The big story: Lionhead and Fable legends
Making videogames is a high-cost, high-risk industry, and sadly studios going out of business is a common occurrence – both big and small. In the last decade, we’ve lost names such as Bizarre Creations ( Project Gotham Racing), Eden Games ( Test Drive Unlimited), Neversoft ( Tony Hawk), Rockstar Vancouver ( Bully) and more besides. But as gutting as those closures were, it’s been a long time since something properly winded us like the recently announced demise of the storied old studio that brought us the Fable series, Lionhead.
It’s not 100% official of course; at time of going to press, Microsoft are merely ‘in discussions’ about a proposed closure, as part of a downsizing of their European operations that also sees Kalimba developers Press Play caught in the crossfire. However, this appears to be little more than a legal technicality. With current project Fable Legends canned, and with employees in talks about re-deployment across Microsoft’s portfolio, it seems time has run out for this cornerstone of the British games development scene.
With the loss of Lionhead, it feels gaming has lost something intangible; a small sense of hope, of wonder. That might sound melodramatic, and if you want to be cold and logical about it, perhaps it is. Lionhead’s output has never really reflected the high esteem the industry holds it in, with 2008’s Fable II being the studio’s only undisputed critical hit. Indeed, although Lionhead’s games were largely warmly received, they had a reputation for over-promising and under-delivering ( Black & White, Fable I), or not being delivered at all (the famous Project Milo, unveiled during the Kinect launch at E3 2009, which allowed players to interact with an adaptive AI that learned from you). But then, that was all part of the charm of this unique studio, where dreams were allowed to take precedence over bottom lines. And what else could have we expected from a studio led by gaming’s ultimate dreamer, Peter Molyneux? Founded in 1996, Lionhead was seen as the spiritual successor to Bullfrog Productions, an influential studio formed in 1987 by Molyneux and Les Edgar (who is now the chairman of TVR, motor fans). Bullfrog’s crowning achievement was effectively inventing the ‘god game’ with Populous and Powermonger, a genre that allowed you to control the fates of little computer people and bend the world to your whims. It was the kind of game that could only have come from a mind like Molyneux’s; one that hoped for something bigger and better from videogames. One, you might say, that wanted to play god.
Following Bullfrog’s acquisition by Electronic Arts in 1995 (the studio would close just six years later), Molyneux founded Lionhead Studios to carry on Bullfrog’s free-spirited
From out of the Frog In the wake of Fable Legends’ cancellation and Lionhead Studios’ proposed closure, we celebrate one of gaming’s most eccentric developers