E3 2013: Fable Anniversary Developer Interview

While much of E3 was dominated by the next generation of consoles and the suite of games that are being prepared for them, the current generation of games still has a few tricks up its sleeve for RPG fans. One such treat is Fable Anniversary, a remastered, high-definition upgraded version of the original Xbox's biggest-selling RPG coming later this year from Lionhead.

We got a chance to chat to Ted Timmins, Lead Designer on the game and a Fable series veteran who has risen through the ranks of Lionhead as the series has grown. We quizzed him on the nature of Fable Anniversary, some of its additions, and what this release might mean for the future of the series. Enjoy.

RPG Site: How did this come about? How did you decide this project was what you were going to do?
Timmins: Well, obviously, we’re massive Fable fans. I’ve worked on Fable 1, 2 and 3, and absolutely, massively enjoyed working on every single one of them. There’s also just something very special about that first game, especially The Lost Chapters, where we included that extra 30% of content.

It also just feels like it’s the right time now, to go back to the original. Halo Anniversary was really successful - it was great for them to test the water and find that there is a captive and a huge audience out there to replay some nostalgic favourites.

So, yeah -- we started late last year. I played through the Lost Chapters version multiple times, just noting down things that I felt needed addressing - not just the visuals, but the loading times, the UI, the fact that it’s now widescreen, a new controller system, a save system... so many different things. Achievements!

It was just a matter of looking and working out what we want to achieve with this title. Fast forward what, eight, nine months, and here we are at E3, showing it off and getting just amazing feedback from people.

RPG Site: So it’s been quite a quick development period, then!
Timmins: Yeah! The great thing is - the hard part has been done! Make a really good game. That was done ten years ago. Now the challenge is to not break that, but at the same time bring it up to modern day standards.

The game now runs on UE3, and looks quite markedly different than the Xbox version.

The line, really, is drawn between you want to appeal to the original players first and foremost, right?

But that said, you also don’t want to alienate new players who perhaps have never played this Fable game because they never owned an Xbox original - or even those who have never played a Fable game because they didn’t own an original Xbox and didn’t want to jump in on 2 or 3.

Because of that we also need to be sure that it plays and looks like an Xbox 360 game you’d buy off the shelf. We had one guy, earlier, who asked if this was an Xbox One title - so that’s massively flattering - but it’s not. It is an Xbox 360 title.

RPG Site: Beyond graphics and the like, did you consider adding more to the title such as additional dungeons and so on?
Timmins: Oh, don’t get me started on that! Yes, I might be the lead designer on the game, but first of all I’m a massive Fable fanboy. As soon as the opportunity arose, we began thinking ‘Oh, we could do this, we could do this!’ but rightfully so some other people grabbed hold and said ‘Hang on a minute, let’s focus, let’s finish the game, let’s give it the justice that it deserves.’

But, y’know, when we get to the end of development? I’d love to look at DLC. I think quests might be quite difficult, as I’d be so worried that the fans might hate me for what we might add - but when it comes to adding new weapons, new clothing, and stuff like that, sure -- we should totally look into that, as that’s a good opportunity for us.

RPG Site: What about other areas such as music and the like? Has that been upgraded like the graphics have?
Timmins: It’s absolutely all remastered, yes, all with Dolby surround sound, 5.1. As I mentioned, there’s widescreen support - we’re looking at all the sound effects...

The really cool thing is that everything is going to be less compressed. The original Fable was very heavily compressed in graphics, in animation, in sound - and now we can just release that compression and have a really lovely quality to it all.

RPG Site: UI is an area where I feel games have advanced particularly significantly since the time when this game was first released - can you talk a little about the UI changes you’ve made to bring it up to date?
Timmins: What we did was, er -- we threw it all away! We kept absolutely nothing! Then the next step was to work out what exactly is in the UI - what was the breakdown of items, equipment, that kind of thing. We’ve worked very closely with our 2D artist at Lionhead, Jenny, to create brand new UI that still has the feel of Fable’s UI but is just fast, smooth, quick to find content.

Heavy customization remains, and it'll now be easier to share images of your hero.

I’m really proud of the front end, for instance - it’s such a strange thing to be proud of, but when you first boot the game it all looks like a book. That theme goes throughout all of the UI - it all feels like a book. I’m very proud of that. That’s the reason we’re not showing the UI today - because I want to save that to show at a later date!

With regards to SmartGlass, this is an area where I feel we’re really innovating, and it’s something I’ve devoted a lot of my time to. SmartGlass is one of these really awesome technologies that’s emerged in the last couple of years and few 360 titles actually use it. When you actually start to experiment with it, it’s really powerful and offers a much deeper experience.

The idea is basically, y’know, you boot up your tablet or your phone, and the SmartGlass app is free on pretty much all types of phones or tablets - but you boot that up and you can view the map, you can click on your hero for information... it’ll show you your current objectives, your hero will move around the map as you do in-game...

If you click the icon of core characters on the map, you can view the sort of information on them you would only usually find in a strategy guide. The game doesn’t provide you with that usually.

One of my favourite features is that if you click on the camera icon in the SmartGlass map, it’ll pop up images and videos of what the original title looked like years ago. I love the idea that you can actually put them side by side!

We’re also currently working on a screenshot tool for SmartGlass - you can take a screenshot, push it to the device, and then upload it. When we started this game, as I said I put together a design document - and I went back and read the forums from 2004, 2005. That the beauty of the internet, right? It’s permanent! Be careful what you write!

What I noticed was that even back then, people were taking pictures of their customized heroes using, like, a Kodak wind-on camera, getting the film reel developed, scanning the photo in on the worst scanner ever, uploading it on their 56k modems... and then sharing it online.

With the power of technology these days, we can do it within the device - it’s there, and within seconds the whole world can see it. We can push it to Twitter, or Facebook, or whatever else. It sort of blows my mind - how easy the process has become to get content online.

RPG Site: One thing that intrigued me when it was announced... is this an indication of where the series may go in the future? I always felt like the original Fable held a very different tone to the latter games, with you as one of many heroes...
Timmins: To be honest with you, the only reason we’ve done this is for the fans. Nobody should think that this means anything other than that the fans have demanded it, so we’ve listened and given them it.

We shouldn't read too much into the decision to return to Fable 1 now, we're told.

What I will say, though, is that we’re working on multiple things at Lionhead right now. What you said about the series changing over time - that was basically because you’re kind of damned if you do and damned if you don’t, right?

If you don’t change the sequels, people complain that the game is too similar, and if you do change them people complain that they’re not similar enough. As a result, I’ve never really heard of a video game sequel that has managed to completely pull off exactly what fans want!

I’m really happy that we can look back now at Fable II and Fable III and see that they offer really different experiences. The franchise has changed and grown over time.

People looking to pick up Fable I, Fable III is actually free for Xbox Live Subscribers right now, and Fable II is still on sale and very reasonably priced - it’s very easy to get into the series and see all the changes!

RPG Site: One last question - is the guy still going to do his Obi-Wan echoic-voiced ‘Your health is low’ act every time you take a lot of damage?
Timmins: [laughs] No. I will say - if you want him to, he will! It’s actually a setting. You can turn him on or off!

RPG Site: A friend and I actually have a running joke about that guy’s constant intrusions...
Timmins: Fable had so many memes, right? It had the acorn growing into a tree, and the Sandgoose - this magical creature that we talked about loads and never had in the game... Put it this way; I think we can have a lot of fun with that when it comes to achievements!