Hello, and welcome to the first ‘Ask Lionhead’. My name is Mike West and I’ll be the main guy answering your questions about Fable, Lionhead or the games industry in general. I’m currently the Lead Gameplay Designer here at Lionhead, where I’ve been for the last 7 and half years, in the Fable Design Department. I’ve been in the industry as a whole for 16 years now, primarily as a coder and a designer so I’ll happily answer any questions on those areas. For any areas I can’t cover I’ll ask the various members of the team and try and get you the answers you want.
Woody and I hope this post will be fun and informative for you and that you’ll enjoy having a direct input into the team for your questions. Anyway, enough blathering, onto the questions and answers:
Q: How do you come up with new ideas for when you start a new project/game to be created. Eg how did the idea for fable come about?
[Simon Carter – Technical Director] We were working on a 3D strategy game (Wishworld) for 2 years, which we pitched to EA, Activision and Interplay. After months (years) of toing and froing with the publishers to get the perfect deal, we finally got a deal in place with Activision… and then Interplay came out with a game called Sacrifice which was disturbingly similar to Wishworld, so we had to change tack.
Peter then suggested ‘why not shift to an RPG?’. Dene and I had a design for a game (always referred to as ‘The Game’ in our conversations) which we’d had plans for since I was about 12 – it was essentially a simulated RPG, simplified wherever possible (simplifications inspired by Zelda). We also both loved the aesthetic of Tim Burton films, and nicked that.
That, essentially, was that.
Q: Why has Lionhead removed Tales of Albion from the website?
[Woody – Communities Manager] It’s very encouraging to know that the Tales of Albion lore is so popular! Unfortunately the ToA app was taken offline due to the redesign of Lionhead.com. I will be getting it back online as a lot of people show an interest in Fable’s back story and this Q&A might be a good platform to launch it once again! As they say; watch this space!
Q: The control scheme of the computer made some features possible on the pc that couldn’t be realized on the Xbox. What kept you from using Fable II’s sub targeting system?
A: For the PC release of Fable 3 we have reintroduced a form of sub targeting on the mouse control system. This is on by default when using the ‘non sticky’ targeting mode for more advanced players.
Q: Why did you guys decide to not include a childhood in Fable 3? (could have been good to have a background on the characters starting love interest)
A: A criticism of Fable 1 and Fable 2 had been the amount of time played as a child before the player became an adult and was able to go out into the world and fight proper enemies and feel a real hero. For Fable 3 we decided to start the player as an adult which allowed us to fight wolves and Hollowmen very early on rather than having giant wasps or beetles that always seemed a less engaging foe.
Q: Do you have a favourite moment from any of the Fable series?
A: Being an RPG gamer at heart, I loved ‘The Game’ Quest in Fable 3, it poked fun at a lot of my favourite games, was a lot of fun to play through. Back on Fable 1 TLC, I did enjoy the chance to finally off the Guild Master, ‘Hero, your health is low!’.
Q: Who took the decision to put in some creatures designed by the artists working at Lionhead and let some others aside? And what led you to those decisions?
A: At the beginning of Fable 3 Development the Combat Design & Art Departments worked together to come up with a list of cool creatures that both fit into the world of Albion and worked with the combat mechanics we already had in Fable 2. These were then fleshed out with concept art and combat documents and taken to the Lead Designers. Meetings were then had with all involved to pick the creatures that fitted the setting and would work as enemies, from that, the creature list was created. In development a couple of these creatures were dropped and a couple of others joined as required.
Q: Could trolls possibly make a comeback?
A: As mentioned above, the creatures have to fit the setting. We’ve always enjoyed making Trolls in Fable, but felt we couldn’t do them justice in Fable 3, however, I wouldn’t rule them out for future Fables if they have a sensible slot to fill.
Q: Can you make Fable 2 for the PC?
A: Nope, sorry. Due to creating a brand new engine for the 360 on Fable 2, there was no code time to port over the engine back then. This time the code department could do the PC version justice and so Fable 3 on PC was made.
