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The Ted Timmins Interview Part Two: On Fable Legends, Smartglass And Why The Original Is Still Relevant

by on February 19, 2014
 

In the first part of our interview with Ted Timmins – the lead designer of Fable Anniversary – he talked us through the changes he made while restoring the classic game to the 360.  We were lucky enough to ask him some more questions, including about the mysterious Xbox One Fable title (Fable Legends), Smart Glass and about the relevance of the Fable series in 2014. Here’s what he had to say.

Note: we’ve presented this in Q&A form, because we didn’t want to cut any of the information.

You can read our review of Fable Anniversary here.

Fable Anniversary seems to be one of the few Xbox titles to heavily incorporate SmartGlass into it, with a Wii U inspired map display and some other interesting features. What would you say is the main thing that you think Smartglass brings to the Fable experience?

Well I think when you go back to when SmartGlass was announced it was something I really wanted to develop for. It was one of those occasions when we didn’t know about its existence at the time, so when it was announced at E3 it was just as much of a surprise to us as I’m sure it was to the people in the audience!

But when I think about it as a game developer, its one of these things where when you play a video game, your phone – which nowadays is so powerful – and your tablet that sits on your coffee table, these things don’t generally tend to interact with the game, so how can we better use them to improve the game?

It’s been funny actually, some of the fans have said to us – and they‘re right to be cynical – ‘this was a demand from Microsoft, why are you including SmartGlass’. But the funny story about that is when we went to E3 the SmartGlass team weren’t aware that we were working on a SmartGlass device at the time, because we decided to do it ourselves. We had this really awesome meeting – quite impromptu actually – on the show floor at E3, and they were showing us what they were doing with Xbox one games and we were showing them what we were doing with SmartGlass for the 360 with Anniversary.

I think it’s a really awesome piece of technology – and I say that as a gamer and a developer. From a gamer’s perspective, I really wanted SmartGlass with Anniversary to try and remove the need to go in to the inventory. Like I said: where you can equip a weapon straight from the chest and you can now see your silver keys, stuff like that.

I’ve been trying as much of possible [to remove the UI] – it’s ironic as we’ve spent ages doing a brand new interface – but for me as a game designer the user interface should almost be the last resort. That’s why I like the idea that if you have a tablet, you can prop it up next to you and that will be your map – and then you’ll never need to open the map screen during your playthrough , you can just interact with it as you see fit.

I hope maybe we’ll take away some of the cyncism (if that’s the appropriate word to use) about SmartGlass. I’m sure with Xbox One’s Smartglass being so powerful that we’re just one step on the way to making something like using your tablet just as common as using a control pad – and I say that as a gamer and a  developer.

I’m also probably one of the few people that own a Wii U and I really like what Nintendo have done with the tablet. When I’m playing Super Mario and things like that its just really nice having it there.

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Given the recent release of the Xbox One and the announcement of Fable Legends, it may seem like an odd choice to release this solely for the 360.  Was this a way to avoid alienating series fans that haven’t upgraded?

I think you’re spot on there to be honest. We can’t really say ‘this is a game for the fans!’ and then release it on a platform that doesn’t yet have a Fable game. Of course, as you mentioned, Fable Legends is our big game for that platform. I think when we first had the discussion – 16 or 17 months ago – about creating a remaster of the original Fable game, it was a bit like utilizing the lost chapters content in the game – it was also a no brainer for which platform it’d be on.

I’m a bit of a completionist, I like collecting my video games. I’m still a sucker for special editions and all that – much to my girfriend’s dismay! I think for me as Fable fan, I wanted to have on the shelf: Fable Anniversary, Fable 2 and Fable 3 – the complete collection. It joins games like Gears of War where you’ve got the whole franchise on one platform.

Speaking of Fable Legends, relatively little is known about the title so far. Has going back to the original influenced how you’re approaching designing Fable Legends?

