"It's not on rails!"
This was the hand-written message scrawled on the wall behind Lionhead Studios chief Peter Molyneux in his private meeting room on the second level of Microsoft's E3 booth.
Poor Peter hardly slept a wink Monday night after he read story after story in the press following Microsoft's E3 media briefing that said his new Kinect role-playing game, Fable: The Journey, is "on rails" - meaning that the camera moves automatically, as if on rails, while players react to what they encounter.
"When we first sat down with this game, the first thing we said was that we didn't want it to be on rails," he said. "I'm going to do my best right now to show you that it is not on rails."
Sure enough, it became apparent during the following 20-minute demo that players can indeed move around freely, though I'm still not quite sure how. In the game's horse-and-carriage sequences, the fellow playing made like he was manipulating reins to direct his horse in different directions. While on foot, he seemed to use his hands to move forward and change direction, though I couldn't make out the specific movements. I asked Mr. Molyneux what gestures are required to move, but his answer - leaning and moving your hands from side-to-side - was unclear.
But I think Mr.Molyneux would be unhappy to see another story focused on the navigation element of Fable: The Journey. He seemed much more interested in showing how a Kinect game can deliver an experience that hits home on a deeper level than what we've previously seen.
To that end, he described how the game's combat system worked. Players manipulate magic with their hands by bringing them close together to increase power, swirling their fists to change the visual representation of energy on screen (it's highly freeform), and pushing forward to cast spells. In short, they're physically doing the sorts of things that a sorcerer might do and becoming more deeply involved in the process, which opens the door to more immersive play and the potential to experience legitimate feelings of fright, anger, and excitement.
I can't say whether this sort of interaction would bring me deeper into a game without first trying it, but, speaking as a traditional gamer who has never had much love for motion controlled interactions, I have to admit that using your hands to throw ice bolts and balls of energy actually looks kind of fun.
That prompted me to ask Mr. Molyneux a question: Why do motion controlled games - regardless of whether they appear on the Wii, PlayStation Move, or Xbox Kinect - typically not sit well with traditional gamers? His answer was simple: "It's because there hasn't been a great motion-controlled game made for hardcore gamers. It's about creating an emotional connection, and Kinect is a great device for making you feel emotions."
Clearly, he hopes Fable: The Journey will be the first motion-controlled game to truly engage players on a mature, emotional level. In fact, he's counting on it.
"I'm aiming for a score of 90-plus on Metacritic," he confidently volunteered, referring to the popular review aggregation website.
Mr. Molyneux is a great game designer and innovator, and I sincerely hope he meets his goal. But before laying odds I'll need to see a lot more of Fable: The Journey, starting with how the heck you're supposed to move around without a controller.