Peter Molyneux is in typically good form as he invites us to sit down with him to take a look at Lionhead’s upcoming Kinect title, Fable: The Journey. A game about Gabriel, a ‘nobody in the world who becomes a hero’ and, perhaps more interestingly still, his horse.
It hasn’t always been apparent exactly what The Journey’s gameplay formula was, and in some respects that remains the case, with Molyneux keeping schtum on just how the hero’s interactions within his world work.
What we do know is that this is a fully explorable RPG pitched toward the core gamer and casual crowd alike. It’s also a game in which Molyneux would have you ‘relax and take it easy while playing’, an aim not commonly shared amongst Kinect developers.
The hands on we experienced introduced not only the aforementioned horse, but also action elements by way of both a chase sequence, and a first-person shooter section (for want of a better description).
First, to the horse, a cross between the Kinectimals and one of Black & White’s creatures, whose appearance and demeanour will change in accordance with the player’s behaviour towards it.
Treat it well, feed it apples, groom it, keep it clean and free from harm and it will come to you of its own free will – the horse seemingly having to be called by the player whenever the game is loaded up.
Treat it badly however and it will shy away, while passers-by might, upon viewing the emaciated animal, comment upon your savagery. A judgement system deliberately implemented to make us all too aware of our reputation within the game, and perhaps encourage some of us to take a long look at ourselves.
This relationship between player and horse is further examined when under attack, the demonstration showcasing a scenario in which the horse is hit with an arrow. Wounded, it loses pace, so allowing the Hobbe raiders to launch another volley of arrows.
Do you crack the reins and have the horse run on regardless, or do you seek a side-road, so affording a brief respite to use magic in order to heal the animal – though at the cost of harming the world around you, as even healing magic obeys the law of cause and effect. You might even wish to leave the arrow, or even push it further into the beast’s wound, as once more the decision is yours.
Of course this level of interaction wouldn’t be possible without the gesture-based control of the Kinect, and Molyneux was keen the emphasise the level of intricacy and detail strived for by Lionhead. For example, tethered to a wagon the horse is directed by its reins, reins which you’ll have to imagine you hold if you’re going to be able to guide the horse safely.
Pulling left and right prompts the horse in the required direction, while cracking them spurs the horse on. In fact, if you believe the hype, the Kinect’s sensor can apparently even detect tension in the player, so affecting the mood and confidence of the horse; while it will even be possible to teach the horse unique command words to assist with control.
Away from horseplay are the first-person action sequences, demonstrated via a fight between Gabriel and a series of werewolves – in which our hero remains static it must be added. Two spells were demonstrated, a damaging ball of light mapped to he right hand, and a grappling tentacle attached to he left – perfect for grabbing opponents and scenery alike.
Molyneux detailed what he referred to as a ‘feel of experimentation’, a free-form approach to he magic system which responds to the player’s method and aggression. The conjured balls of energy for example will yield more power if the player shouts while throwing them, similarly the tentacle grapple will grow spikes if Kinect perceives aggression.
A relaxed tone in the voice might however slacken the tentacle, so making them more extendable and able to reach further distances, the decision, as with most other aspects of the game, up to the player.
Ultimately this is still but the first few footsteps in the progress of this journey and though we come away impressed the session leaves us with more question than answers. How will more complex action sequences be implemented? How might different spells affect encounters? How does looking after a horse speak to the core audience? It seems we’ll have to wait until E3 for the answers.