The release of 22Cans' Curiosity on Tuesday is surely one of the oddest ever to grace Apple's iPhone and iPad app stores. A collaborative massively-multiplayer game, Curiosity has a necessarily limited lifespan, by the end of which, there will be a single winner – if winner is the right word … this remains far from clear. What is obvious, though, is that this is an app as peculiar as it is ambitious.
Launch Curiosity – what's inside the cube (to give it its full name) and you are presented with a single monotone cube floating in a barren room. Touch the cube, and the in-game camera adopts a fly's-eye view, zooming right into one of the cube's faces. From there it's apparent that the cube's surface is composed of myriad tiny cubes. Touch them, and they disappear. The goal, then, is to whittle the cube away to nothing.
The catch is, underneath the first layer is another layer, of a different color. Beneath that, there's another.An hour or so ago the cube was steel-gray. It's now a verdant green thanks to a lillipad motif, and the layer to come is slowly revealing itself as deep crimson.
And the cube is so big, that to remove every cube would be beyond the wildest expectations (and perhaps feasibility) of any one player. Luckily, it isn't down to one player.
"There is only one Cube in the world," the in-app rules state, "and the state of the Cube is stored on our servers. Subject to latency, the Cube appears the dame to all those in the world taking part."
In fact, 22Cans bills Curiosity as an experiment (one of 22 to be released, ahead of a single, final, magnum opus) and a competition. The winner is whoever is lucky enough to remove the final mini-cube. It is to them only that the game will reveal its secret: the cube's contents.
At the time of writing, 10,352 players were actively tapping away at the cube. Nearly 200,000 users have used the app, destroying over 102 million cubes so far. To put that into some perspective, nearly 99 million cubes remain on the current layer alone. Users earn coins as they chip away, which can be spent on tools and bombs for more rapid destruction. One imagines the closing stages of the game will see a spate of opportunistic bomb detonations, as players try to maximize their odds of taking out the final mini-cube.
The gamers among our readers, assuming they haven't heard of 22Cans already, will not be surprised to hear that the company is led by the enigmatic and sometimes controversial Peter Molyneux, whose works include Populous, Theme Park, Black & White and the Fable series.
Molyneux has earned something of a reputation for not quite delivering on lofty promises (largely, in fairness, a result of even loftier ambitions), and so there has been skepticism in some quarters that the contents of the cube may prove rather less "amazing" than 22Cans claims. That being the case, Molyneux may yet get lucky. The winner might choose not to share. For everyone else Curiosity is simultaneously a compulsive's wet dream, and worst nightmare.