Lionhead's Milo and Kate was the hit of Microsoft's E3 conference, as the most jaw-dropping demonstration of Microsoft's upcomign Project Natal.
After the conference, we caught up with studio head (and newly-minted creative director of Microsoft Game Studios Europe) Peter Molyneux to explain it in more detail.
To fully appreciate this conversation, visualise as it happened: on a rooftop bar in LA, being serenaded at Beatles Rock Band by very senior and very drunk Xbox VP Don Mattrick. All rock and roll, this job.
A few of our cruder colleagues have suggested you could have made more money if, instead of Milo, you'd made a beautiful lady instead? Was that ever considered?
Peter Molyneux: No it wasn't. You know, you could have any character, you could have a female character or whatever, but who are we making this for? Why are we doing this? We're doing this because there's a huge number of people in this world who do not play computer games and if you really want to reach people like that, we've got to show them something they have never ever seen before.
And yeah you could show them a huge-breasted woman lounging on the couch - would it appeal to those kind of people? I don't think it would, not in the slightest, and that's what we're trying to do. There's something amazing and charming about Milo and Milo's world. When people interact with it they're going to be hooked.
I mean it's controversial, especially in these days, I know it's controversial. I know it would be so much better to show some caricatured computer game character that tried to bond with you, but that's not what we're trying to do, we're trying to convince you that this character is real. Making a character that is a kid seem real is easier for us to do than some adult, and infinitely better than some caricatured thing.
Are you bringing any of your dog stuff from Fable into the game?
PM: Well it is called Milo and Kate and Kate is a dog. We're doing a lot of work on it anyway for other stuff, so it'd be silly not to.
Is it a proper project with plans for release?
PM: It's a game and has been in production since before Natal. It's got a story, and I would love to release it when Natal is launched, that'd be cool.
So it was an ideal you were working on and Natal came along and it was perfect for it?
PM: Yeah. It's something I've been thinking about for a long time. Trying to create a game where you really felt the character was real and then Natal came along.
What do you make of the reaction so far?
PM: I think the whole presentation was pretty amazing, and people's reactions to Milo have been incredible. Some of those moments I wasn't sure people would get on the big screen - it's when you're in front of it you feel how impactful it is to go in the fishpond and hand the child a piece of paper - but people really seemed to get it.
Isn't there still a slight uncanny valley thing going on?
PM: Here's the thing that's absolutely true. When you play it, you don't get any of that. When you see it being played, especially on a video, it comes across slightly out, which is still early on - we're still tweaking it. 90% of the time it's fantastic.
Does that take a lot of new skills and research?
PM: We did a lot of research on Neuro Linguistic programming and how the face reacts. It's a lot of work.
We have these visions of people forming unhealthily clingy relationships with Milo. Is that sort of the point?
PM: Here's the thing. The reason we've chosen this is because it is amazing, when you play the game, that it will remind you of your childhood. It's almost impossible to form an inappropriate relationship with Milo, it's just not something that's possible to do in the game. I think people will find it amazing and charming and joyful.