In a world where Mass Effect and Dragon Age exist, there’s really no good reason to obfuscate the process of importing save data from a game sequel’s predecessor — and yet Lionhead Studios has managed to do this with Fable III.

So how do I make sure Fable III imports the Fable II character I want?

  • Launch Fable II
  • Select your desired hero
  • Once in the game world, save and quit
  • Launch Fable III and start a new game

This tidbit of wisdom was gleaned after an hour of trial and error, following 40 minutes of otherwise enjoyable gameplay that was riddled with the uncertainty that any import had in fact occurred.

What the hell, Peter Molyneux? If the intent was to keep the player immersed in the game world, then this oversight makes that goal an impossibility, and now my entire perception of Fable III is colored by it.

If you’re like me, you enjoyed Fable II so much that you created another character to play through the game again almost immediately after you beat it the first time — a scenario that is all the more likely since there are three possible endings. But good luck figuring out which one of those serves as the basis of your new Fable III hero, because the game itself sure won’t tell you. In fact, as long as there is a Fable II save on your hard drive, there’s no way NOT to import that information — even if that hero hasn’t actually completed the game.

I didn’t find this out immediately, of course. I’m the kind of gamer who tries to go off the rails every chance he gets, so I spent much that time exploring scenery, admiring the character models, and finding out how NPC interaction differed from Fable II. I was doing this for over 40 minutes before I discovered something might be wrong.

But I ignored it. At least, I did for a little while, but the fear and doubt began to gnaw at me. “Hero Queen” mother? Wasn’t my Fable II character a dude?

It wasn’t until I reached my deceased parent’s tomb and encountered Theresa that I knew I was well and truly screwed: she was indeed the same hero who saved Albion from the clutches of Lucien and the Spire (where Theresa presumably still lives).

I won’t go into the incredibly boring details, but I don’t think I could have figured out how to get the import to work if a) I had heroes of only one gender, or b) had three or more heroes of both genders. How much worse would it have been if I hadn’t figured out this mistake until much later in the game? I would be furious, and you would have a right to be as well.

Without talking to the development team, I can only guess that this hidden import process is a casualty of well-meaning interface minimalism. Gone are the radial menus of Fable II — your actions are now dictated by icons that float lazily around the game world. The pause screen is equally as sparse (at least, so far), with only three options immediately available.

An extension of this sensibility, the game itself opens to a relatively static title screen where your only option is to press “start”. If you have no other characters available, you’ll immediately be asked to choose if your hero is a prince or a princess.

And that’s it.

Tehre is no indication that a Fable II game had been found (it had), or that a Fable II character had been selected as your immediate ancester (she had). It all happens without any direct input from the gamer. It was only through interacting with NPCs as the story progressed that there was any indication that something had happened — although, by design, it’s completely unclear as to exactly what.

I admire Peter Molyneux’s drive to simplify the game interface. We all know that his Microsoft Bob-like intentions with your dog in Fable II fell by the wayside, but such was also the fate of a fairly critical piece of functionality that marred an otherwise entirely enjoyable Fable III experience.

Was it too difficult to figure out how to integrate such metadata into the overall vision of how this game should play? Was it just assumed that most Fable II players only have one character, and so the issue of an import interface was moot? Even if that’s the case, why import a character who hadn’t beaten the game? And what if I DON’T want to import a Fable II character at all?
There is no ability to make the decision, at least not in the game itself. Perhaps it was decided that the place to manage this metadata was to use the tools already available to gamers via the Xbox 360 Dashboard. You can offload undesired files onto different devices, or (as outlined above) change the “current” Fable II hero.

This was all a terrible mistake on the part of Lionhead.

When I put Fable III into my disc tray, that’s the game I expect to play. I don’t want to leave the game, or put in another game to get the one I want to play to behave as I expect. These things should be handled in-game. How’s this for a solution: right after (or before) you pick your Fable III hero’s gender, you get an identical screen where you select their parent, based on available Fable II data. Done. Glad I could help. You can mail me the check later.

User feedback is critically important in gaming — in fact, one might argue that it’s the entire point. If you want to tell a non-interactive story, make a movie or write a book. We have tropes for handling game setup and reviewing information that otherwise cannot be gleaned from observing the game world as a simulated three-dimensional space. You want to improve upon these tropes, or completely replace the paradigm? Great! But you need to actually address the challenges that such ambition will present, rather than side-step the issues by not dealing with them at all.

Or at least outline the import functionality in the one place where game metadata is still acceptable in this Brave New Interface Model, and is already included with this game — the instruction manual.