Peter Molyneux: The Lion's Head 

US, March 6, 2009 - Peter Molyneux, fresh off his placement on our Top 100 Game Developers list, took some time to chat with us about the state of the games industry. We learn what franchise Molyneux wants to take a crack at, why he thinks the Wii is good for gaming, and his favorite dirty joke.

IGN: If you could take creative control over a franchise, what would you pick and what would you do with it?

Peter Molyneux:
You know normally this would just rush off my tongue like bullets out of a machinegun, but it's interesting that it's a challenge. I would probably pick some genre that has not changed at all forever. I'm going to say, let's just pick one of those now. Let's just pick a first-person shooter. I think advances were made in first-person shooters, but then they just stopped and I think there's a ways to go. I'm going to pick--no, I can't pick that one. It's politically charged, this thing... I know what I can pick. What's the one that's been going on forever? Duke Nukem. It's become the industry joke. I'm going to pick that and turn Duke Nukem into an incredible experience and put loads and loads of innovation in there and put morality choices in there as well. 

Molyneux wants a piece of Duke. 

IGN: Who would you like to work with whether in the game industry or in some other way?

Peter Molyneux:
The immediate thing is to think about working with another designer, but we'd just argue like an old married couple. I'd pick the engine coder from Epic and the the GUI programmer from the Fight Night series and the gameplay programmer from Zelda.

IGN: Would you use these people to make your innovative new Duke Nukem game?

Peter Molyneux:
Yeah! Of course, tactfully it would be without any mature content at all. It wouldn't be called Duke Nukem anymore... I like the word Duke. Nuke we can't use because it's politically incorrect, so something like fireworks is about as explosive as we can get. Duke Ticklem -- Duke Cuddlem, that's even better.

IGN: What's your favorite game?

Peter Molyneux:
My favorite game? You can't restrict me like that. You can say my favorite game per genre, that's a lot easier. Zelda was a fantastic experience -- that changed the way I looked at games forever and I still cite it as one of the incredible technical achievements of all time. I think Halo [for] redefining and simplifying and getting me on the edge of my chair. I enjoyed it massively and what it did with co-op. Wii Tennis in the sports category. I know there are a lot more technically accomplished sports programs, but I've played Wii Tennis more than anything else. I say Wii Tennis, not the other things [included in Wii Sports]. Handheld is easy. It's Civilization Revolutions on DS. Let's just say that I've played that sitting on the toilet and my hemorrhoidal problem has really got chronic playing that for hours now. If we go on to RTSs, a format that is stumbling now a bit... Starcraft was the moment for RTSs, I think.

IGN: What about RPGs?

Peter Molyneux:
I've never ever done this before, but I'm going to have to say Fable II. I really did play that three or four times. Even though I know every turn and every outcome, every consequence I still had emotional moments when I played that game.

IGN: What would you be doing if you weren't a developer?

Peter Molyneux:
Well, I have no other skills. I've got so little talent, I could either be cleaning the streets or be a politician. The honest answer is that I'd probably sitting in my living room in my underpants playing some MMORPG on unemployment benefits.

IGN: I feel like I might be doing that soon.

Peter Molyneux:
Right. Wait, you have Obama! You don't need to worry!

IGN: Which game creators have inspired you the most?

Peter Molyneux: I don't know his name, but the guy who did Ico [Fumito Ueda]. That was incredible. He took the simplest of game mechanics and set in a world that was so abstractly beautiful and with a character that was so wonderfully simple. That's certainly high up the list. And Zelda is high up the list. And there are some things in BioShock that are brilliant, some thing in Halo that are brilliant and some things in Gears of War that are brilliant. You put them all together and there's a lot of inspiration there.

IGN: Is there a bad game you can't help but keep playing?

Peter Molyneux:
Yes there is. I've played it about 583 times. And it is in fact Free Cell. Because it's always solvable. I love that. Sometimes you just need space to do nothing and it's a way of vegging out. It's very interesting that I don't sometimes want to be smacked in the face by a first-person shooter or be on the edge of my seat with an action game. Sometimes Free Cell does it for me.

Admit it, you've played Free Cell for far too many hours.

IGN: How important are big industry shows such as GDC and E3?

