True fact: pretty much all I do is interview Peter Molyneux. I try to do it as much as possible, because that's the only time Jim lets me out of my box. Coincidentally, Molyneux knows a thing or two about boxes. His most recent one, Curiosity, erupted into a poof cloud of half-truths and forgotten promises, but now he's sweeping them away to reveal a god game that might just be worth getting excited over. Admittedly, I say this with the caveat that Molyneux's swung pretty wide of the mark in recent years, so take his promises to heart with a hefty swill of caution.
That said, he describes Godus as an insanely ambitious massively multiplayer EVE-Online-inspired god game social experiment - a "reinvention" of the genre if ever there was one. Head below for details on multiplayer, crazy god wars, why Curiosity was instrumental in reaching this point, the lessons Molyneux's taking from EVE's successes and failures, and tons more.
RPS: You revealed Godus' "Jupiter" multiplayer functionality... thing. It sounds like a giant god game MMO, but is it actually? Completely real-time, on the same server, and everything?
Molyneux: It’s not really… We’re making a god game here. This is all about the psychology of getting you ready to meet a stranger. The thing about MMOs is, most of the time, what’s incredible about MMOs and what’s frustrating about MMOs is that you end up with World of Warcraft, where you’re joining these groups of people and I feel stupid and dumb because I wasn’t powerful enough and wasn’t ready and all the bad stuff. The pace of it was wrong.
The way that Godus works is that we’ve got this big planet, and I really must think of a name for this planet, but on this planet there are going to be all the people that are playing Godus. Some of these people will load it up and play it once and move on. Their territory will just wither and die out. They’re like a tribe in the Brazilian rain forest. They’re people that will never come to anything. Some people are going to play it obsessively and they’re going to meet some other people very quickly. Other people will just play it in the normal way.
What’s fascinating, though is that it’s not like an MMO, where the first thing you do is meet a stranger. You’re preparing your people to meet this other civilization. When you do meet, that’s when you can either choose to be completely and utterly connected, where instead of you being a single god to your people, you’re now two gods to those people. You can share your lands. If we decide to cooperate together, I can do anything in your land that you can do in my land. But I have to get your permission and I have to give you permission. If we’ve decided that we don’t like each other, we’re not going to get on with each other, we can be isolationists. That means that there’s a border and you can do anything you like on your side of the border and nothing on this side of the border.
But the interesting thing about isolationists is that your little followers have free will. If they want to walk over to the other side, you can’t control them. You can’t tell them to do this. The little followers that you’ve built up may be different from mine, though. They may be more aggressive. They may have more free will. They may want to go over and just beat up somebody else, some other tribe. That is completely down to the people, your people versus my people. Or you can choose to go to war. War means that your people establish a base here, and they’ll start to eat and erode away at my territory. In that way you can eat away at my territory. Both of us have to agree to cooperate, and we also have to agree to go to war.
RPS: So I can just look out my figurative window and see everyone else who's playing the game? And eventually interact with them after I expand enough?
Molyneux: If you scroll across the world of Godus and just keep scrolling, you’ll keep coming across other gods. You’ll see them sculpting. You’ll see their people evolving. You’ll pass over one territory and the followers will have moved into the imperial age, and they will have really tall buildings or have spectacular temples. You’ll pass over another people and they’ll still be in the primitive age, but there will be millions of those peoples.
In a way, it’s just like the planet Earth. We’re sitting in this room in Seattle. At this precise moment in time, there is someone somewhere else sitting around a campfire, and their people have been sitting around that campfire for thousands of years. They just haven’t moved on and changed. We’re the ones that are crazy enough to build these cities. That’s what Godus is like. It is one world where everyone is sculpting together concurrently, and slowly this whole world is evolving. What this world will change into, when everyone links up eventually? I have no idea. But that’s part of the excitement of what we’re doing.
RPS: Could a bunch of different gods band together and wage some crazy god war? Do you have any predefined limits on this stuff, or are you just expecting all-out madness?
