Monday, May 24, 2010

I Want to Box Peter Molyneux

By Dan Apczynski

Look, I’m not a violent person. I’ve never been the kind of guy who feels that problems are best solved through aggression. It’s just that Fable 3 is looming on the horizon, and I feel it necessary to announce this creeping desire of mine: I want to box Peter Molyneux. Please, let me clarify—I don’t want to hurt Peter Molyneux. Not even a little bit. I don’t even know how to box, so he’s guaranteed to land at least a few solid punches. I just want to climb into the ring as two consenting adults, consenting to... you know, hit each other.

Alas, I realize that the readership of our humble blog almost certainly does not include Peter Molyneux, and it’s probably never going to happen. So in lieu of an actual fight night, here is an imagined series of events that might just mirror the real thing.

{{{{Commence dream sequence}}}}

From the high ceiling of the expo gymnasium, the floodlit ring is a tiny diamond in the center of a dark ravine, its walls lined with expectant boxing fans. Molyneux and I put on our gloves and headgear and duck under the ropes. A microphone descends from the rafters and the ref speaks: “In this corner, hailing from the United Kingdom, weighing in at 110 pounds [I’m guessing], the keeper of dungeons, the nationalist of Natal, purveyor of promises and fanatic of feelings, Peter Mooooooooolyneeeeeeeux.” The crowd cheers hesitantly, unsure whether the coming fight will deliver on the hype.

“He’s a really good fighter,” says my trainer, “Doc” Kirk Hamilton. “We should probably just preorder Fable 3. I mean, I bet it’ll be pretty good.” But Kirk’s anxiety is not sufficient to make me back down. I eat an entire pie and instantly gain five pounds of muscle.

The ref continues: “And in this corner, burned by Fable 2 and not probably not heading back to Albion anytime soon, he’s a champion of choice and bemoaner of button mashing, Dan Apczyyyyynskiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii.” (This being a dream sequence, he pronounces my last name with the confidence of a lifelong Polish-language scholar.) Leaning in close, he says, “Gentlemen, I want a good, clean fight. Nothing below the belt, no kicking or biting, and no griping about gameplay flaws in Black & White.”

I touch gloves with Molyneux at center ring and the opening bell sounds. Assuming my amateur boxer’s shuffle, I attempt a few punches, but I’ve underestimated my opponent’s imagination and enthusiasm for the fight. Blocking and dodging, he counters my attacks with a few of his own, sneaking past my guard with the ease and efficiency of a single-button combat system. “Fable 3 is all about power, man. I want you to know what it’s like to feel powerful.” His technique is persuasive, compelling. I’m momentarily mesmerized by his footwork. “What will your kingdom be like, man? With power comes great responsibility.”

With a start I snap out of my trance: “That sounds very familiar,” I say, delivering a right hook. “The tagline for Fable 2 was, ‘Who will you become?’ Frankly, I expected to be able to become a lot more.”

Molyneux blocks and returns with a flurry of quick jabs: “In Fable 3, your character will level up differently depending on which weapon you use the most! Character customization will be made easier with an in-game dressing room feature and different possibilities that reflect your gamerscore!” His technique is dazzling, but it’s becoming evident that even he is growing tired of pulling the same moves over and over again against the same adversary.

“Fine,” I say, “but it still sounds like you’re changing the way different characters look without making any substantial changes to gameplay or player experience. What have you done that gives any one player a different experience than anyone else?”

Molyneux staggers and catches himself. “In Fable 3, you’ll be able to touch other characters and sell poor people into slavery! Throwing people in the dungeon is emotionally engaging! You’ll interact in new and meaningful ways with your dog!” His enthusiasm is as pronounced as ever, but I don’t need a health bar to see that his energy is on the wane.

“Okay, touch, fine, but is that really any different than inviting someone to follow you to the Temple of Shadows?” Molyneux has slowed down considerably. “And who the fuck cares about the dog? After he failed to chase the ball, I stopped throwing it. Feeding or healing him took time and felt like more of a nuisance than anything else. What, do I have to pet him now, too?” Molyneux gazes blearily back with punch-drunk eyes. “And nowhere have you mentioned loading screens—what was up with the Fable 2 loading screens?”

“In Fable 3,” he says, slurring badly, “you’ll have a butler.”

I land one final punch that catches Molyneux squarely on the nose. He clutches his schnozz as a tiny rivulet of blood falls to the mat. The bell rings and everything goes quiet; the moment hangs in the air. The crowd gasps. Pulling his gloves away, Molyneux peers down at his own blood. “You bloody wanker,” he exclaims. “That really fucking hurt, man!”

The pain in his voice is at once so profoundly compelling that the crowd falls into an awed silence. It is the sound of a man who bleeds—who is literally bleeding—for his work. The sound of a man who at least talks about pushing the boundaries of what is understood to be possible in games, even though it makes some of us want to put on a pair of big gloves and knock him around a little.

The crowd erupts, but they’re not cheering for me. Molyneux’s resounding execration is as moving as anything he’s yet produced: it is beauty and sadness and victory and defeat; the perfect balance between artistry and original-copy sales, control scheme and narrative, alpha and omega. “Ow, fuck!” he says.

“Thank you,” I say, involuntarily weeping. I glance back at my corner of the ring, where Kirk has passed out completely. “Thank you, Peter, that was beautiful.”


Anonymous said...

Are you saying that Peter Molyneux is gaming's Uwe Boll?

Dan the Man said...

Ha, wow! After a quick Wiki-education on Boll's boxing matches, maybe that's exactly what I said.

But I'll also go on record as saying that I'm sure Molyneux has more imagination in his mouthguard than Boll could hope to produce in 12 rounds.