Months after a series of revelations and uncomfortable interviews led him to retreating from public, famed British videogame designer Peter Molyneux is back.
While he didn’t give any interviews to members of the press, Molyneux delivered the Keynote speech at this week’s Reboot Develop conference in Dubrovnik, Croatia. As reported by industry site Gamesindustry.biz, Molyneux’s speech was entertaining and full of the usual anecdotes about Molyneux’s career in the industry, but the controversial lead designer of Fable and Godus stopped short of overtly discussing the events which began with Eurogamer publishing the revelations that Curiosity winner Brian Henderson had not received his prize, and culminated in a confrontational interview with Rock Paper Shotgun.
More recently, the recent news that Jack Attridge had left his position at 22 Cans – after being tipped to take over Molyneux’s role as head of the studio – sent many wondering whether Molyneux would cancel his planned talk. But instead he appeared on schedule, addressing the assembled developers and press with an hour-long discussion of his history as a game designer.
Aside from an anecdote about minigunning babies in Syndicate (which I have personally heard him mention in other speeches on at least 3 other occasions), Molyneux also mentioned that Lionhead had never intended to include giant blackcurrants in Black & White, and discussed the working conditions in the office where Bullfrog first called home: apparently they all worked in one room, which also had a sink that the team used as a lavatory – for both types of human waste.
Specifically talking about his thoughts on development, the designer said that recruitment agencies make a “terrible mistake” by focusing on hiring people with experience. “I don’t want experienced people. Experience very often, not always, means the dampening of the most brilliant human quality. The most brilliant human quality is excitement and drive,” Molyneux told the audience. “If we really are going to take this invention process seriously, that’s what you need: the drive and enthusiasm to embrace insanity and creativeness.”
Eventually, Molyneux started to discuss the personality trait which has landed him as the subject of so many headlines over the years – his propensity to overpromise. Speaking of the infamous story about Fable and its acorns, he said: “I remember the interview, for Fable. At E3 I used to have these one to one press briefings. The truth is, the journalist comes in and they’re utterly exhausted. They have three days of hangovers building up. They’ve been walking around the show, lugging an enormous amount of kit. They’re about as excited as they would be from talking to an accountant. My job was to explain why the game I’m working on was going to be better than any of the other 700 games shown off at that E3.”
He continued: “What I did was simple. I said, these are the things that excite me about this game. I said, and this was utterly true, ‘what I would love, in role playing terms, would be to have a world that evolved, like Black and White.’ We had this technology. ‘I’d love to have trees that grow, that you could plant an acorn that grew into a tree’. To my utter horror, that became the headline.”
He then followed this story with a word of caution for the developers in the audience: “This is why you have to watch yourself with the press. I wasn’t lying. People actually said, ‘this is fraud, you should be arrested.’ The same thing is happening in today’s world. There are thousands of indies, there’s only one editor’s choice. That’s the problem, you’ve got to get the world excited about your game. If it means talking about acorns and oak trees to try and get your head above the others, maybe you should. Personally, I would never choose to do that again.”
For many though, Molyneux’s words will ring hollow. The scandals and bad publicity surrounding Molyneux, 22 Cans and the mistakes made with Godus have, to many, seen Molyneux crossing the line from charming-and-eccentric to being a designer that can’t be trusted. Whether or not he ever manages to recover from that and regain the trust of players and the press remains to be seen; but while it seems that he’s not about to start speaking to the press again anytime soon, it does look as though he has no intention to retire, either.