Achievements unlocked: Lionhead's highs and lows

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 09 Mar 2016

As veteran game studio Lionhead is being prepared for closure – that's the implication after Microsoft cancelled 3-year project Fable: Legends – we take a look back at some of the studio's victories and, more recently, the less well-received titles that may have led to its demise. 

The Bullfrog Years 

British studio Lionhead – or its reputation at least – was built on the previous achievements of game designer Peter Molyneux throughout the 1980s and 1990s. To understand his influence, we have to go back to the Bullfrog years. 

At Bullfrog Productions, founded in 1987, he was involved in the creation of hit after hit: primordial god game Populous (1989), territorial expander Powermonger (1990), cyperpunk-style tactical action title Syndicate (1993), amusement attraction sim Theme Park (1994) and the genre subversion of Dungeon Keeper (1997). All had a significant and lasting impact on a maturing games industry. 

Lionhead's roar 

Co-founding the UK studio in 1996, Lionhead returned to the god game genre that helped Molyneux establish himself in the first place. 

Like Populous, 2001 debut Black & White was highly praised upon release (though less so during period retrospectives), and its tracking of players' good and evil actions went on to form a core part of the Fable concept.

Filename : fableanniversar.6b93b124728.original.jpg - To go with
Re-release Fable Anniversary on Xbox 360 and Windows PC celebrated 10 years of the franchise. — Microsoft Studios/Lionhead Studios

The Fable series was primarily an action adventure jaunt set in the studio's own interpretation of fantasy medieval England, and even if the finished products didn't always match up to Molyneux's enthusiastic publicity promises, it still became a core franchise on the Microsoft Xbox. 

But spin-offs did not fare so well: Fable II Pub Games and Fable Heroes were not favourably received, while Fable: The Journey (2012), was perceived as being an awkward and undesired endorsement of the Xbox 360's nascent motion controller, Kinect. 

New directions 

Molyneux left Lionhead after Fable: The Journey for a new mobile-focused studio 22Cans. 

Its first game was divisive tapathon Curiosity – What's Inside the Cube? (2012), before Godus attempted a return to the heyday of Populous, but was hampered by development issues. 

At Lionhead, meanwhile, Fable: Legends was announced in 2013, a free-to-play spin-off with potential to increase the Xbox brand's appeal on console and Windows 10. 

But neither its economic model nor its direction were well appreciated by Fable fans, who had wanted Fable IV instead; Microsoft announced the closure of Fable: Legends and intimated the very same for Lionhead as part of an announcement on March 7, 2016. — AFP Relaxnews

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