Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Molyneux's Unfocused Innovation

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 25 Jan 2011 16:00
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Come to think of it, Fable suffers generally from a lack of consistent tone. Answer me this, fans of Fable: if Peter Molyneux weren't a "name" but some kind of mailroom clerk in the Omnigaming Corporation, and he suddenly found himself sharing an elevator with the chief creative director who's been on the lookout for a hot new property, how exactly would he pitch the Fable series in twenty-five words or less? 'Cos I'm thinking the director will be politely breaking off and repeatedly smacking the "open door" button before Peter can even get to the condom part. Is Fable 3 a comedy, a drama or horror? In three consecutive breaths it's got naughty insulting gnomes, struggles against murderous despots and people getting mind-raped by Cthulhuoid substances. Who is the game intended for? Men? Women? Adults? Children? If adults, why the cartoony visuals and bad jokes? If children, why all the murder and fucking? Granted when I was a kid that would've made my day, but it's off-message, isn't it?

Peter likes to innovate. That's what's great about him. But he doesn't innovate for the right reasons. I remember before Fable 2 came out he made a big thing about the fact that it didn't have an in-game map, relying instead on a glitter trail to show where you're supposed to be going. The problem is, the reason why maps have become cliché is that they're useful things to have. You might as well complain that having a mobile phone is cliché, like that's a reason to not have one. Well, Fable 3 has a map now, but you have to catch a bus to use it.

I'm willing to bet Peter would have talked this up as a selling point, too: instead of an in-game interface or inventory screen, you have to bodily teleport yourself to a little hideout where all your stuff and important information are kept in a succession of rooms, packed away with an assortment of incredibly unintuitive filing systems. What was this for, immersion? Well-designed interfaces have never gotten in the way of immersion. Obviously the ideal interface varies from game to game, but as a general ballpark rule, the least button presses the better. Yes, Microsoft Excel is a bit frumpy but it works, and it works by not making you teleport to Excel Land and walk through three doors just to use the sigma function. And while we're on the subject, having to hold down the "use" button to confirm that I want to use something really gets on my wick. I'd have thought bounding up to the thing and pressing "use" would be enough confirmation for any man.

But because it tries new things, for better or worse, I'd rather have Fable around for tea than any of the committee design checklist brigade. That's why I'm concerned by the fact that Fable is the only title of Peter's that has gone into a second sequel (except Populous, but Populous: The Beginning was more of a reimagining). I'm concerned that Peter is conceding to the same sequel-churning corporate machinery by which he has been thus far largely unaffected. Earlier I said Fable 3 tries to balance action-adventure and management, but it's worth noting in his earlier career Peter made some very good action adventure games (Syndicate, Magic Carpet) and some very good management sims (Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper), which were good because they weren't trying to be anything else. I wish he could unlearn the last few years and remember how to keep a narrow focus. If he were making Dungeon Keeper today he'd probably let the player take their individual imps on romantic dinners.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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