Peter Molyneux – and to some extent, his fictional alter ego Peter Molydeux – has been talking about the first project from his new company 22 Cans. Currently named Curiosity (though soon to be renamed due to clashes with the Mars Rover of the same name), he unveiled it for the first time at the Unity 2012 conference, that featured live gameplay footage and a little explanation about some of its incorporated features.
Some of it seemed clever. Some of it innovative, but to me, the whole package smacked of some of the worst trends in gaming at the moment, combined into one awful looking 'game'.
Let's take it at face value. The entire game as we know it, is based around a cube. It's black and seems to hover by itself in a featureless white room. It's bland, but that's ok, this is likely to be a resources thing since the Cube is made up of millions and millions of smaller cubes – in what is very reminiscent of early physics demos. That's a lot for a device that sits in your hand to deal with. Plus, this makes the meta-cube the focus, which makes total sense.
The entire goal of the game – as has been revealed so far – is to use your tablet or smart phone to tap the smaller cubes, which causes them to explode and dissipate, removing a small section of the meta-cube's outer layer revealing the layer beneath; In the demo, a stark white in contrast with the black exterior.
If you haven't seen the video yet, you may be wondering what else you'll be able to do. Ultimately, if we break it down to the core gameplay of Curiosity, that's it. You break pieces away. It's deeper than that in some respects, but in terms of real, player interaction, that's the entirety of this project.
While it might seem like I'm hammering that point home a bit much, I think it needs to be highlighted, because despite all the extra bits found within this game, its lofty goals, we need to come back to this point – there's no shooting, no strategy, borderline no-gameplay – apart from tapping blocks.
So what's the point? Mr Molyneux and his team have made this a big social game. That's right you'll be able to team up with friends, family and people from all around the world to work together to get to the centre of the cube, inside which, is something “life changing,” that will be given, or experienced by the one person that gets to the centre first.
For a quick bit of speculation, this “life changing” thing must be something that 22 Cans can do and afford. It could be something as simple as a big cash prize. It could be a job at the company, free games for life perhaps? Immortalise the winner in a new game universe? It's hard to suggest what big “life changing” things a game developer can do really.
In the debut presentation, Mr Molyneux talks about motivation. Why would people play this game? Why bother tapping at all? Well it plays a little bit of music each time you tap and the graphics are elegant, despite being monochromatic.
So it's a pretty, audio title then? Like Audiosurf or one of the Bit.Trip games?
Molyneux said different people have different reasons for playing. Some like to be artistic and take certain blocks away to make a picture. Others apparently enjoy working with friends to tap away more blocks.
So it's like Minecraft?
So we have a musical-ish game, where you're working together with others in a minecraft-ish format to remove blocks and create holes and pictures within a big cube. Fair enough that'll amuse people for a short while but what's to keep them playing. There's no real gameplay there. You're not building skyscrapers, or listening to your own music in new and innovative ways. You're just tapping.
So we come back to Molyneux's question. What's the motivation? Levelling up.
That's right. Tap away slowly and you're just removing blocks. Tap fast and you begin to get combos. Go faster and faster and maintain this rate and you improve your stats and earn gold.
But what does that let you do? Something cool perhaps? It lets you buy tools for limited periods of time to break more blocks more quickly. If you thought tapping and removing one block at a time was fun, just imagine how awesome it is to remove five or 10 at a time.
So here we have a game that has very little in the way of gameplay, human addiction exploiting features - make no mistake, that's what level up mechanics in mobile games really are, all based around the concept of having an incredibly small chance of winning a vague “life changing” thing.
Molyneux has created a lottery that awards addiction.
But let's put that aside, and say that the game works. People play it. There will absolutely be a problem with griefing. If you've ever seen a 4chan Youtube attack, or been present when a rampant team killer destroys your perfect run on an FPS, you know these people are out there. Their fun comes from ruining yours.
Why would this be any different?
Curiosity is designed to connect millions of people together. How long do you think it will be, before a dedicated group tap out the word “Cunt” in giant letters across one of the faces? Or begin drawing giant, block removed cocks? That little project of yours and your girlfriends to make a flower or whatever it is? That'll be defaced and destroyed. Within minutes.
Molyneux did mention players being able to buy ownership of certain parts of the cube, so those will be protected perhaps, but good luck otherwise.
But hey, this could represent a great advertising opportunity for a company. Simply hire a few hundred people for an hour to tap away in a purchased corner of the cube and you have yourself a pretty high profile advert. The first one to appear on the cube will guarantee news coverage from major tech blogs as they discuss the ins and outs of unwarranted in-game advertising.
Still, if all this tapping and working together with people sounds like a lot of effort, don't worry, you can purchase all in-game tools with real money. Some of them massively powerful, like the hinted at Diamond Chisel, that will literally cost $50,000. The reason it's so expensive however, is because anyone spending money on the game will become a backer of the big project this one is building up to.
This is a pretty innovative and interesting idea. Rewarding people that buy virtual tools with something more real. That's a nice touch, I'll give you that. It also needs to be said, that It will be interesting to see what the cube looks like after a few days or weeks.
And in that respect, I get what Molyneux is going for. If you look at this as an experiment to see what people do, if you consider Curiosity as a way to test features that will be incorporated into something bigger and better, it makes sense. That, I understand.
But I really don't think it's going to be a great game. Not even close.
Hey I may be wrong. We don't know what the whole package will be like until it's released in September, so I reserve full judgement until then. Am I excited about the launch though? Not in the slightest.
Curiosity in its simplest form, combines incredibly basic gameplay with level up mechanics designed to trick your brain into thinking it's doing well and progressing through something. It'll have artists thinking they're doing something unique by spelling out a latin word in missing blocks. It'll have idiots ruining what limited fun there is, by messing up what they made or drawing a picture of a penis next to it.
To top it all off, one person will get something cool at the end, while everyone that didn't win will wonder why they put so much time into tapping blocks that make a little “plink” sound when they did it. Over and over again.
I'm curious to see what becomes of Curiosity, and still interested to see what Molyneux is working on for next year, but as a game, this one looks like a bust.