RIP Lionshead Studios: Reflecting On Their Best & Worst
At one point in time, Britain was a true hot bed for video game development. The age of PCs and accessible programming spawned numerous success stories such as Matthew Smith’s Manic Miner and David Braben/Ian Bell’s Elite. Fast forward to 2016 and the landscape has changed, not just in terms of technology either.
Britain is no longer the leading light it was once, with a number of studios closing. Today saw the news that Lions Head studios is set to close, leaving a number of memories in its wake. It’s fair to say that not every memory is a good one. Lion Head went from a studio with promise to that of a curiosity. This feels like a good time to reflect on their highs and lows, along with the oddities.
Black & White:
Anyone who was around PC gaming in the early 2000s will know how ‘big’ Black & White was. Magazines were drenched in coverage, most of which set it up to be the next big thing in video games. The concept of playing a God and overlooking your worshippers was interesting to say the least.
Would you be a forgiving God? Or would you opt to rule by force? This was the question Peter Molyneux often asked. Black & White would go onto to miss various set release dates. People questioned if it would ever be released. On the 6th of April, 2001, the game was finally released.
The core concepts worked well, with the various nods towards morality feel legitimate enough to influence the game. It wasn’t perfect, mostly due annoying amounts of micromanagement constantly disrupting the flow of the game. Black & White still offered hours of fun. Raising your chosen creature was oddly compelling, as too was judging your followers. For every annoying feature the game had, there was a laugh around the corner.
Fable 1 & 2
Peter Molyneux overshadowed Fable. His promises of grandeur harmed Fable as a video game, which was a trend Peter would keep up to his latest release. It was never the game that was sold to us, but Fable was still fun. Simple, charming and nicely paced, Lionshead studios crafted a truly enjoyable experience. Fable 2 was a slight improvement, offering players more choice and freedom. The story may of been flat and rather stale, but the comedic elements kept it going.
Looking back, it’s a real shame that Molyneux’s words and ways became more memorable than the game. The first time people think of when you say Fable is Peter.
Remember when Kinect was Natal and some creepy creature called Milo was a thing? Lionhead were at the forefront of Microsoft’s latest gadget, confusing the hell out of people in the process. From the moment Project Milo was shown, doubt over its authenticity were spawned.
As the details surfaced, Project Milo was labelled as nothing but a tech demo, but the questions over if it was even playable remained. Milo never released to the masses, instead it stayed firmly in the realms of obscurity, leaving Lionshead with a little bit of egg on its face.
Fable: The Decline
From 2008 onwards, Lionshead would excursively work on new Fable titles. Fable 1 and 2 may have been decent games, but it was downhill from here. Fable 3 was nothing more than a less fun, more padded, version of Fable 2.
God awful menus, reduction in options and some truly pointless endgame left a bitter taste. The mainstream press may of loved the third instalment, but fans weren’t as forgiven. How did Lionshead follow it up? With a Kinect exclusive of course.
Fable: The Journey was a on-rails shooter with minor RPG elements. The concept of casting spells via motion controls was appealing, but the result was far from entertaining. The Journey had its moment, but overall was nothing but a so so dated on-rails shooter.
As a franchise, Fable will always be remembered by the claims of Peter Molyneux. At their best, they were fun jaunts through Monty Python influenced fantasy worlds. It’s a shame the Lionhead story has ended with their closure, even more so given Fable: Legends looked promising. Once a figurehead in Microsoft’s console plans, now left to the history books. You may not of been perfect, but you were fun. Rest in peace Lionhead Studios.