Q&A: Lionhead's Molyneux roars

The legendary developer talks about a possible sequel to Syndicate, who is best positioned to win the next-gen console wars, and the state of indie game development in the UK.

Peter Molyneux has been developing games for longer than many people have been playing them. From timeless classics such as Syndicate, Populous, and Theme Park to the likes of Black & White and more recently the success of The Movies franchise, Molyneux has been at the head of the independent game-development class.

That all changed when Microsoft shelled out an undisclosed fee back in April for Molyneux's Guildford, UK-based Lionhead Studios. The acquisition brings Lionhead into the fold with the likes of Bungie at Microsoft Game Studios.

In advance of his planned keynote at the upcoming Leipzig Game Convention, GameSpot caught up with the brains behind Black & White to get his views on the console wars and why he felt that the increasingly cutthroat game market meant being bought out was necessary to maintain his studio's true creative independence.

GameSpot UK: Microsoft's purchase of Lionhead Studios ensures exclusivity for them on Windows and Xbox 360. As a developer that had only produced games for these platforms in the past, what did Lionhead have to offer Microsoft from a buyout? Were you planning some extraordinary multiformat title that Microsoft wanted to grab exclusivity on?

Peter Molyneux: I think Microsoft saw in Lionhead a group of creative and talented individuals who had the passion to make great games. It was a big plus for them that we were working on the sequel to Fable and also that we had some fascinating and unique concepts and prototypes, as well, which they found hugely exciting, so the short answer is both!

GSUK: Lionhead has always had a meticulous attention to detail, taking the "It's done when it's done" line to release dates. Do you think Microsoft will continue to support this approach?

PM: Actually, as an independent we were starting to find it increasingly difficult to continue the development of a game until it was done. Working with hundreds of people, we found ourselves having to make some very tough decisions on the quality versus release-date front. What I can say for certain is that Microsoft wants us to create games which will get the whole world excited and to spend time on polishing a game till it shines, although in saying that, we still intend to be as professional as we can be.

GSUK: The Movies and Black & White 2 didn't enjoy the same level of success as previous Lionhead titles, despite being critically well received. Would you put their lack of success down to marketing?

PM: It's very easy to blame marketing departments and publishers when sales don't live up to expectations, but in reality there are many, many reasons for what happened, so I'll just focus on three. Firstly, the PC market has been declining; the number of PC-only titles that have been successful is nonexistent. And, in fact, The Movies was, in sales terms, the most successful original IP over the Christmas period. Secondly, launching any game over the Christmas period is challenging, as there is so much focus on a few games which have massive marketing budgets behind them. Thirdly, I think the type of people playing and buying PC games has changed. If you exclude World of Warcraft, there seems to be many more casual gamers playing games on the PC than hardcore gamers.

GSUK: With each successive generation, the concerns of independent studios seem to become louder and louder. As someone with experience in building up studios from scratch, where do you see the future for UK independent games developers?

PM: Things have been very, very bleak and tough for independent studios who are hoping to create triple-A titles--but for studios creating games for [Xbox] Live and download, I'd say the future is brighter. Independent companies can make games for these platforms within smaller budgets. For me, I found I was having to make too many compromises on quality issues to remain independent.

GSUK: And what about costs--have the fears over escalating budgets on next-generation titles proven to be true?

PM: Costs for next-generation development have increased dramatically, certainly--we're talking about 10s of millions of dollars to make triple-A games. But it should be remembered that there is a law of diminishing return here, so if you spend $5 million and double that to $10 million, you don't get double the quality. This trend really can't continue, and the industry must face the fact we need to stabilize our costs. This will mean that reuse of technology and assets needs to be much better managed.

GSUK: The UK academic community has been quick to offer games-design courses for students. What's your interaction with this community, and do you think that this is the way to go for budding designers?

PM: I have spoken to a few educational establishments about the games-design courses, and they are teaching very sound technical skills, but they don't focus as well on the more esoteric design skills that are needed for the job. Designers need to be able to communicate, inspire, and listen, and I see these skills as being just as necessary as an appreciation of the technical side. A good feel for design is also fundamental, and I think this is a talent rather than a skill that can be taught.

GSUK: There seems to be a backlash mounting against the PlayStation 3, while the Wii seems to be going from strength to strength. How do you think the next-gen console war is going to stack up?

