South by Southwest 2010 While a lot of the speakers at this year’s South by Southwest (SXSW) were up-and-coming coders and designers, there were a few more established visionaries at the show, including one Peter Molyneux. One of the most successful British game designers ever, Molyneux got his start in the early 80s distributing games on tape, but real fame came with Bullfrog Productions, the studio he co-founded in 1987.
Bullfrog’s games – including Populous, Syndicate, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper – remain some of the most influential games ever created, and their focus on economics and god-like management of a whole world are still popular ideas in today’s titles. Bullfrog was eventually bought out by EA, and Molyneux went on to found Lionhead, develop two Black & White games and see the studio be acquired by Microsoft. Since then he's taken up a role as Creative Director of Microsoft Games Studio Europe, helming the two Fable games.
Left: Peter Molyneux; Right: The hero in Fable 3
There’s no doubting what he’s accomplished, but he’s faced criticism too, thanks to his tendency to over-promise on the features his games will include – something explored in Zero Punctuation’s review of Fable. Still, even the acerbic Yahtzee settled on describing Molyneux as “over ambitious” – hardly the worst criticism in the world and something that perhaps games are in need of. True to form, at SXSW, Molyneux was interviewed by Frank Rose of Wired, in a session called ‘The Emotion Engine: Can a Video Game Speak to the Heart?’ – a question typical of his ambitious and intellectual approach to gaming...
FR: What interests you about emotions in games? PM: I’ve always had this overwhelming urge to be involved. When you watch a film, you think why does the baddy have to lose? In James Bond, I always thought it’s so unfair, it must have taken ages to build that base and think of the staffing costs! I suppose want it [the story] to turn out my way and that’s a passion of mine. I did a game called Black & White, all about this realisation that part of the world could be down to you. The hype exploded, it went out of control, but it showed [there was] a huge interest in those emotional things.
Emotion in games is good, but so are undead killer skeleton warriors, and fortunately, Fable 3 aims to have both
FR: What do you think about movies? PM: In one way, I’m very reverential towards them – but they feel slightly old school to me. In four, five years time games will really be allowing you to choose your outcome and that’s something movies cannot do - that they can never do. By definition we have to sit there and soak it up like passive robots. A lot of Hollywood characters seem slightly staid because they’re so focus grouped, too.