Peter Molyneux on next projects and 'democratizing game design'

Peter Molyneux

The Molyneux Experiment

When most other game designers were still in graduate school, Peter Molyneux was already creating worlds with Populous, inventing the "real time God game". He created two companies (and later sold them to EA and Microsoft), Bullfrog in 1987 and Lionhead in 1997. With Fable 2 approaching its release, presumably at the end of this summer, we were interested in what comes next. Molyneux told GamersGlobal about two unannounced projects, why publishers don't like VIP designers and what he thinks about 'democratizing game design', as Microsoft likes to put it. Are stars still needed in today's gaming scene?

GamersGlobal: Peter, why don’t we start with you telling me about your new, unannounced game?

Peter Molyneux:: I am not saying anything at all. I’ve been sat down in a room by the head of PR of Microsoft and absolutely been told to not say anything about it, or... But I will tell you what I can. Since Black & White we’ve been doing a lot of AI, Lionhead was founded with that thought of AI in mind. The core of the team and the theories of the AI development moved from Black&White onto a project called Dimitri, which I tentalized you about for a long time. And that team continued to research. Dimitri has always been experimental, that’s why I never showed you anything of it. And then it moved from that experiment to a moment in time that happened six months ago, when a discovery was made. This discovery is so exciting that it lead to Lionhead focussing on that discovery, and sculpting a game around that. And I think that this discovery is a so significant...

GamersGlobal: Is it a scientific discovery or a discovery by your AI team?

This game will be on the front covers of Science magazines

Peter Molyneux: I can’t quite answer that, but I can answer in a way: This discovery has lead to us starting a game, and this game will be on the front cover of nature magazines and scientific magazines. It’s that significant. I think it’s such an incredible thing that we’re doing, I think it is... important.

GamersGlobal: So the development on that new game has already started?

Peter Molyneux: It has. Basically, the team has been experimenting for a long time. Six years ago, the experiment was in full swing with about 10 to 15 people. And they’ve created some stuff, and than the team shrunk down, but we’ve always had experiments going on at Lionhead. And then over a course of a period of time, something happened which took the experiment into a slightly different direction – which I can’t tell you about because it would mean giving too much away. But that was the moment where we got the inspiration for the new game.

Peter Molyneux

GamersGlobal: It doesn’t sound like a game at all, but more like a simulation.

Peter Molyneux: It’s gonna be an experiment. And it will be an experiment that fills you with a sense of wonder. I know, a lot of mystery there, but that’s all I can tell you about it right now.

GamersGlobal: You’ve honed your skills of talking without telling anything.

Peter Molyneux: Exactly. I’m talking a lot, saying nothing. The trouble is, I’m so excited about the game that I’m in constant danger of blurting it all out to somebody.

GamersGlobal: Isn’t that the problem for any designer worth his money: That, while you’re finishing your current game, your thoughts and your heart are already on the next idea?

Peter Molyneux: The interesting thing is, what I’ve become over the years, and what I’ve dropped. I dropped programming, for example. Firstly, I’m not particularly good at it and secondly, it takes me enormously amounts of time, and thirdly, the young blood are shooting past me. So I gave up programming. I’ve also more recently found a new way about working with design: I’ve now a team of designers under me. In Fable 2’s case, that’s Richard Ham, Dene Carter, Rob Stevens or Ben Huskins. We have daily meetings about Fable 2, and I guide them to decisions, but I don’t actually tune or tweak any variables any more. I am sitting down and playing through the game. And that gives me a little bit more free time to concentrate on other projects, and one of those projects is the game I just talked about.

Peter Molyneux' Populous 2
Populous 2 (a remake for Nintendo DS is supposed to come out in 2008) already was an AI heavy game: The player had only indirect control over his people.

Entropy (not verified)
0 EXP -
March 24, 2008 - 04:15 #

I just want to say that I think star designers are absolutely paramount to the survival of the game industry as a whole from the standpoint of quality.

I liken this situation to regulation of certain industries.

Certain elements from days gone by are missing and there is no financial incentive to bring them back. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance and Hitman: Blood Money are the only exceptions that I can think of (minus any renegade designs).

Those games went back to the basics that made their franchises so strong. They even went so far as to limit the fatalities to one per character and used the Codename 47 loading bar.

I speak from the standpoint of lesser details, such as proper muzzle flashes, impact sound effects, proper blood (MKDA's was not perhaps the best idea, but admirable for going ahead with it anyway), and general attention to detail such as this.

There is a normal trend with these things, but I feel things have become out of control. Here are two examples of the more normal trend:

Don't you find it strange that Return to Castle Wolfenstein perfected 2-D flame effects... only for the industry to completely skip over this idea and proceed with crappier effects to no end? Even so bad as to use that crappy 3-d flame effect which did so horribly.

How about Crysis... Far Cry was the first (and only that I know of) to introduce animated blood decals on player models. Those should be the future of such things. With Crysis, there was... little innovation in the realm of gore effects, to say the least.

These days, things are even worse. I'm not going to type much more though, as I've already unloaded my feelings onto the Valve forums.... to no avail. The best response I got was a polite disagreement with a mention that gameplay is more important.

