Fable: The Journey Impressions -- Not Only Hands-Free, but Tutorial-Free as WellBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Mar 05, 2012
You cannot find a bigger evangelist of Microsoft’s Kinect than Peter Molyneux. His next venture in the Fable franchise, Fable: The Journey, sees the series going full bore in utilizing the hands-free device. What’s more, he conveys his enthusiasm not with the loud, aggressive voice of a salesman, but with the calm, almost soothing delivery of a yoga instructor. If you know Molyneux, then this isn’t that unusual. You can’t help but believe his fondness for the Kinect is genuine, and this was enforced further at last week’s annual Microsoft Spring Showcase in San Francisco.
How much is Molyneux convinced the Kinect is a great platform to tell a Fable story? One of the first steps is to not have a tutorial in Fable: The Journey. It’s daunting enough that when Peter asked for a volunteer among the media guests to play the game, it took about 15 seconds before someone offered. One of the messages Molyneux wants to convey the The Journey is the sense of discovery, something that he firmly believes has long been lost with traditional video game controllers. It's not surprising then that you’d certainly need a media/consumer volunteer to experience this game first hand in order to make The Journey convincing.
The first task was simple enough: lightly whip a horse to get a carriage moving. Already, Peter was advising the volunteer not to stretch out his arms, but instead to relax them as if he were taking the horse on a Sunday stroll. It took a couple motions to get things going as well as being able to steer the horse along the mildly curved portions of the road. Like any new control system, there’s an adjustment period so one doesn’t overreact or under-emphasize motion gestures. This is an adventure game so it didn’t take long for this stroll to turn into a tense chase as the player tryied to dodge attacks from enemies who had been waiting for him along the path.
Soon there was a reprieve from the action and an opportunity to heal the horse’s wounds, not the least of which includes arrows dug into the horse’s flesh. With the Kinect, this involves the act of actually pulling the arrow out of the horse's side; not yanking, as we found out, because, as it would in the real world, causes the horse intense pain, the sound of which is rather upsetting. The hand detection (let alone the gesture of a hand gripping an invisible arrow) wasn’t spot-on but it was pretty darn close as evidenced by the player’s ability to remove the arrows with relative ease.
Looking for an emotional bond that the previous Fables lacked? The next step was to heal the arrow wounds, easily performed by stroking the horse’s bloodied fur. Molyneux has every intention for the player to develop a connection between the horse and Gabriel, the main character. It also helps that the horse has been designed to love the player unconditionally. That is of course if you treat it well.
If you decide you want to be a fast traveler and do nothing but whip your horse constantly, you'll start to see flecks of blood kick up from the reigns, he'll start to scar and have welts, and he'll lose weight. If the sight of your beaten, bloodied horse isn't enough to make you feel terribly about yourself, just wait until you go to feed him an apple--one of Molyneux's proudest design elements--and the horse turns away from you in disgust.
Speaking of consequences, the protagonist, as we just saw, has a magical healing ability, but, as it is a Fable game, it will come at a price (i.e. something else will have to pay the price), and the more extreme the healing, the steeper that price. Molyneux didn't elaborate on how this trade off system will work, but he did hint that the difference between bringing a cute bunny rabbit back to life versus a human would be extreme, and the deflection in his voice suggested he's not kidding.
Healing is a useful skill to have, but when it comes to dealing payback, there will be more offensive spells to use as well, and gamers who recently wrapped up their 200-hour Skyrim playthrough should find the first-person dual wielding spellcasting to be a familiar sight. Once again, no need to overexert yourself with full arm motions to throw fireballs. Flicks of the wrist are the way to go, being mindful of your aim, your speed, and backspin of course.
While the game continues to adhere to Molyneux’s aversion to melee combat, in Fable: The Journey, he and his team have found a practical compromise in the form of a magical whip which can be cast with one hand while you’re still able to throw fireballs with the other. Aside from straightforward attacks, the fact that the whip also has a grab feature implies a sense of depth that only few Kinect games explored.
You can even change the power of your attack and/or effectiveness of your whip using your voice. Screaming passages from Ezekiel 25-17 as you cast your fireball will result in a bigger explosion, while speaking calmly that your foe is about to meet his maker will give your whip added dexterity. Cool stuff.
As the demo wrapped up, Molyneux left us with one more anecdote: in the dozen or so demos that were held in the Microsoft Showcase, it never occurred to any volunteer to 1) try out the voice functionality and 2) put both spellcasting hands together. As you might have guessed, it seems we’ve only scratched the surface. I understand Peter’s desire to have players “discover” during their Journey playthrough, though I’m curious to see how many beat the game without using all the moves and abilities available to them because they didn’t know you could perform x, y, and z. I imagine there will be a sense of gratification in finding that some impulsive gestures will actually be recognized by the Kinect. It’ll be interesting to see how Microsoft’s marketing team presents Fable: The Journey without spelling out all the Kinect surprises while trying sell the game on this sense of discovery.