To say Peter Molyneux is a moral game developer is to be interpreted literally. The idea of incorporating morality - the choices one makes between "good" and "bad" behavior and the results of such personal actions - into gameplay has fascinated him throughout his career. While his work spans various genres (either as designer, programmer or producer), he is most known for his "god games," of which Populous and Black & White are best associated with his style and creative passions.
It's unanimous within critical circles that Molyneux has been an influential innovator when it comes to game design. It's also been lobbed that, at his worst, quite a number of his games have turned out to be failed, though interesting, experiments.
In April 2006, Microsoft purchased Lionhead Studios. Molyneux founded Lionhead in 1997, after leaving another game development firm he founded, Bullfrog Productions. Despite its being absorbed by the Microsoft collective, he still remains with the company.
Over the 2006 holiday season, the "god of god games" took a moment to reflect with The Escapist on the approaching 25-year mark of his career. Blessed be the gamer with the power to be divine, so giveth Molyneux.
The Escapist: Since Microsoft's acquisition of Lionhead, what have your day-to-day duties been? Are you still actively involved in game design?
Peter Molyneux: Since the acquisition, I've been able to focus far more on game design. I've always had two roles at Lionhead - one as the head of the company and the other as head of design. While we were independent, there was a huge amount of work needed to run a company of 200 people. Now [that] we're a part of Microsoft, there is a huge team of people in Redmond helping me to do that. This has enabled me to focus much more on Fable 2 and our other super secret game.
TE: Early in your career, starting with Populous, the concept of the "god game" became synonymous with you. This label has been also ascribed to your most recent titles - like Black & White - and with your overall game design sensibility. Though there have always been games made by others that featured "god-like" game play, why is it that your games get that label the most? Or, do you think it's not valid?
PM: My games Populous, Powermonger, Theme Park, Black & White and The Movies are obviously strongly god games. Other games such as Syndicate, Magic Carpet and Fable are not. So I've done more god games than any other genre. But it is kind of my dream to bring elements of god games to games like Fable, and I'd like to think, although it is not strictly a god game, you can still [play] elements of a god game in it.
TE: Personally, what about games where the player can determine the morality and guide the lives of other beings appeals to you? Basically, why do you like "playing God"?
PM: Morality is a fascinating issue. The greatest of all fantasies, in my book, is being able to play [a] god in world that recognizes you as that. A world where morality changes around you and which starts to craft itself around what an individual player is like, rather than expect players to be a certain type of character. I guess my long-term ambition is that morals in a game are constantly shaped by the person playing it, which kind of means that the player is more like a god.