Curiosity: Peter Molyneux Talks Cubes, AAA Games, Next-Gen, Unity
What’s inside the cube?
Peter Moyneux: It’s interesting to even ask that question because you know I’m not going to tell you the answer. There are sixty billion little tiny sub-cubes, all of which have to be shattered and broken, by people tapping. Now they can power up their taps but essentially that’s a lot of work that the world’s going to go to, so whatever’s in the middle can’t be a disappointment. It’s got to be something unique, original, life changing and meaningful. And it is all of those things.
So it’s definitely already been decided upon?
PM: Absolutely. I wouldn’t have even dared to have done the cube without thinking what’s inside.
Was it an easy process to decide what would be in the centre?
PM: It was a very easy decision as I had inspiration, from how bad it would be for that thing to be disappointing. I have a nine-year-old son and I was trying to get him to do something, and I was trying to motivate him to get him to do it. I found the best way to motivate him was I got him this black safety deposit box with a combination code on the front, and I said to him, ‘There’s something that you would really love inside that box.’ Now this was about a year ago, and at that time I hadn’t decided what was in his box, and so when he finally opened it up it was some cheesy thing and he was incredibly disappointed. So I know from first-hand experience about that disappointment. To a certain extent I’ve always thought about if there was a mystery or if there was a prize, what would be a meaningful prize, I’ve thought about that for years, so in some ways I’ve been thinking about this for a very long time.
Tap these to find out what’s inside.
How long do you estimate it will take for people to get to the centre?
PM: Well, if it was just people tapping once and not being able to power themselves up or chaining them, then it would literally mean that people across the world would have to tap 60 billion times, and that’s a heck of a long time. But because you can power yourself up that means that each one of your taps can take out hundreds if not thousands of cubes. It could be anywhere from a few days to a few months.
We were surprised by Noby Noby Boy, and how quickly people’s collaborative stretching efforts helped them to reach planets like Jupiter…
PM: So that’s why when we were originally considering how big the cube would be, we thought, “Oh a billion, that’s a hell of a lot,” and then we thought well no, it’s not really a lot. If this is downloaded a hundred thousand times and everyone taps on it a thousand times a day, well, you’d need a calculator to work it out but that’s quite fast. It is an amazing experience though. You can just leave it on and watch the whole world decaying it, and watch it being dissolved if there are enough people doing it. We’ve got all sorts of little tricks like, for example, if one of your friends starts tapping on the cube as well, you get a whole load of free coins. You don’t have to have done anything; we just know one of your friends from Facebook is on there, so there’s a lot of democracy going on.
So, what’s the next step once the centre has been reached? Do you just start again? Is that the experiment over?
PM: Well, it depends on what the community wants to do. At the moment there are a lot of people who have said to allow the person who finds out what’s in the middle of the cube to put something else in there and start it again. We could do. It’s a case of wait and see, and in a way development is a bit like that. Now you’re developing part of the game at the start, for release, and then you’re continuing to develop it. Because we’ve got the power to do that it’s becoming more of a trend.
So will this only appear on mobile devices?
PM: No. We’re planning to put it on mobile devices first and then a browser version later. To be honest with you we’ll have to see how quickly it goes. If it goes really quickly then we probably won’t get round to doing a browser version, but a browser version shouldn’t take more than a few days to do.
Earlier today you said that today is “a great time to innovate”. Why is that?
PM: Because there are so many things happening, so quickly. The games industry got very used to – and quite lazy, to be honest with you – about consoles. We’d say, ‘A console has a life cycle, it’s six years, we all hate the start of a console life cycle, it takes so long to acclimatise’. Well, you look at the iPad life cycle; it has a life cycle of about six months. Something new comes out like this every six months, whether it is something from Apple or something from Samsung or something from Microsoft, it just iterates so fast. We have to get used to that as designers.
We can’t just sit in our ivory towers and say, ‘Ah we’ve got another three years before the end of the console cycle and I know exactly what I’m developing.’ That’s not the way we can think anymore. So that’s one side of it, and the other side of it is that this is a perfect storm of technology, like the iPad and new techniques like Cloud and Cloud computing, analytics and multi device play, all coming together at one single point in time. Add to this the most incredible innovation of all – there are hundreds of millions of people playing a game, of some type, at this precise moment in time. You put all these things together and that means we need to innovate. We have to innovate.
