Lionhead: Microsoft's Last Great Studio?
Microsoft has two major studios making triple-A games. Turn 10 and Lionhead. Of the two, Peter Molyneux’s studio is arguably more influential, but as the last beacon of hardcore gaming, where does this leave one of the UK’s brightest developers…
The lion’s share
With pre-E3 talk leaning towards rumours of new consoles and the potential of the industry’s best next-gen engines, it’s Microsoft’s biggest exclusive studio, Lionhead, that could prove once again that its got some big ideas. Though it’s failed to materialise, Milo & Kate showed just how ambitious it could be, though we’d expect nothing less from a studio with Peter Molyneux at its helm. With Kinect failing to set the industry alight creatively, despite its positive sales, Lionhead could be on the verge of leading the charge in a big way.
“As a Microsoft developer, Kinect is an incredibly exciting event in making games,” explains Mike West, senior designer on Fable III. “Something very interesting happened late last month; we had a creative day here. The whole company was allowed a couple of days to come up with any ideas that they wanted to. So we had the cinema for a day and there were 35 different presentations – you could make anything you wanted – and I think over half of them were Kinect.” Almost confirming that Milo & Kate was a proof of concept for a defunct Kinect feature set, this demonstrates that Lionhead is looking for motion-control ideas that could be developed in the future.
“There are talks about it,” continues West, “and maybe we’ll be able to show what we’ve come up with online. There were some great things. This was all two days’ work, and there was some amazing stuff. As a company we’re completely embracing it.” Kinect might be one part of Microsoft’s attempts to entice a new audience to the Xbox, but for those of us already converted, talk of a new console has turned to the very real possibilities it presents. How does a new machine affect Lionhead, though?
“We’ve talked about it. Obviously we’re very closely linked to Microsoft,” explains West. “Personally, I don’t know what’s happening next and I’m in Microsoft. One day we’ll get a memo or email saying ‘this is what’s happening’ and that’s the day when we put everything into action. But, at the moment we keep abreast of all technology – we don’t really pick one at the moment because we don’t know which way we’re going to go.”
“It’s probably more difficult for companies that aren’t linked directly because they have to second- guess all the time, whereas we don’t. We know we don’t have to worry about it at the moment. For Lionhead it’s a good thing, because when Microsoft is thinking about its next Xbox or whatever it might be they’ll come to us and say ‘what do you think?’
We’ll have a heads up before it even gets worked on.” Lionhead’s future, then, is very much based on the limitations of the current tech, but when that remit includes Kinect we should all be excited. Motion control has to show what it’s truly capable of and it’ll take a studio like Lionhead to open itself up creatively and change Microsoft’s controller-free fortunes.