Developer Lionhead Studios
Interviewee Geoff Smith, Executive Producer, Lionhead Studios
Game Fable The Journey
Platform Xbox Kinect.
This is a Q& A session held with Geoff Smith who is Executive Producer at Lionhead Studios who have just release Fable to Journey. The questions are not our own but we think it makes some interesting reading none the less.
Q: “Fable” is a hugely popular franchise, especially loved for its quirky, British sense of humor. Can we expect to see more of this same humor in “Fable: The Journey?”
A: Yes, the world of “Fable” has always been packed with humor, intense action, adventure and the freedom to play your way “Fable: The Journey” will continue these traditions as Gabriel, a young dweller and the mysterious Theresa encounter a slew of new humorous characters.
Q: What have been the biggest challenges and successes you’ve had through the development of “Fable: The Journey?”
A: “Fable: The Journey” has been built from the ground up for Kinect on Xbox 360 and we are very proud that it is the first Kinect title that can be played entirely from the seated position, thanks to the development of a new upper-body skeletal tracking system.
In addition, the visual style of “Fable: The Journey” has been updated and is the best looking Albion to date. Lionhead Studios chose to work with the Unreal Engine 3, allowing the team to focus on developing an Albion three times the size of maps in previous installments. “Fable: The Journey” is about 15 hours of in-depth gameplay with a rich narrative, increasingly difficult enemies, and a variety of side quests and puzzles to keep a player engaged in the game.
Q: Given the vastness and complexity of the “Fable” universe, will the storyline of “Fable: The Journey” be appealing to casual gamers or those who haven’t played previous “Fable” games?
A: Our goal was to create a Kinect for Xbox 360 experience that is advanced and engaging enough to excite core gamers while still being accessible enough to introduce the world of Albion to more casual fans. Players of all levels and experience with the franchise can easily jump into the role of Gabriel with the power of Kinect to embark on an action-packed adventure full of dangerous enemies, hair-raising chases and humorous characters.
Q: One of the most celebrated aspects of the “Fable” franchise is the freedom to explore other activities beyond the storyline. Will “Fable: The Journey” incorporate these features?
A: In “Fable: The Journey,” players will embark on an adventure where the goal is to reach a specific place in Albion before a mysterious dark force overtakes the land. Players will battle enemies, gain allies and solve puzzles as they navigate their horse and carriage down the shortest route to their destination. One of the key design principles was to keep players engaged in the action on their path to becoming a hero. Players will have the freedom to embark on side quests and navigate their horse down a path but the game will push them forward in a race to get to their destination before time runs out.
Q: How have you embraced the fact that this is a controller free experience? Will players really feel the power to manipulate magic with their own hands?
A: The world of “Fable” has always been packed with humor, intense action, adventure and the freedom to play your way, making it ripe for exploration with Kinect. The team had to take a different approach than what is typical with controller-based games, where the X button correlates directly to an action on screen. The beauty of Kinect is that it maps your whole body, allowing us to build a game that responds to your motions. We didn’t want to force you to do a very specific motion over and over again; instead, we designed a game that grows and changes the more you use it and the more you play around with what it can do.
Q: Other than the character Theresa, who proves to be a constant throughout all of the “Fable” stories, are there any other references to the storylines of previous that gamers of “Fable: The Journey” can pick up on?
A: Theresa is the backbone of the “Fable” franchise, and telling her story was an important part of cementing “Fable: The Journey” as a core part of the “Fable” franchise. Her relationship with Albion, and with the Spire, is at the heart of the story. In exploring the backstory of Theresa and the Spire, and we are driving towards a conclusion. “Fable: The Journey’s” narrative is deeply embedded in the lore of previous “Fable” games. As well as answering the big questions that fans have been pondering for years, “Fable: The Journey” also provides insights into the lighter side of Albion’s history through its collectable lore items, and continues the “Fable” tradition of creating memorable –and funny! – side characters for the player to meet along the way.
Q: The “Fable” story arc has been spread out of 600 years, with a passing of 500 years between “Fable l” and “Fable ll,” but only 50 years passing between that and “Fable lll.” What can you tell us about the significance of the timing of “Fable: The Journey?”
A: “Fable: The Journey” is set a further 50 years after “Fable III,” but the most important thing isn’t the number of years. What matters most is that it’s been just long enough for Albion’s citizens to forget about the trauma inflicted on them in “Fable III.” There are rumours spreading from Bowerstone that the King has gone missing, but for the most part Albion is drifting along peacefully, with magic and heroes no longer part of people’s day-to-day lives. With memories fading, most now dismiss the old stories as mere fairy tales, not to be taken seriously. However, beneath this idyllic surface, a storm is brewing that threatens Albion’s future.
Q: In your opinion, how does the latest hero Gabriel, compare to the heroes of the previous “Fable” games?
A: Gabriel is different from previous “Fable” heroes in a number of respects. Firstly, Gabriel is a defined character, with his own personality, rather than an empty vessel. The more directed experience of “Fable: The Journey” has allowed us to craft a story with more depth, and to really explore the relationships between the characters. Secondly, he’s not a member of the Heroic Bloodline. He’s just an ordinary guy – in fact, he’s a bit of an outsider. He reads the old stories, the Heroic myths, but his day-to-day life is spent driving at the back of a Dweller caravan. The others laugh at him for his belief in old stories, and early in the game his daydreaming causes him to fall asleep and become separated from his tribe. Forced to take the old roads to catch up, he meets Theresa and gets swept along in a battle that promises to change Albion forever. He learns of the fate ahead of him, and over time grows to become just as worthy a Hero as any of the old legends.
Q: What’s the most important innovation in the game from your perspective? What are you most proud of?
A: “Fable: The Journey” is unique in that it brings a Kinect experience to core gamers, and in doing so contains a number of significant innovations. Firstly, it’s a Kinect game that is playable entirely from your couch – there’s no need to stand while playing, allowing you to play for hours at a time and become absorbed in the drama. It’s also a long-play single player game, with a structure that will seem familiar to experienced “Fable” fans. Few titles have been this ambitious in their use of Kinect. As well as innovating by bringing the core to Kinect, bringing Kinect to the core also adds a great deal of immersion to the experience. From the power of casting spells to the emotional resonance of healing your horse with your own hands, Kinect really serves to draw the player into the drama like never before.
Q: A lot has been made of the relationship between the hero Gabriel, and his horse Seren. How does this develop throughout the game?
A: Gabriel and Seren were matched at a young age, and have always supported one another. Their relationship is more balanced than the dog of previous “Fables” – Gabriel is reliant on Seren, not only to get around but also for her emotional support and perceptiveness. Similarly, Seren couldn’t survive without Gabriel to take care of her, and this equality deepens the bond between the player and their horse. We wanted to invest in Seren as a key character in the game, and not relegate her to just being a mode of transport. As such she has a key role in the story and fully participates in the cinematics – during development, we motion-captured an acting horse as well as all the other performers!
Kinect also adds depth to the relationship – one of our big surprises during development was just how involved players felt when interacting with the horse using their hands. Players in user research took to healing and caring for the horse in a way we hadn’t previously seen, a way that wouldn’t have been the same with an abstract, controller-based mini-game. When pulling arrows from their horse, we saw people feel really guilty and apologise for the harm they’d led her into – an emotional response that demonstrates just how much players had become invested in their relationship with Seren.