Wednesday, 14 November 2012

A warning to the curious

First things first- I like Peter Molyneux. He gets a lot of flak from some gamers but a games industry with figures like him in it is far more interesting than the one without. Yes, he may oversell his games prior to their release, trailing features that never see the light of day and I'm sure that makes him a nightmare for his employees. However, his games are always interesting and, at the very least, they stoke debate. As if the Internet needed any stoking.

After leaving Microsoft/Lionhead earlier this year, he formed a start-up company by the name of 22Cans. Its first game, Curiosity, was released on iOS and Android a few weeks ago. It has a very simple premise - there is a cube, covered with hundreds of millions of small tiles. Players chip away at these tiles, slowly over time revealing the layer below. Layers feature artwork and 'Guardian Eye Witness'-style photographs, alternating between plain layers but those are the only changes in 'play' from one layer to the next.

The cube has many, many layers - no one outside of 22Cans knows how many - and, at the very centre, there is an, as yet unknown, prize. And that's where the game gets its title - all the players are chipping away because they are curious as to the cube's contents and want to win it for themselves. One of the key concepts of Curiosity is that all players worldwide are chipping away at the same cube, held on 22Cans's server, with only one possible winner (increasing the curiosity still further). In some ways, this makes it is a lo-fi version of Ernest Clines's book Ready Player One, with Molyneux's spoils only available to the ultimate winner. All he says, with uncharacteristic coyness (yet still managing hyperbole - quite a feat), is that the contents are 'life-changing'.

I doubt that they are but still...chip-chip-chip.

There isn't much 'game' here. Playing it, even with multi-tile destroying bombs, firecrackers and super-chisels that you can buy with the gold coins that can be uncovered under some tiles - is quite a laborious and monotonous task. It's not really much fun. You can write short messages, if you have the patience, or if you have lots of patience you can use the removal of tiles to create simple pictures.
The Internet being what it is, at times the cube has essentially looked like a school blackboard without a teacher in the class - there have been lots of drawings of cocks.

My daughter's addition to Curiosity.  I'm so proud

To be fair, incidences of cock-art have decreased over time. My theory is that this is because, as the numbers of players has increased, you have less time to create art - basically, there's little worse than another player chipping out your midsection halfway through your Penis de Milo.

I really don't think Molyneux and 22Cans have created a game in Curiosity. Molyneux has taken his artistic leanings to their logical conclusion - this isn't a game, it's an interactive art installation. I became a lot more comfortable with the app when this realisation dawned on me. We - all the tens of thousands of players - are just elements in this installation (and I have no problem with this). That installation will reach its completion when one of us reaches the middle. And then we'll find out what it was all about.

If anyone is having a 'game experience' out of Curiosity it is 22Cans itself. On one level, this is the ultimate god game - 22Cans has its world (the cube) and we, the players, are all the little workers in it. Given Molyneux's creation of the original Populous back in the 90s, he has come full circle albeit on a much grander scale than was available in 16-bit days.

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