Almost two years ago - given that I've experience of writing both TV comedy and writing about video games - I was approached about working on a TV show based on Fables Legends.
A lot of being a writer is getting messed around by producers and production companies. Big promises hardly ever materialise, emails go unanswered, decisions seem to be dictated by the weather. And nobody is ever entirely straight with you. It's dispiriting and tedious, but you do get used to it, and after a while start greeting most potential jobs with a shrug.
With this in mind, my brief experience with Fables: The TV Show - due to be a co-production with Steve Coogan's Baby Cow - was pretty much par for the course. Big promises, unanswered emails, and then silence. It was about a month after their last email that I read online that Microsoft was scaling back its TV plans.
Suffice to say... a Fable TV series is now even less likely to happen.
If you haven't heard, Microsoft has cancelled Fables Legends, and closed its developer Lionhead Studios (along with Danish developer Press Play Studios).
In a statement, Hanno Lenke, general manager at Microsoft Studios Europe, said this: "These have been tough decisions and we have not made them lightly, nor are they a reflection on these development teams – we are incredibly fortunate to have the talent, creativity and commitment of the people at these studios."
You might be aware that Lionhead was founded by a certain Peter Molyneux (among others), a breakaway from Molyneux's own Bullfrog. It was bought by Microsoft in 2006, and since then it has focused almost exclusively on the Fable franchise, barring a few cancelled experimental titles.
Molyneux left the company in 2012 so he could spend more time upsetting people, but the controversial figure's shadow continued to loom large over Lionhead. It looms even now over the studio's closure. Inevitably, many are speculating that the seeds of the company's demise began with the over-promising Molyneux, while others on Twitter seem to be labouring under the misbelief that he was still there at the end, and can now "take his lies elsewhere".
What exactly happened? Fable Legends was intended to be a major release for the Xbox One - a free-to-play multiplayer RPG. Players were already adventuring in the world of Albion via a closed beta (with an open beta due to go live this spring). There were previews as far back as three years ago, which talked in positive terms of the lush world, and promising gameplay. Indeed, I was privy to a ton of very impressive material when I was oh-so-briefly involved. It was a long, long way into its development.
So... seriously... what happened? Why would Microsoft suddenly cancel a game that had been in development for something like four years, and appeared to be close to completion? Why would they flush all that money and work down the obscuri-hole?
Admittedly, I was never a massive fan of the Fable series - it all just felt a bit Discworld-y and sixth form comedy troupe to me - but what I knew of Fable Legends had me interested.
In a market that is becoming ever more homogenised, the sense I was getting is that Fables Legends was idiosyncratic, deliberately tongue-in-cheek (the macguffin players were to quest for was called "The Moon On a Stick"). The literature I read described it as "Pythonesque" (which could've gone either way, admittedly).
What's more, Microsoft seemed to have faith in it, and was planning to go big. Indeed, if they were planning an Xbox Live TV show based around it, that seems to indicate it was being set-up as some sort of tentpole game. It's hardly something that would suddenly implode after four years of development.
Aside from this being crushing news for everyone at Lionhead, it's also terrible news for the British development community. With RPGs taking themselves more seriously than ever, stripping the corpse of Tolkien like there's no tomorrow - and then filtering that material through a trans-Atlantic translation matrix - something different, something defiantly British, would've been very welcome. It's also a major PR stink-up for Microsoft.
By all accounts, nobody at Lionhead appeared to be braced for this abrupt turn of events, so there are likely to be some angry and upset people out there. With that in mind, there's no doubt that the truth will start to emerge in the days and weeks to come.