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Lionhead won't "just sip Microsoft's Kool-Aid" - creative director talks replacing Molyneux

"We're at the opposite end of the scale to where Microsoft normally are," says creative director

Lionhead isn't just a bunch of yes-men in branded T-shirts, leaping through hoops proffered by Uncle Microsoft, creative director Gary Carr has insisted to OXM. As with Forza 5 developer Turn 10, the manufacturer has been careful not to meddle with Lionhead's studio culture and creative "identity" - the recent appointment of the "very, very non-Microsofty" former Cryptic CEO John Needham as studio head is proof of this, Carr suggests.

Speaking to OXM as part of a comprehensive chat you'll find in issue 103, on sale now, Carr explained that Lionhead is free to follow its own nose despite seven years under Microsoft's banner. "I'm not a Microsoft corporate dude," he began. "I want to make sure that Lionhead doesn't just sip the Kool-Aid, I want us to be a developer that makes games we think people actually want to play."

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Microsoft Studios executives are very approachable, he added - there's no faceless be-suited corporate smoke screen to reckon with. "It's good to see a lot of the people coming up through the ranks in that six years, people like [Microsoft Studios vice-president] Phil Spencer, people like John, and people like [European Studios boss] Phil Harrison, who I've known for nearly 30 years. These are people you can have a beer with. They watch the same TV shows as you. They hang out in the same places. They're not aloof and distant people.

Carr went onto discuss Needham's arrival - he, of course, replaces Lionhead founder, former Microsoft Europe creative director and all-round chatty man Peter Molyneux. "John's amazing. He sits next to me actually. He's great because obviously when Peter left, we had a year of change. We had an interim boss in [former Rare studio manager] Scott Henson, who was looking after us until we found the right person. Because you don't lose Peter and just drop anybody in - you have to find somebody who would culturally fit in.

"And to be fair to Microsoft, they didn't want to drop in a Microsofty person," he went on. "They wanted to find somebody who fitted the culture of Lionhead. Because when they did culture tests on Lionhead, and we're at the opposite end of the scale to where Microsoft normally are.

"So they looked long and hard and found John, and it's fair to say we all had this scepticism about him being just another corporate dude in a suit before he walked in, but he's not. He's an absolute great guy, and very, very non-Microsofty - and I'm not saying that in order to be derogatory to Microsoft, because Microsoft picked him.

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"They know the culture of the studio, they know we want to retain an identity, and they also knew Peter's a difficult person to replace, and I'm glad they took so long because he's an absolute spot-on hire. I really get on with the guy. The best thing about John is he's a people person, he can completely relate to anyone, he knows everybody in the studio by name already, he walks around, he talks to everybody, he asks them about themselves, he makes everybody feel like they're part of the studio."

Needham's appointment is also evidence of Lionhead and Microsoft's interest in online-centric or always-online game development - as a press release put it at the time, "John's deep understanding of all aspects of the gaming industry, from subscription-based, massively multi-player to client-based console and free-to-play online, PC and mobile experiences, will be a huge benefit to Lionhead and European Studio operations more widely."

The developer is currently working on Fable Anniversary, an HD reboot for Xbox 360, and Fable Legends, a co-op role-playing prequel that may require an internet connection. The game is designed to last five to ten years, according to Needham, and can be played solo if you choose. There appear to be no dogs in it, much to Peter Molyneux's disappointment.

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