Why Peter Molyneux Leaving Microsoft is a Very Good ThingSSo, after a decade working almost exclusively with Microsoft for Xbox consoles (and occasionally the PC as well), Lionhead founder Peter Molyneux has called it quits, and will soon be joining British start-up 22 Cans (or Twenty Toucans, if you prefer).

It's a sad day for Microsoft, who bought Lionhead in 2006, but as we're about to see, probably a very bright day for everyone else.

As I've illustrated in a previous Total Recall piece on the man, Peter Molyneux, love him or hate him, is one of the most successful and innovative video game developers alive.

In the years before his Lionhead studio first teamed up with and was later bought by Microsoft, he was either the creator or driving force behind some of the greatest PC games of all time. Games like Populous. Magic Carpet. Theme Park. Dungeon Keeper.

Yet after the release of the controversial Black & White in 2001, his wheels started spinning. From the release of the first Fable in 2004 to, well, now, both Molyneux and his team worked on exactly one new property (The Movies). Every other title Lionhead has released since has been a sequel or spin-off, either to Black & White (in 2005) or to Fable. Only one, The Movies, was not published by Microsoft (it was handled by Activision).

The one big thing he worked on during the Microsoft era that never saw the light of day, Project Milo, was exactly the kind of thing we'd expect from Molyneux. Something weird, something you couldn't really put your finger on and say, oh, I've seen that before. Because you hadn't. And that ended up in the bin.

I'm not going to say that first working with Microsoft and then being literally owned by the platform holder somehow stifled Molyneux. That they forced him to work on projects against his will, purposefully curbed his design ideas, etc. For all we know he made exactly the games he wanted to make, and his parting seems amicable enough.

But the results speak for themselves. A man whose design, and whose studio's works once ranked amongst the most pioneering in gaming, has with only a few exceptions spent the last 8-10 years making the same linear role-playing title over and over again.

Gone was the adorable simplicity of managing a Theme Park. Or the novel idea of turning an RPG on its head and having you play the bad guy in control of the dungeon. Or deciding a fairy tale mode of transportation could be turned into a pioneering aerial combat game. Or thinking, hey, why can't we just play God.

Leaving both Lionhead and Microsoft behind, then, may have been the smartest move he's made in the past ten years. Free of the spotlight and pressures of being one of the last in-house "core" developers Microsoft had left, and free of the constraints of having to develop games to run on a specific console, he's hopefully also free to return to doing what he does best: head out into left field and bring us games we never even knew we wanted.

(Top photoby Michel Euler | AP)
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