Details about an M-rated take on Fable 4 and developer Lionhead’s reluctance to work on Fable Legends have come out of an in-depth retrospective on the studio by Eurogamer.
Following the success of Fable 3, Lionhead’s art director, John McCormack, built a pitch for Fable 4 that would push the series into the future with futuristic contraptions like flying machines and tram cars. McCormack broadly referred to the technology as “late-Victorian, proper far-out Jules Verne [stuff].”
The city of Bowerstone was going to get an upgrade as well, becoming a sprawling, “kind of weird, f—ed-up London environment,” featuring Lionhead’s own takes on stories from British history and folklore, like Jack the Ripper.
“And that was going to be Fable 4, and it would be darker and grittier,” McCormack told Eurogamer. “And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humor. I was like, man, this is going to be f—ing brilliant, and everybody was really into it.”
However, Microsoft denied the single-player RPG pitch, saying that the market for the genre had been tapped on Xbox with past Fable titles. “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,” McCormack said. “I thought, ‘Yes, we can.””
Microsoft said that a a free-to-play model for the next Fable game, which would eventually become Fable Legends, would be more profitable.
According to Eurogamer’s sources, Microsoft executives told Lionhead, “There’s no way anybody’s going to be making single-player boxed products any more… I want something that’s games as a service.” When Lionhead pushed back, the publisher allegedly gave the studio an ultimatum: “You make a service game or you get closed down.”
“The biggest stab in the heart though was that for roughly six years the studio had pretty much been tasked to develop games that Microsoft wanted us to make to show off tech… almost nobody wanted to work on Fable Legends,” a source told Eurogamer.
Working against low morale, Lionhead actually finished Fable Legends, and began work on Fable 4.
“The game was technically finished, the infrastructure was all in place, work had started on Fable next, and morale was actually quite high again,” Eurogamer’s source said. “It felt like the time was right to finally make that Lionhead 2.0 claim and build the game everyone wanted to play and we all wanted to make: Fable 4.”
But apparently the time wasn’t right for Lionhead’s triumphant return. Microsoft officially closed Lionhead Studios in April.
Despite the drama, series creator Peter Molyneux said that he would return to work on Fable 4 if asked. “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 told Eurogamer.
Microsoft still owns the rights to the Fable series, despite reports of offers in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars to purchase Lionhead and the Fable franchise. Unless the publisher has had a change of heart, it’s unlikely that we’ll see another studio build the Fable 4 that Molyneux and McCormack had envisioned.