The lights are on
This weekend was exciting for Peter Molyneux, his new 22 Cans studio, and a flood of people interested in the conclusion of the Curiosity project. More importantly, with Curiosity behind him Molyneux can turn his full attention to 22 Cans' next endeavor, the Kickstarter success Godus.
We spoke with Molyneux about the next steps in Godus' development, how Curiosity winner Bryan Henderson will shape the experience for other players, and where and when we can expect to get our hands on the new title. When we caught up with the Populous designer, it was clear that there was a lot of activity at 22 Cans. "My head is spinning still from the ending of Curiosity," Molyneux said. "What's even crazier is that today is the day we are scheduled to launch the alpha for Godus. It's insanity at the moment."
When Molyneux woke up Sunday morning, he checked in on the cube's progress, and knew that it would be the day the project reached its climax. "There was a slight denial in my mind," Molyneux admitted. "I didn't want to lose Curiosity, in a way. I wanted people to find out what was in the middle. I would get up every morning and check on Curiosity, and there was this slight feeling that the end of something was coming. It was mixed emotions."
The trouble with projects like this is you can never perfectly time the ending. Molyneux originally had plans to be out of the house for most of the afternoon, but made arrangements to ensure he was available when Curiosity concluded. "We came home, and I had enough time to make a Thai chili soup. So there's this mad thing going on, and I was making the soup as Curiosity was coming to an end. Things were boiling over and burning, and it was an amazing time."
Molyneux's description of how he anticipated the end of Curiosity reminded him of another life-changing event. "We just really didn't know [when it would happen]," he said. "We thought it would be roundabout this week. It was impossible to say, because like a child being birthed, you have this date in your mind that that's going to be it. It's either before that or after that, and it kind of sends you into a bit of a spin. That's certainly how it felt."
Now that the project has ended, and Bryan Henderson has been made aware of his crucial role in the development of Godus, we spoke about the way forward for 22 Cans. The alpha will go out to approximately 900 Kickstarter backers within the next day or so. A couple of weeks after that, the other backers entitled to the beta can join, with the possibility of Steam early access coming afterwards. While those players won't immediately feel the influence of Curiosity winner Bryan Henderson, plans are already in for the Edinburgh, Scotland resident to make his mark.
"[Bryan's] reign – the reign of the god of gods – will last for a certain period of time," Molyneux explained. "It will be no less than three months, and he'll be ruler for probably no more than a year. At that time, we then allow him to be overthrown. The world can come together to overthrow him, or they can keep him on. His role as ruler is to make certain moral decisions about the game, about what is right and wrong in the game. It is to change the balance of things to his whim. It's all done through an interface that we provide just to Bryan. He doesn't have to code or anything like that. He's got his god control panel, through which he can influence things. He can send out his commandments to everyone in the world, or he can choose certain segments of the Godus world. That allows him to choose favorites, or give out local commandments. During his reign, he will get a percentage of every penny that comes to 22 Cans."
The studio is also planning for the possibility that Henderson might abandon his throne before being overthrown. Molyneux is prepared for a world without god. "That's an enduring question that mankind has asked itself since the dawn of time," he said. "He can resign. He can even delegate his reign."
Curiosity winner Bryan Henderson
Molyneux explained why the details aren't yet concrete. "To keep it secret, I had to not involve the coders here," he admitted. "It was such a burden to know the secret. This feature hasn't been coded yet. All of the technology that allows this to happen has been experimented with in Curiosity. The problems that we've solved actually, Curiosity was testing out the ability to do this. There aren't many apps that connect so many people simultaneously and that give the ability to change an individual user's experience or the whole. If Bryan wanted to resign or if the world rebelled – I'm not explaining how to overthrow Bryan because I don't want the world to obsess too much about that – there will be a tangible way of overthrowing him after the safe period."
Molyneux's determination to see the Godus project succeed transcended the Kickstarter campaign. Though obviously grateful for the support of backers, he assured us that had the campaign fallen short, 22 Cans would have found a way to make Godus a reality. With Curiosity out in the open a month before the Godus Kickstarter met its goal, Molyneux and company were able to take the path of least resistance. "We wanted to find about 20,000 that we could develop Godus with," Molyneux explained. "That was the most important part for us."
We also asked Molyneux about his view of Curiosity as an experiment and how that perception might not be mirrored by the public now that the link to Godus has been revealed. "The thing about Curiosity is that it's a mixture of things," Molyneux clarified. "I would say that every game you do is an advert for the next game, because you're only as good as your last game. That terrifies me, because I think that Fable III could have been better. Curiosity tangibly was an experiment. That was one of the strong things with Curiosity. There was no chat board, no way to communicate other than tapping. I can point to things in Godus that have changed because of Curiosity. In that sense it was a pure experiment. People found out this way to communicate."
Molyneux gave a particularly compelling example of how communication was used during Curiosity's life. "We had these fascinating things go on," he said. "People told whole stories on the side of the cube. This is one harrowing but wonderful example of how people communicated. Somebody drew two skyscrapers. Someone else drew a plane crashing into the skyscrapers. Someone else drew little people falling out of windows. Someone else drew 'God save America.' We learned that there was this fascination when you give people these tools. Less is more. We needed to experiment with that and with defining new experiences on the local, regional, and global level, because that is something we needed for Godus itself. Finally, we needed to experiment with this one big thing, which is motivation. What motivates us as human beings to do things, especially in this digital world? If you are going to make a great game, then thinking about what motivation is and how people are motivated how much you need to hold their hand or lead them. That was part of the experimentation."
In his explanation, he was both confident in his defense of Curiosity and conciliatory about the perception of the project. "If you play the alpha, you'll find there are no quests in the game, and that's specifically what we learned from Curiosity," he said. "It is true that the prize in the middle is about Godus, but the idea of that prize didn't come about because of Godus. It came about because of the realization that we could connect people together and we could have one person that has an influence over everyone else's game. Yes, I see people's point about Curiosity being an advert. The story of Curiosity isn't over, it's just changed into Godus itself. I agree with people that 'experiment' is an imperfect word, but 'game' definitely isn't the right word. I did struggle with that."
Right now, Godus is planned for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. Molyneux told us that he hasn't ruled out consoles, but he did express concern over the input devices for Xbox One and PlayStation 4. As for Wii U, which has a more compatible control option and an environment that has been very friendly to indies, Molyneux didn't commit but offered some hope, stating simply, "I don't see why not."