Fable II scored 10/10 on Eurogamer and Fable III scored 8/10. But wasn't the third a better game? Wasn't co-op was better, combat deeper and the map more intuitive? Why didn't Fable IIII receive the plaudits of Fable II?
In this interview, Fable III lead combat designer Mike West sits down with Eurogamer to offer his post-mortem of the Xbox 360 game. He goes on to detail this Friday's PC release, and why the significant alterations he and his team have made ensure this will be "a much better version" of Fable III.
Eurogamer: Now the dust has settled on Fable III, what do you think about the reception it got?
Mike West: We added a reasonable amount of depth to the combat with the new spells, the spell-weaving, the weapon upgrading and the new abilities. The only problem we had from the combat point of view was the difficulty, which is what we've changed in the PC version.
Really we had some of the best quests on Fable III. The Game quest was fantastic - that made me laugh a lot. Comedy like that, and with the gnomes with Mark Heap - he's one of my favourite comedians. Our vocal cast was amazing. I'm slightly disappointed we haven't won any audio awards to be honest, because our music's great, our vocal talent's great - and then you'll see a standard shooter get an audio award. I just think that's because they're more popular than us.
Generally what happens when there's any information about Fable or about Peter Molyneux, you get a complete black and white - pardon the pun - split of forum replies. Half of the people, whatever it's about - if Peter has made the most sensible comment about games development ever - just spout obscenities and terrible, ridiculous things. Whether you like him or you don't like him, he's made Populous, Dungeon Keeper - he's done amazing games in the past.
Then you'll get the other half of people saying, "Fable was actually pretty good, I really enjoyed it." It's a frustrating situation to be in because we make good games, but people expect something that no one else is doing. We're making a co-operative role-playing game - there aren't any co-operative role-playing games out there, we're the only one.
Most role-playing games I play, you go into a town and there's someone standing there, and then you walk up and you press a button and he says the same line over and over again, he doesn't move and it comes up in text. In ours, everything is vocalised, everyone has a personality, you can marry people, you can buy every building in the game - we can do this huge width of things in Fable. Many of the games we're compared against have 60 hours of killing the same creatures over and over again. I love Fallout and I love Oblivion, but when it comes down to it, you do the same things quite a lot. If you want a 60-hour game then play one of those.
"A lot of people that play [Fable III] think it's a Lord of the Rings - and it isn't."
But if you want a fun, wide game... And that's the thing, if you play [Fable III] to finish it as soon as possible, Fable won't give you as good a game as Oblivion. But if you play the game to enjoy the world, try everything and play all the little bits and bobs hidden around the game, you'll have a much more fun experience.
Every time you finish playing Fable you'll have a smile on your face. Every time you play Oblivion you'll say "I enjoyed my time there but now I want to go play something fun". [Fable III is] a different type of game: it's more of a fun, comedic TV show than a serious Lord of the Rings film. I think a lot of people that play it think it's a Lord of the Rings - and it isn't.
Eurogamer: Did Fable III live up to your expectations that you had at the beginning of the project? Did you have enough time?
Mike West: It was a two-year project, so it's the shortest project Lionhead has ever done. I probably shouldn't say this, but we have released some buggy games in the past and they have been fixed. Fable II was buggier; Fable III wasn't very buggy - it was pretty polished. It all fitted together very well and as a product it was very good. People expected more. That was the only thing we were guilty of, that people expected it to be this next step. That's a problem we've created for ourselves being Lionhead. Because it was a two-year game, it wasn't going to be a big enough step.
[Fable III] is a better game than Fable II. We did really well for the time we did to release the game with all the elements working together. The consumer doesn't care how long it takes us: they know that it costs this much and that it's in a box.
Eurogamer: Was there any particular criticism you felt was unfair?
Mike West: People saying the story wasn't very good was unfair. It's an interesting situation of you gather people together and then defeating the main bad guy. It's a pretty good story and it's pretty fun.
I talk to people down pub and I bump into people in their early 20s and I mention what I do and they say, "Wow, I love Fable III, I love Fable II." Most of them are too young to play Fable 1, worryingly, but they love these games and I haven't had that before until about the last three or four years.
Eurogamer: So what's new for Fable III on PC?
