Thursday, 8 November 2012

Curiosity - Thoughts

Peter Molyneux, the mad prophet of videogames, has released something unexpected, bold and daring - an HD remake of MS Paint.

For those who don't know of Peter, he was the driving force behind Bullfrog, the dev giants that were responsible for some of the finest games of the 90's (Theme Park, Theme Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, Syndicate). After Bullfrog were acquired and slowly digested by EA, Molyneux founded Lionhead, who were responsible for the almost-masterpiece Black and White before being swallowed by Microsoft and concentrating on the Fable series, two of which were great, finished games.

Now Molyneux is free, working with tiny studio 22 Cans to pursue his two great passions - making thought-provoking games, and making absurd, outlandish, overreaching promises about those games that can never possibly hope to be achieved. The big pitch about this one - clumsily entitled 'Curiosity: What's Inside The Cube' - is that one person will find something "life-changing" inside the cube. Unfortunately, I am writing about this long after all the good jokes about what may be inside the cube have been taken (a quantum cat, Gwyneth Paltrow's head, the Lament Configuration, etc). In future I shall endeavor to be faster, or at least better.

Before this enigmatic ultimate prize, however, comes the game itself. Each layer of the main cube (hereafter called the Hypercube in honour of a film that barely anyone has seen) is made up of billions of cubelets. Players tap on these and they disappear in a tinkle of chimes and pixels. If you are the lucky person to take out the final cubelet on the final layer of Hypercube, you win (something)! I downloaded it and booted it up. From my time with the game so far, I would hazard a guess that what is inside the cube is a fucking error message.

I know 22 Cans are but a tiny studio, and they have a mammoth task managing such a massive undertaking as maintaining a persistant online hypercube totally live, but it was (and at the time of writing, still is) frustrating not to be able to access this thing due to slow servers. You would think that Molyneux would have had some idea of the limits of the 22 Cans server infrastructure and limited his ambitions somewhat (although if you know anything about Molyneux you know that limiting his ambition is not in his programming).

When you do finally get into the cube, you zoom into one facet of the Hypercube and start tapping those cubelets. You tap and tap and tap and tap. You tap more than Fred Astaire installing a row of kitchen sinks. There are chaining mechanics that reward you for sustained tapping. You can log into facebook and howl your tapping prowess at your friends. You can compare your tapping with their tapping. You can buy upgrades to really take your tapping to the next level. Other than that?

Not a lot. It's possible to tap well enough to sculpt an image into the cube. As with any creative endeavor, penises are a popular choice. I have limited art skills, but I would have been remiss, dear reader, if I did not at least try. I would have been failing the possibilities that Curiosity provides, I would have been failing the spirit of citizen journalism, I would have been failing both you and I.

But that's all down to tapping. You might be able to create a nice recreation of a Bosch triptych, but it will take a shitload of tapping. There isn't enough here, despite the chaining mechanics and grand promises and whispered threats of more to come, to justify what boils down to a tapping-based Skinner Box with dodgy connectivity.

I was online when the first layer of Cubelets was annihilated, when the second layer was tantalizing close. "Less than half a percent to go!" I tapped a few cubes. And a few more. Then a bright white light, and a noise. Then a connection error. When I got back in, there was the cube. Get tapping, it seemed to say.

I tapped on my 'home' button.

Curiosity: What's Inside The Cube is out now on Android and iOS, and is free.

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