Remembering Paul McLaughlin

I still remember the first time I ever played Syndicate. It was a demo that came with a copy of an Amiga magazine (remember those kids?). My memory is hazy but it was most probably Amiga Format, issue 48 from July 1993, priced £3.95. The seventeen-year-old me didn’t have a clue what he was doing or even what he was supposed to be doing. He was just running around with his cybernetic agents and shooting anything that moved.


That Syndicate demo disk blew me away… as I was blowing the dozens of NPCs away in it. I didn’t know it at the time but that demo would have a lasting impression on me. But it wasn’t just the violence in the game that grabbed me… even when I did blow up a car and people were running around engulfed in flames. It was how it looked, Blade Runner-esque is how it would be looked upon these days. Yup, there was most definitely a strong influence from Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece in Syndicate.


Anyway, those graphics, the isometric camera, the tiny but detailed characters. The mood and atmosphere of the game were second to none at the time. Paul McLaughlin was the man behind those graphics and he really created something special. Syndicate was just one of many games that Paul lent his amazing talent to. Back in the nineties, Bullfrog were one of the best software houses going. Co-founded by the infamous Peter Molyneux, Bullfrog was knocking out great title after great title and Syndicate was just one of them.

Paul McLaughlin began working at Bullfrog back in 1990 and designed the graphics for most of their games. Theme Park, Powermonger, Magic Carpet, Dungeon Keeper and of course, Syndicate, to name a few. Those games and their graphics were amazing, games that have stayed with me for decades. When Bullfrog eventually went the way of EA, Peter Molyneux set up Lionhead Studios and Paul McLaughlin went with him.


At Lionhead, Paul once more provided art for their titles. The divisive Black & White and yes, the big fan-favourite of Fable. Paul’s fingerprints were all over those titles and he gave each a unique and memorable look. Paul helped make Lionhead the studio it was. Then when MS took over at Lionhead, Peter Molyneux left and opened 22 Cans. Yes, I know but let’s not let petty gaming hatred get into this memorandum.

Anyway, of course Paul moved over to 22 Cans too and he was the head of art and helped shape the look of Godus. Personal feelings and the ‘quality’ of the game aside, it certainly had an eye-catching and distinct look at the time. A throwback to the Bullfrog classic Populous but with a few modern twists.


Paul McLaughlin had a career in gaming that lasted for thirty years. Sadly, Paul died in December following a battle with cancer, aged fifty-seven. I just wanted to write a few words in remembrance of a man whose talent and work had a much bigger impact on me than I first realised. Those games I played for hours and grew up with. Syndicate being a title that I still have a major soft-spot for even twenty-eight years later.

Paul created a world and art style in that game that I still feel is very impressive now. In fact, I’m off to play some Syndicate as soon as I press publish in this article. Paul McLaughlin’s death leaves a gaping hole in the gaming industry and one that can never be filled.


“Paul was a huge cornerstone in my life. He was a professional, moral and funny person who had the ability to see the fair and sensible approach in any situation. I miss him every day in every way. His legacy will be felt and seen for a long, long time.”

– Peter Molyneux

What ever happened to Peter Molyneux?


As a kid I loved playing games, but I mainly stuck to the basic platformers, shooters, etc. You know those easy to pick up and play games on the Amiga 500 like IK+, Bubble Bobble, Xenon II, Batman and others. Simple arcade games that were just quick, fun, mindless romps you could get through in a short amount of time.

Then one day in 1989, my elder brother came home with a copy of a game called Populous. Quite unlike anything I had seen before and thought it looked rather dull and uninteresting. There were no big aliens to blow up, no cars to drive, no guns to shoot. The game just was not my cup of tea at all.
Still, I saw how much my brother was enjoying Populous so thought it could not be all bad and decided to give the game a try on a whim. After a while the game grew on me as I slowly started to learn and understand the concept behind the game…quite unlike anything I had played before and Populous was the one game that got me interested in something other than inane action games. It was also the game that got me thinking about how much work goes into a game and not just the game itself. I became curious as to how a game like this was made, who made it and why?
Populous opened my mind to other gaming genres I had previously ignored.

With Populous, Peter Molyneux gave birth to the God Game genre and became a gaming god himself. Around this time, Peter was the King Midas of the gaming world and went on to create and produce some of the best games ever with titles like Syndicate, Theme Park, Theme Hospital and of course Dungeon Keeper all from Bullfrog, a development company Peter himself founded along with Les Edgar.
Bullfrog was eventually brought out by Electronic Arts. Peter decided to leave and later founded Lionhead Studios…and this is where the demise of a once amazing game designer began.

Lionhead Studios produced some “interesting” games but they were often over hyped, delayed and never delivered on their promises. Games like The Movies (a previously cancelled title from Bullfrog called Theme Movie Studio) was a welcome return to Peter’s roots with elements of his earlier work like Theme Park, but the game just felt empty and lacking in so many ways.
There was also Black & White a return to the God Game genre but again, the game was over hyped, delayed and just did not deliver on what Peter promised…this happens a lot from this point on.

Lionhead Studios biggest, most ambitious game yet was announced. A title, while in development called Project Ego. Project Ego promised to be a huge open world RPG where you could do anything you wanted, go anywhere you wanted. A game that Peter promised would be a revelation in the RPG genre. I remember Peter talking about being able to plant trees and they would grow over the timeframe of the game. It was all things like this that was to add a level of awe to the RPG genre.
Project Ego went on to become Fable…and what a Fable it was. As the dictionary defines the word Fable as being: an untruth; falsehood. To speak falsely; lie. Idle talk. In a way, that is exactly what Fable was…a lie based on idle talk and falsehood.
What we got from Fable was not the game Peter described and promised. Did we have the huge open world? No we had small singled off areas with little to zero exploration. Did the game have a “do anything” concept? No, it had a very restrictive and linear concept.

