The ‘Neux is easily one of gaming’s most celebrated visionaries. At the same time, he’s also one of the most frequently mocked personalities in the industry, mostly because he has spent the past five or so years discussing “revolutionary” ideas and then releasing games that don’t live up to the promises.
But the man deserves your respect, because despite his recent antics, he is credited with creating some of the greatest and most important video games of all time, including Dungeon Keeper, Populous, Magic Carpet, Syndicate, Theme Park and Black & White. In more recent years, he has been absorbed by Microsoft and forced to make only Fable games, but that’s all about to change, because he’s just announced his imminent departure from Microsoft and Lionhead to found 22Cans in partnership with former Lionhead CTO Tim Rance.
Molyneux started working in the video games industry almost accidentally in 1982. He was distributing and selling floppy disks, and decided that as a value-add he would put Atari and Commodore 64 video games on them. At some point he realized that the games were actually the primary selling point of the disks.
The first game Molyneux actually created was called The Entrepreneur, which was a text-based business simulator which sold two copies – both of which are no doubt collector’s items today. The game’s failure hit the ‘Neux hard, and he retreated from game design to start Taurus Impex Limited – a company which exported baked beans to the Middle East.
Commodore International made a fateful error by mistaking Taurus Impex for TORUS – a network software development company. As a result, Commodore gave Molyneux ten free Amiga systems to help him port his network software. Molyneux kept the hardware and used it to develop Acquisition – The Ultimate Database for The Amiga, which went on to be fairly successful.
Using the money he made from Acquisition, Molyneux started Bullfrog Productions, which essentially marks the dawn of his legacy in game development. Under Bullfrog, Molyneux conceptualized Populous, which is credited with being the first god game for PC. Populous sold over four million copies, which was massive at the time, and it paved the way for the developer’s continued success, which involved classics such as Syndicate, Theme Park and Magic Carpet before Electronic Arts bought a substantial share of the company.
As a result of EA’s acquisition of Bullfrog, Molyneux became a vice-president and consultant for the publisher. Under EA, Bullfrog continued to release great games, all powered by Moyneux’s vision, including Dungeon Keeper, Theme Hospital, Populous: The Beginning and more.
Molyneux eventually left Bullfrog and EA in 1997 to found Lionhead Studios. His vision for Lionhead initially rested on the Black & White IP, which is considered yet another one of Molyneux’s classics. Microsoft Game Studios eventually acquired Lionhead in 2006, and the developer has since been churning out games in the Fable series for Xbox 360 and Windows.
During his time with Lionhead following its appropriation by Microsoft, Molyneux became famous for over-hyping games leading up to their release. He would describe new features and ideas that often did not show up in the final game, and would even go on to admit that he had a tendency with getting carried away with his ideas.
Sadly, in recent years the icon has done little to inspire the sort of devotion that he earned in his earlier days as a developer, but his plans to leave Microsoft and join 22Cans can be taken as a good sign. In various interviews he has admitted that he did not feel like he could do his best work with Microsoft, and he indicated that this was a primary reason for leaving the company.
Molyneux plans to leave Lionhead and Microsoft upon completing Fable: The Journey.