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E3 2011: Fable: The Journey with Peter Molyneux

E3 2011

There are two ways of thinking about the Kinect: as a way of enhancing existing game mechanics, or as an independent control method. During Microsoft’s press conference, both of these were shown and Fable: The Journey was clearly one of the latter.

Yet it was difficult to grasp what the game was about and how it would work. In a small theatre at Microsoft’s booth, we were amongst a group to sit in on a demo of the game and have a chance to question Lionhead’s Peter Molyneux.

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This spin-off of the Fable series sees you piloting a horse and cart on a 300 mile journey though Albion, getting off at various points to make camp and complete other missions. While you’re always able to stop, the vehicle is a base you’re essentially tethered to. Get too far away and “bad things will happen”.

The Journey is very much a Kinect showpiece. You direct your horse by taking up the reins and in a manner that seems quite natural and can even use your voice to control it, much like you would for a real horse. On foot, magic is performed through a range of hand gestures such as drawing circles, pushing, pulling, swiping and so on.

There was one major discrepancy between the demo shown and the final, intended control method. In what we saw, there’s no way to move around on foot, so you’re essentially stuck on rails. This, Molyneux was adamant to stress, was not how the final game will work. When asked what gestures would allow players free movement over terrain, he admitted, “It’s a very good question, I wish I’d put it in the demo rather than telling them to take it out”.

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Although little detail was offered, the main idea is that you’d lean or reach out to move around. The explanation wasn’t entirely convincing, but Lionhead are “just not ready to show it off yet”. Perhaps, I wondered, this was a case of Peter Molyneux again showing his hand too soon.

Still, the demo was technically impressive. Everything worked flawlessly, which was surprising given the poor lighting in the room. There’s also more to this game than was shown at E3, including the conversational elements that were previously shown in the Milo Kinect demo.

The way Fable: The Journey was shown at this year’s E3 almost looks like it was set up to fail. What was essentially an on-rails horse driving and magic game was always going to disappoint, yet it was one of the focal points of the conference and the Xbox booth.

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Fable: The Journey is central to the question of what the Kinect is best used for. This is a game supposedly about freedom, but how much can game designers afford to give users? With Forza 4, you’re not able to accelerate and brake with just Kinect because the designers found it to be too difficult. Molyneux clearly believes that the range of games that can be entirely controlled through the Kinect is wider than most people think, and when Fable: The Journey is released, we’ll find out whether he’s right.

The author of this fine article

is the Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in November 2000. Get in touch on Twitter @PhilipMorton.

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