastery over the consumer, like they’re cattle we should herd around until they run out of milk. Every game is a product of what consumers are perceived to pay for, with design revolving around psychology over design-craft (or art or whatever you want to call it). There’s also a disregard for where morals lie in the process of designing games with this sort of predatory attitude, it’s like a subject everyone ignores or laughs off because you can just call it ‘business savvy’.

    Don’t get me wrong, i’m not implying all games should be made with no consumer in mind and obviously there’s an implicit relationship between obtaining funding, publishing, etc, and creating games which have very high chances of making significant profit. It just seems like (and maybe this is just my young person’s personal view that’s out of step with the rest of the industry) that lately it’s getting a bit overboard and that’s half the reason for the surge in independent development, specifically people leaving big companies to work on their dream ideas. It seems like another of many crossroads for games where it hasn’t been decided whether the current games industry (not games as a whole) is a creative medium or a tool of business and advertising (including advertising for virtual items that you sell).

    * Accessibility in this case refers to making interaction with the game simpler, not making concessions for the physically impaired. The problem with making interaction simpler is that preserving the depth of possibilities becomes (on a case by base basis) increasingly impossible the more the interface is simplified.

    • Archonsod says:

      It’s generally the way with most creative industries once the money moves in. Back when gaming was a niche market companies were largely ran by people who were gamers themselves, and understood their market. Now it’s big business companies are largely ran by businessmen who don’t understand the market. As with music, film and TV they’ll pump out highly successful clones for a few years, until the market moves on and they bomb because there’s nobody left who has any idea of how to be successful anymore. And then the cycle begins again …

    • Tarqon says:

      Wow, I think you nailed it. Sounds like the gaming industry is becoming the film industry.

  43. Bassism says:

    He may have made some of my favourite games in all of history, but that has definitely changed by now.
    You can’t just blame your failures on games being “too complex”, the PC dying, or by saying “He did it.” DK was a success precisely because it was a complex game, which was also gifted with a great interface. Black and White 2 failed because it forgot the things that made the first one engaging (probably in the never ending search for simplicity.

    Anyway, I’m terribly disappointed by the fact that some of the greatest PC developers, having made some of the greatest, most complex games ever, have now decided that greater simplicity and streamlining is the way of the future. Yes, greater accessibility is great. But accessible does not necessarily equal simple. That’s just the easiest way of going about it.

    Ah well, there is plenty of new talent in the world that isn’t afraid of trying something new.

    • Archonsod says:

      It depends who’s saying it I think. When someone like Sid Meier talks about simplicity he usually means “cutting out the clutter to get the player back to the core elements of the game”. When Molyneux says it he means “cutting down the core of the game so we can include more clutter”.

    • Optimaximal says:

      I suppose it depends how you look at it. When you consider how ground-breaking & complex some of their games were, simplification is the only way to go, especially if you need to sell it these days.

      Take Civilisation – Civ V adds visual hexes because its visually & mechanically simpler than trying to explain the numpad system from Civ IV, even though most take it for granted.

      I also didn’t find Black & White engaging at all, pretty much because the interface was simple yet broken – it seemed like it was solely designed for that 3D Game Orb controller or whatever it was that came out around the same time.

  44. dave says:

    Twat.

    PC games rely on complexity and its what we crave. Not everybody is your “Yahtzee” Croshaw tard.

    I want arcane twiddley bits and depth not “linear shooter 79″

    For a guy who had a hand in some of gamings most illustrious moments i am dissapoint.

  45. Thiefsie says:

    PM has fallen so far from grace it is depressing. He hasn’t made a decent game in years, although Fable was passable. He’s completely changed tack from innovative interesting gaming developer to boring faddish twit developer, who bemoans 90% of his past work which is widely regarded at the least as highly influential…. fable/movies… not much so.

  46. beatoangelico says:

    Molyneux hasn’t done a thing right in 10 years and we are still dumb enough to listen to him.

  47. WiPa says:

    Why did nobody tell me PC is dead?

    Later guys, i’m going to buy Kinect.

  48. Vinraith says:

    He was good for the Populous games and Dungeon Keepe. Shame he’s been tailing off and going downhill for the last decade. All this discussion of past greats being “too complex” is an immediate flag that he won’t be making anything interesting in the foreseeable future.

    • Adam Whitehead says:

      This reminds of when Relic said they could only make HOMEWORLD 3 if they simplified it, as the original, fairly simple and intuitive interface, was ‘too complex’ for most people to handle these days. Shocking.

    • Optimaximal says:

      Homeworld blew most peoples minds because they couldn’t handle the 3D space on a 2D monitor…

    • ChaK_ says:

      I thought homeworld 3 we in developpement, somewhere :’(

      you broke my dream

    • Bruce Rambo says:

      I’m not sure why anyone would think Homeworld was too complex – apart from perhaps two maps that were on the z-axis, there was very little NEED to work in the full three dimensions.

      Of course, you got massive benefits by doing so as armour was directional…

      Most modern games that claim to be fully 3D are far from it. None have come close to matching Homeworld, even games that are vaguely similar (Sins of a Solar Empire/Sword of the Stars/etc)

      If you want a game that used 3D space that WAS too complex for most people, look at Nexus. The primary reason for that was the interface being shite. A Homeworld style movement disk/plane would have made it much more responsive and accessible. Of course, nobody ever played that game…

  49. Pijama says:

    Considering that I know a fair share of people that would give one of their fingers for a Syndicate/DK/Populous sequel, I still say he has his head deep stuck on his arse. Post-MS sellout vanity, perhaps?

  50. Urthman says:

    He may come across as a jerk in interviews, but his Twitter feed is hysterically funny:

    http://twitter.com/petermolyneux2

    • Michael says:

      That’s fake, a friend of mine writes that.

      It’s certainly a spot-on parody, though!

    • Urthman says:

      I thought it would be funnier to let people discover that for themselves.

      (Not much funnier, as the twitter feed is super funny either way.)

      Natal can tell if you’re crying. Imagine if for some reason you had a mission where you were REQUIRED to cry to pass a gate. Interesting…

      Question. Would you be willing to have a surgical operation to play a game that is at least 100 times more immersive than anything else?

      3D gaming? What if the game characters saw the GAMER in 3D instead of the other way around?

      “DLC” is so robotic and mechanical at the moment isn’t it? What IF… “DLC” was an breathing living entity?

      Imagine if in E.T he was wearing your fave shirt at the end, your tears would be increased by at least 25%.

      Something we didn’t mention at E3. Milo can detect if someone in your house is pregnant.