Lead designer Josh Atkins explains why Fable III is getting all touchy-feely.
September 29, 2010
Within a month, Fable III will be spinning in many Xbox 360s. Longtime fans of the series, overseen by Lionhead's Peter Molyneux, one of the most endearing figures in gaming, know that with each chapter of Fable comes one or two central ideas that make up the backbone of the adventure. In the original Fable, it was choice-and-consequence manifesting itself both in reactions from other characters as well as the physical representation of your hero. Fable II introduced the dog companion and further streamlined combat.
Fable III includes all of these previous advancements, but also introduces a pair of concepts that figure heavily in the flow of the narrative: the switch from adventurer to leader and the use of touch to shape relationships with the citizens of Albion. The latter is perhaps the most immediately intriguing. Rather than conversations with canned questions and replies, the hero of Albion will use specific touches to affect the attraction and reactions of other people – and players. But touch is a tightrope. If not implemented just right, it could devolve into something odd and creepy – or worse, boring.
IGN was able to interview lead designer Josh Atkins of Lionhead about the use of touch interactions in Fable III and how they will not only make your personal narrative unique, but how they will affect the accumulation of Fable III true metric of success: followers. After all, if there are no followers, there is no need for a leader.
IGN: It is so rare that we interact with multiple people the exact same way. With a definite number of interactions, how will conversations and relationship building with the thousands of folks in Albion stay fresh?
Josh Atkins, Lionhead: At the simplest level our interactions are defined but how we choose to interact with someone and how they choose to respond. In Fable 3 players will have different ways to interact with any of the people of Albion. However it is really the responses of those individuals and how they feel about you that makes the system more interesting. Every NPC now has a memory and clearly defined relationship with the player. To work through and define a relationship you must be willing to show that NPC you care by doing nice things for them like finding lost objects, escorting them across the world and even potentially doing darker deeds like assassinating someone that NPC doesn't like. Overall any NPC in the game can give you a quest and that combined with tens of thousands lines of NPC dialogue should keep the system interesting and fresh.
IGN: How much does gender figure into the response from an interaction? Let's say I'm a princess and I hug a male villager. Is there any difference in reaction to the interaction if the villager is female?
Atkins: Both gender and sexual orientation plays a part in a villager's reaction to your advances. So if you are playing as a female hero and you a hug a male villager some will appreciate that hug in a different way depending if they are gay or straight and if that villager finds your hero attractive.
IGN: How do interactions affect the development of your hero? Or does the development of your hero's narrative affect which interactions you can learn and use?
Atkins: We have changed the hero progression system quite substantially in Fable III. Now players can actually progress their hero and earn upgrades by simply interacting with villagers and players will earn upgrade bonuses if they have defined relationships with the hundreds of villagers around Albion.
See the new features for yourself. Watch along with us while Peter Molyneux discusses Fable III.
IGN: Like conversations, touch is also unique between two specific people. I shake the hand of a good friend differently than a co-worker. Unless touches and responses are as unique in Albion as they are on this side of the screen, doesn't that threaten to break the spell?
Atkins: The moments between your hero and a villager will definitely be different based on the kind of relationship you have with that villagers. In Fable III we have created a very detailed relationship system that clearly indicates how that villager feels about you and the current status of your relationship. For example what you say to someone you have never met and what they say back to you will be very different than an NPC who is your friend, your best friend or your lover.
IGN: How will touch interactions work between two players in co-op?
Atkins: In order to really expand on our co-op experience we really wanted to create the possibility for a stronger emotional connection between two players. In order to accomplish this we have allowed for the same touch interactions to take place between two co-op heroes. If you're playing with your spouse you can get married, kiss at the wedding and truly share a moment. However if you are playing with a friend you can of course…fart on their head should you desire to do so.
IGN: Interaction isn't just a major part of Fable III; it's also central to the proposed Project Milo. Has the development of interaction in either project affected the use of interaction/communication in the other?
Atkins: At Lionhead, we spend a lot of time thinking about and working on how to create an emotional bound between a player and the game. Therefore we have an R&D group who prototypes various forms of interaction and communication between players and games in order to try and get players to experience a unique experience.
IGN: Other than as a metric for moving up the Road to Rule, how do followers affect your personal narrative in Albion?
Atkins: Your followers and how you choose to treat them is an important part of your personal narrative in Fable III. As a player you will make promises to various people across the land of Albion to ensure they become your followers. However it is the value you put on those promises how you treat those followers that truly defines you as a leader.
That's a pretty expensive looking axe you've got there. Want to get married?
IGN: Once converted into a follower, how else can the citizens of Albion help you? One thing I'm curious to see is how my relationship with followers changes once I ascend to the throne.
Atkins: Your relationship with your followers and with the citizens of Albion substantially changes once you become the ruler. Your followers will come to you over the course of your rule and ask you to maintain the promises you made to them and their allegiance to you will sway in the balance. However your relationships with the common citizens of Albion will also change once you become ruler. Should you do something wonderful for the masses you will see a response the next time you are our roaming the world. For example, once you are ruler will have a chance to truly help the people of Aurora. If you do it they will shower you with gifts when you next return to their land. However if you don't help them don't expect such a warm welcome.
IGN: Once a politician betrays you, it's that much harder for them to regain your trust. Is it possible to lose followers in Albion, and if so, what is it like to bring them back into the fold?
Atkins: Once you start breaking your promises to your followers they will lose respect for you and your word will be forever damaged. Why should they believe a ruler who has gone back on their word? However just because you broke a promise doesn't mean that follower won't be back asking for something else later on.
IGN: At GDC in March, Peter Molyneux teased that followers could be affected by outside events – things not in the game. Was this idea ever expanded upon in Fable III?
Atkins: Over the course of developing Fable III we discovered that followers as a 'statistic' wasn't really interesting or specifically emotionally engaging. Therefore the followers you collect are really driven through the narrative and your followers are the individuals in the game who give you their support because they truly believe you are going to make Albion a better place.