*This post was originally published on The Game Bolt in May, 2016*
I remember getting my first non-Nintendo console back in 2002. It was the bulky black original Xbox. That monstrosity of machines was one part door stop, one part home defense blunt weapon, and one part rad gaming machine. The two games I got with it were Shellshock: ‘Nam 67 (which understandably caused quite a bit of upset with my conservative mother) and a game that defines my love of RPG’s to this day, Fable.
The company responsible for this and other amazing game series Lionhead Studios has officially closed its doors, and as a long time fan of Lionhead, I am a bit disheartened at their decline from beloved pioneers of gaming to a depreciated, now dead development studio. Media outlet, Polygon,(http://www.polygon.com/2016/4/29/11537392/lionhead-studios-closed) posted today that after a 6 weeks of deliberation Microsoft and Lionhead Studios have come to an agreement for the studio to close its doors.This was not done in any sort of derision towards Lionhead and came about with a heartfelt thanks for all Lionhead has done for gaming.
For those who don’t know of Lionhead’s illustrious influences on gaming, it started back in 2001 with a game entitled Black and White, the progenitor of the “God game” where you play as an omnipotent world bending force that helps manage an ecosystem in a video game. This spawned inspiration for top-down RTS and micro-management games for years to come. As the “god” of the world you’re tasked with getting the game world’s occupants to come to believe in you. The open ended nature of how you go about this is the charm and influence of the game. Will you be a benevolent and loving god, or one that rules through violence and fear. It was an experiment in morality systems in gaming when they were largely unheard of.
The original Fable game was an action RPG that introduced the concept of player choice drastically affecting the game world. Things you did early on in the game affected the game world as you passed time between childhood, early adult, and your twilight years within the game. Although this had been seen before in gaming, it had never been as drastic in terms of how much of the game world or how NPC’s reacted to you. There was an agency of player choice that was unrivaled at the time that set Fable as an important part of gaming history.
There has yet to be an official statement as to the exact reasons behind the shutdown, but one can speculate after the recent state of their last few games in development and the sales revolved around Lionhead’s development. Development behind Fables 2 and 3 saw some pretty impressive claims that never made it into the final versions of the game. This could have led to the general distaste around their public reception, and although Fable 2 and 3 were critically well accepted games, their sales were fairly sad. The same went for Black and White 2’s sales which lead to Microsoft’s easy acquisition of Lionhead in 2006. This is not to mention their lack in content outside of producing a Fable game every few years. Coupling this with poor sales it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine how this came to pass.
I for one am sad to see them go. Black and White was one of the first PC games I became heavily involved in and Fable 1 is still one of my all time favorite RPG’s. I adored Fable 2 and it’s daring take on storytelling. Granted Fable 3 remains the biggest upset in terms of my gaming career. It’s a game I still can’t bring myself to finish no matter how hard I try. I became bored with the near elimination of RPG elements, the stale combat, and about choice that was really only an illusion the whole time. With the subsequent releases of Fable: The Journey and Fable Heroes being pretty much filler titles until their next big endeavor, Lionhead lost a lot of faith from someone who was one of their biggest fans.
I am pleasantly happy though, as Microsoft didn’t simply shut the lights off on the development studio as they found jobs for the various developers. Hopefully the clearly talented team can take some of their vision with them into their next positions. One can hope for the future of the game developer even if the visionary practices of the team’s past are rocky at best. So may Avo guide the members of Lionhead in their future endeavors and here’s to a once great gaming company.