So Who The Hell Is This Peter Molyneux Guy, Anyway?

So Who The Hell Is This Peter Molyneux Guy, Anyway?

Whenever the subject of the Fable series or its outspoken creator Peter Molyneux pops up, a lot of people question why the man is given so much airtime. Why people give a hoot about the games he’s making.

He seems to be known by many as simply the guy behind Fable. Or that guy who made too many promises about the Fable series then didn’t deliver. Which is a damn shame.

Because many of our readers are American, or young, or indeed young Americans, they may not have grown up with systems like the Amiga. They may not know who Bullfrog Productions were. If that’s you, we’re going to show you why people care.

Last night, Molyneux was given a BAFTA Fellowship at an awards ceremony in the UK, and as part of his acceptance speech said “Sorry – I’ve slightly over-promised on things on occasion. I could name at least 10 features in games that I’ve made up to stop journalists going to sleep and I really apologise to the team for that.”

To people who can remember Molyneux’s boasts prior to the release of the first Fable, that it would feature things like persistent tree growth, it brought a wry smile. He sometimes promises the world from his games. Sometimes doesn’t come good on them. But in many cases over the past 24 years he has actually delivered.

Peter Molyneux developed his first “game” in 1984. It was called The Entrepreneur, and was a… business simulator. Despite being so convinced of the game’s success he literally cut himself a larger mailbox, it went on to sell two copies, a blow so severe that he cut and ran from the games business to design office databases.

This actually paid quite well, and in 1987 Molyneux returned to games development, founding Bullfrog Productions. Bullfrog’s first game, the top-down shooter Fusion (designed by Molyneux), was pretty good, but its second game – Populous – exploded.

Populous, a game where you literally played God, was a revolution. Players could shape the surface of a world to their liking, nurturing or punishing its inhabitants, and while it got pretty boring after a while, for a game released in 1989 it was amazing stuff.

Populous spawned a direct sequel, a 3D remake and in 2008 even a DS version of the game was released.

Fun fact: to prototype the game, Bullfrog used LEGO sets.

Bullfrog’s next hit game would be Syndicate, and while Molyneux had little involvement in this title, the fact it was the product of his studio still sees his name attached to it whenever the subject comes up. An isometric action/strategy game set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, its environments look so damn good it’s hard to believe it was released all the way back in 1993.

Syndicate turned up on a surprisingly varied number of platforms, from the Amiga to the PC to the 3DO, Jaguar and even Mac. It was followed by Syndicate Wars, a…lesser successor, which was not worked on by the original’s designer, Sean Cooper. There are still, to this day, rumours of a sequel being secretly worked on by Electronic Arts.

Magic Carpet, another PC classic, followed hot on Syndicate’s heels, and was released in 1994. It was incredibly innovative, its “real-time” 3D engine capable of things like reflection, lighting and a modifiable landscape that other games of the time couldn’t even dream of managing.

Molyneux was lead designer on the game, as well as its 1995 sequel, which many regard as being even better.

If you’ve never played it, you can now grab Magic Carpet on the PlayStation Network.

Before Rollercoaster Tycoon, there was Theme Park, one of the most accessible strategy games ever made. Molyneux was again the designer behind the game, and considering this was released in 1994, you can see by the mid-1990s he was a very busy man. Everything he was touching at this time was turning to gold.

Theme Park was followed in 1997 by Theme Hospital, which while a less appealing subject for simulation retained much of the charm and cheek of its predecessor.

In 1997, Molyneux released Dungeon Keeper (again as the driving force behind it), a strategy game which took a traditional RPG and turned it on its head. Instead of controlling the hero as he worked his way through a villain’s dungeon, you were now the bad guy, tasked with creating dungeons big enough and strong enough to kill the good guys.

It’s revered to this day as one of the smartest PC games ever made. A sequel was made, and currently an MMO based on the property is in development.

That would be his last game with the developer. Molyneux left in 1997, with Electronic Arts now in control of the studio (it would be finally wound up in 2004) and formed a new development house, Lionhead.

Lionhead’s first game was Black & White, and it’s here that the wheels start to fall off a little for the most successful individual developer of the 1990s. Black & White was in many ways a spiritual successor to Populous, but upon its release in 2001 not only failed to include many features originally promised by Molyneux, but was also incredibly buggy, and like Populous got boring once you’d got the hang of playing it.

It wasn’t all bad. This song, for example, may well be my favourite mission briefing of all time.

Following from Black & White, Molyneux and Lionhead released a number of expansions for both the original game and its sequel, released cult Hollywood simulation The Movies and, of course, the three Fable games, which are both current and popular enough to not need further discussion.

Molyneux and Lionhead also worked for years on BC, a caveman game that looked great but was ultimately (and sadly) cancelled, a fate that’s probably been shared by his /”Project Milo” title for Kinect.

So there you have it. If you’ve been a Molyneux fan for decades, I hope that was a nice trip down memory lane. And if you’re one of those kids that always says “Fable sucked who gives this man money to make games?”, maybe now you know he was the creator of Populous, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park and Fable, you’ll have a little perspective!


Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.


  • Nice. Syndicate was ths sh*t back in ’93. My friends and I still talk about V3 chestpieces!

    Dungeon Keeper was awesome too, just to be able to slap imps around.

    Hopefully, whatever he brings next will carry some of that rebellious spark his earlier games seem to ooze. If something can ooze spark…..

      • Pretty sure it’s Molly-new.

        Also, in response to the piece, the man’s a dreamer, let him dream his grandiose visions I say, even if he can’t deliver on some of them. He’s one of my favourite dev’s to listen to just because he has such passion and creativity, not to mention being humble and self-deprecating.

  • I have always lamented the lack of any new Magic Carpet games, particularly when WiiFit came out. (especially considering the sort of engine updates the Populous games saw with P3: The beginning – and whilst I never had the opportunity to play the first two games I believe this was a prequel rather than a remake)
    It would have been fantastic if the franchise could have seen a relaunch with the balance board (not to mention I think the Wiimote and nunchuk control scheme would have been great on its own for the game)

    Talking about how well some of these games have weathered the path of time as well; Magic Carpet could be played in 800×600 and had an optional filter available to provide a facsimile of some very early anti-aliasing! The only real graphical shortcoming was the limitation of 8 direction sprites for large monsters (the game even had 3D support for not only R/B anaglyph, but even a weird attempt at making it playable with that Magic Eye technique that makes you go cross-eyed… perhaps a little ahead of its time when you consider attempting that on a CRT display)

    not to mention those opening cinematics for the likes of MC, Theme Park and Syndicate…

    *sigh* I just wish I could play the original Fable right now.. unfortunately the installer isn’t compatible with XP post-SP3.. perhaps when I eventually switch to Windows 7…

  • I was an accidental fan of PM. Fell in love with Bullfrog, then Lionhead, THEN found out he headed both of them. This was after I heard everyone talking about how much of a jerk etc. he was.

    I now happily disagree with those people…

  • I think he’s good to pushing sections of industry AI etc he’s got some popularity so they give him leverage to try stuff.

    But I would hate to work for him… The stuff I’ve heard him say are in games without checking with the dev teams 1st… that would be umm not fun…

  • Despite what the media write, he simply has balls to bring these games to table without prior genre streamlining. Games never live up to the hype they generate anyway; it just so happens he’s really good at generating it.

    • I wouldn’t say that generating hype by flat-out bullshitting is a good way to go. The guy has been involved in some great games, I just wish he’d shut the hell up sometimes and let the games speak for themselves rather than setting everyone’s hopes up for a guaranteed let down.

      • Wasn’t “shutting the hell up sometimes and letting the games speak for themselves” the reason why games like Beyond Good & Evil and Psychonauts tanked in their initial retail runs?

        Plus even if he can’t deliver on some promises (which isn’t so bad considering how often tech limits have held back other games in the past), he can still keep inching closer to his lofty visions and inspiring other devs to do the same.. certainly moreso than statements like “it’s going to revolutionise shooters” (Halo and CoD after umpteen iterations) and “taking on WoW at its own game” (most lame post-WoW MMOs up until around Rift)

        Consider it in the context of what Ubisoft did with its DRM revisions to Splinter Cell: Conviction and AC2 – same tactic to try and trick consumers into thinking their poop wasn’t so rancid, but still making them deal with said poop – compared to Molyneux saying how ‘awesometastical’ something is going to be and then just giving us ‘pretty darned spiffy’ in the end… last I checked, ‘pretty darned spiffy’ was still very good! 🙂

        • You can still advertise a game without making up non-existent features. I totally agree that he’s made some pretty darned spiffy games, I just HATE people who feel the need to falsify.

  • I did enjoy Theme Hospital and Black & White, but his recent efforts with Fable have been less than satisfying. Fable III in particular was a huge disappointment.

    • I liked Fable 3 though I was very disappointed with its character morph system and end game boss fight.

      More on-topic though I like Peter Molyneux. He seems like a cool guy.

  • Syndicate blew my 10 year old mind and I spent countless hours dicking around with Dungeon Keeper, so props to Mollynoo on that. But the mouth on the man, ye gods! I get the feeling that Mollynoo was one of those kids in primary school whose dad was a black belt and owned a ferrari.

  • Magic Carpet was phenomenal.
    I played many, many 2 player games of magic carpet over a IPX/SPX coax network back in the day, and it was AMAZING.
    The whole playerVSplayerVSenvironment was spectacular. The game even had a built in system for evening out the playing field occasionally – the most powerful wizards drew the ire of powerful monsters who would destroy their castle – allowing other players to pick up some of their valuable mana and catch up!

    So, so good
    Needs to be remade – same gameplay, graphics overhaul

  • I really miss Dungeon Keeper. That was a great game and sometimes even today I break it out to have a play. I tried some LAN games a while back with a friend but the actual combat degenerates pretty quickly. I wish they had made number 3.

    Black and White was also a game I had a lot of fun with, probably because I knew nothing about it before I started playing. A lot of potential with that game.

  • PETER!


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