When I was a child, I was an extremely avid reader. My grandmother taught me to read before I started school and I had my head stuck in a book continuously throughout; at eight-years-old my father gave me my first Stephen King novel (The Eyes of the Dragon); and I spent many summer holidays with books on a blanket in my grandparent’s garden. So when I found adventure games, it was almost an epiphany.
I’ve mentioned this story several times already and it still brings a smile to my face whenever I recall it. When I was nine, my father chose to get me my first Amiga for Christmas and after spending ages looking at all the floppy discs that came with the hardware, I finally decided to give The Secret of Monkey Island a try. He asked what I was doing and I showed him the game, then gradually both he and my grandfather got sucked into playing it too. I remember being so proud of myself because I’d managed to figure out the grogs-and-mugs puzzle before they did (sorry Dad!).
I fell in love with adventures that day and afterwards I devoured anything in the genre I could get my hands on, particularly titles by LucasArts (damn you, Disney). I went sailing around the Caribbean with Guybrush (and envied Elaine) through the rest of the Monkey Island series; I learnt how to become a wizard with a horny and slightly sarcastic teenager in Simon the Sorcerer; and I searched for Princess Cassima with Prince Alexander in King’s Quest. My love of books and vivid imagination had been combined in a medium that I could not only read, but experience and influence for myself.
Unfortunately however, as you grow older you start to realise society may not view you or your hobby in the same way that you do; and against your better judgement, you try to change the person you are just to fit in. When I progressed into secondary school it was hard enough being the shy, awkward, quiet kid who always sat the corner so as not to be noticed. But add to that the fact that I liked to play video games and preferred to spend time with the boys rather than my female counterparts, and it resulted in being quite a difficult period in my life.
To turn myself into something more ‘acceptable’, I gave up the games and forced myself to make friends with a group of girls when I became a teenager. I went from spending the weekend with the likes of Guybrush and Simon to instead hanging around shopping centres, going to sleepovers and dressing up for the local under-eighteen-night (admit it, you all did it). But while this change seemed to make me more tolerable to my peers, I can’t say it ever made me completely happy; and my teenage years aren’t exactly something I look back on with a great deal of fondness.
I stopped playing video games for around eight years although I guiltily dipped back into them every once in a while, but after leaving college I grew apart from my female friends because I really had nothing in common with them. I preferred being a tomboy, I didn’t want to go out shopping with them every weekend, and I wasn’t particularly interested in any of their other ‘girly’ activities. Instead, I started making more male acquaintances of which there was one I frequently hung out with. Over time it became commonplace for me to watch him playing on his PlayStation 2 whenever we got bored with the television, and one day in 2004 he turned up at my apartment with an Xbox under his arm along with a copy of Fable.
That was the day I turned into a gamer who wasn’t ashamed to admit it. After thirty-minutes of playing I was hooked; my friend and I spent the next week ploughing through the title, trying to find every side-mission, figure out how to get through all the demon doors and meeting as many residents of Albion as possible. You know everyone has those gaming moments they’ll never forget? Well, Fable plays a massive part in mine.
For those who have never touched this role-playing game, let me give you a brief overview. You take control of a protagonist known only as the Hero of Oakvale after your home is raided by bandits and your entire family is killed, and you’re rescued by the wizard Maze who sees great potential in you. As with any RPG, it’s necessary to complete quests in order to advance the plot with optional side-missions if you wish to gain gold or renown, and your character can be levelled up by collecting Strength, Skill and Will experience. The world of Albion is dotted with activities other than quests: for example, towns have houses that can be bought and rented if you wish to become a property tycoon, or you can woo and marry someone of the same or opposite sex if you’re feeling amorous.
The thing that fascinated me most about Fable was the sense of character development as it was the first time I’d seen anything with a real alignment mechanic. Good deeds such as saving villagers result in you becoming a light-featured champion with a halo above your head and butterflies fluttering around you; while evil acts such as eating crunchy chicks see you turn with glowing red eyes and a malevolent haze around your legs. Other actions affect your Hero also; eating too much and drinking excessive amounts of beer will make you ill (as we’re all too aware in real life), and clothing can change how townspeople react to you depending on how attractive or scary you appear.
