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Fable Heroes, Lionhead without Molyneux and Fable's future

Lead designer Ted Timmins talks us through the XBLA hack and slash

Peter Molyneux's departure from Microsoft marks the end of an era, but it emphatically isn't the end for Fable. Molyneux's flagship Xbox project is now very much its own beast, attracting two new, boundary-pushing releases this year in the shape of Kinect exclusive Fable: The Journey and arts-and-crafty spin-off Fable: Heroes.

Down for Xbox Live Arcade release tomorrow, the latter is a four-player beat 'em up doused in Fable's inimitable humour. Our review will be live shortly - while you wait, check out our lengthy chat with lead designer Ted Timmins about the game's inception, the science of spin-offs and where Fable goes from here.

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How many different game types do you think you can create using the Fable source material? How broad does that franchise go?

Well we've got novels coming out later this year. The great thing about Albion, the part that I love so much about Fable, is that it can anything anyone wants it to be. It would make great other games, I'm sure of it. I don't want to give a headline, because I'm just pulling out ideas, but it could make a fantastic RTS or Sim City-style game - it's just such a rich world with so many features.

The great thing about Fable has always been that it's the sum of all its parts. You have the simulation, the combat, the story and you could pretty much take any of those and extrapolate them out. We decided to take the combat side and the feel of Albion and turn it into a four player hack-and-slash. It can be anything you want it to be.

Did you learn anything new about Fable in the process of creating Fable Heroes?

Yeah, I mean it's great. I learned the most by actually reading what the fans write about and trying to get an idea of what they want. Before we started Heroes and having our Hero Doll collection that you play as, the one thing I kept saying was "I want to play as Jack of Blades" and I was driving our artists totally insane with my constant requests for Jack of Blades. The only reason they actually did it in the end was just to shut me up so for me the fact that you can play as Jack comes from he forums.

All people talk about is playing as Jack of Blades from the first Fable and we wanted to give something back, so I definitely learnt that the more you listen to the fans, the more appreciative they'll be at the other end. I guess we'll find out this week. Also, we did a lot of user research which inspired things like our Family Mode.

There were a lot of parents that played Fable Heroes that, at the end of playing, would say "Oh yeah, it's a great game and I can see myself playing with my kids, but it's probably just that bit too competitive for them," so we decided to introduce Family Mode, where there's a team score as opposed to individual scores and everyone's a winner. So I've certainly learned a lot about user research and sitting down to watch people play the game you're working on.

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People often talk about family-friendly games and getting everyone playing - there's the classic marketing image of everyone on white furniture. What would be your tips for creating a family-friendly game?

I think that it's about making it so that everyone is in one room having fun. The reason things like Kinect Sports work so well is that even if you're not playing, you're watching people having fun and that in itself is fun. In Fable Heroes we have a game of tag that pops up out of certain chests and when we were at PAX East a few weeks ago people were watching and laughing as this game was being played, so I think the more you can make the game look fun and appealing - our art style plays a lot into that too, given its cartoony, warm, welcoming feeling - you definitely end up with more people just having fun.

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