Microsoft and Lionhead plan to bring Fable, their hit Xbox role-playing game, to the PC later this year with Fable: The Lost Chapters. As you can probably tell from the name, the PC version will add a considerable amount of new content to Fable, in terms of new quests, new weapons and accessories, and other new elements. To get the details, we got to throw some questions to the very candid Dene Carter, the creative director of Fable. Fable: The Lost Chapters is scheduled to ship for the PC this fall, and Microsoft recently revealed that it plans to deliver a new Xbox version of the game, with the Lost Chapters content, later this year.
GameSpot: The big question is, aside from the new items and accessories, how much new gameplay content is there, and how much longer is it compared to the Xbox version? Where exactly does this new stuff enter the picture? Is it tacked onto the end, or is it integrated so that you can't access the new regions until you reach a certain point in the game?
Dene Carter: It's probably accurate to say about a third of the new content is in terms of missions. These have been sprinkled both throughout the original story and integrated into an extended end-game section, rounding off the storyline in an appropriately heroic style.
GS: There are also a slew of new items, accessories, and monsters in the game. What's the rationale behind adding headgear such as hats? What are some of the cool new items and weapons?
DC: Ah, yes, hats. First of all, hats seemed strangely "Fabley" and were the perfect accompaniment to many of the new quests and challenges we've added to the game. We also found people to be ridiculously enthusiastic about them once they realized how much personality they added. Look at it this way: Darth Vader, defined by his hat. Indiana Jones, hat man. Leatherface, known for hat (well, face actually, but it's not so far off). See. It's obvious, really. People were defining their characters more by their haircuts and hats than any other modifiable feature, so we expanded upon it. For traditionalists who have not seen the light, we've also added a companion sword to the Sword of Aeons and new costumes, such as platinum armor.
GS: Were there any changes in gameplay that you made based on feedback from the Xbox version of the game? For instance, were any quests tweaked or made simpler, or did you decide to change the balance on certain weapons or items? Or is it pretty much a literal translation of the original game, along with new content?
DC: Some of the minigames were tweaked to work better with the mouse, and all of the new content has been balanced to be of the correct difficulty on a Windows platform. Apart from that, we didn't mess too much with the balance.
Some people argued that they wanted the game to be harder, but these were people who played the game, completed it, and wanted more. This is not a bad thing. We didn't think there was much to be gained from punishing players by upping the difficulty, forcing them to play sections of the game again and again. There are plenty of other games out there seemingly aimed at making players want to switch off, or turn the DVD into an ersatz beer mat. I'd hate a Fable beer mat. Grrr.
GS: How useful will the new expressions be in the game? These are normally used for online role-playing games, where you can show off for fellow humans, so will the non-player characters in Fable react accordingly if you air-guitar in front of them?
DC: Expressions are key to the villager-interaction element of Fable. You can express yourself and change villager opinions, which in turn change your experience of the game. Act like a chicken and show how ridiculous you are, or ensure that NPCs quiver in fear at your approach by roaring at them at every opportunity. You can even show what a smooth operator you are with various slimy show-off moves. The effects and outcomes are really varied and form part of the heart of Fable. I'd argue that we get more reactions out of people in Fable than a lot of online role-playing games!
Sorry, that was the long answer. I meant, "Yes."
Tattoo MadGS: We know that one of the PC-only features is the ability to create your own tattoo design on your PC and import it into the game. What are the general requirements for the tattoo file, and are there thoughts to giving PC modders access to tinker even more with the game?
DC: Creating new tattoos is pretty easy. All you need to be able to do is use a basic paint package. The tattoo files come with a nice template to show how you change the skin. It's very flexible, indeed. Some folks have painted themselves blue, for some reason I can't determine. I think "Smurf hero" is an abomination, a "thing that should not be," but that's a matter of personal choice. They can go Smurf themselves.
As for modding, it'll be interesting to see what turns up over the coming months. Some of the things we're seeing out there for Xbox alone are very impressive.
GS: How did you come to the current keyboard and mouse configuration? Was it a simple matter of remapping all the gamepad buttons to keyboard keys, or did you experiment with different types of configurations? And could you just plug in a USB gamepad and play it like it was played on the Xbox?
DC: This was our major concern: how to ensure Windows players felt that they were getting a game designed for them and not a halfhearted port. However, getting it right was a huge challenge. This issue alone caused more arguments and heated debates than anything else in the entirety of Fable's life cycle.
As it was, the current control configuration (and the ability to customize as much of it as we have allowed) took a lot of iterations. The result is that the entire user interface has been changed from that on the Xbox, creating a very mouse-centric experience. Using a gamepad with this setup would be suboptimal, to say the least.
GS: Was it simply a case of taking the original textures created for the Xbox version and using them in the PC game, but without compressing them? After all, artists make all their high-resolution textures on PCs and then compress them down to make them work on a console. Or did you go back and create even sharper textures? And are there any other PC-specific graphical enhancements worth mentioning?
DC: Not quite. We created a lot of our textures at stupidly high resolutions when we were young and naive and ignorant of the Xbox's abilities. These automatically mip-mapped down to appropriate levels, based on memory restrictions, and then, when it came to burn the final game, we removed all the levels of detail that were never seen. We created the Windows version, lifted these restrictions, and bam! There they were, textures of at least twice the resolution.
GS: Have there been any improvements in terms of audio? The Xbox version was stuffed to the gills with great voice acting and the Danny Elfman score, but are there any audio enhancements in the PC version?
DC: We worked with a lot of the same actors, reworked the reverb and postproduction effects on some of the vocal work. The game sounds better than ever.
GS: Will there be any way to show off your unique character to other players, aside from taking a screenshot and posting it on the Internet? Will you include any kind of Internet functionality in the PC version?
DC: This is not currently handled in the Windows version.
GS: Finally, is there anything else you'd like to add about the sound, technical aspects, or upgraded graphics and presentation in Fable: The Lost Chapters?
DC: I would only add that Albion is a unique and beautiful world, now larger, richer, and fuller than before. I hope people have as much fun experiencing it as we had creating it.
GS: Thank you very much, Dene.