Monday, 12 November 2012

Curiosity- Enter the Hypecube

I'm fairly late to the party on this one, because I've been really conflicted over whether or not I should write something about Curiosity. Not because I'm unsure about the project itself, or because I feel it would be unfair to judge it when the whole thing's suffering from so many teething problems. Nah, it's because I genuinely believe there are better things I could be doing with my time. Cleaning my room, for instance. Or perhaps eating biscuits while staring at the wall. These also happen to more entertaining and fulfilling pursuits than actually spending minutes of my day with this inane block clicker.

Fuck-all of interest, no doubt
For the blissfully ignorant, Curiosity is the latest blue-sky concept from the mind of Peter Molyneux. Billed as the first in a series of experimental titles from indie studio 22 Cans, Curiosity presents you with a white room and a giant cube. When the first players logged in back on Tuesday morning the shape was black all over. Tapping it zoomed you in to reveal that it was made up of millions of tiny, breakable squares that could be cleared by tapping the screen. Since, naturally, clearing away millions of squares by yourself would be a bit of a task, we're all happily battering away at the same cube in real time. Soon large patches of green peppered each side, as more players joined in with the fun and started adding their own patterns. People were getting creative, as the swathes of flaccid cocks, swear words, and warped smiley faces proved. By the time I managed to battle my way through the server issues to become the 16,825th person on the cube whole sides of it were nearly cleared.

For about five minutes it threatened to be some kind of vaguely interesting community drawing experiment. Tapping away squares has a nice tactility to it, coupled with some relaxing chillout tunes it becomes almost soothing. I zoomed in to what seemed like a blank patch and imaginatively scrawled out the word "Hello". That was immediately wiped out by some marauding tapper blowing chunks out of the area. Oh, well fair enough. Zoom out and pick another bit. Think I'll go bigger this time. Really take this graffiti wall concept to heart and tap out "Fuck" in giant letters. Yeah, that'll turn some heads. Well it certainly wasted a couple minutes, and as I zoomed out and realized you couldn't see it from any real distance anyway, dwarfed by the shapeless scrawls of other players, I had to ask why I'd bothered.

Though I'll admit tapping this out made me smile.

 Of course by now the first layer's been peeled away, revealing a picture of a lava lamp. Tapping away at that told us the next layer was red. Fascinating. It's been widely reported that something "life changing" lies at the centre of this monolith, but only the player who taps away that final square will get to see it. So we're all co-operating in a race against each other for some unnamed prize, hidden under an unspecified number of cube layers? Quite apart from sounding like the world's shittest gameshow concept, you have to ask what Molyneux could possibly have to offer that would change my life in any meaningful way? Given that it's already been revealed as a video link, and that the man himself admitted it wouldn't point to wear he'd buried a suitcase full of money, I'm really scratching my head.

This has been widely billed as some sort of large-scale social experiment, one whose data will provide the basis of 22 Cans' next release. I can't for the life of me work out what this experiment is attemtping to prove, unless it's perhaps working from the hypothesis "How many otherwise sensible punters can we get tapping this cube for hours on end?" Judging by the number of folk downloading it, and the subsequent server crash it's caused, the answer is clearly "Too fucking many". Is that useful data? Perhaps it's a variation on the infinite monkey theorem. Will a million gamers tapping at a million screens eventually produce something other than scribbles and dicks?

The game's technical issues aside, auld-Pete's clearly relying on the pull of this overdone mystery box routine to keep people tapping away until it's done. But he should have learned from shows like Lost that when people put time into waiting for a resolution to your mystery, they tend to get pretty pissed when it ends up being nothing of interest. This'll be a bigger problem when only one person gets the resolution, especially if the cheeky beggar decides to keep it to themselves.While I don't doubt there are going to be a few hardy souls sticking it out to the end, the vast majority will give up once they've satisfied their curiosity and realised that the game offers nothing but pointless busywork for no reward. Sure there's some kind of coin system there for tapping away enough squares, which you can spend on tools to, er, tap away slightly more at a time. That's just another layer of the deceit on offer, tricking you into believing this is a game that's worth the hours you're expected to put into it.

It is none of these things stop lying

But it's difficult to even think of this as a game. The closest comparison I could muster is with is the National Lottery. It's equally competitive, with everyone hoping to win that jackpot, and co-operative, as there'd be no jackpot unless we all kept buying tickets like the gambling sheep we are. But at least the lottery has more than one actual life-changing prize, often revealed several times a week, and as a player you're not expected to waste large chunks of your time playing insipid minigames before they'll crank out the numbers. Just buy your fucking ticket and wait. Pretty simple, pretty effective. Perhaps 22 Cans can look into that model for their next release.

Maybe I'm being too cynical here. A whole chunk of the games press have had a great time writing about this over the last week, and I must admit to thoroughly enjoying CVG's ongoing blog about the progress being made, packed with funny speculation and pictures. But there's the problem with this project: following the progress of it is proving to be more fun than actually participating. I'm presuming I won't be the only person to have downloaded Curiosity, given it five minutes before tossing it, but with the intention of keeping tabs on how it's going as time moves on. I'm willing to bet that'll be an ever-growing crowd over the coming days.

Maybe Curiosity is the purest form of Molyneux's special formula of "interesting in concept, disappointing in practice" we've seen so far. But when the man's output is properly overlapping with that of his twitter parody, you've got to start asking questions. I'm all for experimental ideas in gaming, but this kind of thing pushes the envelope just a little. One has to wonder what exactly we'll see from his studio next. And while there may have been many better ways for me to spend my time than typing up this fairly ill-formed rant, I know some poor souls will have probably spent that same time tapping away on the cube. And if nothing else, that makes me feel a whole lot more productive than I really should.

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