Most gamers have never heard of Dene and Simon Carter, the brothers behind British developer Big Blue Box. Mention Fable (formerly known as Project Ego), however, and watch for widening eyes, dilated pupils, excessive drooling and the incoherent chanting of the name of game design deity, Peter Molyneux. Project Ego began as a dream of the Carter brothers: a wish to create a non-standard RPG that would redefine the way gamers experienced an adventure. They planned to accomplish this feat by using the latest graphic and AI technology as well as good old-fashioned storytelling. Gamers familiar with Molyneux and his previous work might easily realize that the Carter’s vision fit Molyneux modus operandi like a glove. Having worked together with the man/legend on several titles, it was no surprise that Molyneux and the Carter brothers would find common ground. From this association and significant assistance from Moylneux’s own Lionhead Studios, Big Blue Box and Project Ego emerged. Before long, the title was quickly picked up by Microsoft Game Studios for publishing as Fable and is slated for exclusive release on Microsoft’s XBox this winter.
The overall concept of Fable is simple: submerge players into a living, breathing world where every decision made and every action executed will influence the player and those around them. Tie this all into a quest for revenge/justice that will span a lifetime and you may get a glimpse of what Big Blue Box has in store for RPG fans this winter. Though, as with any revolutionary new software concept, the whole is much more than just a sum of its parts.
Big Blue Box wanted to create a world with NPC’s that had individual personalities and traits, reacting to the player in ways never before conceived in a game. For this an intuitive AI needed to be created to capture all the nuances of human response. Drawing from their own creative pool and the mastermind behind the “learning AI?of Black & White, Big Blue Box may very well have reached their goal for Fable. The inquisitive nature of children, the startled reaction of a person who feels threatened and the day-to-day routine of common folk are all elegantly captured in Fable.
NPC interaction aside, the designers wanted to show the influence of the world on the player through a series of visual transformations. While most RPGs use increasing statistics to illustrate character growth, Fable’s character morphs after prolonged exposure to certain environments and repeated actions. Muscle mass will increase with strenuous activity or atrophy with disuse. The player’s complexion will wax and wane with exposure to the sun or extensive night crawling. Facial and scalp hair will grow and can be cut as time progresses and all manner of tattoos and clothing can be applied at the player’s discretion. The level of customization Big Blue Box is aiming for with Fable is nothing short of astounding. While the end product will determine how closely the AI matches human response, from what we’ve seen so far, Big Blue Box has much to be proud of.
Of course, what kind of revolutionary concept would be complete without a revolutionary graphics engine? They say that a picture can tell a thousand words and Fable’s visuals thus far speak volumes. Fully rendered in real-time polygons, both the characters, creatures and environment radiate artistic brilliance seldom seen in today’s games. Each character model, from man to monster, is meticulously built to capture the artist’s original illustrations thanks to copious use of bump-mapping and vertex shading. The vast grasslands and dense forests seen in the demo show even greater attention to detail with a physics engine tuned to handle most natural (and man-made) outdoor environmental effects. While very few details about the final in-game camera were available, there appears to be a distinctly cinematic flair to the game. Though, the sweeping camera angles and copious close-ups are usually the hallmarks of automated cinematography. In keeping with the dynamic aspect of the game’s design, Big Blue Box has created a startlingly organic world where seasons change and the player can interact freely with the environment without restriction.
The action in Fable will be conducted in real-time and is an aspect that Big Blue Box is undoubtedly spending a great deal of time on. While it is known that wounds gained in battle will become scars with time, it is unknown if serious injuries like broken limbs, will be carried on into the game. At this point, it is unknown how many weapons the main character will be able to wield during the course of the adventure, but we expect the armory to be as diverse as the character customization.
Fable is poised to set many new precedents in the genre, but many may wonder if Big Blue Box will be able to spin a compelling tale. The realm of Albion is a land of wonder, a place of picturesque beauty and mystery, a land that seemed to be the stuff of folklore and fairytales. But even among the magnificence of its rolling plains and impenetrable mountains, Albion is not at peace. The people live in constant fear of an unspoken evil lurking in shadows. One day, the disquiet would rain calamity on an unsuspecting family. When an innocent youth returns home to find his parents slain and the family pooch nailed to the door, the wheels of destiny begin to turn. As this boy, players will embark on a journey to find the ones responsible for the crime, ultimately leading him into a struggle that threatens all the land. His journey to absolution will span decades and become a voyage into manhood, but will it be along the road of justice or along the shaded path of vengeance? Whatever motivation the player takes, their decisions will shape the future of Albion, for good or ill.
