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Gamelab 2011: Peter Molyneux Talks Inspirations For His Major Series

At the Gamasutra-attended Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona, Lionhead's Peter Molyneux discusses his inspirations from Populous to Fable, and shares his tips for pitching new ideas to people who may not believe.

Brandon Sheffield, Contributor

June 30, 2011

7 Min Read

Peter Molyneux was meant to speak about his upcoming Kinect game Fable: The Journey at Gamelab 2011 in Barcelona on Thursday, but Microsoft put the kibosh on his talk. So instead, he discussed inspiration -- what spurs him on to create. "Over the years I've created lots of different games," he said at the Gamasutra-attended event. "I've been in the industry for over 20 years, and I've had lots of times where I've had ideas that've been terrible, and a lot of times where I've had ideas that've been okay." Molyneux said inspiration sometimes comes when you least expect it. As an example, he recounted a time when he was was dating his future wife, and "we were being intimate together," he said, "and instead of thinking about how lovely it was to be in her arms, this idea for a computer game popped into my head. I said 'hold on, let me just write this down.' I've never been allowed to do that since." "Ideas are something that never come to you when you need them the most," he added. "The most intimidating thing of all is a blank piece of paper." Trying to force yourself to think of a new idea is incredibly daunting. From here on, Molyneux discussed the inspiration for several of his games, broken down by title. Populous "This was my first game, and it started with seeing a piece of graphics on the screen, and thinking of how wonderful Lego was when I was a kid, and how wonderful the feeling was of creating whatever you want, and more importantly destroying them," he said. "I could remember as a kid loving ants nests, seeing ants just crawling around their nests, and I was always intrigued by the life in an ants nest. Of course I used to destroy the ants' nests, burn them with magnifying glasses, pour petrol on the ants nest... I wasn't a very nice person." Syndicate "I got the inspiration for Syndicate when I was in a shopping mall," said Molyneux. "It was a hot day, there were lots of people around, and I was thinking, 'I just wish I had a minigun so I could just mow down...' I know it's terrible! I should probably be locked up as a person. ... But I had the idea, 'why don't we let people let loose with a minigun!' ... A game where you could go around and shoot whomever you want. It's like a feeling of power, really." Magic Carpet "How many of you have played Magic Carpet?" he asked the audience. "Not many people. See, you like miniguns, that proves it." Molyneux said he made the vehicle in the game a magic carpet rather than a fighter jet or something, "because me and my sister when we were children used to have this carpet. This lovely Persian carpet, which my mother had said was worth thousands of Pounds, but in reality she'd gotten it from a shop for about 30 Euros." Molyneux and his sister used to sit on it, pretending it was a magic carpet. "I remembered that when I saw this demo of flying around the landscape, I remembered as a child what it was like to imagine what it was like flying around on a magic carpet." "I have this obsession with magic," he added. "In a way, I think Magic Carpet had the best magic in any of the games I did." Theme Park People didn't expect this game, coming from him. "There weren't really any games about that," he said. It wasn't the casual and social game climate of today. The idea came, unsurprisingly, from visiting theme parks. Disneyland creates places that people love, but "how do they take these things that look like the most dangerous things in the world, and make them safe?" he posed. "The team wasn't very excited about this, because they wanted to make another gun game. So the way I sold it to them was 'you can make any kind of ride you want, and you can make the roller coasters so tall that when the people get off, they'll be sick.' The team liked that," he said. "A lot of peoples' theme parks became a sea of vomit, because people liked the idea of making these little people suffer a bit." Dungeon Keeper "The idea for Dungeon Keeper definitely came in a moment when I was watching You Only Live Twice, a James Bond movie. In this movie, James Bond single-handedly takes out the villain who's built his base in a Volcano with one button," said Molyneux. "I think it's really unfair for that evil guy! With one button this suave guy in a suit comes in and blows up his life's work!" "Slightly as a reaction to Theme Park, we decided to really embrace the dark side," he added. "So Dungeon Keeper was about being as evil as you possibly could. ... I still love that pure idea of allowing people to be something they're absolutely not." Black & White "Now that was directly inspired by my lovely cute hamster," he said. "When I was a kid I had a hamster, and I spent the first three months of my hamster's life training him to do tricks. Sadly, hamsters are not the most clever creatures. ... I loved the idea that my hamster could become like a Hollywood hamster -- but he never did anything like that." Molyneux wanted a creature that would sit on his shoulder, do tricks, and things like that. But it wasn't to be. "So I completely ignored him," he said. "At one point I realized I'd not cleaned out his cage for about a month, and I looked in, and found he'd died about two weeks ago. I was 12 then, and I felt very ashamed about having ignored him for not becoming like that Hollywood hamster." The movement patterns in the game were inspired by ants, once again. Fable This game was "kind of inspired by a bit from Dungeon Keeper -- this idea of choice," he said. "We talked a lot about a film called [The Picture of] Dorian Gray, where this person had an evil side to this personality and a good side to his personality. And, what is my favorite game of all time -- a game called Wizardry on the Apple IIe. For me it was a fantastic game, my first role-playing game. That feeling of 'God, I can't wait to go up one more level.'" "The thing I remember about Wizardry, which was very powerful, was that it was very pure," he said. The RPG elements used very simple stats. He wanted to use that idea of a pure role playing game without too much complexity in it. Conclusion "The thing about inspiration and ideas is that what makes an idea so tough is when you think of an idea -- let's take the Theme Park idea -- when I thought of Theme Park, I talked to the team, I talked to publishers, and everybody thought it was a bad idea," he said. Publishers and others said things like it looks like a game for girls, or the market doesn't want that. "When you tell an idea to people too early, there's always a thousand reasons people will think it's a bad idea," he added. If you have an idea, "treat it like a little seed you're growing. Nurture it and care for it," says Molyneux. "Don't think of the negatives, I never think of the negatives." "Focus on what it is about that idea that excites you, and get prepared to tell other people," he says. The worst thing you can do is just spout it out. "You have to be able to answer the negativity," but should do so with positive responses. "Prepare yourself before telling others. Definitely start with the people who believe."

About the Author(s)

Brandon Sheffield


Brandon Sheffield is creative director of Necrosoft Games, former editor of Game Developer magazine and gamasutra.com, and advisor for GDC, DICE, and other conferences. He frequently participates in game charity bundles and events.

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