Peter Molyneux returns promising not to hype his next game, before hyping the game

Peter Molyneux in a chair.
(Image credit: Edge magazine)

One of the sadder side stories of the 2010s, albeit largely self-inflicted, was the fall from grace of Peter Molyneux. While Molyneux's legacy in games can never be questioned, and he's been a key player in many great and influential games, the 22Cans era (his post-Lionhead studio) saw him begin in full carnival barker mode and over-promise about the studio's games, capabilities, and what they would achieve with them. General unease about the hype versus reality followed, before the bombshell about Curiosity's winner being given the cold shoulder by 22Cans turned public sentiment firmly against Molyneux. 

I don't think his reputation ever has or will recover from that farrago and, clearly bruised by the experience, Molyneux has been relatively quiet in recent years. The man is a mess of contradictions: he seems genuinely visionary at times, even now, and at others like a huckster. And now he and 22Cans are back but, in a familiar-feeling way, hyping something up without quite being able to back it up. 

"So in days gone by, I would just start telling you about the whole game and the whole game design and why it was going to be the most brilliant game in the world," Molyneux told GameReactor in a new interview. "And people looking at this would then get very annoyed and angry. So I'm not going to do that."

It seems to me Molyneux has rather missed the point, and things don't get much better. "I do think, though, we have stumbled, and it feels like stumbling on a mechanic that has never been seen in a game before," said Molyneux. "I feel like we are exploiting that mechanic in a world and an environment which may be familiar to people. And because it is in a familiar environment, it'll be a lot fresher. And a lot of this is very mystical because I'm trying to avoid to tell you what it's like. But it's going to be a lot more like a kind of Fable / Black and White / Dungeon Keeper kind of experience."

Ooook. "Never been seen in a game before" is what one might call classic Molyneux, a kind of wibbly-wobbly woo promise that could have something to it or be complete manure. The point is to create excitement without showing anything. Anyone else getting slight deja vu.

Molyneux goes on to say that, unlike many 22Cans titles, the target platform for this game is consoles and PC "mainly because we need the power." He then goes on to another Molyneux speciality, the combination of excitement and some sort of faux holding-back lest he spilleth the beans. 

"Yeah. I mean, I'm so tempted just to tell you about or show you that the pitch video we've been showing… But that would be the start of the slippery slope of telling everyone" said Molyneux. There is one interesting tidbit though, which is that he's rolled up his sleeves for the first time in decades: "The only thing I can say is that, firstly, this game is the first game really that I've been a coder on since Black & White. it makes it very special for me. And secondly, it has been evolving and we've been exploring ideas about it for almost five years now. So, you know, it's very, very close to my heart [...] Every part of me wants to tell you everything about it. But, you know, that would be silly."

Hm. The name-dropping of the various Lionhead titles seems just that, because there's no real link between Fable (humorous action RPG), Dungeon Keeper (isometric base-building game) and Black & White (weird semi-god sim), and the best you could say is that they all have some common link to fantasy archetypes (expressed in very different ways). It comes across more like Molyneux trying to remind people hey, I was involved with some great stuff too.

One other interesting tidbit was Molyneux's comments on the new trailer for Playground's Fable, which I loved. Important note: Molyneux was involved from the start with Fable and directed the original game, but didn't create that world and setting (that would be Dene and Simon Carter).

"I thought the casting of Richard [Ayoade] ... I thought the casting of him was perfect, making him obsessed about vegetables was very Fable," said Molyneux. "Like you, I would have loved to see more gameplay, but I loved when the hero threw the fireball. I loved the sensation of the impact. I thought it was truly promising. So yes, my expectations are high."

"You know, the thing about Fable is you've got to remember, I can remember sitting when we were designing Fable originally and saying, I think we all agreed that Fable would be funny because of what the players does. It's not funny because it's got lots of jokes. It actually didn't have any jokes really, but it was really funny because we allowed the player to react in ridiculous ways, and that ridiculousness still seemed to be there in the trailer."

So it's a thumbs up for the new Fable, so far at least, and actually I agree: that trailer had good vibes, and I'd love to see Playground do something truly worthy of Lionhead's masterpiece (Fable 2, no I will not be taking questions). The series may well have a bright future. As for its onetime helmsman… well, everyone deserves a second chance, but Molyneux's on his fourth or fifth by now and seems to be repeating some of the same mistakes while saying "I won't be making those mistakes again." Fingers crossed 22Cans really does have something decent, because no-one wants to see round two of the Curiosity and Godus nonsense.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."