Why Are You Doing This?
My shaders for Wardenclyffe/BeMuse haven't compiled yet. Some of them are really big. As such, I could twiddle my thumbs, or be angry at some bigots on the internet. Instead, I thought that I'd write an opinionated little piece on Fable, what makes it special to me, and what I'd like to see persist in some form if/when a new version is made.
For those who didn't know, I was one of the blokes who started Fable back when it was 'Project Ego', so I've lived in Albion for quite some time. As such, here are my musings, in no particular order:
1) Keep the Charm & Keep it British
Fable was a peculiar game. People may talk about the NPC interaction, the combat, not planting acorns, and the total lack of any challenge, but none of these gave players warm and fuzzies in their tender parts. For that, one needs to realize that we crafted the world's first 'Walking Simulator With a Bit More To Do'.
That lack of challenge gave players the opportunity to wander around aimlessly, absorbing the waving grass, exotic locales, ambient chatter of witless country-folk, permanently moody palette, and Russ's magnificent score, while also casually decapitating chavs holding Stanley knives.
Oh, and if you got that joke then you'll understand the other part of this little screed: keep it British. No, I don't mean the curtain-twitching, finger-pointing, racism-laden-toxic-wasteland of Brexit Britain (or 'Poundland'). I mean something closer to the idyll evoked by the lovely 2012 Olympic ceremony. Admittedly, if we won the Olympics today we'd just have a swarthy-looking wicker man burning in a field.
Britain is filled with a rich variety of folk-customs, dialects and casual violence. Keep that.
2) Folk Tales, Ghost Stories and Weird Fiction, Not Fantasy
Fable was called Fable for a reason: we didn't think Folklore or Folktale were good titles. But, if we could have called it one of those we probably would have.
I read way too much Fantasy (with a capital 'F') in my early years. After a few years all the back-of-the-book blurb started to blur into a melange of similar-sounding nonsense:
"The Wielder of the Dwar'K'N'Giiin must push back the Squigaaar in a desperate attempt to Qwerty the Uiop! Only through gathering his trusty band of violent bigots can he..." etc.
Writers: nobody believes that - in a world where everyone speaks English the entire time - you have things named Dwar'K'N'Giiin. It sounds like someone responding to the question "What's that place over there?" while on an exceedingly large dose of DMT. Do you know the Hebrew for Holy Grail? No. See my point? No? Ah. Well. Um. Think about it.
Fable's influences were Jim Henson's 'The Storyteller', 'The Princess Bride', 'Labyrinth', 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' and 'Legend', as well as a large dose of Terry Pratchett, Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. You'll notice a distinct lack of traditional Fantasy authors there.
So, if you're making Fable, you're making a Fable, and not High Fantasy. Other people are doing that exceedingly well already and it's probably unwise to assume Fable's audience is exactly the same. It isn't.
3) No Orcs Please. No, Really.
This one is particularly important to me. No orcs. Please. No bloody orcs. Or elves. Or anything else from Tolkien. Why? Because they are trite... oh, and they're Tolkien's.
Note that I didn't write "Please don't use Imperial Stormtroopers or Dementors". People would say: "Huh? Why would you put those in Fable?" Yes! Exactly! They belong to someone else! Why would we add them? Because we are lazy? Inspirationally bankrupt? We wish to bait sizable legal teams? Actually, those are three very good reasons.
In addition, Fable's monsters were monsters, not cultures.
- Hobbes were twisted children, fed unspeakable meat in the dark.
- Hollow men were the tortured souls of the dead, wandering the world animating nearby corpses.
- Balverines were my inability to read a street sign in Wandsworth (no, really). And sort of werewolves.
But why is this important? Well, if you're making monsters so they can be pummeled with a frying-pan, it's probably a good idea not to just make them exotic, inscrutable foreigners. As soon as you make your monsters a people or race with their own civilization, language and values you put the player in the tricky position of being an imperialist with a deadly weapon and a silly hat. A bit like the British were for most of the 19th century.
So. No. Orcs.
4) Keep Things Vague - It's More Realistic
A lot of High Fantasy makes the weird assumption that lore is fixed, known and historically accurate.
"In the third age of Kranbaroon, 3 kings set out..."
"Hang on. Where are you getting this from, Mr Farmer?"
"I... um... I read it in a book."
"Really? So there's widespread literacy in this world, is there?"
"Um. There was a school in Bowers..."
"And you remembered all this stuff about what happened 3000 years ago from school"
"You were 5. You're now 50. Really? I don't believe you."
"Um. Arrrr? Oim a farrrrmerrrrr"
The assumption that anyone in the world knows what happened all that time ago with any accuracy is nonsensical. So, don't give your NPCs an encyclopedic knowledge of the world. In fact, you probably shouldn't give pre-industrial people books at all. We all know that leads to revolution.
Keeping things vague also means your monsters are more mysterious:
"I don't know! I'm scared!"
...is far better than...
"It's a Squigar Hatchling. Level 6 by the looks of it!"
If you take care, your lovely fans will have spaces they can fill with 'reckons'. Plus, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation and embarrassment all round. And how British is that? Very British. See, I added an extra sentence to undermine the joke. Because that's funny. Which leads me to the trickiest point.
5) Don't Take Yourself (Or Humour) Too Seriously
Albion is a silly place. It is full of silly people. But, we didn't set out to make a 'comedy' game, which is why there are very few actual jokes. There are plenty of nods and sniggers into the palm of the hand, but not jokes or punchlines. This is important:
If you make a game designed to be a comedy, you need to be funny at all times or else you are failing.
It's the difference between being a professional stand-up comic and an amusing wit at a party.
One is tortured, drinks too much and wants to die when their audience isn't as good as the previous night... and the other is the comedian.
No, wait. See - that's exactly my point. I decided to turn that into a joke and ruined everything.
Don't do that. With any luck, it's not necessary as your staff are silly enough already.
I don't know for sure if a Fable game is being made somewhere out there. I would very much like to play one without knowing everything about it, tutting my way through thinking "Oooh. We probably should have fixed that."
I hope this mini-screed is received in the spirit with which it was written. In a tooth-grinding frenzy of semi-literate rage while pointing angrily at eggs on Twitter.
See that's also a joke... oh, I give up.
This week has been a preparation for the imminent 'Playable Teaser' version of Wardenclyffe.
No, I'm not joking.
I know it's been a long time.
I have friends playing it and discovering the stupid bugs that only appear when you let someone else play around with your stuff. Yay.
This summer, my wife played my game for a few moments and said:
"Why the hell are you doing this on mobile. That's is stupid."
So, in grand Fluttermind-ey tradition... I... um... rewrote a vast amount of stuff, and made the game a free-roaming, 'bigger' thing than it was before.
BUT! Before you batter your foreheads to jelly with frustration, the good news is that it means I'm actually able to do the thing I wanted right at the beginning, the thing that people have been bugging me for since, ooh, 2013. I can now put out a testbed you can all play with. Soon. Major bugs notwithstanding, in the next week or so.
It's not going to be a finished game, or even much of a game. Most of the rituals I've put together need more work, so there's a lot to be done. But the important thing - getting people to move around my new world and perhaps speculate as to what might be coming - that's entirely possible, and really, really soon.
Fluttermind’s director, Dene Carter, is a games industry veteran of over 25 years, and co-founder of Big Blue Box Studios, creators of the Fable franchise for the XBox and XBox 360.