PM: Well, I have been through console wars before, but this one strikes me as particularly interesting. Nintendo has done a great job of convincing us that next gen is about game play rather than high-tech specs. Microsoft has done an incredible job of expanding games online and making them more mass market. Sony, in my view, seems it has been rather more lazy with their message. How all this pans out really depends on one thing and that is the brilliance of the titles that appear on each platform over the next two to three years. Marketing the hardware is nothing compared to the games that run on it, so I expect the system with the greatest games on it to end up on top.

GSUK: Black & White was hugely innovative on its release, and its gestured command system has ironically been matched by the Wii. How important is innovation in interface design to you?

PM: Without any doubt the biggest revolution we will see in games will be to do with what the player holds and how they control a game. I can see the joypad continuing to evolve over the next generation, and this will result in completely new games concepts.

GSUK: Do you have any plans to produce a sequel for some of your most successful games?

PM: Aside from the licensing complications, some sort of next-gen online version of Syndicate would certainly be popular with gamers...I 'd love to reprise games like Syndicate, Populous, and Dungeon Keeper, but as you point out, we'd need some business development people to sort this out.

GSUK: Thank you for your time.

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Discussion

87 comments
Vasot
Vasot

Man i hope they made a new Sundicate game

hsvwa
hsvwa

I would love to see a GTA style version of Syndicate. Can imagine it would be a lot of fun teaming up with three other mates online to take out other teams, rob banks, or attack giant fortified military bases. Using the indoctrinator to brainwash an army of civilians to fight for you're cause would be cool too. I also hope that they give it a strong storyline focusing on corporate fascism, private militaries, the police state and cults/terrorist organisations. A large depth of advanced weaponry and physical enhacements (V3+) would do the game justice aswell.

azrael2514
azrael2514

Does anyone know if there is a downloadable Vista friendly version of Syndicate anywhere in the world? Cuz I would pay an enourmas sum of money for that. Or, they could just make a new one and I would enjoy that. PC only please.

lain000
lain000

Next-gen online Syndicate? Oh **** you, Peter.

hidehairy
hidehairy

Syndicate - yes. I'd love to see that.

laugurinn
laugurinn

Hmm I seem to be missing something. Full of himself how? Please elaborate mr. ParaParaKing.

PeterMullock
PeterMullock

ParaParaKing said "Full of himself" ?!?!?! (see below) How can you be a Gamespot member and talk about Peter Molyneux like that? What's he done to you? Deliver a list of exceptional games? Now, now, next time please keep it shut.

niasyn
niasyn

I would totally get Syndicate and a new version of Dungeon Keeper.

Octagon
Octagon

Syndicate has my purchase

Gorge-a-Maniac
Gorge-a-Maniac

Well its good to see hes still got ideas and the want to push forward to get 'em out. Ive enjoyed every one of Lionheads games that ive played (short or not, still have) and I cant wait to see wat else these guys can bring out. Best of luck to y'all.

chokedoke
chokedoke

My god new theme hospital and dugeon keeper would be fantastic still play both of those games to this day when im feeling alittle nostalgic i would more than welcome a return of either game

fatboyvinnie
fatboyvinnie

New Theme Hospitals,Populous and Dungeon Keeper would be great

benvdp
benvdp

I think he has every right to be a little full of himself. He has developed such great games over such along period of time. Personally i love the way he is still so energetic and full of passion after all these years and I dont think he comes across as big headed.

ParaParaKing
ParaParaKing

Ah, Mr Molyneux. Molyneux is so full of himself. He's by far the person, that I can't stand least in the gaming industry.

eric_neo3
eric_neo3

Syndicate brings back old memories. Remember to add -nosound to the cmd line to play on xp and some levels will need to be done with dosbox because of some random loading error. But heck a NEW Syndicate for PC PLEASE! I loved quick android bombs lol they were cheap and effective.

old_speccer
old_speccer

A new Syndicate! Yes please Mr Molyinieiyuiex

mcgrawgamer
mcgrawgamer

never played syndicate, but I played and still own populous how that game was designed gameplay and graphically rivals the quality of some of the games out today. I would love to see what Peter M. can do with MS funding his projects as long as they give him the freedom they stated they would....

SilV3RSix
SilV3RSix

broker1 "I just hope what he said about PC's was the MS corporate line and not his true belief, PC's games will always be the tech/hardcore gamers platform." Play XBox LIVE and you'll see where the hardcore guys are at. It has set a standard in communication, gameplay, and stability that the PC arena just hasn't matched on a consistent basis. Sure the PC will still have strong followings in FPS, and RTS, as well as MMOs, but even some of the most dedicated PC gamers have found that their couch is more comfortable then their desk chair.

broker1
broker1

Syndicate is a game that I still play now. A new single player Syndicate please! I just hope what he said about PC's was the MS corporate line and not his true belief, PC's games will always be the tech/hardcore gamers platform.

