GAME FACE: Goodbye Lionhead Studios

©Stuart Whyte

©Stuart Whyte

So over the weekend, we said goodbye to a rather special English developer; Lionhead Studios. On 29th April, Lionhead had their last day in business, and I was one of the many mourning their closure.

There’s no official reason as to why the studio were made to close their doors by their all-mighty benefactor; Microsoft, but I think we can hazard a damn good guess. Despite Fable: Legends being in development, there have been murmurings surrounding Lionhead since last year. Originally, Legends seemed to be designed along the lines of Turtle Rock’s Evolve; a multiplayer only game based around people either playing as a ‘hero’ or as a ‘villain’. Then early last year Microsoft announced that the game would run on a free-to-play model instead; toying with troubling words like micro-transactions and DLC.

This seemed to spell serious trouble for Lionhead’s latest project; with the game’s released being delayed to early 2016. Eventually in March this year, the inevitable seemed to happen; Microsoft confirmed that it had cancelled Legends and was considering closing Lionhead. Initially, there was some amount of hope for the game later on that month, with rumblings about Microsoft reconsidering its decision. But alas, by 7th April Legends’ beta had been shut down and refunds were being paid out. Now Lionhead Studios are no longer with us.

For someone who has been a fan of Lionhead since she could remember playing games on a computer, these are sad times. I have incredibly fond memories of Lionhead, even if they started to dip toward the end (*cough* Fable: The Journey *cough*), and am deeply affected by their closure.

My first taste of Lionhead’s unique creativity was with their extremely successful PC release Black & White. If you consider yourself a PC gamer and you don’t know what Black & White is, then shame on you my friend. Black & White was a ‘god’ style game released back in 2001, back when Peter Molyneux was still a highly respected figure of the industry, and was pretty revolutionary at the time. The player was introduced to this world as its god, and was put in charge of influencing its land and people.

Black & White was essentially a strange type of simulation game, where the only way you could interact with the world was through the instruction of a chosen creature. You were encouraged to perform acts of either good or evil, depending on how you wanted your people to view you. Most of the elements exploring morality were fairly rudimentary; but that it explored them at all, was enough to make the game special.

However, like most gamers of my generation, it was the Fable series that really made me fall in love with Lionhead. I always seem to put some seriously potent rose-tinted glasses on whenever I discuss the original Fable trilogy, particularly the first one. I wasn’t old enough to have been exposed to the enormous amount of hype that preceded, and often overshadows, the original game’s release, so I went into the adventure entirely blind. My memories of Fable are mostly comprised of particular moments or aspects that I can remember; such as the opening segment, training at the guild, fighting in the arena, and how every single woman seemed to sound like she’d fallen out of a production of Oliver Twist.

My experiences of Fable 2 are a lot more comprehensive, probably because I played it as a much older, and therefore far more competent, human being. It was a huge improvement on the previous game’s often repetitive combat and unfulfilled promises of exploration and freedom. It was a much more ambitious game; with a grander story, far more customisation (you could finally play as a woman!) and a much larger world. Your actions felt like they had much bigger consequences, so the morality systems worked so much more.

And the dog! Who didn’t love that bloody dog?

I even, dare I say it, enjoyed Fable 3. I accept why people view it with resentment; it was a product of Molyneux’s obsessive over-hyping and borderline fibbing, but I still had a good time playing it. It was great to explore some new and exciting settings, I was genuinely gripped by the narrative and I wanted my kingdom to love me and live. But I never want to have to play another pie-making mini-game again (that pie woman’s voice still haunts me to this day).

So yes, I weep for Lionhead Studios along with everyone else and seriously hope that all those displaced workers get jobs at Rare. They deserve another chance to keep making great games.

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