The release of Fable was roughly when us gamers had enough of Peter’s “promises” and even Peter himself would acknowledge his own failings…

Peter Molyneux: “After Fable, there was a pretty dark time where people looked at the game and compared it with what I said in the press, and they felt cheated. I realised that we just couldn’t keep on doing that.

But he did keep on doing exactly that…several times…
Fable spawned two sequels and while Fable II was a slight improvement over Fable. It still was not the game Peter promised and still lacked so much. Then along came Fable III and took several massive steps backwards and managed to be even worse than the original Fable by taking so much away from the player, replacing a simple menu system with the dreaded Sanctuary. A god-awful “Co-Op” mode, restrictive interactions…the list goes on. Yet just as with previous games, Fable III was promised to deliver so much to us gamers (watch Angry Joe’s Fable III pre-release interview and count the blatant lies).

Maybe Peter’s ideas were just to advanced for the technology we had at the time, maybe this open world RPG where you could do pretty much anything you wanted just could not be made on the machines we had…well no. I point you towards Bethesda Game Studios Elder Scrolls games; Oblivion and Skyrim as both of these games were more inline with what Peter promised with his Project Ego concept. Just try to imagine Skyrim with it’s open world, deep character creation and development, everything Skyrim offered…but with the character and humor of Fable…that is Project Ego.

Still, while Peter’s lies and deceit were bad. Do you know what was worse? The fact we gamers kept falling for it. Even after so many broken promises, even after disappointment after disappointment. We kept on buying the games and believing Peter.
Why did we keep doing this? Probably as many of us remember when Peter was a game creating god…he made Populous. We still believed Peter could make great games and even deliver on what he says, even after the countless times he has not.

Eventually, Microsoft brought Lionhead Studios and Peter moved on once again.
So what would Peter do now, open another big time development studio? No, he went the other direction and got back to his roots by forming 22 Cans, a small, independent game studio that would make smaller yet better games free from big business bondage. It was ideal..or so we hoped anyway…

22 Cans first “game” was a title called: Curiosity – What’s Inside the Cube?
Curiosity was described by Peter as being an “experimental social experiment”. Which sounds about right as it certainly was not a game at all. Curiosity’s setting was a minimalist white room with a floating cube in the middle made up of billions of smaller cubes. Players tapped the smaller cubes to get through the surface of each layer and reveal the next layer below.
The ultimate goal was to reach the center and to discover what was inside the cube. Each smaller cube that was destroyed by a player would award them coins. Coins which could be exchanged for tools that would enhanced the player’s abilities for a set period of time, such as various picks ranging from iron, steel and even diamond that would increase the number of the smaller cubes destroyed with each tap.
Essentially the game was nothing more than just tapping on cubes…this from the same guy that created Populous.
So, what was inside the cube? Well I’ll let Peter tell you…

Peter Molyneux: “What is inside the cube is life-changingly amazing by any definition.

What actually was inside the cube was far from “life-changingly amazing by any definition”.
The “game” was won by Bryan Henderson from Edinburgh and what did he win that was “life-changingly amazing by any definition”? Well, nothing at all.
He was supposed to win the ability to be the sole, all-powerful, digital god within 22 Cans upcoming release of Godus and to receive a small portion of all of the incoming revenue that is brought in by the game.
Bryan received none of this, just more lies from Peter.

22 Cans second game was: Godus, hailed by 22 Cans as being the rebirth if the god game.
Godus was also not without its controversy. Being a Kickstarter funded game it (and just like Peter’s previous work) was not the game promised to investors and gamers. With many people who paid via Kickstarter being hugely underwhelmed by the game and demanding their money back as they were just being outright lied to over the whole project.
Godus was far from “the rebirth of the god game”. It was more of an insult to the genre…and this from the man that created the genre to begin with.

After the release and backlash from Godus Peter has been quoted as saying…

Peter Molyneux: I’m going to stop doing press and I’m going to stop talking about games completely.

No Peter, instead of just “ignoring” the press and deciding to not talk about games. Why not just be truthful?

From Populous, the birth of the God genre in gaming. To Godus, an insult to the God genre in gaming and despite of the lies, deceit and delays. I personally still have faith in Peter Molyneux, I still believe he has great gaming ideas in him, I still think Peter has yet to deliver his opus.
The same man that created the god game genre with Populous and produced the amazing Syndicate, the same creative mind that gave us Theme Park & Hospital also brought us Dungeon Keeper…made a “game” where you click small cubes. How times have changed eh?

Instead of burying his head in the sand, Peter should answer his critics and give us a great game that delivers on the promises. It’s been over a decade since Peter announced and talked about Project Ego, it’s been over a decade since Peter disappointed millions of gamers around the world with Fable. Technology has advanced, so why not bring us Project Ego now? I know Microsoft now own the Fable IP so Peter can not use it, but there is nothing stopping Peter from creating an all new IP using his Project Ego concept.

Peter M quote

You made plenty of great games Peter…just not in the last 20 years.

You know, I still play Theme Hospital to this day, as well as Populous and even Dungeon Keeper (original, not that terrible iOS insult). Do you know why? They were and still are great games with rewarding gameplay, great mechanics and overall good, solid titles.

Can we have that Peter Molyneux back?