Happy Sunday everyone, I'm growing progressively sicker and I had figured I'd pen this out before I succumb to whatever flu bug I have, but I only got half done on Saturday as I succumbed to the bed. Since I am sick, as a treat to myself, I'm going to write about Peter Molyneux.
I absolutely love simulation games because they do not have, usually, any element out to get you. There is nobody attempting to kick your sandcastle over and if there is, they can usually be disabled. A simulation has no death flags, no loss flags, and the ones that do can be disabled with a quick jump to the menu. This relaxing non-aggressive playstyle is what has dominated my gaming life since the original PC version of Sim City which I played as a very small child.
In the early days of the simulation genre, before we have Truck Driving Simulator (love it), Kerbal (love it), Farming Simulator (love it), The Sims (love it), etc. there was a company called Bullfrog and they made one of my favorite simulation games of all time: Theme Park. This game was so simple, yet it was so full of depth. I spent most of 1999 & 2000 playing Theme Park. Every day after school, I turned on the PlayStation and played it until bedtime, building park after park, collecting them on the little memory cards, each one a masterpiece of skill and dedication.
Theme Park was the first game at Bullfrog that Peter Molyneux was the lead programmer for and it was absolutely brilliant and, the critical aspect of it was that Peter Molyneux was in EVERY gaming magazine in 1999 & 2000 for a new simulation game he was making - "Black & White" with his new studio, Lionhead Studios.
It was huge - bigger than you could imagine. The great Peter Molyneux, the creator of Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper (another game I enjoyed, but not as much) was making Black & White, and I saved and saved to be able to get it the day it came out and I thought it was brilliant. My teenage mind was taken aback by a simulation on scale with Populus but with everything that just made the game as brilliant as it could be and it put Peter Molyneux on the map.
Rave reviews came and he was then considered a legend almost like Sid Meyer was at this point and then he started talking about his new project: Fable.
By this point I had the Internet and I watched as everyone went crazy discussing all of the amazing features it was going to have and as each E3 came by, Fable become a cooler and much better game. My excitement could not be contained, because when it released in 2004 I was an adult, with my own income, and was heavy into MMOs like Ragnarok Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Ultima Online, Earth & Beyond, Auto Assault, and Lineage 1 & 2. Yet, my childhood hero, the person who kept me going through some very difficult times with a game I could never pour enough time into, was releasing what was to be the most technically advanced most awesome game to ever come.
Yet, Fable while good, wasn't anything like he promised. Your decisions didn't really matter, the story didn't change, and it was more on rails than any other game I had seen to this point that touted any of the features it had. Grand Theft Auto had more choice in it, since depending on which missions you took, it would lock and unlock missions from that point forward. In the original Fable you got to decide if your dude had magic marking on his face or became the biggest bro that bro-kind had seen.
It was... to me a disappointment. As someone who had followed his words for so long and had read so much, as the Internet lashed out against him, I thought maybe his lust for simulation is what ruined his vision for Fable. Maybe he can make simulation games and not fantasy? The hardest part of it was that Fable was a lot of fun, but lots of the features he promised never came with the game.
Fable II, Fable III, and Black & White II came out... most of his features he promised didn't show up. They didn't materialize, and here we were with these great games, but gamers were railing against them. Hatred was spewing as promise after promise wasn't in the game. By Fable III, the Internet knew how to make memes, and his promises were easily compared to the reality of what the game offered.
Here is the problem though - I quit listening to him after Fable and then enjoyed Fable II, Fable III, and Black & White II as the games that they were - awesome. Review scores praised all of his games and without a doubt they were all successful. Beyond successful.
Yet, Godus shows up. A Kickstarter by someone who has a loyal following of fans ready to believe in his new great simulation game. People who went through similar experiences, loving Dungeon Keeper and Populus and Theme Park and Black & White and Fable... they supported him and then, it went to shit. The game didn't have enough funding to pull through, a kid didn't get his cool prize he was promised, and the world is not a happy place.
