Fable III PC Interview
The wait for PC gamers looking to get their hands on Fable III has been a long one. With the game having been available on the Xbox 360 since late October of last year, Lionhead have had plenty of time to optimise the experience for the home computer market and those with a preference for the mouse/keyboard combo.
With this in mind we talk to Designer Mike West about the different expectations of the console and PC gamer, the challenges in bringing a game designed to run on consoles to the PC and this edition’s new features – including stereoscopic 3D support and ‘Hardcore’ mode.
The screenshots included in this article have been taken from the PC edition.
IncGamers: What exactly is ‘Hardcore’ mode?
Mike West: Generally, in Hardcore mode, the enemies have improved A.I., you take more damage and you don’t regenerate health. In the standard mode, your health comes back over time – to the extent that if you roll around a lot in battle you can actually get your health back while fighting a big, tough creature.
In [Hardcore] that won’t happen, even between combat sequences that won’t happen. Only at certain points when you’re travelling will health come back again.
IG: Is there any more of a punishment for dying in Hardcore mode?
MW: There’s not. We haven’t implemented any more punishment. We’ve always found that death in itself is a punishment and that players want to avoid death as much as possible because you don’t want to feel as though you’ve actually ‘died’.
For us, and this is what Peter [Molyneux] has said in the past, if you die and you’re punished for it what you tend to do reboot. Personally, I do that all the time. What you’re essentially saying to the player in that instance is that, ‘you’ve died, so now you have to play that bit over again’. That’s not a particularly fun thing to do.
You’ve got the other side too, in that if you keep trying something and eventually get through you’ll feel good because you’ve finally beat it but, we’re trying to avoid any areas where the player could get frustrated because we’re trying to bring [Fable III] to a larger market.
IG: Any chance of Hardcore mode coming to the 360?
MW: It all depends on what we’re doing on the 360 which is something I probably can’t tell you about. If we do another add-on then it’s something we could include with that. It all depends on what the plans are but I can’t talk about that these two in the room (gestures to the PR reps present and laughs).
IG: Do you think there’s a genuine divide between PC and consoles gamers? A big enough divide to make Hardcore mode viable for one but not the other?
MW: I don’t think it’s necessarily a divide. We’ve put Hardcore in – in part – as a response to feedback we received from the Xbox version that said it was too easy, releasing this PC version after the Xbox version allows us to add things that we’ve learnt through that feedback.
Personally, from the PC gamers that I know, they’ll play a PC first-person shooter on ‘hard’ whereas those same people will play the same game on ‘normal’ on a console. To me, when you’re on the mouse everything feels a bit more connected. With Fable III, for example, the speed in which you’re able to turn your character around and attack in different directions is much quicker than you can achieve on the Xbox. For that reason it feels as though it should be made harder.
IG: Fable is not a series known for being especially difficult. Should Fable III even have a Hardcore mode?
MW: Peter has always said everybody should be able to play the Fable games, and I totally agree with that. There are lots of difficult games out there. My girlfriend, for example, is a pretty hardcore gamer but she can’t finish Force Unleashed II at the moment; she gets to a certain battle and she gets stuck on it. I had a go at that same bit the other day and I just died instantly…
Creating a game that the casual gamer can complete is the most important thing for us because very few people complete games these days – they get three-quarters of the way through the game, get annoyed and give up. The thing about Fable games is that people actually complete them. But, in some respects, I think that we should be looking at way for the hardcore gamer to have more of a challenge. However, we don’t want to alienate the casual gamers.
Difficulty modes is obviously one way of doing it but, looking to the future, one of the major things for us is working out ways of adding depth and complexity to the game but somehow doing it in a way that doesn’t force causal gamers to play through those parts. We’re looking and learning and improving those areas but, with Fable III on PC, we’ve looked at that and improved it and it’s something we’re going to be pushing more in the future.
Personally, I’m going to be pushing the ‘this is a game for casual as well as hardcore gamers’ element a lot more. Essentially, making sure that it’s technically not the same game [for each audience] but it’s in the same package.
IG: How important for you guys was the inclusion of 3D?
MW: The thing for us is that we always want to be on the forefront of technology. We want to look at anything that’s out there and make use of all the different technologies that are available for our various platforms. When we see [3D], we’re like ‘wow’ and we feel we’ve got to push that element because if we don’t push it, and other people don’t push it, then it’s just not going to happen. The more games that include it, the more people are likely to buy into [3D] and the more likely it is that it becomes standard.
With Lionhead being an innovative part of Microsoft, we always want to look at the newest and most innovative things out there and then use them as much as we can. So, yes, we really wanted to use [3D]. Plus, not many other games actually use it.
IG: Is it especially difficult to port a console game to PC? Fable III has taken a while to arrive on PC…
MW: The reason it’s taken the time it has is because we didn’t want to rush it, we didn’t want to do–. Y’know, I’ve played quite a few ports and all they’ll do is, instead of having X, A, Y, B (the 360 pad’s face buttons) in the corner of the screen, you’ll have 1, 2, 3 and 4. That was the first thing that we got working but when you start playing you say ‘this feels like a port, it’s horrible’.
It’s very simple to switch the core game over from the 360 to the PC because they use the same mechanics. The real issues come with compatibility because of the huge number of different PC setups out there. We have to make sure we get that right because we don’t want to release a game which half the computers in the world can’t run.
There’s a hell of a lot of testing that goes into a PC game, much more than an Xbox game – because everyone has the same Xbox – so it’s mainly the testing, the new interface and the control system that takes time to work out.