I feel that gameplay has been compromised in ways. I love gore, but I also absolutely loved Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, which had no blood. They knew they needed something to make shooting someone satisfying, so they added smoke effects and perhaps some proper impact sound effects (its been awhile).

Goldeneye was the pioneer of so many such things. That game brought forward the entire concept of mission-based objectives. I hope that someone else eventually decides that such things are worthwhile, and does not decide to cut-and-paste this regurgitated hop-on-the-bandwagon crap.


Sepharo (not verified)
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March 24, 2008 - 06:06 #

Entropy: Great comment, and I agree with nearly everything but you're first sentence didn't have much to do with the rest. I was hoping you would explain why star designers are needed. Don't get me wrong I think they are necessary too but only in the "auteur" sense. The rest of your comment made the case quality control. That shit should be there anyway, now show me something creative!

san antonio dentists (not verified)
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September 3, 2011 - 10:22 #

Yes Sepharo. I agree. This is surely a great post.

Richdad (not verified)
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March 24, 2008 - 16:32 #

By comments about AI, " it will be in front page of all nature and scientific magzine" I think they have gone some step further in real life type AI. It would be great if their is an inteaction between user and AI to a more sophistacated level and not just by some buttons.

Player 101 (not verified)
0 EXP -
March 24, 2008 - 23:51 #

My guess also is a life simulation of sorts, using very advanced AI. No doubt Molyneux will start talking about "a new lifeform in my computer", soon.

Player (not verified)
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March 25, 2008 - 14:26 #

I think Star Designers are needed because they are most likley to work with experimantal games and completley new ideas.
That's what i like most about Peter Molyneux. I don't really expect perfect games from him, but really unique ones with new ideas and experimantal design.

5433 EXP -
March 26, 2008 - 17:09 #

My personal opinion is that star designers are important for two reasons: Firstly, they are a focus for the gamers and the media (special interest and mass market), they provide a face to what nowadays is a collaborative effort of huge, faceless teams. Secondly, I do think that people like Peter Molyneux have visions and the influence to make them come true -- even when the finished game may not be always on par with the initial vision. But I'm really worrying about why I've been interviewing Peter Molyneux and some colleagues for 14 years now, and why there are so few "new star designers" around.

2208 EXP -
March 31, 2008 - 00:40 #

Well, at least you know what drink of food they prefer if you want them to be in good mood ;)

My opinion is that gaming industry needs stars because most players are teenagers, and teenagers want idols or stars somehow. Just think of posters of movie or music stars in magazines. Think of Assassins Creed and the woman who was everywhere...

32 EXP -
April 2, 2008 - 15:26 #

I think people like Molineux are just, well, brands. You put them on top of a product, it sells better. His pioneering days are long over, and look at Sid Meier and others, their fame is based on deeds done long ago.

1470 EXP -
April 7, 2008 - 19:57 #

Not that I'm jumping on the hype-bandwagon, but a game with some sort of breakthrough-AI would be something I'm interested in. Games likes Creatures, Sims or Black&White weren't necessarily bad, maybe they were even somewhat important for AI-Research, but the AI that was used in these games, was never really exiting.

If I would now try to imagine a game were not the graphics would stun me, but the AI, now that would something I'm interested in. Hey maybe they have even developed some AI that can beat the Turing Test, I'd love to see that happen in my lifetime.

Haiyan (not verified)
0 EXP -
April 29, 2009 - 04:38 #

After reading this interview, here, I have two questions want to talk. The first one is "Did the Star Designer is necessary?", another one is "how game designer act as a professional designer and invent significant games?".

To a company, star designer, of course, is nessary. These people are not only a logo of their company, but assurance of product quality. They can make the company more reputation, when the company have new product, they are an ad. Besides, their experiences and skills can Strengthen the confidence of customers for new products. What the company want to invent new product? Absolutly, profit, value. So They can trust and put star designer in an important position that enable them obtain maximum benefit.

To a game design team, it need a team leader. If a team do not have a leader, they would be fail in the project. It is for this reason, star designer is necessary for a game design team, beacuse star designer, generally, is a profetional, creative, experienced, and all-powerfull person. They have sufficient experience to deal with the problems, have sufficient courage to face chanllege, have unique perspective to observe question. Also, They have strong ethics. As Peter Molyneux said, they are a speakman, they should know what they can say what they can't. They cannot leak any information out about their project.

for the second question, firstly, I want to say waht profesional mean here? It is not just have skills in game design but also run yourself well. Peter Molyneux said if he is in stage 6, he will dead, which absoulty point out the ability of a game designer is not only on skill but on
personal ability. That's why nowadays most company employ staff who should have wonderful communicate skills. Any ideas and points come out communication.

Besides, I hope game designers invent more significant games, which is not about fighting, blood, moster etc but about world peace, environment protect and social development . You know, game is a media to broadcast information, especially between in teens.

I would like to thank my tutor, beacuse he gave us an assignment that is design a card game about global warming. After I finished this assignment, I not only studied how to design a card game, but also know more about our world, our earth-our big family is in danger now.

San Diego Roofer (not verified)
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December 29, 2009 - 09:02 #

And then it moved from that experiment to a moment in time that happened six months ago, when a discovery was made