Peter Molyneux reloads

Game designer Peter Molyneux—almost as legendary for unfulfilled ambitions as for classics such as Populous and Magic Carpetwas inspired to quit and start over when a twitter doppleganger's merciless parodies of his grandiose plans started to remind him of himself. [Wired]


  1. Curious that the article says the problems began with Fable.  The vitriol spilled over Black and White was quite voluminous, if memory serves.

    1. My memory is that Black and White managed to fall into the “Premise and Feel are Epic, execution drags it down to ‘barely a game at all’ territory” bucket. Definitely not high praise; but there was generally confirmation of its novelty and punch along with the conclusion that it was barely a game at all, and the parts that were weren’t very good.

      Fable, by contrast, received the lethal indictment of being merely blah. Probably a more competent game than Black and White; but not-terribly-interesting RPGs are about the world’s most crowded genre.

      For a designer who takes innovation and ‘concept’ seriously, Black and White, while it fell flatter as a game, was arguably much more of a triumph than a workmanlike but fundamentally uninteresting action RPG…

  2. The reason Black and White’s failure is invisible outside game culture is because the failure was also critical. Many reviewers gave it high marks–for whatever reason– even though it was clearly not much of a game:

    Having themselves been exposed for their general credulity and journalistic haplessness, perhaps, is why reviewers were so harsh on Fable (and on Molyneux’s “Project Ego” grandiosity) even though it was a very good action RPG.

    A particularly interesting story is Demis Hassibilis, a brilliant Molyneux protegé who did likewise with “Republic”, a similarly overhyped game that turned out to be a kind of weird little toy (but unlike B&W and Fable, no emotional hook)

  3. Am I one of the few people that genuinely really enjoyed Black & White? I mean, sure I didn’t spend hundreds of hours on it, but I played it a fair damn bit and I really enjoyed the experience the whole way through.

    1. I was initially blown away, the immersion, the minimalism of the ‘UI’ between you and the world, the size of things, all the little people running around doing vaguely emergent things…

      The grind and immersion-breakers gradually got me, though: 

      All those little people who have presumably been in self-sustaining populations for centuries before the birth of the gods? Yup, they appear to be hapless ingrates who slowly die off without constant coddling; but quickly get bored with divine intervention. I didn’t become a deity to remind a bunch of monkeys that they need to breed faster than they die and maybe plant some crops now and then…

      The creature? Cool concept, never got the hang of training the damn thing, to the point where the behavior never seemed to rise above ‘arbitrary’.

      The quest objectives that you mysteriously couldn’t use your divine powers to solve, despite being able to do equivalent things all the time? Oh, sure, you can pick up people from villages that don’t believe in you however much you want. But you can’t pick up the Atheist, because he’s an atheist! How wacky, instead you get to pet and/or slap your creature into picking him up and not eating him, what fun! Obviously, a god game needs to limit your divine power somehow; but it can’t feel arbitrary and capricious about it.

      It was doubly frustrating because Molyneux was behind Bullfrog, which created Dungeon Keeper and Dungeon Keeper II, which were both delightful god games(and of course the Populous series), overflowing with both challenge and the guilty pleasures of abusing your power.

      Black & White was incredibly technologically superior; but just didn’t have the solidity as a game. It made being a god mundane and frustrating. Also, maybe I just sucked; but I found that the ‘receive less faith for repeated miracles/miracles that don’t address current demands’ mechanic made it really hard to actually make the “Black and White” moral choices: If you coddled your worshipers all the time, they’d survive as a population but succumb to apathy. If you beat them up, you’d run out of believers soon enough. Instead, you always resorted to the classic-abusive-relationship “use a destructive miracle to inspire fear and create a demand for a healing/constructive miracle, repeat, come out with confused creature and neutral karma” arrangement. (You’d think that it wouldn’t be possible to make setting a town on fire by throwing the burning bodies of its children at it feel like a chore; but you’d be wrong. Also, it’s totally fucked up that the inhabitants would fall down and worship you, among the bones of their slain children, if you deigned to rain the fires out… Serious Book of Job stuff there…)

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