Molyneux Talks Developing For Kinect, His Gaming Habits

by Dan Ryckert on Mar 14, 2012 at 11:44 AM

Throughout his career, designer Peter Molyneux has consistently been one of the most entertaining interviews in the industry. We had a chance to speak with him at the Microsoft Spring Showcase, mere days before he departed from Lionhead and Microsoft to join the new studio 22 Cans.

What was your first job before you were in the gaming industry?

I worked in strawberry picking, I worked in fish and chips shops, and I worked as a kitchen porter washing up dishes at a holiday camp for six months. I was voted the least likely person to succeed when I was in school, so that was my destiny. When I first started as a kitchen porter, that was it. That was the dizzying heights of my career at that particular time.

When you think back on your gaming history as a fan, what were the games that really grabbed you early on?

Well we’re going back a long ways, I could go back to Pong if I wanted to. I think the first real, proper game that I played - and I don’t count a lot of the shoot-em-ups - was probably Wizardry. That was unbelievably amazing. I mean, I was there in that dungeon. I always enjoyed the Ultima series, although I always got pissed off having to talk to so many people in the world.

Have you had a chance to play the new Syndicate?

No. I don’t know much about it, but I’ve seen a couple reviews. I think it’s a first-person shooter. I think it’s called Syndicate because it’s about corporations battling, which is what the story of Syndicate was, but I don’t think it has much relation with the original Syndicate. That was much more about being let loose in shopping malls with miniguns.

What are some of the struggles that pop up when you’re developing a Kinect game that you wouldn’t think about when making a controller-based game?

I think it’s a kind of journey you have to go on yourself as a designer. The first thing you do is, you tend to be a bit lazy. You think “How am I gonna get Kinect to do this, which is so easy to do on a controller?”. That’s completely the wrong way to think. What Kinect is is a very analog experience, and what it enables you to do is deal with just how different human beings are. In Fable: The Journey, if I used Kinect and it forced you to sit a certain way and forced you to throw a certain way and forced you to emote in a certain way, I think that would be the worst thing I could do. The best thing I can do is celebrate how different you are and how analog you are and how the imprecision is actually a huge benefit. You can really focus on the sense of discovery that Kinect can give you, because the most inspirational thing about Kinect is that marketing line - “You are the controller.” If you take that as a philosophy rather than just a line, I think some interesting things can happen.

Do you feel that Kinect has lived up to its potential at this point?

It’s just like any piece of new technology or invention, whether it’s a bike, a motorcar, or a flying machine. We as human beings just expect way too much, far too soon. We expect the first wave of titles to be the most amazing, incredible things. We don’t think deeply enough about what actually can happen in the second and third wave of titles. Now the second wave is just coming, and we’re starting to realize that it’s very deep, it’s very refined, we really can look at the way you move and that’s what I love celebrating.

You put out a video a while ago that featured your son Lucas petitioning Valve for Half Life 3. Is he a gamer, and do you play together?

Absolutely, yes we do. We play together all the time. We play a lot of Minecraft together, and we’re currently playing Skyrim. Although I have to beat up those people for not making it co-op. That’s ridiculous, for God’s sake.

So when you’re playing with him, do you just pass the controller?

Oh no, he’s nine years old and he is way, way better at most games than I am. In fact, it’s so much so, I’ve said every game should include a parental cheat mode. A “keeping up with your son mode.” Just a bit more of an assist for us parents, it’s essential.

What games are you playing by yourself at the moment?

I’ve been playing a lot of Skyrim. I also really really love the genius of Zelda: Skyward Sword. I think that’s the same thing, is that they’re celebrating the good things about motion controls and not focusing on the bad. I’m really, really enjoying that game. Except for that final boss, it’s just way too hard. It’s ridiculously hard. It’s the fight where you go through about fifty different stages. You think “This has got to be the last level” and then the dark thing comes out and I just gave up. I love playing that stuff, though. They’re just geniuses at doing that stuff. I’ve also been playing a lot of games on the iPad. Just played Tiny Band Story, that’s lovely. Six Guns is pretty good...have you seen Six Guns?

No, I haven’t heard of it.

You haven’t heard of it?

No, but I do have an iPad. I should check it out.

You have an iPad and you haven’t heard of Six Guns? Jesus, man. You need to get with the game, you’re sleeping too much. Six Guns is kind of like Red Dead Redemption, but you play it on an iPad. It’s a really interesting model for free-to-play, because you have to pay money to refill your gun or you can wait. It’s a fully-explorable world and you have a horse.

This console generation has seen such a long life cycle, and we’ve seen huge jumps forward in downloadable titles and online play. What kind of big changes do you see coming in the next console generation?

I think it’s a really interesting time. We as game designers now have to really put our thinking caps on, because there’s a lot of stuff that we need to get our teeth into. We have to get into all the cloud stuff, we’ve gotta get our teeth into monetizing and the digital relationship with customers. The difference between retail and free-to-play and how that’s gonna evolve, we’ve got multi-device play, we’ve got totally new ways of interacting with the experience. All of that has to be solved, designed, and delightful experiences have to be made. It’s going to take us quite a long time to get through that lot. On the horizon, I predict that we’ve just started looking at different devices. I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more input devices coming along, and I just think it’s a really interesting, fascinating time in the industry.