So new technology is forcing developers into new areas and into thinking about things in new ways?
PM: Yes it’s new technology and new audiences and new devices, all pushing people to go into new areas. You can see it. It’s true that maybe Temple Run has maybe aspects of Boulder Dash or something, but it’s a completely new take on that experience.
Could this kind of thing happen with triple-A development? Could the next Call Of Duty incorporate multi-device play and the cloud?
PM: I just don’t think triple-A development can afford to ignore all this stuff. It’s got to embrace it. It’s got to embrace the fundamental principle that the day of release is now the day of development. It’s got to embrace the fundamental principle that every hour of the day is an opportunity to look at the balancing of your game and dynamically change it. It’s got to look at the opportunity that people’s persistence mean that people are going to get bored with starting over and over again with a stage one character, and that’s what persistence means. There are a lot of these questions that are there for triple-A development. I think those questions start being asked much, much more significantly when the next generation of hardware comes out, because you can be sure that they’re going to embrace some of that stuff that’s going on in here [taps iPad] for sure.
22 Cans: Working on something “unique”.
Hypothetically speaking, do you think the next generation of consoles could all come with its own tablet style peripheral?
PM: I don’t know. Speaking without any special knowledge in particular, if I was a hardware manufacturer I would be looking and be worried about this [taps iPad] stealing and defining what gaming is. That, fundamentally, console manufacturers don’t want to happen. When you face such a challenge do you look at the iPad and think, ‘Oh we’ll make a better one of these,’ or do you double down on the reason why people play console games? I think it’s a very tough call for them this time around. I mean, it’s almost unthinkable that only a few years ago we would have said that console development is here to stay; that this is the future of the games industry. And now, I read an article only yesterday calling console development a dinosaur. It’s amazing how quickly that’s changed.
The industry is always moving forward at an unpredictable speed…
PM: It is! And one thing I take away from the Unity conference and some of the demos that they’ve showed is that it’s not going to be long before the quality that we see on the consoles is easily capable on devices like the iPad. When that happens it’s going to be fascinating to see what happens to the budgets and everything.
Why is Unity such a good choice of engine for new start-ups like 22 Cans?
PM: The fact that I left Microsoft on the 3rd of March, I walked up the road and walked into my new office at 11 o’clock in the morning, I sat down and installed Unity, and by 5 o’clock I’d had the idea for the first experiment and I had a cube on screen on a landscape and was able to tweak around with it. That’s an amazing iteration cycle. Being able to take that as a designer and not wait for a coding tem to actually code the stuff that is in my imagination is an incredible thing. I’m not saying that you don’t have to do any work – you do have to do some work – but it makes that work an awful lot easier. It takes some of the heavy lifting work out of game development. There’s still a lot of heavy lifting to do, but the dream of a middleware tool is to enable you to focus on the game, and not on everything else.
So is 22 Cans going to stay at the smaller scale, indie end of the development scale, or are you planning something larger, on the scale of Fable, later down the line?
PM: We’re working on a big game, and it’s got aspects of games I’ve worked on before, and it’s very, very unique and very, very different. It’s our one, single big idea. It’s not Fable 4, I can promise you that.
Is Unity able to shift between those two ends of the development scale?
Well, fundamentally Unity could be a viable tool for making something like an RPG. The modular way that it works is pretty good. I don’t think Unity is a limiting factor in that sense. Developers will always moan about a tool of course, but Unity is pretty good. The most important thing about Unity is the passion for making games the community has.
So when you were actually using Unity yourself, what features stood out?
PM: I really loved the editor. I loved the ways that all the variables were exposed so I could tweak them as a designer afterwards. I liked the prefab idea. I liked the way that it interfaces very cleanly with C# and scripts and programs aren’t limited. There are lots of things to like. I don’t like the source control stuff. I think that could be an awful lot better. Some of the GUI interface stuff needed improvement too, but they’ve shown a lot of those improvements today.