Kounji
Kounji

Syndicate comming back would be excellent it has to be one of my favorite strategy slash rpg hybrids ever. WIth a very cool back ground

haze_blaze
haze_blaze

Black & White was interesting... Fable sucked. Not really looking forward to too much from this group.

Kwzy
Kwzy

Thanks GOd we have SquareEnix...

nev70
nev70

Peter HURRY UP WITH FABLE 2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

lil_c09
lil_c09

My new favorite game developer :)

negativeions
negativeions

BRING BACK THE SYNDICATE! OH YA BABY! Syndicate Apocalypse! MMO?? There HAS to be a single player story game as well or else it's not syndicate. God damn it peter, son of a b*tch... how about this.. you press a button like 'x', and your cyborgs, roll/move out of danger and into firing position of the nearest enemies. Move along!

happycujo
happycujo

Molyneux is good, but I like to hear more of Peter Jackson! I am a big fan of his work, espacially creatures of Havoc from the fighting fantasy series. I wonder what is his next project.

BlackdogGT
BlackdogGT

Lionhead, sweet Lionhead.. PLEASE take your sweet lil' time on Fable 2.

GKBeetle
GKBeetle

EMAN2g >_> interestin'... ------------------------------- Thanks you very much for this insight EMAN2g. I think we are all better off now that you have posted this insightful opinion. Keep up the wonderful work. You are a great scholar.

SGTMUS
SGTMUS

I want new versions of Syndicate and Dungeon Keeper.

PaddyDX
PaddyDX

Freakin' Dungeon Keeper 3 FTW!

John_of_Fire
John_of_Fire

Syndicate, Populous, and Dungeon Keeper would all be great to see again. I hope he gets the chance but unfortunately this mans eyes seem to be bigger than his stomach.

EMAN2g
EMAN2g

>_> interestin'...

LinkErdrich
LinkErdrich

I earnestly hope someday Mr. Molyneux can actually live up to his hype. We'll see if this next generation can help.

Ghost_Warrior
Ghost_Warrior

Nothing about Fable 2 but thats ok, I'd rather it not be over-hyped like Fable was and then when its released it turns out to be a fantastic game.

nintendorocks
nintendorocks

Wow, a next-gen Syndicate MMO sounds great. I hope that happens. Anyway, I found it interesting what he said about the console wars. Once again, another face of the video game industry who is not very impressed by the PlayStation 3. Molyneux isn't very important in the console wars since he will now only be developing for Microsoft. But still, very interesting. I'm glad that Lionhead has a bigger budget now. Lionhead has always made great games but now I'd love to see what they can do now.

bobbysbits
bobbysbits

fable 2 was pretty good. you should check it out.

fraudbot
fraudbot

haven't played fable 2 huh?

Sidrat2004
Sidrat2004

I haven't played Fable one or two, but I do fondly remember Syndicate. I don't know exactly why I missed out on Syndicate Wars, but I did. Syndicate I played for months, if not years on the Amiga 1200 version and if they can come up with a sequel for that ( four player co operative no more no less! then I will be a happy bunny). Syndicate really was a great story driven game. I WANTED no, NEEDED to be the CEO and chairman of the biggest corporate on the planet, controlling everything. If you haven't played this game, find it in a ROM format and downgrade your PC if you have to, just play it. Lionhead/Bullfrog same company, possibly. Sensbile Software if my cider riddle brain is correct, done Cannon Fodder which is also a great title of the same era. Find and locate both those titles!!!! Cannon Fodder, I know used two if not three mouse' up!!! BIG game, great tactical game too.

Seymour47
Seymour47

mumotuma_man "I played the movies and fable, and picked up black and white 2 just because it was made by the same people. lionhead is the only studio i would do that for, they're my all-time favorite... never played their early stuff though" Syndicate and Populous were some of the greatest games in history. You should check them out.

metdevthegamer
metdevthegamer

How did they come up with the name Lionhead? Always wondered...

CaptainDingo
CaptainDingo

He gave kind of a canned answer as to why Black & White 2 was so lackluster and dull... but such is the way of game politics, I guess.

TheVelvet
TheVelvet

Just hearing about a new Syndicate makes me want to go and play the old one again, which I own and probably will play in the next few days. : )

umbrae
umbrae

I would kill for a new Syndicate! Please oh please... A new Dungeon Keeper would be nice too.