Peter Molyneux… For many young hopefuls who are eager to earn their gray hairs before the age of 25, the name Peter Molyneux doesn’t ring much of a bell. Most game designers going through school today probably associate with Notch more than Molyneux. If you grew up in the Playstation generation, after the golden age of PC and the print publications of “Gaming Gods” in magazines, then you’ve probably not heard of this guy. Or maybe you have.
Molyneux has had a dark cloud over his head for quite possibly his entire gaming career; the kind of reputation I think would drive most people out of the industry. I mean, can you blame the guy? He started out as a baked bean salesman in some factory. The guy was quite literally a bean counter. It’s practically in his DNA to up-sell you something you may clearly regret hours later. (In classic Fable fashion, this post needed at least one good fart joke).
In all seriousness though, I’ve probably followed Molyneux through his entire career. I was personally more invested in his vision than the actual execution however. Even by his late days at Bullfrog, Molyneux had a special way of speaking to the press. The man knew how to make headlines as colorful as an 80’s themed nightclub. His quotes were always especially inspiring, though I read them with the kind of inspirational skepticism you get when your too-old-to-care grandad tells you how much “tail” he got because of his car. You know only a fraction of it is true, if any, but it leaves you thinking… “what if”
I feel like there is this loose thread that people must connect between the man and the kind of games he makes. It’s as if the fact that he makes god games requires him to be as perfect as a god himself. To be honest, gods aren’t exactly perfect either. Mistakes are made, promised are broken; they are practically meant to be. What is more important than the end product to me is the wishful dream that sparked it.
You see, we need a guy like Molyneux to promise that you can step on a flower and it will die or drop an acorn and it will grow into a massive tree. We need designers to have a childlike untetheredness about them, while understanding that not every idea will make the cut. But here’s the thing, not every idea is good for every game. And though we never saw dynamic flowering meadows in Fable, we have seen games focus almost exclusively on that kind of mechanic. We’ve seen many ideas that seemed almost birthed from this man’s mouth, even if it didn’t come from his studio. We need more of that.
The first word most of us learn is, “no”. From the moment of our birth we begin the life lessons of what to say, how to act, and which dreams are worth telling someone. We are taught what it means to be cool, and how to be attractive, and what are the best things to say for every occasion. Being a likable person often means sticking to the script. We’ve all had those moments in our lives when we wanted to speak and maybe didn’t. Eventually we all reach a point in our lives where the dreaming stops, and we’ve heard “no” so much that we find ourselves saying it quietly. We mutter in our minds, “people will think I’m crazy for saying this,” but Molyneux seems to be the only person who hasn’t changed. He may add caveats and speak in “maybes” but the dreams are still there for the world to see.
In an industry filled with people ready to pounce on your failures there is still a guy who isn’t jaded enough to be the same boisterous dreamer that made games like Populous, Black and White, Dungeon Keeper (the good one), and even the Fable series. Where technical behemoths like John Carmack were my motivator to seek out Engineering as a future, it was boisterous dreamers like Molyneux that inspired me to think of games as more than just guns and corridors.
Admittedly Molyneux’s public persona has developed into a caricature of it’s own, even spawning a fake Twitter account that tweets outlandish game ideas. But would we really want it any different? Do we want to live in a world where people just have “designs”, but rare dreams? Do we want to only play what is possible and never hear about the impossible? That sounds like a boring place to be, and yet here we are; slowing bashing each other down until everyone sits comfortably somewhere in the middle.
Molyneux has recently suffered some hard blows, yet again, to his credibility but I hope that he doesn’t stop. If he walks off into the sunset it will quite literally be the end of dreamers. All that is left out there seems to be quiet voices timidly hoping not to become him just for speaking up, or others who would rather bury their idea before they let someone else make it. If he leaves we will be left with people selling us the product, not the dream. Games may stop being about what is possible and simply be about what is here now. I’d encourage all designers to speak as loudly and shout about their crazy ideas from the tallest soapbox and become the next Molyneux. If you look at the roster of successful games under his belt you might agree with me in saying, there is nothing wrong with that.