Eurogamer today posted a fascinating, in-depth report on Lionhead Studios, the Microsoft-owned creator of the Fable franchise that recently closed down. In the feature are a number of interesting stories, including details on the pitch for Fable 4–which was ultimately rejected.
Lionhead’s John McCormack came up with the pitch. His idea was to build an Unreal Engine 4-poweed game that pushed the series into the “technological, industrial age, with tram cars and flying machines.”
“We wanted to hit the late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne sh**,” McCormack said.
Fable 4’s main city would have been massive–and dense–according to the report. It would have referenced British mythology, featuring characters like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, as well as Jack the Ripper.
The idea was to put these character into “this kind of weird f**ked up London environment”.
“And that was going to be Fable 4, and it would be darker and grittier,” McCormack said. “And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humor. I was like, ‘Man, this is going to be f**king brilliant, and everybody was really into it.”
Microsoft ultimately rejected the pitch, according to the report, instead putting the Lionhead team to work on what would become the free-to-play Fable Legends.
The Fable games were described in the report as “highly profitable,” but not in a way similar to Microsoft’s other top franchises, including Halo. As such, there was a “certain amount of tension” that existed in the lead-up to Lionhead’s pitch for Fable 4, said another former employee, Simon Carter.
McCormack was reportedly “incensed” by Microsoft’s decision to reject the Fable 4 pitch, citing it as one of the reasons he quit Lionhead in 2012.
“It was like, ‘You’ve reached your cap of players for RPG on Xbox and you need to find a way to double that, and you’re not going to do it with RPG,” he says. “I thought, ‘Yes we can.’
“I said, ‘Look, just give us four years, proper finance, give us the chance Mass Effect has, Skyrim has, the games at the time. They’re getting four years and a lot of budget. Give us that, and we’ll give you something that’ll get you your players.”
According to McCormack, Microsoft said something like, “‘Nah, you’ve had three shots and you’ve only tripled the money. It’s not good enough. F**k off.’ That’s what I was annoyed about.”
Lionhead would go on to make Legends, which never made it out of beta before it was eventually cancelled. One source told Eurogamer that Microsoft spent $75 million on Legends before its cancellation.
Also in the feature, Fable designer Peter Molyneux, who left Lionhead in 2012, said he would be open to the idea of working on a new Fable game.
“When I finish what I’m working on now, if someone comes to me and asks, ‘Hey, do you want to do Fable 4?’, I’d totally be up for it,” he said. “It’s such a rich world and there are so many avenues we didn’t explore. That would be really good fun to do. And I’d still want the equivalent of another dog.”
You can read the full Eurogamer story here.
Yesterday, a report emerged that claimed Microsoft rejected multiple offers to sell the Fable franchise, including bids from “some of the biggest names in video game publishing.”
The new Eurogamer report mentions that some at Lionhead attempted to keep Legends afloat through what they called “Project Phoenix.” The idea was to finish the game and continue working on it as a new studio that had a licensing deal with Microsoft for the Fable IP. This would have saved “quite a few jobs,” one source said, and it could have ended up making Fable more profitable, apparently.
Two Chinese companies reportedly came forward to express interest in funding a new studio, but a deal was never reached. Microsoft was reportedly “supportive” of the idea, but the clock ran out. UK law requires employers to create a consultancy period of at least 30 days.
Microsoft has not yet announced its plans for Fable in what is now a post-Lionhead era at Microsoft. We will bring you more news as it becomes available.