“Darker”, “grittier”, “R-rated”.
Fable 4 was pitched as an industrial-age game that covered “late Victorian proper far out Jules Verne s**t,” according to ex-Lionhead art director, John McCormack, but Microsoft rejected the idea.
Speaking to Eurogamer for a spectacularly in-depth history of the now-shuttered studio, McCormack revealed that his idea was to continue the series’ tradition of updating the central town of Bowerstone, which became progressively larger over the three released games, and would now be a London-style metropolis.
Eurogamer reports that the pitch specified a move to Unreal Engine 4, and would set the game in a “technological, industrial age”. It would have mixed innovations of that age – “tram cars and flying machines” – and Fable’s typical focus on the mythology of the time, including characters based on Jack the Ripper (“a Balverine in diguise”) and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde.
Interestingly, McCormack also seemed to see it as a step up in maturity from previous games: “it would be darker and grittier. And because it was R-rated it would have the prostitutes and the humour.”
Sadly, despite “everyone being really into it” at the studio, Microsoft apparently rejected the pitch because Lionhead was being refocused on making games as a service – a contributing factor to McCormack leaving the studio to form Another Place Productions in 2012.
After the pitch was rejected, Lionhead began work on the Peter Molyneux-headed Project Opal, a single game world that played differently on three separate platforms – as a village builder on PC, a shooter on Xbox and a resource builder on mobile, all of which fed into one another.
Some of Eurogamer‘s sources claim that Project Opal became the cross-platform Fable Legends partway through development (although this is disputed), and that Fable Legends’ “doomsday scenario” upon cancellation was that its assets and setting would be used to create a more traditional Fable 4.
Unfortunately, the decision was made to close Lionhead alongside Fable Legends’ cancellation. Eurogamer backs up yesterday’s reports that Legends could not be finished by a new studio because Microsoft refused to sell the Fable license.
While seemingly unlikely at this point, Peter Molyneux makes clear that he would return to the franchise he helped create if offered the chance:
“When I finish what I’m working on now,” he said, “if someone comes to me and asks, hey, do you want to do Fable 4, I’d totally be up for it. I would get [co-creators, Dene and Simon Carter] back. And I would remake this world. It’s such a rich world and there are so many avenues we didn’t explore.”