How to Make Great Games

From Populous to Fable, Peter Molyneux has been creating hit games for more than 15 years. Here, he talks about the secrets of great game design

This feature is based on a presentation by Peter Molyneux at Develop last week, recast and published exclusively on Next-Gen.Biz with his help.

The message I have is that there is no democracy in design. You must have someone who carries the vision.

First I'd like to talk about how game design and game creation have changed over the years, from my personal perspective.

When I began creating games I was a programmer, not a designer. A designer was someone who made clothes.

Ideas were born out of my own incompetence. With Populous, I didn't know how to do path-finding. So, to move players around, I made it possible to change the landscape, which became an important part of the game. These were some of the most creative moments of my past.

In those days I had no worries about inspiring or managing other people. It was just me and my computer.

Later, with titles like Syndicate and Magic Carpet, I became a designer who programmed. I had a team of 15 or so, so I needed to learn how to persuade people to do things this way instead of that way, but it was all very experimental. I was a designer who did some programming. A lot of the creativity was still back-ended. We were all enthusiasts.

By the time of Black & White it was no longer possible to understand all aspects of the project. I had a team of up to 30 people. I did not know, for example, how the Black & White engine worked. I just needed to know what it could do. There was also the beginning of some semblance of planning the project from the beginning but a lot of important decisions were made in the middle of the project.

By the time of Fable the team size was over 70. I was the design lead. There were no other distractions. My team would have been horrified by the idea of my actually doing some coding. I had no idea of many of the technical aspects of the project. There was much more planning involved.