This week potentially marks the beginning of the end for Lionhead Studios, as Microsoft has cancelled the upcoming Fable Legends and “are in discussions with employees about the proposed closure” of the studio. Over two decades, Lionhead, originally helmed by visionary game designer and human embodiment of unbridled eagerness Peter Molyneux, has developed a number of incredible video games, often finding itself trying to punch through a wall formed out of its own lofty ambitions – ambitions that would simultaneously be its greatest asset and biggest curse.
Molyneux originally made a name for himself at his prior company, Bullfrog Productions, with the creation of Populous, largely cited as one of the first ‘god games’. He and his studio would go on to design a string of highly-influential PC hits, with instant classics like Theme Park, Syndicate, Magic Carpet, and Dungeon Keeper being cranked out of the studio year after year, earning Molyneux a large following among the gaming public. Electronic Arts regularly published Bullfrog’s games, and its success led the publisher to bring Molyneux on as its vice president in 1994 and acquiring his studio in 1995. Molyneux butted heads with higher ups over Dungeon Keeper’s numerous delays and the overall culture that comes with working at the upper levels of a major video game publisher, eventually resigning from his position at EA to go independent once again, forming Lionhead Studios in 1996.
Lionhead wouldn’t release its first game, Black & White, until 2001 – five years after the company’s founding. Its release was somewhat poetic, as Molyneux’s new studio brought with it a return to the genre that made him a household name among those tuned into the video game industry. Black & White makes you god of a cartoonish world, ruling over its diminutive denizens and a series of larger than life creatures, influencing their evolution over time based on your own good or evil actions. At the time, Black & White was incredibly well-received, seen as the rebirth of a genre that Molyneux had helped to create as well as an intricately designed “virtual toy”, but public opinion soured over time, with publications like GameSpy deeming it “the most overrated game of all time”. This, along with Lionhead’s penchant for protracted development cycles, would become a narrative that would haunt Lionhead throughout its existence.
Then came Fable in 2004, the Bitcoin Dice …