I don’t think it will influence it, per se, because obviously as you said we’re still working hard on it and its still pretty early days. What is nice about going back and revisiting stuff is the subconscious part. We’ve obviously got a really big team here at Lionhead – 150+ developers at the company, and we’re all going to get a free copy – which is awesome!  And when you think about it, you’ve got people from testing, you’ve got people from level design, programmers, artists, quest designers – one of those people might be playing Anniversary at home, I completely forgot about it from all those years ago – that would go really well in Fable Legends. Obviously you have to discuss dev costs – stuff like that, but there might be some really nice stuff we can pull across [to Legends].

Just as much as this is a reminder to the fans of why we fell in love with Albion all those years ago, I think it’s a nice time for Lionhead to reflect, and to remind ourselves where this fantastic series began. I’m very proud to have been a part of it for all these years.

Given your work on the Kinect controlled Fable: The Journey, it seems strange that anniversary makes no use of the peripheral –what influenced your decision to veto it from this game?

If we rewind back to 2009/2010 – I got excited about SmartGlass and started to do some things with that , I remember Peter and Gary Carr – who was the creative director on Milo and Kate – they got really excited when the first Kinect cameras started showing up in the office. What’s nice about working at Lionhead is that we won’t shoe-horn something in, if we do something we’ll try and do it properly. So therefore when we developed and designed a Kinect game: we developed and designed a Kinect game. It was a seated experience, doing all these new things that hadn’t been done before. So its a bit like when you look at Anniversary, if we were to put Kinect in it what would it really add to the game? You don’t really want to use voice because the game was designed without that in mind – but we did feel that SmartGlass was appropriate. We have a great relationship with Microsoft and they always respect our decisions in that. I think that when we said on this occasion we’re not going to use Kinect, but we would like to use SmartGlass, they approved. There’s never any sort of sense of forcing us to utilize any type of platform, we design the platform that we feel is suitable for the game.

For those that have never played the original Fable, what would you say makes it relevant in 2014?

I think what makes it relevant is probably still the same thing that made it relevant in 2004: there’s still no other game like it. These days we’re inundated with first person shooters and third person shooters and all that kind of stuff, and what’s made Fable special is that it is the sum of all of its parts. You could go on a quest, you could become good and evil – we all know about those things in Fable- but what I think makes it really nice is that once you’ve finished the quest you can go and get married, you can get fat you can rent a house, you can be a landlord, etc. If you want to, you can go to the chapel of scorn and sacrifice people. Or even the fact that you can run around being called arse-face as your name, it’s something that, as silly as it sounds, there’s just nothing else like it. And of course when you combine that with the ability to kick chickens – now in high definition, which is super important – I think it’s just a pleasant world to be in. Maybe because we’re British I relate to it more than others, but it also has the feeling of a home to it. Of course I don’t kick chickens in real life, but it does feel like home at times.

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Aside from the Fable series’ unique humour and setting, do you feel the 2004 title’s gameplay and choice mechanics still hold up well in a post-Skyrim and Mass Effect world?

That one’s a bit trickier. I think it holds up, just about. I think you definitely have to look at it with slightly rose tinted glasses, thinking that this is a ten year old game. I mean God forbid that we get Fable Anniversary compared with GTA V, right?

A lot has changed in the last ten years. But you know, we all went back to GTA III – well, at least I did – when they did a remaster on IOS, and you look at it and think it’s a bit ropey in places. But you do almost have to step back, and it’s quite nice to, as brilliant as the game’s industry is today (and it’s more of an industry than ever) look back and reflect on where we came from.

I mean, my favourite game of all time is either Final Fantasy VII or Super Mario World, and I think you can look at both of those games and say ‘oh yeah nowadays you can do this, that, and the other better’, but there’s something that I think is still really special about them.

That was why we decided to make Fable Anniversary a remaster rather than a remake or a reboot, as all of a sudden [with reboots and remasters] it’s not aimed at the fans any more, but at new users. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love a wealth of new fans to come and join us in Albion, but I think with an anniversary title, it’s definitely more of a gift for the fans.

If you had the opportunity to do another HD remaster of any series that you really felt deserved to be replayed in 2014, what would it be?

I would probably choose Final Fantasy VII. Just because there was that really annoying tech demo that was shown in 2005?  And again, that’s not a remaster, that’s a full on reboot and re-imagining, but God, I would love to make that game!

We’d like to thank both Ted for his time, and Microsoft for setting up the interview with him.

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