Whenever the subject of the Fable series or its outspoken creator Peter Molyneux pops up, a lot of people question why the man is given so much airtime. Why people give a hoot about the games he's making.
He seems to be known by many as simply the guy behind Fable. Or that guy who made too many promises about the Fable series then didn't deliver. Which is a damn shame.
Because many of our readers are American, or young, or indeed young Americans, they may not have grown up with systems like the Amiga. They may not know who Bullfrog Productions were. If that's you, we're going to show you why people care.
Last night, Molyneux was given a BAFTA Fellowship at an awards ceremony in the UK, and as part of his acceptance speech said "Sorry - I've slightly over-promised on things on occasion. I could name at least 10 features in games that I've made up to stop journalists going to sleep and I really apologise to the team for that."
To people who can remember Molyneux's boasts prior to the release of the first Fable, that it would feature things like persistent tree growth, it brought a wry smile. He sometimes promises the world from his games. Sometimes doesn't come good on them. But in many cases over the past 24 years he has actually delivered.
In The Beginning, There Was...Business
Peter Molyneux developed his first "game" in 1984. It was called The Entrepreneur, and was a...business simulator. Despite being so convinced of the game's success he literally cut himself a larger mailbox, it went on to sell two copies, a blow so severe that he cut and ran from the games business to design office databases.
This actually paid quite well, and in 1987 Molyneux returned to games development, founding Bullfrog Productions. Bullfrog's first game, the top-down shooter Fusion (designed by Molyneux), was pretty good, but its second game - Populous - exploded.
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Populous, a game where you literally played God, was a revolution. Players could shape the surface of a world to their liking, nurturing or punishing its inhabitants, and while it got pretty boring after a while, for a game released in 1989 it was amazing stuff.
Populous spawned a direct sequel, a 3D remake and in 2008 even a DS version of the game was released.
Fun fact: to prototype the game, Bullfrog used LEGO sets.
Bullfrog's next hit game would be Syndicate, and while Molyneux had little involvement in this title, the fact it was the product of his studio still sees his name attached to it whenever the subject comes up. An isometric action/strategy game set in a dystopian cyberpunk future, its environments look so damn good it's hard to believe it was released all the way back in 1993.
Syndicate turned up on a surprisingly varied number of platforms, from the Amiga to the PC to the 3DO, Jaguar and even Mac. It was followed by Syndicate Wars, a...lesser successor, which was not worked on by the original's designer, Sean Cooper. There are still, to this day, rumours of a sequel being secretly worked on by Electronic Arts.
Magic Carpet, another PC classic, followed hot on Syndicate's heels, and was released in 1994. It was incredibly innovative, its "real-time" 3D engine capable of things like reflection, lighting and a modifiable landscape that other games of the time couldn't even dream of managing.
Molyneux was lead designer on the game, as well as its 1995 sequel, which many regard as being even better.
If you've never played it, you can now grab Magic Carpet on the PlayStation Network.
Before Rollercoaster Tycoon, there was Theme Park, one of the most accessible strategy games ever made. Molyneux was again the designer behind the game, and considering this was released in 1994, you can see by the mid-1990s he was a very busy man. Everything he was touching at this time was turning to gold.
Theme Park was followed in 1997 by Theme Hospital, which while a less appealing subject for simulation retained much of the charm and cheek of its predecessor.
In 1997, Molyneux released Dungeon Keeper (again as the driving force behind it), a strategy game which took a traditional RPG and turned it on its head. Instead of controlling the hero as he worked his way through a villain's dungeon, you were now the bad guy, tasked with creating dungeons big enough and strong enough to kill the good guys.
It's revered to this day as one of the smartest PC games ever made. A sequel was made, and currently an MMO based on the property is in development.
That would be his last game with the developer. Molyneux left in 1997, with Electronic Arts now in control of the studio (it would be finally wound up in 2004) and formed a new development house, Lionhead.
Lionhead's first game was Black & White, and it's here that the wheels start to fall off a little for the most successful individual developer of the 1990s. Black & White was in many ways a spiritual successor to Populous, but upon its release in 2001 not only failed to include many features originally promised by Molyneux, but was also incredibly buggy, and like Populous got boring once you'd got the hang of playing it.
It wasn't all bad. This song, for example, may well be my favourite mission briefing of all time.
Following from Black & White, Molyneux and Lionhead released a number of expansions for both the original game and its sequel, released cult Hollywood simulation The Movies and, of course, the three Fable games, which are both current and popular enough to not need further discussion.
Molyneux and Lionhead also worked for years on BC, a caveman game that looked great but was ultimately (and sadly) cancelled, a fate that's probably been shared by his "Project Milo" title for Kinect.
So there you have it. If you've been a Molyneux fan for decades, I hope that was a nice trip down memory lane. And if you're one of those kids that always says "Fable sucked who gives this man money to make games?", maybe now you know he was the creator of Populous, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper, Theme Park and Fable, you'll have a little perspective!
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.