As one of the most ambitious RPGs of 2003, Fable has conquered many technical hurdles but still has a long race to run yet. Will Big Blue Box’s first endeavor be able to meet the mounting expectations of the public? Will the lofty promise of a fully interactive and reactive environment come to fruition? With every new bit of information, we believe it may. While the game is still more than ten months away, the dream of Dene and Simon Carter is slowly becoming a bold new reality. Fable is tentatively scheduled for release on the XBox this winter.
Imagine a game in which everything you do causes repercussions that extend into the future. A game in which in which your playing style gradually molds your character’s physical appearance and abilities; where a quest for revenge becomes a lifelong journey to save the world. Will you be the hero, anti-hero, or something in between? This game... this experience... is Peter Molyneux’s Project Ego.
Project Ego is a remarkably ambitious project, though whether the game lives up to its promises (or keeps its current name) won’t be certain until late this year. One thing is for certain: if Project Ego delivers, Peter Molyneux’s first console-only creation could introduce a whole new kind of role-playing game to the world.
Project Ego (tentative title) takes place in the land of Albion: a land of civil unrest. These barbaric times would visit even the most innocent. Grave misfortune would befall your character, a lad of 15 years, who returns home to find his family murdered. His quest for revenge will take him throughout Albion and last a lifetime. How long would he journey? Twenty, thirty, fifty years? It all depends on how you play the game. Project Ego includes a vast multitude of side quests that branch from the overarching plot promising to keep gamers occupied through those long years. Unfortunately, the option to play as a female character were scrapped due to development constraints but the scope of the game is no less grandiose.
Therein lies the core of Project Ego’s innovation: open-ended gameplay and a continuous, long reaching timeline. There is an overall plot to the game, but how the individual player progresses, is up to them. You can choose the role of master warrior: donning heavy armor and lugging around massive weapons, or that of the wizard: training your mind in the ways of magic. If guile and intrigue are your interests, you can take the guise of the swift and stealthy thief. There will be dozens of other professions to choose from, but unlike most other RPG's, these choices are discrete. The player doesn’t “assume" the role of a warrior or a mage, you must grow into them. Your actual class will be based entirely on your actions, and that development changes your character’s appearance over time.
If you spend the majority of your time fighting with heavy objects, you’ll build up muscle mass and strength, slowly becoming the massive warrior. As a spellcaster, you’ll lose hair and become wizened as the mystical energies take their toll on your body over time. Likewise, a skulking, timid character will look wiry and nervous. The environment will even determine cosmetic appearances: spending a lot of time outdoors and you’ll take on a suitably weather-beaten and tanned look. Staying indoors for fortnights on end will result in a most pallid complexion. How good (or evil) you act will also affect your appearance through the game. Even clothing, facial hair and decorative tattoos are included and customizable.
Your actions will not only affect your character, the land of Albion will be altered as well. Something as small as crushing a sapling will affect the presence of the landscape ten years of game-time later because that tree would have never grown. Likewise, the people you encounter will change their opinions of you based on their impressions. Sauntering into the local pub dressed in naught but a loincloth will earn funny looks from the locals. Slashing, burning and maiming your way to your goals will instill fear, making every man, woman and child flee as you approach. If you are benign and heroic, the children will flock to your side, imitating your looks while women flock to your door (if you’ve amassed sufficient wealth to buy a house). You can even settle down and raise a family if you choose. But whatever you do, be quick about it, as you are not the only hero in the world. Tarry too long and another do-gooder will beat you to the prize. Diligence is rewarded here, and sloth punished.
Few details are yet available on the gameplay system, though combat will be in real-time with spells cast through your character’s innate abilities. Powerful weapons can be found, but normal weapons can also gain power through repeated use. Why bother with the sword of a dead hero when you’re already legendary?
Project Ego's graphics show a high level of attention to detail and character design. Tree branches, blades of wheat, and even wild grasses are individually rendered and often highlighted by realistic lighting effects. Media screenshots also show several possible iterations of the main character, from a bulky armor-clad warrior (replete with fierce tattoos) to a pasty, sinister-looking fellow swathed in robes reminiscent of Soul Reaver’s Raziel. Visually, the game looks stunning and hopefully the soundtrack will hold up as well.
Ambition, thy name is Peter Molyneux. After the roaring success of Black & White, Molyneux's Project Ego stands poised to be one of the biggest games ever, for better or worse. If poorly executed, the game will be a colossal failure, but is these promises are met; Project Ego could be an equally phenomenal success, redefining role-playing as we know it. Here’s hoping for the later.
© 2003 Big Blue Box, All Rights Reserved.
© 2003 Microsoft Game Studios. All Rights Reserved.