Molyneux: Absolutely. That’s the interesting thing. If I choose to cooperate with you, and then we two meet someone else and we cooperate, and we all meet someone else… Eventually this collection of states becomes united. Just like the United States. They’ll call themselves the American people. That’s the way history works. If you look at the map of human history, we’ve gone from times when we’ve been unified, like the greatest empire this world has ever known. It was the Egyptian empire. It lasted for thousands of years. It wasn’t the British empire or the American empire. That collapsed and then another empire was formed.
That’s what I predict, that something like this could happen. We’re just enabling the simplest things. We’re enabling people to build up slowly, safely, in their territory. When they’ve built up enough and they come into contact with someone else, then we know that they know how to play the game. They have unique people. They have enough god powers. They’re ready to engage with other gods. It’s a fascinating, incredible thing. It’s never really been done before. There’s been massively multiplayer games, but we are all individuals. The interesting thing about this is, you’re creating a race of people, which is unique and says something about you as a god.
RPS: How long has this been your vision for how Godus would unfold? If I remember correctly, this wasn’t really on the Kickstarter. Like, at all.
Molyneux: Well, as you can see, explaining this in the Kickstarter, people would have just thought I was crazy. The Kickstarter just said, “Look, we want to go out and re-create what god games are.” I hadn’t told the pledgers anything about this, but you can see why we did Curiosity. The reason we did Curiosity is because we had to test this theory. In Curiosity we had a world made up of 60 billion cubelets. In Godus, we have a world that’s made up of this incredible landscape. The surface area is approximately 60 billion things that you can move around the whole time.
The great thing about Curiosity is that everybody could interact with this cube simultaneously. Everyone can interact with this world simultaneously. That was part of the plan for doing this experiment. You could say that this is another one of those experiments. This first thought I had about this years ago was that if I was going to do a god game again, then making it so that every person’s world meant something, every person’s people meant something to the entire world, it would be a great invention.
RPS: Meanwhile, the god of gods has some degree of control over it all. He can alter the weather, change importance of various items, etc. Sounds like the game could become extremely chaotic and maybe even frustrating - though I have to admit that it sounds kind of interesting as a giant, insane social playground.
Molyneux: I didn’t really explain this terribly well. The god of gods has got this panel. We supply him with this panel. We’re not going to give him the power to do things like, “I’m just going to wipe out everybody in America.” These are… The reason it makes the game more interesting with this god of gods is that he is the most powerful of all gods, and if his personality comes through, it’s something else to be fascinated about.
And I want the community to set him these moral questions. These are the interesting things. Do you think it’s right that the people, when they move into the imperial age, that they’re more aggressive, or should they be more passive? It’s subtle things, rather than big game features. He can’t suddenly say, “There is no war anymore.” He can’t change the balance. It’s just nuances that he can change. And because he’s hopefully something that people aspire to be. People aspire to be the god of gods because, A, they’re going to get lots of money from it, and B, they’re going to be worshiped.
People are already worshiping Bryan. They’re sending him tribute and prizes and stuff like that. That just makes it more interesting. And it’s something that could only be done in today’s world, because everyone’s world is connected. He’s here. He has this very fine line connection to all of you. We won’t let this go stupid, because every week we populate his dashboard with new things that we think are going to be interesting and recommendations from the community of Godus players.
RPS: Are they really sending him tributes?
RPS: What kinds of things?
Molyneux: Funny gifts and… food? They’re sending him milkshakes. He has 20 milkshakes. What’s this guy going to do with 20 milkshakes?
RPS: Milkshake party, clearly.
Molyneux: It is slightly bizarre, I know.
RPS: It’s interesting. It kind of reminds me of EVE Online as far as what you’re doing, in that you lay the framework, and then what players do together and with each other and against each other is the story of the game.
