"Nobody at Microsoft wanted me to show this off," said Peter Molyneux, describing the snippet of his latest game, Fable 2 as a "work in progress." But "the big feature," he said, "the one that is gonna make you laugh and cry and care - is: a dog."
"We have spent an enormous amount of time and effort trying to make something that feels real," he added, and with this dog, I think Lionhead has done just that. The dog is, according to Molyneux, fully morphable. It will adapt it's demeanor and appearance based on whether the character you play is good or evil. But that's not all he does. The dog, it would appear, serves a number of in-game functions, all of which, as a whole, serve to jack the level of immersion in the game to ... dare I say? ... 11.
"Let's talk about his mind," said Molyneux. "His mind is everything that we have learned - all of the mistakes that we have learned - from our past games like Black and White. ... His purpose in life - like Asimov's laws of robotics - is not to aggravate you; Not to piss you off. His second thought is this: He absolutely loves you. Like a real dog. He doesn't like the things that you don't like. He likes the things that you like. ...
Molyneux then went on to describe the various attempts made by the designers to develop a control scheme for the dog. He suggested that you could make him bark with one button, run with another and perform various tricks using still others. [but that would make him] "a robot," he said, "not a dog. We went back to the drawing broad. We're not going got put any control of this dog on the controller. That sounds like crap, doesn't it? Just play the game, man. The dog will control himself. Just play the game."
And then he showed us, and sure enough, it worked.
As the character moved in the world, the dog moved, always trying to stay ahead, protecting you, like a real dog would. "He cares about you," Molyneux said. "He's concerned about where you're going."
But you can modify his behavior, like the "creature" in Black and White," through training. Molynuex demonstrated this by using the "no" command to indicate the dog had done something wrong. And the dog reacted. But them something funny happened. The dog hadn't done anything wrong, he was just standing there. But he reacted as a dog would, by putting his tail between his legs and whining. And that's when it happened: I felt something.
"That's cute, isn't it?" Molyneux asked. But it wasn't cute. It was sad, and I felt for the poor dog who hadn't done anything wrong. He got over it, as dog's do, but still. I felt sad. And that's exactly what Molyneux wanted.
"Now here's why we introduced the third rule," he said, referring to the dog's sense of self-preservation. "Why we introduced the third rule - I saw a tester - there's something wrong with you people - throwing the ball off a two hundred foot cliff. And the dog would dutifully go after it." He said they fixed the dog's behavior so that he wouldn't obey your commands to his own death, but you get the feeling he didn't really want to.
But the dog isn't there just to be something fun and cuddly. According to Molyneux, he serves a very real, and very advanced purpose: he's going to drive the level of immersion in Fable 2 toward something we've never seen.
"There's one thing I really detested about Fable," he said. "The bloody mini-map. We've had them in games for years and years. We spend hundreds of man years building the 3-D world, and yet you can play all of Fable on that mini-map. Can we get rid of that map? And I think we can. Part of [the dog's] job is to guide you."
The dog scouts ahead as he moves the character into a new portion of the map, and as he rounds a corner, he stops and begins barking. He's alerting you to trouble, and I'm immediately immersed. I know there's an enemy around that corner,. Not because there's a red dot on a mini-map, but because my dog has seen it and is alerting me to the danger ahead. It's something I've never seen. Dog scouts ahead, spots something and begins barking.
The dog assists in combat, going after enemies that are a danger to you, but he's weak. He'll take damage, and in this demo, he does, and begins limping back toward you, needing your help. He looks pitiful, and again, I feel for the creature.
"When I proposed this feature, a lot of people at Lionhead said 'I don't want a dog. So we did this: you're completely free to walk away and leave him there." And that's what he does. He moves the character far away from the dog, and the dog, pitiful, wounded creature that he is, dutifully drags his way across the forest toward him. Like a real dog would.
Molyneux describes what will happen if you do this in the game. He says the dog will continue to search for you, and that some day, when you've stopped expecting him, he'll happen upon you in a tavern, perhaps, and someone will open the door, see the dog, and wonder what wretched human being would treat a poor animal that way.
"And you'll feel bad," he says. "And that's what I want you to feel. I want you to feel something when you play this game."
And the crowd went wild. Because, clearly, we want to feel something to. Until this moment, most of us haven't.
Then he dropped the bomb.
"I'm gonna get in trouble for [saying] this," he said. "You've got to meet my dog, don't you? Wouldn't it be lovely to have two dogs when you play the game?"
The hint, we suppose, is dog co-op, or sharing dogs over Live. But he didn't say any more and it doesn't matter. I'm hooked. I care about the dog, and I feel. And I want to play this game.
"The big payoff is the dog, the story and the player," he continued. "We monitor how much you care about your dog. If you leave him behind, he wont; feature that much in the story. If you love your dog, we're gonna mess with your mind, man. You're not going to be able to go to bed. At certain point in the story, you're going to feel bad."
There's more to come, he said. Two more revelations, approximately. But he won't show them until they're fully implemented. Not anymore. He knows better now. But he promised he'd follow up with me personally when they're ready to go. And I can't wait. Peter Molyneux may get more excited about his games than anyone else. But not by much.