Does this picture await us in the centre of the cube.
What, specifically, is good about the program for 3D artists?
PM: I think that if you use Unity to its full, then allowing 3D artists to do more of what they will be good at, and less through a programming team – because, you know, a lot of times a 3D artist will want to do something but need a huge amount of code support to do it – and it’s quite useful to have something like Unity to help with that. If there’s a way for artists to visually move things around and decide on things like camera angles rather than it being traditionally coders, that’s a lot better. Also Unity can allow the people who position cameras and the people who position lights to tweak the artistic side. That’s very powerful.
Do you still consider graphics to be an important part of where we’re going in the future?
PM: Yes. I mean, all you have to do, and what you should do, is every year your magazine should publish the state-of-the-art in-game viewpoint, going back to, say, 1990 to present day, just to see the incredible steps forward that we’re making, and how primitive even a scene three years ago looks today. Project where that’s going to go and it’s amazing.
Will 22 Cans be developing for the next generation at all?
PM: We have plans for all formats. I think the trouble with next generation is, traditionally, it takes a long time to get the development machines, and also it takes a long time for those machines to have a big enough user base. So, we may support it but it may not be for a little while.
You also said earlier today that developers need to think a different way about development. How so?
PM: It’s just that a lot of the foundation stands that most games are built out of – games that we made twenty years ago – whether it be levelling up or progression or the way we tell stories or even the way we position cameras; a lot of that stuff is no longer like a foundation stone, it’s more like a millstone. A lot of our mechanics are built in a way because we’ve been dealing to the same audience who we’ve been educating. Well now this audience is completely different.
It’s an audience which is actually far more used to camera and film metaphor rules that have been embedded in our mind over the last 75 years, than they are used to game rules. So I just think that that means we have to go back and we have to think in a different way. We have to think in a disruptive way about the motivations that we give to people to move through an experience; we have to think in a disruptive way about how we reward people; we have to think in a disruptive way about how we keep things fresh in people’s minds.
Fable: Definitely not 22 Cans’ next project.
It’s unfortunate that games take so much from cinema when they’re capable of doing absolutely anything we can imagine…
PM: Well they take a lot from cinema but the only problem is that it hasn’t yet taken the really super skilled people from cinema. A lot of my cinematic attempts have been very schoolboyish because we’re talking about years of refinement and experience to make just the cameras. Lighting alone, we’re rubbish at lighting! Mos games are rubbish at lighting. They’re not lit! They’ve got one or two spots and one ambient. If you go on a film set they’ll spend days getting their lighting right just for one two second shot. So games are at school when it comes to presentation, and the way we present drama we’re still at kindergarten.
David Cage is definitely trying to push games in a more mature, cinematic direction though…
PM: Yes, and what he’s done is interesting. It also highlights problems, it highlights problems of when you can’t dress a set or you can’t light a set. The great thing in film is that you know where the camera is, so you know where every light needs to be. You can see some of these problems coming out in even the best of games. What David Cage does it brilliant – I loved Heavy Rain – but could it be better? For sure. I think he’d be the first to say that. I admire the steps he’s taken though.
How difficult is it to be genuinely unique in today’s videogame industry?
PM: Sometimes the most horrific thing is for someone who’s supposed to come up with an idea, to come up with an idea! Personally I find it extremely hard to say, ‘Oh I’ve got to come up with a game idea in the next twelve hours.’ And then other times you could be doing the most bizarre thing and some seed of an idea comes out of you from nowhere. I think with innovation is the first thing you do is you take that idea and you ask, ‘Why would this be great to do?’ For example, with this cube idea the thing is that I love a mystery.
The inspiration came from the JJ Abrams TED talk – I’d love to know what’s inside the box. That would fuel me to do something very powerful and then to think it through: ‘How do I do it? Shouting, screaming, hitting, punching, tapping or whatever, then you gradually iterate around that idea before you dare say it out loud to anyone, until you’ve got the rough edges off and it’s at least practical. Anyone can say, ‘Hey let’s do a game idea about speaking on stage,’ but that doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s the implementation of the idea that’s crucial.
Get more on the latest creations and computer graphics news over at 3D Artist Magazine.