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Peter Molyneux, Lionhead Studios

One of the computer game industry's most revered game designers is Peter Molyneux, the brilliant (and soft-spoken) managing director at Lionhead Studios. And talk about a track record! Molyneux is responsible for some of the most beloved PC games, including Populous, Magic Carpet, Theme Park, Dungeon Keeper, and the Black & White series. Molyneux is currently overseeing a number of new projects, including Project Ego, Black & White 2, Black and White: Next Generation, and The Movies.

Molyneux shares some advice he wishes he was told before he got involved in this industry:

    1. Come up with a concept that's easy to explain in a sentence or so. This was highlighted to me by Bing Gordon at Electronic Arts back in 1993. I was heading up to a meeting to try to sell the concept of Magic Carpet. [As we rode up together in the elevator] I said that I was looking forward to making the presentation, and Bing replied that if I couldn't explain the concept on the way up then it probably wasn't a good concept. We were on the first floor, and the meeting was on the second floor.

      Games that are easy to explain and that deal with subjects people can easily understand are always going to be more successful than more abstract ideas.

    2. The most brilliant concept is useless unless you can think of the way that people will play the game. In the end, game design comes down to interface design—the key to making games playable is how you'll get people to interact with your concept and how simple the interface is.

    3. Don't be frightened to be original and innovative. Remember that the greatest game concepts and interfaces are yet to be designed; just because everyone else has done things a certain way previously doesn't necessarily make it the right and only way to do something.

Put to the test—to support his advice with real-world examples—Molyneux passes brilliantly:

The idea of "designing and building your own theme park" was very accessible and clear—in one sentence, you know all about the game and what you need to do to play it. Although this is the most perfect example, I can think of others. You "play God" in Populous, you play the bad guy in Dungeon Keeper, and you find out who you are in Black & White—all are examples of games that explain themselves.
In Black & White, we wanted people to be able to do anything they wanted in the game world, so using the hand meant we didn't have to use a lot of explanations in the interface (although for this reason I think the tutorial should have been longer).

Molyneux once said in an interview that he would prefer to make games with a shorter development period. He clarifies this point:

The length of time a project takes is becoming a real issue. More power means bigger teams, having to take care of more than just graphics and programming—AI, physics, interfaces, gameplay—and all of these elements need coding to be built from scratch. It makes the task of developing a game quite overwhelming. For a game to have the best graphics, sounds, and animation means that developing a game is becoming a Herculean effort. I hope that with better internal organization of our team, it will be possible to compress 3–4 years into 2–3 years.

Molyneux talks briefly about programming in Chapter 11 and breaking into the industry in Chapter 21.

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 Peter Molyneux says, "The greatest game concepts and interfaces are yet to be designed." Pictured here are a couple of sneak peeks at the upcoming Black & White 2. (Used with permission by Lionhead Studios.)

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