Peter Molyneux:
You know, I think they're very important. I think we're going to see the iconic shows are important for more reasons than we think. We think we just come together to show the world what we're doing, but it's more than that. It's showing ourselves, it's a place to meet and talk. You see when you walk around these shows designer after designer walking around [seeing other games] and going, "Oh my God, we've got to do that and do this." It's an important moment. It pushes us all to do better. Creative industries need to come together and need to show off not only to the world but to themselves. I'm a great fan of E3 and a great, great fan of GDC. And how they've grown and evolved over the years is a real reflection of how we as an industry have grown.

IGN: Do you think it's a good idea to bring E3 back to the spectacle it was in the past?

Peter Molyneux:
I think we all just went mad a little bit. Okay, none of us want to spend any money at any time. But we did go mad expecting journalists to go from hotel to hotel, slowly getting increasingly pissed off with the whole thing. It was almost like saying, "Don't show off." And those [two] years it was less of a reason to be there, not more of a reason.

E3 lost a recent years.

I'm not sure that it's appropriate to spend millions of dollars as we did in the madcap heydays. I'm quite sure we need to think of shows like E3 and GDC as big events on our calendars. In a sense, our selves and our products and our studios all dress up to show off. I think there are cost-effective ways of doing that and maybe this way 'round -- because it's only 40,000 and not 60,000 and we're not using the whole of Los Angeles -- we might find the right medium. We certainly cut off the life supply of our iconic show [recently] and it felt completely wrong to most people.

IGN: What kind of long-term affect will the global economy have on the game industry?

Peter Molyneux: This is an idiot game designer talking about the global economy, so don't take any notice of what I say. I think if you look at any industry, these downturns, although they are very painful and you wish we didn't have to go through them -- what the downturn means is you kind of have to brace yourself and get more out of what you're doing. Just ask yourself the question, if I'm doing this game, am I doing it for the right reason? Am I making a product that is going to be great and that will sell well? And I think that is a very healthy thing to do and I think you're going to see far less of these hyper-high budgets.

There are certainly savings that can be made without cutting the quality. Maybe that means we have less FMV or maybe it means we have to slightly redefine the experience, but I think that's a very healthy cycle to go through. It was three or four years ago where we were predicting we were going to double every year the cost of our games and how long they take to produce and that just couldn't continue.

IGN: How do you think the success of the Wii will change game development?

Peter Molyneux:
It's not the Wii -- it's the principle of what the Wii stands for, which is the evolution of what you hold in your hand. I've been saying religiously for years that if you want to change this industry, change what's in your hand. That's what Nintendo did. They changed what was in our hands. I can tell you people are thinking about game design far far more deeply now because of what is changing in people's hands than they ever have before.

Those comfort blankets of normal controllers -- you've got your thumb on the thumbstick and your finger on the buttons and it's been like that for 20 years. It was about time that we sort of started pulling out the rug from underneath it. This is not me being overly critical of the Wii, but there are things about that system that I don't like and aren't particularly good, but there are things that are wonderful about it. I think it does herald a change in game design and herald a change in the industry.

IGN: Are games an art form?

Peter Molyneux:
You know the amazing thing is that this question is still coming up. I think the answer is really, really easy. It's obviously yes. It is an art form. It does affect our culture. We do get emotion from it. Our views are influenced by it. Our views of the outside world are influenced by it. If there's any definition of art in a dictionary that you can show me that doesn't include computer games then I will be amazed. The only way that I would keep videogames out of the art category is if you require that it must be on a cinema screen or on a canvas or written in a book.

A very popular form of art.

Again, I go back to the Ico example. That was a piece of art. You look at LittleBigPlanet. It is a piece of art. You can take stills from those games and put them in frames and stick them in an art gallery if that makes it easier for you to call it art. This is an unquestioned thing and we should stop [asking] this and just accept that we are art. And just as with any art, there are great examples of art and there are games that we make which are nowhere near art. Just like there are television programs and films and books and paintings and photographs that are no more artistic than the bottom of my foot.

IGN: Can you give us a hint of what you are working on next?

Peter Molyneux:
I can't. I can't. The only thing I can say -- and this is very frustrating for me, because I love showing off even before appropriate for me to do so... There's a lot of talk about the future and the potential of what this industry and game design can come to. Anything Lionhead is doing is going to be innovative and different and I just hope people will expect the unexpected.

IGN: Can you close us out with a dirty joke?
Peter Molyneux:
F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***, F***...Fart. In England that's hilariously funny. I just want to see you print it.