Now, Rock Paper Shotgun and The Guardian took some giant shots at Molyneux for essentially being someone who is beyond wealthy but still asked for handouts to build a game, a game that hasn't progressed to even the point that Black & White I was at from accounts, or has it? If you read the blog, there is a daily dev diary describing what the development team has been doing in addition to weekly accounts of progress on the game.
So what's wrong here? Where is the problem? What's the issue? For some, it seems as if Molyneux is a goblin attempting to steal everyone's money, for others he's an eccentric genius who makes good games he can't describe. While many of my colleagues are huge fans of Rock Paper Shotgun, and I'm a reader as well, I have to disagree with the opinion that Molyneux is wrong in any of this.
Here's the issue - the real issue at heart, Molyneux is a developer and not a programmer. He's an ideas man and his job is to come up with ideas. Why do developers rarely talk to the media? Why are there rarely developer interviews before anything is finished? They're all post-humorous or announcing when something is going live. That's because the development progress starts with the blue sky and finally wraps up with a finished product, often like nothing the design documents at the start represent.
Look at Star Citizen, originally it was a simple space sim game, but now it's pretty much the game of the century with funding that won't stop. Is it what it was at the start? No, nowhere close. It's nowhere where it was at the beginning and neither were any of the other games Molyneux made.
The error in everyone's way here is that Molyneux was enthusiastic about his games. He wanted to hype them, but he's not the hype man. PR is the hype man. The developer is the driving force that develops the game. Programmers are the ones that take the ideas and make them reality. Producers tie it all together. Yet, Molyneux was head of the studio. He founded both Bullfrog and Microsoft and even sold his studios to make sure the cashflow was high enough for his games and left to constantly run from publisher regulations.
The RPS interview reads like an emotional rollercoaster, with Peter fending himself from John's attacks, each and every one of them reasonable, but the answers Peter gives to me come off as reasonable too beyond his attempts at backpeddling. Game development is a rough process and to develop a good game you need tons of cash and faith, something that I think Kickstarters from 3 or 4 years ago that have yet to deliver are finding out.
For me, if Molyneux makes another game, I might buy it because his games are good and while not what he promised or hyped, they are fun. As for people listening to a developer and people who put money into Kickstarter assuming the pitch is what's delivered for a high profile game, buyer beware.
As for the Kickstarter promises falling short, Godus falling short, and everything else - the hardest part for me is that it sucks, it sucks so hard, but Molyneux comes off and presents a compelling story of him trying as hard as he may to make it happen just like he's done with every game to this point. For me, I believe that buying into a Kickstarter for the rewards is the wrong idea. Buying into it to make something happen is the right idea. This is going to be a big issue for Star Citizen, where so many people have "bought" instead of "donated."
When you "buy" something you expect a return on your investment, but when you donate you put your money towards an idea. For me, I think it's unfair that while a Kickstarter or crowdfunding campaign is going that people constantly scream "even if it doesn't pan out you're donating" or "if the ship isn't that great, it doesn't matter, you're helping the game come live" but when the game falls short it changes to "we invested and we want our return."
As a side note - the early access game on Steam is launched and playable. There are frequent builds pushed to the opt-in branch (now). They are continuing to develop the game, so a game exists and it's being made, which is more than a lot of other Kickstarter games funded around the same time can pull off. The issue here isn't specifically the game failing, but a big name like Molyneux failing hard.
I don't know, there is a lot to think about and I am in no capacity to make sweeping judgements about any of it, but I will say this - this entire situation with Molyneux is stressing and sad, the interviews are harsh, and the reality for both 22cans and players isn't good. I wish beyond all that something like this could be avoided and Godus could be what players wanted.
Oh, and even if I have tried to be nice about everything, I still just want to say that Bullfrog is shedding a tear at what Godus is and our childhood memories have been pillaged by this entire ordeal. Next time anyone wants to take something fun from the past and make it something cool now, be sure you can do it and do it better than it was in the past. For Molyneux, remaking Theme Park with better graphics might have paid off more than trying to reinvent Populus.
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