Mike West: We didn't want to make it feel like a port. The main thing was to completely redo the control system. It's a modal system now where you switch between modes and the mouse buttons do different things. You feel like you're in melee mode, you feel like you're in ranged mode, you feel like you've gone into magic mode. It's actually got more depth on PC because of the mouse.
When you use the mouse with the guns you can strafe while looking in first-person mode. If you're doing a PC game where you can go first-person, you've got to be able to move.
The second big change is the engine, with the high resolution and the 3D as well. Fable and Albion have never looked better for anyone on any machine. The Xbox guys got it first, but the PC guys are going to have a much better version.
This is definitely the best Fable PC - it's much better than Fable 1.
"The Xbox guys got it first, but the PC guys are going to have a much better version."
Eurogamer: Why is Fable III more difficult on PC?
Mike West: Partly in response to some of the fans and partly because we've always thought PC gamers are slightly more hardcore. You've got core gamers on Xbox, but you very rarely get casual PC gamers with a 3D card. If you've gone out and bought a 3D card you're usually a core gamer, just because of the cost - a good 3D card these days costs the same as an Xbox.
In future games we're going to have difficulty levels for everyone on every machine, but this time we wanted to give PC gamers something more challenging. We've upped the difficulty level; we've stopped the player's health regenerating all the time - the player has less basic health, the AI attacks more often. It's tweaks. A couple of designers had time to go in and really ramp it up and make it feel a lot more hardcore.
Eurogamer: How much bug fixing and engine improvement has been done on Fable III?
Mike West: All the time has been spent on the engine and doing bug fixing for multiple formats of graphics cards and PC set-ups - all those elements you don't get on Xbox.
If you mean bugs that were on the Xbox build: I don't think we had a huge number, to be honest. We've done some title updates and they've covered most of the ones we're aware of, but Fable III hasn't been too bad, especially compared to some of the games that are coming out at the moment - they're pretty terrible and I don't think we're really in that class.
Eurogamer: Could the PC additions be patched onto Xbox 360?
Mike West: That's up to the studio as a whole - what the studio is working on and whether it fits.
We generally look at what games we are working on next, how much time we have and which people are working on those things - [patching these additions is] quite code-heavy, and those guys are probably going to start working on something quite important now!
As far as porting things back to [Fable III on Xbox 360]: it's probably unlikely. We're going to be working on new stuff now so the next game comes out sooner rather than later.
Eurogamer: Fable III will be the first Microsoft game to be released on Steam (it also uses GfW - Live). That's a big deal. Whose idea was that?
Mike West: Steam is a very powerful and globally used system. If you're doing a game on PC at the moment - that doesn't mean things won't change in the future - then Steam is the platform of choice. We've all been pushing for it from day one on PC. We don't know if we need Steam in the future, but at the moment it's definitely a platform we need to use.
It's been really good that Microsoft has gone with us on this.
Eurogamer: The Witcher 2 arrives on the same day as Fable III. Isn't that a game for PC gamers?
Mike West: I don't see the same people who play The Witcher as playing Fable, and the other way around. The Witcher 1 was quite a dark game with a lot of blood and bits flying about, whereas Fable is very friendly and happy and funny - it's a fun, relaxing time. I loved Fallout 3 on the Xbox, but I couldn't play it for more than a few hours because everything was brown and grey and rusty and there was a nuclear war. It was a great game, but every now and then you just got depressed.
Eurogamer: Will the next pillar Fable instalment be an Xbox 360 game?
Mike West: That's definitely one I'm not allowed to talk about ha ha ha.
Eurogamer: Are you making a Fable game for Kinect?
PR: A very nice try, Rob, but the answer is we don't comment on rumour and speculation, sorry.
Eurogamer: When is it time to start working on a next generation engine?
Mike West: As soon as I know it [a next generation machine exists], it's a good time to start working on it. As soon as someone from Microsoft walks into the room and says, "This is what we're doing, this is the date it comes out, this is what we want for it." That's the day we're going to start working on it. As soon as we're given the go ahead then we're straight on it. But we're not looking particularly at the next console.
Mike West was lead combat designer on Fable III, lead scripter on Fable II and senior scripter on Fable. He's worked at Lionhead for seven years.