Molyneux: Yeah. And all done with just this incredibly simple mechanic, which is your god powers. Your god powers are all very visceral. I only have time to show off a few. It’s all about things like sculpting and this emergent gameplay. I liked EVE. The dream of EVE fascinated me. The reality of EVE frustrated me, because it was so hard to play. I just wish I was in the EVE club. I wasn’t smart enough or good enough to be in that EVE club. But I was certainly inspired by that.
RPS: Even removing the (admittedly decreasing) inaccessibility, EVE - because of social politics and unexpected, sometimes unfair occurrences - isn't always fun in the traditional sense. Could that happen in your game? Do you think that’s necessarily a bad thing? Or do you think that just makes your own personal story more interesting?
Molyneux: It all comes down to the psychology of communication. This is another thing we tested in Curiosity. If you take away the ability to communicate, what does it do to people’s behavior? In Curiosity, it would have been childishly easy for us to put a little chat board in Curiosity. So as you’re tapping you could chat away. But we realized that would completely change the way people viewed and interacted with Curiosity. Limiting this communication meant that it actually added to the creativity.
It’s the same thing we’re considering with Godus. At the moment, the only way you can communicate with someone is if they’re part of your clan or religion. The big thing with EVE is that there’s so much communication, so much ability for politicking and diplomacy that it gets so exclusive and cliquey. It’s so easy to do that. If you limit that, then hopefully you limit the ability for people to rathole into this diplomacy and backstabbing and stuff like that.
If it’s as pure as these two gods meeting… Up until the point you meet, you cannot communicate with that other person. You can’t send them a message. You don’t know who they are. You have no way of knowing. The only communication you have, before you meet, is looking at what they’re doing. What’s that going to do is that, psychologically, you’re going to have to form beliefs about that other person that’s approaching slowly on you. Beliefs that are maybe not true. Maybe you’ll look at him and think, “Oh, he’s building these very organized cities. "He must be an American.” Maybe he’s not chopping down trees. “God, he must have found something in the game about trees. I haven’t found that. I’ve deforested my entire land.”
That paranoia, that feeling of not quite understanding what’s going on, allows us to avoid this politicking and diploming which can ruin the whole game. Once you meet and once you’ve formed an agreement, when you form an agreement, the only thing you can do is say, “What shall we do?” You have very limited communication. If you decide to cooperate, then you have full communication.
The only other way you can communicate in Godus is by forming a religion and getting people [together]. The religion stuff I haven’t even touched yet, because we’re not releasing it in the beta access. But the planned stuff is going to be amazing, man. It’s going to be amazing. There are so many things we’ve planned, that we just do… We just do a plan. It’s just a way of chatting. This could be so much more.
RPS: It's certainly an interesting approach. Kind of reminds me of Journey on PS3.
Molyneux: Before Christopher Columbus discovered America, we knew there was an America out there. We know there are other people in this universe that are intelligent. Hollywood has spent a long time feeding the paranoia of what we think those other people are. If you judge the movies we’ve made about alien races on our feeling of paranoia, then aliens are going to come down tomorrow and just blow the shit out of us. I don’t think they’re going to do that. I think they’re going to come down and be quite friendly.
All I’m saying is, if I gave you the power to talk to this person at the start of the game, you would talk, and you would start obsessing about talking and making friends. If I don’t give you that power, that allows you to form a view of this person based on what they’ve done, rather than what they’ve said they’re going to do. That is a different psychological approach that you have. I think it’s going to work. Even though it seems stupid not to allow you to talk, taking away that ability to talk – just like when we first met the North American Indians, we couldn’t speak their language. We couldn’t communicate with them. We just thought they were savages because they were living in these straw huts. That’s what our view was, and our answer was to kill them all off, unfortunately. But maybe that paranoia comes up here as well.
Check back soon for part two, in which we discuss a surprisingly fascinating approach to religion, how much money the god of gods stands to make, and single-player - which can, thankfully, be played entirely offline. Also, dog gods.