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Peter Molyneux is notorious for overpromising -- for enthusiasm and bluster. Even knowing that, seeing him speak last month at Unity's Unite conference in Amsterdam was an experience. He was even more excited than he usually is to talk about Curiosity: What's in the Cube?, his first game -- or as he terms it, "experiment" -- with his new startup mobile developer, 22Cans. This interview was conducted soon after that whirlwind presentation concluded.
You can see why he doesn't call it a game. Curiosity presents all of its users with a single large cube made of small squares. Each square will disappear with the single tap of a finger. There are layers upon layers of these squares -- so many that Molyneux predicts it will take months for players to get to the middle. The person who taps the final square -- and only that person -- will get to see what's inside the cube.
The game is a prelude to whatever 22Cans is planning for its "big game", which Molyneux is closemouthed about. In this interview, however, he spills the beans on the inspirations and technology that he's looking at, as well as discusses what's going on with the evolution of the triple-A console industry he abandoned when he left his post as Microsoft's European creative director.
I guess what struck me the most about your presentation was that you were even more enthusiastic than usual -- which is kind of over the top.
Peter Molyneux: This is not me enthusiastic. I just tried to tone it down because it's so exciting, what I'm doing. It's amazing. It's amazing. To go back to those grass roots again, and to go and get your hands so incredibly dirty from fiddling around, and then be playful with all these crazy technology, and bring together a team, and try to persuade people to invest in you, is amazing. It's incredible -- an incredible sensation.
Do you feel like you were too far away from that creative place?
PM: No, no, not at all. Microsoft was an incredibly supportive place, and they really supported my creative idea. But the freshness of the approach -- you can be unbridled about what you approach, whether it be the Ouya -- "Oh, maybe I'll develop for that!" or whether it be "Let's use analytics in a different way." That is the incredible potency of being a startup.
There's also this incredible fear, because you can, of course, jump on any bandwagon, which may end up crashing and burning by the time you've jumped on it. But I'm incredibly passionate, and incredibly passionate about the team. Brilliant team.
You mentioned that you're recruiting from outside the game industry. I'm sure everyone's asked you about this, but what does that bring?
PM: Fresh perspectives. So often, in life, when you get used to do something one way, it's very hard to persuade your brain to do it in another way. Whether it be brushing your teeth from left to right, or whether it be "I write this sort of game," or "I design in this sort of way."
And if you're just trying to think in a different way, then having people around you who have never thought in a way that you've thought just means you're far, far more likely to discover something you didn't know existed.
Part of my belief is, at the moment, there's a lot to discover. There's a lot to discover about cloud, and persistence, and multi-device, and linking people together, and analytics, and a lot to discover about bringing them together.
And when you've got people that you're sitting next to who have never designed a game before in their life saying, "Oh, you know, I don't understand what 'leveling up' means." You'd never question that as a designer if you were working in an old place. It's that fresh perspective which is so fascinating.
Do you find yourself questioning everything because you're being exposed to questions?
PM: I think I find myself learning from everything that I see on devices like this. [indicates iPad] I'm realizing that learning causes me to question an awful lot. I mean, so much is happening in such a short amount of time! Free-to-play was going -- well, I don't know who invented it, but it was certainly used by Zynga. And then everyone said, well, free-to-play wouldn't happen, and then now it's happened completely, and now everyone is panicking that free-to-play is the only way that people will pay.
Analytics came along, and people like Zynga said oh we just hire people, you know analysts from the City [the financial industry], and we thought, "Oh, well that's that solved. You have to go and hire bankers." And then somebody realized, "Hang on a second, why don't we use analytics to balance the game after it's out?"
All this stuff is happening incredibly fast, and all these experiences are being pulled together, and all these audiences are coming up. And it's an incredible time -- an incredible time to work with people who have done everything from children's books, to scripts on TV programs, and bring them in, and get them to think -- and make you think in a different way about a game.