Q: Do you feel like the movements toward simplicity and accessibility worked favourably for the Fable series, and if not, do you think the experiences and feedback gained from Fable II and Fable III will help you to make a better game?
A: The Fable series has always aimed itself as accessible games that could be played by anyone and there are many people that tell me that the Fable games are the only ones they have ever finished. From that perspective they have been very successful for our target audience. However, we have received criticism from the more core gamers and I would expect that future games will be designed from the start to appeal to both casual and core gamers. Our first step to that goal was adding a Hard mode to the PC version.
Q: Lionhead has been using Mark Hill as a writer since Fable/TLC originally came out. My question is if Lionhead is one of the few companies who have in-house writers, or if Mark is simply you’re go-to-guy?
[Mark Hill - Writer] A lot developers who make story-led, dialogue-heavy games tend to have an in-house writer like me (well, not literally like me – we assume some of them are sane). A couple of the really dialogue-heavy devs might have more, but generally other writers will be contractors. The game industry is still learning the value of writers, who have historically been regarded as just a rung above window cleaners. In fact, I still keeps a squeegee next to my keyboard and a ladder under my desk.
Q: Please can you confirm that you will also be supporting the 360 gamepads on the PC version?
A: Yes, this is me confirming it here.
Q: Do any of the developers have any interesting stories regarding how they first got into the games industry?
A: The only reason I ended up in the games industry is because of my mum. I was just finishing my 3rd year at uni and she was badgering me to apply for jobs. Back in 1995 we didn’t have job websites, just the local newspaper, so I looked in there. After a failed application to work as a crime analyst for the police, I ended up seeing a job for games programmers in Dartford, got an interview and started work for Anco making football management games on the Amiga, 3 days out of university.
Q: What is the best Career path for someone who’s desire is to work in the gaming field as far as doing the nitty gritty stuff such as 3D modelling, graphic design (along the lines of images and textures for 3d models and the sort)?
[David Oxford – Senior Artist] If you like art, films, and games then you’re on the right path. If you’re the kind of person who walks down the street subconsciously appreciating details in architecture, texture, how light falls on various surfaces, then you’re on the right path. If you find yourself sitting up in your cinema seat exclaiming aloud when blown away by a certain vista reveal/Matte plate then, even though people look at you like you’re strange, you’re on the right path.
If you have a camera, start taking photos of interesting views, silhouettes, textures as they’ll be useful reference when you need to make something! Get hold of a 3D package, learn it as best you can (as well as Photoshop), then work towards a collection of images that will blow people away. Don’t hold back, this is your chance to do the most amazing looking images you can and that is what people are looking for!
As a reference point, there’s a bunch of stuff on Gnomon Workshop for all kinds of things, like, off the top of my head check out the site of Rafael Lacoste and his DVD on there, if you can do stuff like that you can get a job. Make a blog and put your best stuff on there and you should be on your way.
Q: What sort of work are you as a developer looking for in new talent? And how does one know when he/she has a strong enough portfolio to start applying to the industry?
A: Art is covered in other questions, so I’ll cover Design. I’ve interviewed and employed a large number of designers over the years and the main thing to help you stand out compared to other graduates is any projects you have worked on in your own time. I’ve always been less interested in what degree you have got, and more interested in and mods you have made, XNA games you have developed or iPhone apps you have released. These are the elements that show how motivated you are and how good a designer you can be, not if can listen in lectures and remember facts. Of course a degree helps with the basics, but it is less important than most applicants think.
Q: Will you spend less time on the forums now this ‘ask Lionhead’ thing is on?
A: I have only been on the forums intermittently when I have a gap, and I try and answer a bunch of questions like this as it is a good use of my time. Your other friendly forum developers will still hang out there and offer abuse as usual!
Thanks to everyone for sending in their questions! Please post your new ones in the comments below and ask your friends if they have any questions for a video games developer.