Curiosity: Buggy As Hell, But Still Strangely Captivating [Review]


My God. It's full of cubes.
My God. It's full of cubes.

This is Curiosity, a free iOS game from British gaming icon Peter Molyneux. The idea is that all of us – everyone playing the game – work together to peel off layers of cubelets that make up the larger revolving cube. At the center, a surprise (and a prize) awaits the person lucky enough, and determined enough, to tap on it at the end.

Only two people in the whole world know what’s at the center. Do you care what it is? Do you care enough to spend hours tapping on your iDevice to find out? No, really: hours.

From the start, there was one really glaring problem that I ran into again and again. This:


Repeatedly, for days and days on end, I was unable to join the game. Sometimes I could join, and play for bit. Then if I stopped, even just for a minute or so, the game would stall on my return. I’d be back to retrying and retrying to get back in. That gets boring pretty quickly.

Let’s put the performance issues to one side, though, and talk about what it’s like when you have managed to get into the game world. You’ll see the cube floating in mysterious white emptiness. You can dive in and simply start tapping on cubes until your fingers get tired. As you tap, you’re rewarded with coins that float up in front of your face. Whimsical floaty music plays in the background.

The idea is this: the cube is made up of millions of smaller cubelets arranged in layers, like an onion. Only when every single cubelet of one layer has been tapped away will the next layer be unlocked. As the layers go down, the cube gets smaller, and the prize locked at its centre gets closer.

So this is a shared virtual space. This is a massively multiplayer experience.

The problem of data latency keeps popping up, though. It’s not just limited to gaining access to the game, it also appears while you’re playing. Zoom in until you see the tappable cubelets, then start tapping. Perhaps you might start tapping out a pattern (something you’re encouraged to do). I started work on a rather nice looking Space Invader. Then without warning – zap! – half the cubes visible on my screen vanished: they’d never been there in the first place. But it had taken the app a minute or so to download that information and display it to me. Too late for my Space Invader.

Now you don’t see ’em…

The result is an experience that’s infuriating, rather than entertaining. The repeated crashes do nothing to improve matters.

After realising what was going on, I did some tests. After zooming all the way in to a cube face, I’d pinch-to-zoom out slightly, to get a better view of the gaps and the not-gaps between. Then I’d wait. Sure enough, anything from five to 30 seconds later, the view would suddenly change.

Put simply, Curiosity struggles to keep up with the pace that it’s users are playing it at.

… now you do.

Talking of users: where are they? If this is a live multiplayer environment, why can’t I see other people’s work as it happens? How do I know that I’m the only one tapping on these particular cubes at this particular time? I expected to have the sensation of working alongside others, but all you can see is the empty cubes they’ve removed. There’s no embodiment of the other players. It feels like a ghost town. There is a community here, but it’s documented elsewhere.

When you clear a screen’s worth of mini cubes, you get bonus points. But this clear screen bonus takes no account of how many cubes you just tapped on. So if you start with an empty screen, move it just fractionally to expose a single line of new blocks, and tap them away – boom, you get another clear screen bonus! Even though you only cleared a line, not a whole screen.

Earning bonus points gets you more coins, and you can use the coins to buy upgrades and extras. Viewing the global game stats costs you 100 coins. At the time of writing, three layers of minicubes had already been tapped away, and there were 45104612 left. That’s a lot of taps.

Buy more stuff!

I love the idea of Curiosity, and I enjoyed many of Peter Molyneux’s games in days gone by (I spent weeks playing Populous). To my surprise, I found Curiosity more addictive than I thought it would be. But: the poor performance and glitches really get in the way.

By way of a happy ending, it’s clear that Molyneux and his team are very aware of the problems and are working on fixes. They posted this video a few days ago:

I like the way Molyneux calls this an “experiment”, because that’s exactly what it feels like. It’s not a game. It’s not a virtual world. It’s an experiment. If the bugs and glitches can get fixed, there’s still time for it to reach some interesting conclusions.

Source: App Store