Meeting Peter Molyneux & Milo

We met up with Peter Molyneux in the evening of Day 2, in his hotel room, for a short intimate chat about Milo & Kate. Unfortunately our time was short, as the man looked pretty dog-tired from a day of demos. But although there were only around a handful of questions asked, myself a few fellow Xbox fan-site members managed to rinse out some juicy gossip from the godfather of this creation, currently titled as Milo & Kate.

For those that have been living under a dog bowl during the E3 Expo, Milo & Kate is a pet project undertaken by Lionhead Studios, which utilises the technology created by Microsoft, currently under the guise of Project Natal. Milo & Kate is an ambitious project that is only really feasible via Project Natal technology, and should be looked upon as merely a tech demo at this current stage, which showcases just what can be possible once the Project Natal’s technology releases on Xbox 360.

Milo & Kate will eventually be, and is being, developed as a sellable title. But until then, I get the impression that the developers at Lionhead are only just starting to sharpen their crayons, before getting the best out of what the technology offer them. During my interview with Peter I, quite bluntly, asked him if Milo was a glorified Tamagotchi game. After a painful squirm he did agree that there are similarities between the two. Although we will not be going as far as feeding him (at least not at the moment), this high-level association would be correct. Anyone wishing to turn Milo into some evil brat will be disappointed to hear there will be no such possibility, any abuse or aggression thrown in Milo’s direction will be calmly turned away or ignored.

The premise is that you will begin by selecting between male – Milo, or female – Milly. Both types will be of a fixed young age, and that they will not grow old, not in appearance anyway. They will grow old in terms of experience and knowledge alongside the time invested in playing and interacting with them. The most advanced Milo is currently over 200 hours, and the Milo I saw demoed the following day was just under this mark, at around 150 hours.

Milo will not be alone either, as he will be joined with his Mother, Father, a school friend, a teacher, and the dog – Kate. Whether you will interact with these characters is uncertain, I’m sure you’ll be able to at least do things with the dog. During my demo you heard Milo’s mother shout if he had done his homework, so you may not interact face to face with Milo’s family and friends, but they could bring further narrative to Milo’s story and how you and Milo interacted with each other.

On each corner of the screen were menus, such as playtime, homework etc. Each with a cash figure attached to them. This monetary value wasn’t entirely clear to me, though particular interactions helped boost this value in a particular area. It is assumed that gaining cash points will enable you to spend on gifts for Milo or objects to interact with him.

Interacting with Milo is done with the simple act of walking up to the screen/camera and calling his name. If he recognises you he will leap off his tree swing and respond with your name. During our demo he followed this greeting by commenting on the colour of t-shirt being warn and that it suited us. This is all fairly simple high-level (and possibly repetitive) stuff, but as time goes on you’ll soon have complex interactions and conversations with Milo. Peter explained how they are working in some cleaver tricks to make the experience feel as real as possible. For instance, there will be a body of common names already available, though if you say something really obscure Milo may ask for you to spell it out for him, to which he will learn from this and (perhaps) pronounce it phonetically, or he could go as far as asking you to write it down and show it to him.

Peter went on to mention that additional speech packs will be downloaded on a regular basis, which may contain recent events that mean something to you, such as; if Milo knows that you are a keen Manchester United fan, he may comment on their unlucky defeat in the FA Cup the following day. I commented to Peter that with all these language packs this project would become a localisation nightmare, but he seemed to take this question all in his stride, stating the immense volume they had to do for Fable 2 and that the aforementioned additional phrase packs would keep things fresh and new on a regular basis.

You can tell throughout our short meeting, that Peter was very passionate about this project. He talked about Milo as if he is a living being, rather than an object or virtual character. After viewing the animated movie – Wall-E – Peter stated that he was amazed at how so much emotion can be felt from just a ‘piece of trash’. Milo will attempt to carry over such similar emotions, with their positive attitude to your interactions with them.

Tracking your emotions could be seen in the demo by a computer laptop sitting beside, this showed the cameras view and the areas (seen as coloured dots) being tracked. This seemed to include head, body, hands and feet, as well as more information being carried by the face, alongside a string of crunched data being processed in real-time. Peter explained how you could sense nervousness in your nostrils, as they grow an additional 2mm. Sadly Natal isn’t that advanced to monitor such minute body changes, but it will be able to track signs of face colour complexion, body posture, eyes and the angle of your head etc. These are all key clues that will help Milo assess how you are feeling and how he will interact with you. The Milo experience will of course have a beginning and a middle – in terms of knowledge progression – but Peter didn’t necessarily say there will be an end to Milo, he quickly suggested we looked at to how Fable ends, though not being a Fable player myself I was a little left in the dark by that comment – that is one for Fable players to consider…

All in all I cannot wait to hear more as this project develops. It is certainly an adventurous one, and from the early demo I saw – the direction of where Milo can be taken has just barely begun. It is unknown exactly when Project Natal will be launched on the Xbox 360, so it’s unclear how long Lionhead plan on developing this project. I was told the developing team at Lionhead Studios is currently split, with one team working on Milo and the other ‘…working on a secret project, a project that contains 5 letters, and begins with an F and ends in an E’. Fable 3 anyone? Oh Peter, you big tease you!

Anthony Barker

Anthony is the designer, developer and owner of Console Monster. In his spare time, Anthony is a keen gamer who enjoys playing mostly First-Person Shooters and Racing games. When he is not developing games or tweaking this site, Anthony likes to be on the slopes snowboarding or hurtling down off-road tracks on his mountain bike.

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