Fable took around four years to create by a team of seventy developers at Big Blue Box, a satellite studio of Lionhead. This developer was originally formed as a breakaway from Bullfrog and was founded by Peter Molyneux in 1996. The majority of gamers know who this guy is and you’ve probably played one of his titles before; there aren’t many people who won’t have heard of classics such as Populous and Dungeon Keeper, or the upcoming ‘regeneration of the god game’ Godus that was funded via Kickstarter back in December 2012.
Despite the critical and financial success of his titles, Molyneux has managed to get a bit of a reputation for being somewhat over-ambitious – a trait that has caused many to lose faith in him. In the past he has issued enthusiastic descriptions of games under development, only to cause uproar with the gaming public when his promises weren’t delivered in the final version. This goes all the way back to Black & White in 2001 but the most well-known case is with Fable, when it was released in 2004 without many of the features Molyneux had talked about in interviews during its development.
For example, he had previously mentioned that the Hero of Oakvale’s children would be significant in the title and that trees would grow as time passed, but both were completely missing from the released title. Molyneux reacted to complaints by posting a public apology on the official Lionhead forums in which he regretted his overhyping and the missing promises. He went on to say: “I have come to realise that I should not talk about features too early so I am considering not talking about games as early as I do… I will not mention them to the outside world until we’ve implemented and tested them, and they are a reality.”
Three years later, Molyneux said in an article with GameSpot: “After Fable, there was a pretty dark time where people looked at the game and compared it with what I said in the press, and they felt cheated. I realised I couldn’t keep on doing that. But that was very much a reflection of how we worked, because what I was talking about in the press was what we were experimenting with at that moment, and a lot of those experiments would sort of come out as you were making the game… People understandably get enormously upset about it… I think a lot of what we do is realise what we’ve done wrong and work to try and make that right. It’s far better than thinking that we get things right all the time.”
So there tends to be a bit of a love-hate with both Molyneux and Fable for many gamers. But for myself, if it wasn’t for the developer and his title I wouldn’t be here writing this today.
Sure he may be over-ambitious, but where’s the problem in reaching for the stars and challenging the status-quo? He might make grand promises that don’t always work out, but what’s wrong with dreaming, and having enthusiasm and big ideas? I’m far more intrigued by and interested in a developer who takes risks, rather than those who churn out carbon-copy titles with little vision; I understand there are a lot of people out there who enjoy them, but in my opinion the world doesn’t need another Call of Duty or FIFA. Give me someone who’s going to push the boundaries, be inventive time after time, and create stories that remain in the minds and hearts of those who experience them for years afterwards.
If it weren’t for Fable, I honestly believe I wouldn’t be here creating this post. I wouldn’t be the gamer I am today and I’d be less happy with the person I’ve grown into since leaving school. I wouldn’t write for 1001-Up.com or The Mental Attic or have been fortunate enough to experience the wonderful times we’ve had together as a team. And, most significantly for me, I wouldn’t have made some of the great friends I’ve gotten to know both in person and online. That may sound like a bit of a grandiose statement and it’s possible there’s a touch of rose-tinted-ness here but, alongside finding The Secret of Monkey Island aged nine, the moment I picked up Fable was one that really shaped me.
There’s only one thing that makes my memory of the game a little melancholy: the fact I can’t go back and it’s impossible to experience it all over again for the first time. It’s extremely unlikely that anything will be able to capture that feeling of when I first stepped into the Hero of Oakvale’s shoes or met the mysterious Theresa, Blind Seeress. But that’s not to say I’m not going to try; I recently bought Fable Anniversary and Phil and I will be playing it together very soon. It won’t be the same, but I’m looking forward to experiencing the wonder of Albion through a new player’s eyes.
As is obvious from the size of our adventure category, I’m still a big fan of the genre. Fable gave me the opportunity to meet people with similar loves and they’ve have introduced me to newer titles that now reside in my heart alongside the classics, such as To The Moon and Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. Lionhead’s RPG and its creator taught me that it’s good to dream big and, even if your ideas don’t always come to fruition, you shouldn’t let that stop you from being ambitious and pushing forward. I’d love to meet him one day, shake his hand and explain how much his ambition has done for me.
So, thank you to Peter Molyneux and the rest of the team that created the wonder that is Fable. I couldn’t have done this without you.