Looking at his career over the last decade or so, one could be forgiven for thinking that Peter Molyneux had somewhat lost his way. In the 90s, as a member of the legendary Bullfrog, Molyneux worked on genre defining classics like Populous, Syndicate, Theme Park and Dungeon Keeper. More recently, however, he’s become known for being the man who makes promises that he can’t keep – from Black & White to Fable, none of his later output has quite matched up to the hype surrounding it, leaving Peter stuck at Microsoft making Fable sequels which could charitably be described as “disappointing”.
Peter understood this, I think. And honestly, he could have called it a day, retired and gone back to playing games made by others. Instead, Peter got restless. He quit the safety and security Microsoft to set up a new, independent studio called 22 Cans, who are now working on something that only loosely falls under the category of ‘game’. Genius? Or insanity?
The answer, it would seem, is a little bit of both. Speaking at Rezzed, Peter describes the moment he decided to leave Microsoft. Curiously enough, it started with a video.
“I have to be careful,” he adds, “I get very emotional about this”
When the lights come back up, Peter talks about how this video made him realise that he’d lost the very spark of invention and discovery that made him want to start making games in the first place. It’s not often that you get to see a world renowned developer talk so openly about his failings, and his story of rediscovering his curiosity is genuinely inspiring. Perhaps more surprisingly, the increasingly famous Twitter parody account @PeterMolydeux was also instrumental in Peter’s decision to leave Microsoft. Unshackled by what Peter calls the “Corporate P.R. Machine”, the anonymous figure behind Molydeux is free to come up with crazy, outlandish, often hilarious game ideas. “I don’t think I deserve to be parodied by him, to be honest” Peter admits, rather humbly.
So, what’s Molyneux doing with his new-found inspiration? Well, naturally, he’s making a game. But not right away. First, 22 cans are going to do a few experiments – 22 of them, to be precise, focusing on creating the technology behind their game, making the gameplay enjoyable and getting into the psychology of the player. So far, they’re only talking about the first experiment, labelled Curiosity.
Curiosity, or The Cube, is based around one simple question: ‘What’s in the box?’ Running on Android, iOS and PC, the ‘game’ is deceptively simple. Players across all three platforms will tap on a single, persistent cube, gradually chipping away at its surface. As you tap, you’ll level up, enabling you to clear larger areas of the cube. The trick is, they’re also selling chisels that will power up your tapping even further, via in-app purchases. Basic chisels will sell for practically nothing, but the top-end Diamond chisel costs – wait for it – $50,000.
That’s right. Fifty thousand dollars. Molyneux admits that he doesn’t think anyone will ever buy this. “Clearly it’ll be Notch” said the guy sat next to me. 22 cans aren’t expecting to make any money out of these chisels, though – it’s just another layer of depth to the experiment. Eventually, after an unspecified amount of taps, just one player in the world will reach the center of the cube, and it’ll be down to them to share what they found.
But what’s in the center? “Something absolutely incredible” says Peter, “Something life-changingly important.” The audience laugh. “You think I’m exaggerating” he retorts, “But it’s true!” Dangerous words for a man whose name is, for many, synonymous with over-ambition and disappointment. And yet Molyneux seems confident, even cocky. “It’s not a dead cat,” he jokes,”Or a rickroll”. The cube will be available on the 22nd of August, and Molyneux expects to have the second experiment, revolving around co-operation, ready to go once the cube is finally cracked.
Clearly, this experiment is full of risks. What if everyone blows through the whole cube in a day, leaving Molyneux with no significant results and no next step? What if the center of the cube doesn’t live up to the hype? What if the person that finds it refuses to share or – worse – doesn’t understand? All of these and more could become serious issues, but the very fact that Molyneux is willing to take those risks speaks wonders for his revitalised curiosity. There’s a real sense that, no matter what happens when the cube is released, Molyneux will have learned something valuable – and hopefully, so will we.
After his presentation, I found Peter standing in the lobby of the Brighton Center, chatting to a few audience members. He’d promised to show anyone who came along the working prototype of the cube on his iPhone. “That might have been a bit of a mistake” he says, looking at the growing crowd surrounding him. However, a look of panic spreads across his face as he realises that he’s left his phone – full of sensitive data – on the podium in the presentation room. As he runs back to grab it before someone prank-calls Bill Gates, I find the whole thing strangely heartwarming. The fact that Molyneux is so passionate about what he does that he could forget something like that is clear proof that he’s back at the top of his game – inspired, curious and ready to entertain.
You can watch Peter’s full presentation from Rezzed HERE, and I thoroughly recommend that you do so.