With Microsoft announcing the cancellation of Fable Legends and Project Knoxville, studios Lionhead and Press Play appear to have also come to an end as well. Though Lionhead’s ultimate fate is still in the air (it’s described as a “possible closure”) what comes out at the end may be an entirely different entity.
Lionhead’s early prominence was due to studio head Peter Molyneux who was famous not only for creating the “god game” Populous but also for an enthusiasm for design that would often have him overpromising on features that could never be delivered.
Their first game Black & White was a further leap forward on games like Populous with the addition of an AI avatar taking the form of an animal that you could reward or punish based on how it interacts with your followers. Having mine take the form of a giant cow that happily trotted around on its hind legs is certainly something I’m not going to forget quickly.
The game that really defined Lionhead though was Fable. Though never able to meet Molyneux’s lofty goals, the game turned out to be a standout RPG on the original Xbox thanks to its accessibility and also its style. It was a game which was not afraid to stay close to the developer’s British roots through presentation and especially humour. Kicking chickens became such a popular part of the experience that the expanded version of the game (Fable: The Lost Chapters) included a chicken kicking competition with unique loot.
The sequel Fable II built on the concepts of the first game but delivered a much more complete experience that really set the standard for the franchise. With small touches like a breadcrumb trail instead of a map arrow and a large one in the form of your awesome doggy companion, the game was a highpoint of the franchise with a strong story that forced the player to make some very tough moral choices. The dog was integral to most player’s time within the game and DLC would come out later to further reinforce that and provide a second chance for adventures with them.
The last full RPG from Lionhead came in 2011 the form of Fable III. It was the first game in the series to introduce multiplayer functionality which allowed friendly players to jump in to assist in a campaign and was a glimpse of what could be possible in future games. Unfortunately the game also came across as an unfinished product with an endgame section that seemed to be missing parts which could mess up your planning and impact on the conclusion to the story.
More Fable was to come but not as we knew it in the forms of Fable Heroes, the Kinect oriented Fable: The Journey and finally the 5v1 Fable Legends on Xbox One which was in an alpha or beta state for as long as the console existed until the plug was pulled.
Problem was, this wasn’t what fans really wanted the team to be making. Despite the stumbles of the third game, many would have been happy to return again to play a Fable 4… there’s no other RPGs quite like them.
Press Play was first known here for Max and the Magic Marker but made a bigger impact in the last couple of years with Max: The Curse of Brotherhood, the touchscreen friendly Tentacles! Enter the Mind and Kalimba.
During the early months of the Xbox One, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood was a beautiful looking game that filled a massive void during a period of remasters, ports and few exclusives. It was also a game whose subject matter was much more family friendly than what the platform was normally associated with which made it a safe bet to play when children were around.
Not seeing another platformer with Max will be a big shame for Xbox in the coming years. With Twisted Pixel moving on from the Microsoft family there’s now fewer studios in the fold with a track record of making these kinds of games. And at a time when Xbox is at a disadvantage in the market, this could be a move that may work against them.