Fable: The Journey is an important game for Lionhead Studios.
It’s a big departure from the Fable that fans know and love. It’s a linear, story-driven experience fuelled by Kinect rather than the comfort of a pad and buttons. It’s also the first major Fable experience to leave the studio without series’ creator Peter Molyneux’s seal of approval following his departure earlier this year.
As development on The Journey winds down, GamerZines sat down with Lionhead’s producer Jennifer Clixby and lead scripter Ben Brooks to discuss changing opinions, switching to Unreal 3, horsing around, and why Kinect naysayers should give Fable: The Journey a chance.
GamerZines: When Fable: The Journey debuted at E3 2011, the reaction was less than stellar. How was the reception coming out of this year’s show?
Jennifer Clixby: Awesome. This [year] people got people to go hands-on and that is so important for Fable: The Journey because the year before we had someone on stage doing motions but there was no real connection for the audience with what that guy was doing.
This time round we had a demo that really put you in the deep end. All the spells were unlocked and there were big trolls to fight. People’s reactions from the first time they cast a fireball was “Woah! This is amazing.” And it feels like you’re conjuring the magic, you’re throwing it at the screen and it hits the enemy and they really feel part of the game. E3 2012 was a huge turnaround for us.
GZ: One of the rumours that circulated early on was that The Journey would read your Fable 3 save and alter Albion based on the choices you made in that game. Was that utter nonsense?
Ben Brooks: I’ve heard that rumour but it’s not something that’s factoring into The Journey. We’ve taken you to new places because Gabriel has fresh eyes on the world of Fable so for new players it’s easier to jump in, but for returning players it’s something new.
In previous Fable games you’ve got to Bowerstone, you’ve gone to Bowerstone Lake, it’s the same places you’ve seen over and over again. It’s nice to show people a whole side of Albion. Also thematically, Gabriel is an outsider, someone who’s at the edge of the world and away from that core of Albion.
GZ: From what we’ve played we found ourselves spending a lot of time enjoying the sights and scenery of Albion.
JC: It’s definitely the most beautiful Albion we’ve created. Because the premise is that Gabriel is part of a dweller tribe that travels around and he gets separated, he’s going the wrong way but around the back roads. It’s the path less travelled. The open road.
GZ: How did using Unreal 3 engine help with The Journey’s development?
BB: Moving to Unreal has allowed us to build giant worlds very quickly and painlessly compared to some of the Fable tech.
JC: On previous games, we’ve have our own engine, tools, and support for that but instead of using that we’ve let our content creators and our artists unleash on Unreal so we’ve been able to turn these worlds around very quickly.
People have experience with Unreal so you can hire people in and they’re ready to go. With your own toolset there’s a learning curve there.
GZ: How do players build a relationship with Seren (the horse) through gameplay?
BB: We tried to treat Seren like a character like we would with any of the others. We’ve got scenes that show Seren and Gabriel growing up together so we’ve taken her very seriously and weaved her into the story.
There’s also the motion capture. All the scenes are motion performance capture. We got a horse, several in fact, we covered them with little bobles, built them a full size cart that was driven around the studio. We took making and telling her story very seriously.
You are also very reliant on her. You can’t get around with that horse but she can’t get around without you. She gets subjected to a lot as you drive around whether that’s being driven into a wall or because she got shot by a hobb. She relies on Gabriel to heal her.
It’s a two-way bond which maybe with the dog in Fable 2 it wasn’t but in The Journey is works well and reinforces the story.
GZ: Gabriel isn’t a blank slate like paste Fable heroes, was that the intention from the offset of The Journey’s development?
BB: I think that was always the intention. Fable has been gradually been putting more of a backstory to its characters. Fable 3, for example, had a much more defined character. A lot of it is informed by the fact we’re in first-person. We then had third-person cut-scenes to show who this guy is.
JC: It’s a much more crafted storyline. It’s important that when you’re travelling round the world and casting these spells that there’s a immersive storyline to drive you through it. The fate of Albion is at stake so you’ve got to get moving and go save it.
BB: We’ve also had a new challenge is making players feel like they are Gabriel. Because in other Fable games, the character was defined by the player but because Gabriel has a character of his own we need to make sure him and the player fit together and we don’t allow the story to go off in different directions.
Later when Seren gets injured, Gabriel cares for her and we hope that the player will too but then the player has to heal Seren in order to progress with the game so we’re always trying to keep the story and character objectives aligned with the player’s actions.
GZ: Previous Fable games put decisions on the player’s lap. Will there be decisions like that in The Journey or are you telling one story here?
BB: It’s more of a straight forward journey. We wanted to keep Gabriel consistent. You can’t have him act one way and act another. I think you can still be completely immersed in a character who is well defined.
One of the game’s I got involved modding in was Thief: The Dark Project. I always thought it was a role-playing game. It’s an action adventure game but Garret is a well-defined main character. I think you can role-play in a confined environment. You don’t need a blank slate to role-play.
GZ: We noticed there’s an Arcade Mode in the main menu. You’ve been keeping that one secret!
JC: We haven’t made a big deal about it because it’s important to us to let people know that The Journey is a Fable game and not mini-games. Once you’ve completed a section of a level in the game, it’ll unlock the arcade mode so basically you have to get through that same section as quickly as possible. If you mix up your spells you might get more points and we have leaderboards to compete with your friend’s scores
It’s actually been very popular at work. We have our own leaderboard and we were competing to be the top score on the strategy guide.
GZ: So how long is that campaign of Fable: The Journey?
BB: I’d say the core game is 10 to 12 hours for an average player. The quick end is 10 hours, 12 maybe in the middle and longer for the player who might want to take their time exploring. Then there’s the Arcade Mode beyond that which offers a lot of replayability.
GZ: What’s the future for Fable after The Journey?
JC: If fans want Fable then that’s something we’d like to do but as for the future we’re not really sure.
GZ: Going back to those impressions from E3 2011, what would you say to those who’ve dismissed Fable: The Journey on the basis that it’s a Kinect game?
JC: Try it. If you’ve written it off then try it. We’ve already have someone come up to us today and say they were a big Fable fan and as soon as they heard it was for Kinect they were instantly sceptical but the actual control they had over it they were really happy with. Playing is believing.
BB: From a story point of view we’ve not viewed it as a spin-off or anything less but what was the Fable story we’d like to tell and it’s a key part of the canon so for Fable fans there’s a lot to offer.
Company of Heroes 2, Batman: Arkham Origins, Grand Theft Auto V, Watch_Dogs, Beyond: Two Souls and Night of the Rabbit previews.Download Now!