Genre: Puzzle / Social
Platforms: iOS and Android
Release date: 6 November (was expected 7th November) 2012
Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but it might have given him Repetitive Strain Injury.
In the modern day games industry, hype is king. For better or worse, it has become the Holy Grail of games development. Certainly, it serves as a far better indicator of a games eventual success than any measure of quality, to the chagrin of both journalists and gamers alike. PR and marketing budgets now outstrip, or at least match, that of any other department in the big triple-A studios. Against this backdrop of flash advertising, social media manipulation and rampant merchandising, full of sound and fury, stands the High Magician of hype himself – Peter Molyneux. Though famous for being a great British innovator, he is equally as notorious for his habit of making very large promises, which he doesn’t always manage to fulfil. His eccentricities make him similar to that other, classically British staple – the divisive breakfast treat Marmite. Whilst some portray him as the eternal snake-oil salesman, hoodwinking innocent folk out of their hard earned cash with his grand promises, many of us take a kinder view. His enthusiasm and love of games seems genuine, and the uniqueness of the man shines through in the glimpses of genius in his projects.
After leaving his beloved Lionhead Studios as well as his post at Microsoft as its Creative Director, Molyneux wasted no time in forming a new, independent startup by the name of 22 Cans. This Guildford-based team represents a change in direction for the excitable Surrey boy – away from triple-A games for console to smaller, mobile-based projects. ‘Curiosity: Whats In The Cube?’ is the first attempt by the company to establish a reputation and to try their hand in the mobile space. To this end, they have tried to accomplish something totally different to anything that came before it. The premise of the game is simple: there is a giant, monolithic cube floating in a white room. This supercube is made up of a huge number of smaller cubelets – 64 billion, to be precise. The aim of the game is to chip away all these blocks, one at a time, layer by layer, and get to the centre of the cube. Here’s the kicker though – every user of the app is working on the same cube. That’s right, there is one persistent cube that everybody is working on. Which means, in true Highlander style, there can only be one person to crack the last little brick and reach the centre….
…so what happens then?
This is the true driving force behind this project. Molyneux himself has stated that ‘Curiosity’ is less of a game than it is a social experiment. He has promised (in usual hyperbolic fashion) that what lies at the centre of the cube is “life-changingly amazing”, that it “has to be something that you and me and journalists and consumers and the biggest tappers in the world judge as being amazing.” (Before you get too excited guys, he has already denied it being money or Half Life 3). What he wants to know is, is curiosity enough for people to get to the centre of the cube?
The game revolves around one simple mechanic – tap a cube and it dissolves, with a satisfying musical and visual flourish. The more cubes you tap in a row, the more your combo multiplier increases, and the more gold you receive. This gold can be exchanged at the in-game store for better chisels, bombs etc so you can BREAK MOAR CUBEZ!!1!1!! At some point in the future, it is assumed that the shop will also offer real-money microtransactions for the aforementioned equipment, with a Diamond Chisel allegedly on offer for a measly £50,000 that should all but guarantee you access to the cubes mysterious heart. That aside, however, the game really is that simple – just keep tapping. In fact, it really does struggle to even meet the criteria of what could be considered a game. One does wonder if it’s all a joke, a commentary by Molyneux of the social gaming phenomenon characterised by Zynga’s products or a parody of the Pavlovian mechanics exploited by games like Wow and Call of Duty. I hope it isn’t, because Cow Clicker already did it.
This debut offering by 22 Cans is intended to be the first of a number of similar experiments, all leading to Molyneux using his findings to create some mobile-centred magnum opus. In fact, this makes it quite difficult to review, because it can’t be judged by the standards one would normally apply to games. How do you quantify a social experience? By what benchmarks do you judge a one-off, never to be repeated experiment?
Firstly, the game has suffered a number of launch issues. The demand was higher than expected and so the servers have failed to cope so far, with swathes of people not even being able to connect to the cube. This is unforgiveable, really, as the game was intended to be a mass experience from the start, and was also hyped to the hilt. One understands that the technical difficulty of setting up a single, real-time, persistent gameworld for hundreds of thousands of people is an immense task, but it’s not like the dev team didn’t know what they were getting into. Luckily, it has noticeably improved as time goes on, but it has certainly turned a lot of people off the experience immediately. Once you get into the server, however, the graphics are nice and functional, and watching the deterioration of the cube unfold is fascinating. You could spend hours just poring over the cube, looking at everyones little doodles and graffiti (although, predictably, the proportion of crudely drawn genitalia and curse-words is pretty high!). It was an inspired decision by 22 Cans to omit any sort of chat function, forcing anonymous players to express themselves using only the cube. The hypnotic music and sound effects add to the game, making it a strange and relaxing experience. Also, breaking the cube just feels right, an element that makes a huge difference. In the long run, however, is it going to be enough? The success of this game is going to rely on a few things. First of all, Molyneux has to keep things fresh, and keep the momentum going. He has promised that the experiment will take unexpected turns as it goes along, and has hinted at mysterious happenings as layers are taken away. In recent days he has let loose a torrent of speculation by saying that players are not solely just working on the cube, but that they are simultaneously doing “something else”. Whether this “something” is truly exciting or revolutionary is beside the point – the whole point is in the title. The better our Peter can keep the curiosity up, the better the experience.
Ultimately, however, this game is going to live or die in peoples memories for one thing – the big reveal. Will this game be the turning point of Molyneux’s reputation, the glorious victory over his naysayers? Many of us feel we have had our fingers burned by him in the past, and yet, like ill-treated lovers, we listen to his promises and come back each time, convinced that this time it’s different. Will it be?
- Soothing, hypnotic atmosphere
- Strangely addictive and satisfying gameplay
- Interesting to watch other players graffiti unfold
- WHATS IN THE BOX?!?!
- You just tap a cube. That’s it.
- Hideous server issues.
- The looming possibility of extreme disappointment
Article from Gamersyndrome.com