Wildgoose couldn't make it to an interview last week with Louise Murray, who heads the Fable franchise, so he sent me instead. Here's what Louise had to say about what's new in Fable III, including a different approach to co-op play.
The first thing Louise points out is that Fable III is less of a role-playing game and more of an action-adventure. Characters don't age like they did in Fable I and Fable II, because the whole story takes place over two or three years. Fable III also focuses more on the user experience to make sure players better understand the game's features.
What are the stats on Fable I and Fable II players playing good or evil? Were there any instances where everyone chose the good option or everyone chose the evil option?
We've found that 80 per cent of our players play good rather than evil. It's the players that play through two or three times that want to explore the darker side of things.
Do players tend to stick with one side through the game?
We think that people tend to pick good and try to be as good as they possibly can be. But in Fable III, we've really started to investigate shades of grey, so it's a lot less clear what is good and evil, and we start to pose some interesting questions that really make you stop, put down the controller, and have a think before you make your decision.
What are you trying to make players aware of with these moral choices?
I think really we're trying to achieve a sense of interest and awareness. These are wrapped into the bigger drama and the bigger story. It's really an entertainment piece that has interesting explorations of morality, which I don't think you get in any other medium or any other style of entertainment.
How has feedback on Fable I and Fable II influenced the design of Fable III?
We didn't focus on moral choices as much this time. This time it was really about accessibility and usability. We got feedback suggesting that most of our players didn't play all of the game, or didn't understand how to use all our levelling-up systems. So that's really where our focus has been much more so than morality, which we've explored quite in depth in the last two games. We're moving into new pastures.
What do you mean by accessibility and usability? What's changed in Fable III to help players better understand the game?
It's really about making sure the story is clear and that you're on an adventure that you're enjoying. They're not breaking you out of that adventure, so rather than taking you to a 2D screen of stats and things that you're trying to work out so that you can progress on, we've woven it into the fiction of the story. We've got a sanctuary with John Cleese where all your stuff is kept; it's not in a big list. There's a place, and you've got a person who can help you. But as far as levelling up goes, we've got another place called "The Road to Rule" - a visual place of gates and chests where you can very clearly see how you are progressing through the game. It's woven into the fiction, so it's interesting and engaging in and of itself.
What was it like working with comedians such as John Cleese, Simon Pegg and Stephen Fry? Do you have any funny or interesting stories?
I personally didn't get to go to the recording sessions, which was a damn shame. One of our best stories has been Sir Ben Kingsley, who came in to play a character called Sabine (pictured above). He looked at the character, read it, then played it in a Welsh accent! It's really cool. The voice talent have really contributed to the performance and the style of the game, and they've really made a difference in adding a level of personality and drama that just wasn't there before and I don't think is there in a a lot of games. So we're very lucky.
There was a lot of hype over co-op play in Fable II, but it didn't turn out to be what people expected. What's your approach to co-op play this time around?
That's a very fair comment and one we definitely agree with. In Fable III, we have taken that next step, so it is two cameras, you're not tethered together again - which was awful in Fable II - and you come in as a Hero. So if I'm playing in your world, I come in as my full Hero, I have all my stuff with me, I can go into my inventory - the sanctuary, that is - and anything I collect in your world I can take back to my world. And more uniquely for any video game, we can form a business partnership and share our money, or we can get married, or we can have babies. We've definitely got some elements which are going to make the game feel very, very different for people to play.
How does the whole idea of co-op play sit within the big picture of Fable? You're the Hero, and you shape the destiny of the world, but now you're letting other Heroes into the world. Isn't that a contradiction?
We've kept the fiction very clear - it's your world, your Hero. If I come into your world, I'm going to get paid, and it's the best job you can get, so if you want to earn money, that's a really good way to do it. But we haven't blurred the edges between the worlds. It's your world, your King or Queen in it, your journey, and I'm there to help you, and vice versa. So we don't blur the lines at all - we keep it very clear.
It sounds like a totally different game. Will there be some players who won't like the changes in Fable III?
That's always possible, but I think we've really kept the essence of Fable. So what we're very much hoping is that the people who love Fable for what it is are going to love this even more, because it's a better story, a better realised world, and the whole thing is more compelling. And then we're also attracting a whole new audience that perhaps have been put off in the past. RPG comes with some stigmas - there are people who aren't really into that whole grinding thing and just want a cool story and a cool adventure. Hopefully, those people will come check out Fable III, and hopefully, they'll love it.