Fable was an incredibly important title for the original Xbox. When many doubted that Bill Gates and co could deliver on a console worth buying, Fable came along and blew people away with its innovative choice-based gameplay. The critically acclaimed Xbox exclusive added another jewel in Microsoft’s crown and without it, who knows whether Microsoft would still be making consoles today.
Fast forward a decade and the original Fable continues to carry the Xbox brand – but this time, as a fitting final hurrah for the ageing 360. As the last major Microsoft published game to hit the console, all eyes are on Fable: Anniversary – so we talked to Fable: Anniversary Lead Designer Ted Timmins to hear what he had to say about remaking this classic.
Being the first (and final) Xbox 360 exclusive since Gears Of War: Judgment, it would be easy to see this as just a cynical HD cash in to fill release schedule gaps – but Fable Anniversary is very much a project of love. Timmins has been involved with the Fable series since its inception, working as a tester on the original game and since then, working as lead designer on Fable titles such as Fable: The Journey and the upcoming Fable Legends. Lionhead has been where he’s spent the majority of his career, and to say he’s got quite a lot invested in Fable Anniversary is an understatement. “[working on Anniversary] it’s certainly a privilege”, says Ted, a decade later and now at the helm of the series. “I think if you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d still be working on the same game I probably would have found that quite funny!”
Being a part of Lionhead since its inception, Ted has seen his fare share of the series changing hands, but I doubt he ever imagined that the series reins would land into his lap. “I feel very proud, the franchise as a whole has been looked after by Peter (Molyneux), in the past, and of course Dean Carter and Simon Carter in the early days”. But given Ted’s time spent testing the original game, it puts him in the perfect position to fix some of the problems he had with the original: ”It’s great to have had the experience on working on the original as a tester, and to have been able to fix some of the things I didn’t particularly like – looking at it from a brand new angle with fresh eyes.”
Aside from the obvious visual overhaul, it was important to Ted to do all he could to improve and update the original Fable experience as much as possible – but without making any changes that would disappoint the core fan-base. The first priority for the team, was updating the controls. “I think the controls of the original are a bit outdated now, so it was really nice to be able to add in the Fable 2 and 3 control system.” But as well as focusing on accessibility for more recent Fable players, Ted is very aware that there are still the fans of the original to cater for, “If you’re a purist – of course you can still play with the original controls, but if you’re new to the franchise or only played Fable 2 and 3 – then the Fable 2 controls are going to be right up your street.”
Testing the original meant that Ted knew better than most where the smaller issues lay in Fable. Knowing the 2003 title intimately, he knew exactly what changes he could make that would help streamline the player’s experience – and a good example of this are the game’s updated chests. “Now in Fable Anniversary when you receive an item from a chest it gives you the description of the item, it tells you if it’s stronger than your current item. It even allows you to equip directly from the chest – things like that.”
Having the opportunity to tweak the classic also gave Ted the chance to right the wrongs of the game that haunted his testing experience, he remarks that he remembers being a tester, “it always annoyed me when I went over to a silver keychest and it told me how many keys this silver key chest needed, but it never told me how many I had. And it was always like, well – come on man, give me some information here! I don’t want to have to go back to the user interface to find this number! So now even when you interact with the silver key chest it tells you how many the chest needs and how many you have in your inventory.”
While hardly revolutionary, these small but helpful changes will surely be welcomed by fans of the original with open arms . Ted understands that it’s these little changes that all add up to help to modernise a classic game, without drastically changing the core aspects of what made it special in the first place. “It’s been really nice to go through – and not just remaster the obvious things like the visuals – but to just make some minor gameplay tweaks that hopefully will just generally improve the experience.”
The other major change that Ted decided to instigate was to completely overhaul Fable’s archaic save system. “The save system was really important actually. I don’t know if you remember back to ten years ago, but you couldn’t save when you’re on a quest – imagine that nowadays! I think for a lot of players of a certain age group who have only been playing games for a few years could you imagine saying to them ‘you can’t save for the next hour’ – I don’t think that would go down to well! So that was really important to address.”
As well as including all the content from Fable: The Lost Chapters, Ted and the team have decided to implement some new features of their own. The team have designed new weapons, incorporated an inventory and map with SmartGlass, and given the game achievements. “I’ll put my hands up: I’m a bit of an achievement whore. I don’t think there’s an actual good term to use for that (laughs) – it always sounds a bit rude!”
While you may laugh, incorporating interesting achievements into a remake is great way of getting long term fans of the series to play their favourite game in new ways, without changing the content of the original. Luckily for fans, these achievements aren’t just lazy implementations that follow the basic storyline. “I think that it was a nice opportunity for us to have fun with the achievements. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the achievements but for fifteen of the achievements you can earn them in one or two ways.”
The choice in which way you decide to unlock the achievements is a great way for the developers to incorporate the series’ choice mechanic into Anniversary in new ways – and Ted hopes that this will help players to see Albion in a new light. “I’ll give you an example, one of them is called ‘definitely not on rails’ and you can either visit every single region in the game, or you can just go into the pub and become morbidly obese. The interesting thing about that is whichever way you do it you get a unique achievement icon for the game – so if you have you friends over they’ll know what decision you made.”
The original Fable has been a part of Ted’s life for over a decade, and the rest of the team share his passion for the series, making sure that every last aspect of the game receives the team’s full attention. “I think that’s again a nice attribute of Lionhead, even when we do something like achievements we try as much as possible to be different and draw on different elements of the game and the franchise.”
Whether you have played Fable to death and couldn’t care less about this remaster, or have already bought and completed it – there is no denying the love and care that has gone into Fable Anniversary. From talking with him, its very clear that Ted Timmins and his team at Lionhead simply live, breathe and dream Fable – and hopefully that passion comes across in this lovingly crafted game.
Look out for the second part of our interview with Ted as we talk Fable Legends, SmartGlass, and whether Fable is still relevant in 2014.