http://www.computerandvideogames.com....php?id=188692Preview Fable 2
13-May-2008 Preview: We get cosy with Lionhead's latest
Peter Molyneux's full of apologies. First, he apologises for kicking off our day's events slightly tardily, and for having put on a few pounds since we last met. "I've just given up smoking," he says, shovelling a digestive into his mouth.
The third thing the Lionhead boss wassorry for was the current state of the Fable 2 code he was about to show us. Clearly, the game's still a little way from being retail ready, even though the white board in the corner of the room says there are only seven days left until "content complete". Menu items are missing, shaders and shadows flicker in an un-finished fashion, and our hero's dog is bizarrely glowing pink.
It doesn't matter though. Unlike most other game developers who control and obsess over every morsel of code and gameplay the press see, Molyneux's just desperate to lay his creation in front of us and let its innovations sell themselves.
"I probably shouldn't say this," he says glancing towards the burly American PR man lurking in the corner, "but on May 16 we're going to be content complete, which means we're going to have art and assets locked down."
It's this kind of disregard for the iron games PR machine that makes Molyneux - and a visit to Lionhead - so very refreshing. They'll take you on a full tour of the office, walk you through the development halls of games we'd be shot for uttering the names of, and cheekily let you take the Fable 2 joypad reigns while marketing men wince in the corner.
But despite the code being blotched with pink glitches and bugs, our first glimpse at the Fable 2 world isn't bad at all. The game kicks off with a gorgeous FMV sequence, cooked up outside of Lionhead by professional CGI studio Blur.
Needless to say, it looks terrific; a sparrow flutters through the snowy fields of Albion, majestically soaring towards the epic city of Bowerstone, just as the camera tosses and turns alongside the animal in a spectacular digital display. This is on par with the Halo 3 CGI commercial.
Naturally, Molyneux is keen to ethicise how the tiny bird's actions in this gorgeous sequence snowball the events of the entire game. Specifically, a single bullet-time bird dropping that spirals down to the ground, plopping on our young hero's head. They've got a lovely sense of humour in Guildford (more on that later).
"The world in Fable 2 is twenty times larger than the first game's", boasts Molyneux, spiralling the camera down to the now massive Bowerstone market. It really is a significant jump between the Xbox original and 360 metropolis.
We hate to bring it up again, but the first thing that came to mind was GTA III Liberty City versus GTA IV Liberty City - it really is that much of a difference in scope and scale in Fable 2.
Although the original Fable was, for its time, a technical juggernaut, it never made us feel like a stunted midget in a sprawling medieval universe like we do in the sequel. Fable 2 is truly epic (a word we promise not to use again in this preview).
"There's a hell of a lot more sandbox," Peter says of the world. "There's also the fact that every single building, even the dungeons, are buyable."
FMV flashiness over, Pete's now in command of a familiar small child - though better proportioned than we remember - standing in a snowy side street of the cobbled Bowerstone market.
"I like giving the player a feeling of familiarity at the beginning," notes Peter, introducing our hero's equally pint-sized Sister Rose, who plays just as big a part in Fable II's story as your sibling did in the original.
It's a beautiful, striking-looking game, but what first catches our eye is how clean everything looks. There's no HUD to speak of, no health indicators, no item counts, not even a mini-map.
"If we're going to make a game that's really going to be dramatic, making people feel like they're not just looking through a portal at this world is really important. One of the problems with that is the mini-map," says Molyneux.
"We had one of those ghastly, distasteful things in the top corner of the screen, and our levels were getting so detailed that we realised that our mini-map was getting bigger. So we said, 'let's just get rid of it'. There are other games that don't do it. So we replaced the mini-map with this little bad boy..."
Lionhead's solution is a sparkling trail on screen that Peter's calls the 'breadcrumb trail' - a subtle glittering line on the floor that guides you straight to your objective destination, easing out the need for a hulking mini-map.
Basically, the glittering guideline laid out for you dynamically adapts to guide you to whatever character or quest item is relevant at the time. But as Peter shows, you can still run off the path and explore whenever you want, and the trail will change on the fly so you don't get lost in Fable 2's gigantic world. "You can also turn it off in the pause menu," he says.
"If you want to follow the story, follow the breadcrumb trail. If you want to be more of an adventurer, go off path - the trail will update itself." If you go exploring a lot, says Pete, the trail will look less significant, a less bold.
It's just one of the ways Lionhead is ditching clunky user-interfaces and making Fable 2 look a whole lot more elegant. The bread trail leads our young hero through the snowy Bowerstone market - which doesn't look a world apart from a Victorian Eastenders - eventually reaching a crowd of shoppers huddled in front of a market stool.
In a completely in-game sequence, Peter strolls up to the crowd to see what's going on, and then in a very Assassin's Creed-esque moment he simply holds down the left trigger to whisk the camera over to points of interest - in this case the salesman yelling cockney slang over the crowd of shoppers. At any time you can simply walk away from the action, and carry on exploring.
"We're not forcing you into any cut-scene in the game. There's no such thing as a cut-scene," says Molyneux.
