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Crafting Albion: the art of Fable: The Journey

Lionhead's lead artist takes us behind the scenes

You won't find many straight lines in the world of Albion. Lamp posts curve and spiral like fish-hooks, and walls are a chocolatey mish-mash of different-sized stones. It's a crazy paving landscape, mixing the dirt of Monty Python's Quest for the Holy Grail with the chubby charms of a Disney flick.

In a presentation at the Develop Conference in Brighton, Lionhead's lead artist Tak Saito has explained how Fable's winsome aesthetic will evolve in forthcoming Kinect exclusive Fable: The Journey.

Though "lighter" and more "playful" in appearance than prior Fable titles, The Journey is built along the same principle of "heightened realism", born of a wish to show the world through the "astonished eyes of a naļve young adventurer". Players take charge of a wandering tribesman, who comes across the seer Theresa while separated from his family and friends.

Peering out from the seat of your cart (from which you'll dismount at intervals to enter dungeons and engage in combat), you'll see a world of chunky, simplified forms and clean surfaces, with little of the textural "noise" that characterises a photo-realistic game like Crysis. Saito showed us concept arts and renders of a cave, fringed by split and hewn jags of rock, and a torch-lit temple environment, walls bulging slightly with age. You can expect "two or three" of those temple environments in the final game.

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Objects like shields and barrels need to be "readable" - that is, to have a clear basic geometry - but feel hand-crafted. The outer curve of a cart wheel may be fairly precise, for instance, while the spokes are a shade messier, of uneven spacing and thickness. Foliage is designed to emphasise volume rather than individual leaves, a style choice which presumably pays dividends when it comes to minimising technical overheads.

The Journey takes place on the rough fringes and hinterlands of Albion. Where Fables past took inspiration from the townships and heartlands of medieval Britain, Lionhead is now looking to the Scottish highlands, Irish bogs, Cornish coastline, Yorkshire moors and rocky Welsh landscapes. Among the other environment renders shown was a sprawling grassy plane dotted with silverbirch.

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As the game's most common sight, the horse pulling your cart has soaked up a lot of development time. Journey's requisite degree of moral choice appears to revolve around the beast, with Peter Molyneux telling Gamespot that NPCs may spurn you if you mistreat it. Saito and his cohorts took inspiration from the Shire breed, drawn to its large, expressive face and massy frame. The team experimented with a thin, more proportional render and an angular, stylised variant before settling somewhere in-between.

Lionhead is taking Fable in a new direction with Journey, and questions hang over the fate of several time-worn elements, the sandbox world structure and avatar customisation foremost among them. Worried fans will be relieved to know that in terms of the art direction at least, the game is clearly bred from the same stock as its predecessors.

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