Fey Bull Too

It’s rare to be captivated by a modern game. Back when sprites were being generated on Spectrums and C64s and Amstrads, your initial engagement with a game would be one of reflex; press this button and it does that. Woohoo! Instant ocular gratification. You’d feel your way round for a few minutes, then get comfortable with the controls, and then… Well, most games would have a story which was bollocks. Get that to there and the Nasty King Badman will die. Yay! Since there was a rudimentary representation of the fictional game world in front of you, your imagination would regularly fill in the blanks. This was where a great deal of the fun was, for me anyways. I quickly grew tired of the ability to shift a character across the screen by pressing the P key, and I would imagine that the blocky collection of pixels in front of me (which was usually messy as hell, with colour clash and all that) was a Schwarzenegger type, a big bad ass barbarian, someone that one would not want to inadvertently or otherwise fuck with.

Fast-forward nearly 20 years, and games are much more sophisticated. No more dodgy-looking sprites with blocks a-plenty; now everything is rendered, triple-buffered, anisotropically-filtered and fucking gorgeous. That barbarian now looks just like a big bad ass barbarian. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the use of imagination when playing games has gone, or been replaced, it just means that designers are finding new ways of letting the player apply it.

The obvious games for this are the sandbox games. You get a world and things to play with, and you play with them. The Sims is a sandbox game. Grand Theft Auto is a sandbox game, but it’s also got a story. You have missions to complete that advance a story, but at any point you can do pretty much what you like. That’s the defining thing that sandbox games have in common – you can fuck about in them. You can think of a solution to a problem that is potentially unique to you. You may even be able to do things the programmers have never thought possible (see Warren Spector talking about Deus Ex, he’s genuinely surprised at what people have managed to do in that game with the standard tools available to the player).

Fable 2 is a very special game, for a very good reason. It’s not really a sandbox game – you can’t just fuck about with someone locked in a house with no bathrooms. There’s a story, and you’re encouraged to follow it (by the golden breadcrumb trail, an initially annoying but eventually welcome invention). There’s also a world to get lost in, and you’re encouraged to do just that (by your own curiosity, and the dog, an initially annoying but eventually welcome invention).

What makes Fable 2 so very special, for me, is that it gives you what I like to call the “fuck you” button. There’s a button on the pad which brings up a menu for interacting with the characters in the game. For example, you run into the town square, and a man walks past you and remarks on your character’s poor taste in clothing. You can use the “fuck you” button to try and make the person laugh, or you can use it to try and piss them off (hence my nickname for it, “fuck you”). There’s a load of different things you can do, and while most of them are relevant to that situation, some of them aren’t, but you have the choice to do any of these interactions, or not.

The thing that Fable 2 does that not many games outside of some point & click adventure games does, is that the designers have worked out a myriad of possible responses to any of the interactions you can do at any point. And they rarely repeat. The game gives you the space to think of a different way of playing it, and then it (mostly) gives you feedback to let you know that it knows what you’re doing. Nearly any way you’d care to play the game, the designers got there first and thought of several decent responses to what you’re doing. Because of this, half the fun is working out how to coax even more entertaining reactions from the system; you can not only play the game, you can also play with the game too, all courtesy of the “fuck you” button.

And this is where your imagination comes in. Within all the options for expression that the “fuck you” button enables, you can create a player character that isn’t just a hero in a story, but they can be a person too. You can make the player character an egotist; someone who goes on adventures then races back to the nearest town so the bard at the inn can regale the townsfolk with songs about your successes. Your player character can also be the strong, silent type – focused on the epic tasks at hand, yet the population knows of them and respects them. The character could even be a clown, who tries to show off their victories but always makes mistakes and gets giggled at by the children.

The game lets you think up a way of having your character act, and the game is clever enough to pick up on it. A very hard trick to pull off, but here it works, and it is genuinely captivating. Inspired, and inspiring.

And, it lets you make your player character shit themselves, which should surely be mandatory for every Gears of War game from now on.


    What you said. Bring on Fable 3….

  • This game is so good it warrants a second comment. So there you have it.

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