This sort of seamless integration of narrative and gameplay is all over the place; when dealing with a salesman or quest-giver, the bread trail creates a circle around the character. Walk inside and you'll initiate the quest chatter, a dialogue box will pop up to confirm deals, or you can watch the whole thing in a more traditional, cinematic angle by holding the right trigger.
It looks really great, and could take a lot of the pain and work out of the RPG questing. The other thing that has more of an effect on the narrative, notes Molyneux, are character emotions, which are back in the sequel via a radial menu on the left bumper. To demonstrate, our boy hero farts on a town guard, who instantly gifts us with +13 hatred.
We've tip-toed around the plot up to this point, but it's fair to say there's a heavy narrative behind what's going on.
"There's hell of a lot more story," notes Peter, interrupting a rather emotional story sequence on the big HD telly. "In Fable we didn't really spend enough time on the story," he admits.
We won't ruin anything, but the first 45 minutes of Fable 2's opening contains a pretty hefty spoiler sequence, which once again sends your hero character off on a mission of revenge, sword practice and making sure the dog's been fed properly.
So after fiddling with some menus, we get a bit more into the meat of Fable 2. We're older, packing heat (a big old elephant gun) and standing next to a gigantic lake that looks more Oblivion than something we're used to from this series. Our dog (still glitch-pink) is also enjoying a small trot in the grass.
We were warned at the start of our demo, again in another apology, that the frame rate isn't quite right yet. But here, in a bustling gypsy camp in the forest it's already rock-solid - and there's lots going on.
Shop keepers man stools, children run about (some we spotted were re-enacting the story from the first Fable) and in typical series fashion there's a few hussies loitering about, eager to tell us how "'andsome" we are. Yep, this area's a bit more Emmerdale than the Bowerstone's straight-out-of-Eastenders townies.
Combat, explains Pete, moving on to a nearby cave infested with nasties, comes in three distinct flavours; sword, gun and magic. As with the first game, the more you use either type of combat, your character will change to look, for example, all beefed up with blue veins for a magic user, or gritty and bruised for a swordsman. You'll find it very difficult to stick with just one though, we're told.
As our hero approaches the cave, with the mutt cowering nervously at his feat, he unsheathes his sword and steps inside. As has been boasted in the past, every move in a battle is handled by just the A button. It's a bit difficult to grasp exactly how well this works from a spectator seat next to Microsoft's most muscle-clad PR, but one thing that helps explain it are the context-sensitive moves, of which their seem to be many.
Stepping further into the rocky cavern, the baddies inevitably turn up; little fat gremlins called 'hobs' who even though in concept are the most generic drones ever, carry tons of character in Fable 2's Monty Python art design.
Molyneux starts busting out the sword flurries, spin-attacks and all manner of wide area attacks, sending the little fatties flying. It looks like targeting works in exactly the same way as the first game; with enemies highlighted in red, leaving timed button presses to run the actual process of fighting.
To demonstrate our earlier point on context-sensitive moves though, Molyneux takes the fight into a very narrow corridor, where his sword swipes suddenly become far shorter and 'stabby'.
Then he starts springing off the walls to execute stab moves and picking up objects to throw. It all looks very advanced for a system that uses a single button, but hopefully it'll work when we come to playing Fable 2 for ourselves.
And, with another apology, that's all we're allowed to see today (and expectedly that still didn't stop Molyneux attempting to show us more).
The impression we got from watching the game in action, and speaking to members of the development team in multiple positions, was that, first and foremost, fans of the first game are going to be very, very pleased.
The core elements that made Fable loved by fans; personality, choice and painless RPG systems, have all received significant attention - and of course the scope and scale of everything in the game world has shot up to current-gen proportions.
But on a secondary level, we couldn't help but notice the consistent hallmarks of a game trying to reach a bigger audience. The minimal HUD, menu-light adventuring, mum-friendly 'breadcrumb trail' and the drop-in, drop-out co-op all scream "casual gamer" (or about as casual as action RPG players get) and the phrase was definitely on the tongues of developers during our tour.
Mr. Molyneux fields our question: "RPGs are one of the most complex game types there are. I think we should take that challenge of having casual people, who have never played games before, mixed with core people - why shouldn't we have a game like this where both those types of people can play together?
"I think if you look back at really, really successful games, a lot of those games are where the core players really are satisfied. GTA IV - you know core gamers are satisfied. Other people just love playing around in that world, and I'd love Fable to be one of those games as well."
Whether he gets those extra players or not, from a core gamer's perspective Fable 2 looks fantastic, and we don't think Peter will need to be apologising to Fable fans come Christmas.
i was very dissapointed in the first one,hopefully the sequel will deliver.
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Part of me wants to read it but im not reading any of Molyneux's s***.
I like that he's adding these elements to a RPG, but he acts like people have never heard of these concepts before in a game. Again, it should be a great game, but give past games credit for the elements he's adding in. And people forget that this is an 85% averaged game from Fable 1. A very good game, but not a great one. I'm far more excited about Gears 2, APB, Alan Wake than this.
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Wow..great article, and well worth the read. This game is going to be an amazing sequel to an amazing original. This is what people really like about Peter. He is hard on himself and his team, and is striving for perfection, and is man enough to apologize for lack of polish in his beta product. There goes another $60 out of my checking.
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