So then, cubes. Admittedly, they’ve been closely associated with games before, but during E3, Peter Molyneux told us about his ambitious plan to think outside the box by putting a mysterious item inside a box. As is typically the case with the extremely excitable mind behind Populous, Black & White, and Fable, it all sounds gleefully insane, and it showed in his blindingly sunny demeanor. Today, though, we discuss darker, more sinister things. Social games, for instance, and indie developers’ place at the kiddie table during shows like E3. OK, fine, we also discuss more cubes.
RPS: One of the things I noticed, you’re talking about how you want to connect to everybody with the final game that you’re making. Meanwhile, social gaming is, er, existent, and it’s basically horrible at being, you know, social.
Peter Molyneux: Oh, I totally agree with you. It’s only called social gaming because it’s on a social platform. It’s not called social gaming because there’s anything you really socialize about. It’s quite the opposite of socializing. There’s not many examples of social gaming that I really feel connect me and my friends.
And actually, part of the cube experiment will be when you realize that it’s your friends as well that are tapping on one end of the cube. I suspect that Apple will make it easier and easier for us to do that, just by the sheer number of patents that they’re taking out to deal with connecting people and multiplayer stuff. Because we all want to play together with our friends. Even just using Facebook to do that, I personally find it a bit clumsy at the moment. It should be the easiest, most delightful thing to do.
RPS: Right. It’s such an ubiquitous tool, and so a lot of people look at it, even from the more traditional gaming industry, and they say, “Well, there’s huge gaming potential there.” But I’m of two minds on that. Yes, it’s a very ubiquitous tool, but on the other hand, the means of social interaction are very disjointed. Especially in these games, it’s usually asynchronous. You never actually directly interact with somebody.
Peter Molyneux: Sorry to keep going on about the cube, but you hit the nail on the head… I think it’s going to be an amazing feeling to realize that this cube, in real time, is cracking, just seeing thousand of these little cracks appear. So, let me show you… I think I’ve got the app here [pulls out an iPad with a mock-up of the cube’s UI]. This is the surface of the cube, which you chip away. After we’ve released it, a few weeks after we’ve released it, we’re going to show all the people that are tapping at that particular point.
To be able to see that is an amazing feeling, just to know that everybody is doing what you’re doing. And that’s the most insanely simple experiment. Everyone just tapping. If that can be exciting, just imagine what a game could be. Having that sense of community with you and your true friends. And this is another criticism of Facebook: my Facebook isn’t my friends. It’s those people that send me friend requests, and I think a lot of people’s Facebooks are in a way polluted by [extra noise]. Facebook isn’t friends, it’s a combination of friends and followers, for a lot of people. And I think there’s some true excitement there.
RPS: That reminds me of, in a roundabout way, Journey on PS3. It’s a very different form of communication. There was no direct communication – just interaction.
Peter Molyneux: It was a little bit like Noby Noby Boy. They tracked, globally, how long this thing was. I thought even that is the simplest thing, but somehow you felt [connected]. There were other people at least trying or doing what you were doing. I thought that was fascinating.
RPS: Yeah, it’s really neat. And it’s interesting that both of those games came from traditionally “big-budget” publishers. This year’s E3, meanwhile, is acknowledging the indie “scene” a lot more than previous years – even if that’s still not particularly huge in the grand scheme of things. Is that encouraging, especially given that you’re almost living proof of this confluence between the two sides? You said, “Okay, I want to do something else, so I’m going to go do it.” Do you think, going forward, we could see more people who are in your position opt to go for something like that?
Peter Molyneux: Well, you know, here’s the thing. And I think it was Bill Gates that said it, years ago, the person he was most worried about was the person in his garage, working on an idea. At the moment, there is so much exciting stuff for all of us to get our hands dirty on. The cloud and cloud computing and persistence and big data and analytics and multiplatform and touch – the list is incredibly long.
And it’s very hard, if you’re in these big supertanker-like teams of 200 [to dig into these new opportunities]. I mean, some of the Ubisoft titles that are on show here have 400 people working on them. It’s very hard to be nimble and experimental with 400 people. And for me, just for me – I’m not knocking a big team at all – but for me, if you want to invent something, if you want to create something that’s never existed, you want to use all this stuff, then indie is the place to do it. You just cannot do it when you’re under some other umbrella which has got some other big corporate focus. It’s just very hard to do.
Spiritually, I feel more at home in that indie scene, and I am absolutely sure that the next big thing, the next big social thing will come from an indie developer. The next smart, amazing, incredible idea that uses this technology will come from an indie developer. The next way of, the next step forward of what we think of as the first-person shooters will come from an indie developer. There’s no doubt in my mind about that. I’m not saying that indie developers have some special magic. Rather, the very fact that you have to do something amazing to survive as an indie developer means that you’re far more likely to develop something incredible.
What’s difficult, very difficult, is that I think big console games have gotten [the bulk of the spotlight at E3]. And personally, I think that you’re going to find that the indie development scene, or what you call the development scene that does apps, will undoubtedly want something shown [at an event like E3]. Maybe in a year’s time, maybe in two years’ time, we’ll be sitting here and there will be a whole show about that. At the moment there are examples of that, but it hasn’t all come together yet.
RPS: The word “indie,” though, lately I’ve found to be sort of problematic. It’s gained its own connotations beyond just independent development. It’s become retro-style graphics and platformers and minimalism and this sort of thing. It’s almost reactionary to big-budget games, in a lot of ways. Or advertisers co-opt the word to manipulate. For instance, I’ll get press releases every once in a while that are like “Check out this indie game! Support the little guy or you’re a bad person!” And let’s not forget the EA Indie Bundle…
Peter Molyneux: I know what you mean. The title “indie” shouldn’t be an excuse, an excuse for lack of quality, an excuse for laziness, an excuse for rehashing an idea. I don’t think indie games are about rehashing ideas that were invented 40 years ago. I think it’s about being dangerous and experimental and showing you things that are just insane and crazy, but just might end up being the next big thing. Nothing against retro-style graphics and nothing against retro-style gameplay, but that’s not why I’m doing it, for sure.
RPS: Speaking of ridiculously inventive indie stuff, you ended up attending a Molyjam, right?
Peter Molyneux: I went to the one in London.
RPS: It’s sort of interesting that the Molyjam turned out fairly similar to what you’re doing [with your 22 experiments]. In both cases, the driving idea has been “Here are a few unifying ideas – now experiment with them.”
Peter Molyneux: I loved it. Molydeux, the guy who inspires all that stuff, is infinitely smarter and cleverer and more witty than I’ll ever be as a human being. But those 140 characters that he puts out there, puts his ideas in, just prove that if you can turn a basic concept on its head, then these amazing things can start happening. I’d call that more indie than anything else. I loved the Molyjam stuff, I thought it was incredible that three weeks before Molyjam started, someone just tweeted, “Why don’t we get together and do a jam, and that turned out to bring all these countries together.”
That’s amazing. How did you get the whole… There were 22 sites! And so I thought it was amazing, brilliant, and inspirational. But the sad thing is, a lot of these ideas [only got 48 hours of attention]. And this is a problem with jams: The first thing is that they’re only 48 hours, it’s amazing to see what people can do in 48 hours, but the big sadness is that some of those seeds that could turn into amazing things then end up just littering the floor. So what I would love to do is see, I don’t know, four, five, six of those turned into actual titles that were developed and that love is poured into.