Fable Heroes’ creative origins
Next week's XBLA release is Fable Heroes, a fourplayer brawler made by a 15-man team at Lionhead. It was born at the studio's annual Creative Day, a two-day event where staff are given freedom to work on whatever they choose, which we covered back in E228. It's accessible, light-hearted stuff, with players working together to defeat a stream of enemies plucked from the Fable universe, and competing to collect the coins dropped by defeated foes. We spoke to lead designer Ted Timmins to find out how he went from mourning the loss of the fourplayer brawler to heading up development of a game that features alongside the likes of Trials Evolution and Minecraft in Microsoft's Arcade Next promotion.
So how did the project come about?
It all started over a cup of coffee. We were having kind of a nostalgic reflection on modern-day games and the games that we grew up playing, and how there aren't enough fourplayer brawlers these days. So we thought, well, why not try our hand at making a Gauntlet-inspired Fable game?
We got together a really quick prototype over a few weekends and late nights, and after that we demoed it to Peter [Molyneux] and Louise [Murray, head of the Fable franchise] and they liked it so much that they greenlit it to go into production. It was a very quick process, but at the time it seemed like the longest thing ever.
You mention Gauntlet, but what other games inspired it?
Turtles In Time and Streets Of Rage, definitely. Smashing up giant mushrooms and bits of scenery came from Street Fighter II, where you smash up cars and barrels.
We wanted to take all the nostalgic stuff that we grew up playing and modernise it, bring it up to date with Xbox Live and Achievements. We wanted to give people that aren't from our generation an idea of the kind of things that we had great fun playing when we were younger.
Did you always intend for it to be set in the Fable universe?
For our Creative Day project it had a different name, but it still had Fable in the title. We all wanted to make a fourplayer Fable, and we felt that the best way to get that across was to name it as such so that people could see that it was set in Albion – and it feels like a Fable game even though it's got a different style of combat.
The one thing that changed over time was the hero dolls. In our first prototype it was just a generic character, but we always had an ambition to play as your favourite heroes. It was one of those penny-drop moments, because the hero dolls have been in every single Fable since the original in 2004 and it just felt like a perfect fit.
I don't know if you saw Valve's employee handbook earlier this week but they make it very easy for staff to just pick up and move from project to project. How easy was it to move off a big team to work on something small?
Well, at the time we were just finishing off Fable III's second DLC pack, Traitor's Keep, so we were already a close group of friends in the office anyway – myself, the effects artist, the level designer and the senior artist had all been working together on a quest for the DLC pack, so we were naturally talking daily anyway.
Lionhead have been incredibly supportive throughout. They even gave us our own little office just across the road, and that's a first for the studio. They showed real belief in us and that lifted our confidence. It's awesome that they had that much trust in us to let us go away like that, to let a team of 15 people work on something for a year.