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22cans' lead game designer talks about Curiosity and moving forward to Godus

Gary Leach is the lead game engineer at 22cans, which you probably know by now is game designer Peter Molyneux's experimental startup aiming to put together 22 different game experiences before actually releasing a full title. So far, 22cans has favored the iOS and Mac platforms with their releases: Curiosity is their first experiment, and it launched on the App Store to both great, well, curiosity, and even some complaints about server outages and bugs.

But the game is better now, says Leach. "It's going really well," he told TUAW today. "In some ways we're kicking ourselves for planning it so badly, and we had some big decisions to make on whether we're going to take the thing down or try and poke through this." In the end, however, 22cans decided to update the game -- they released version 2.0 this week, and Leach says "the community feel is still just amazing."

At this point, Leach says the game's popularity has essentially leveled out. People come and go, and he says a lot of users will come back occasionally just to see how the game is doing. But there are about as many people leaving the game as arriving, so while the numbers are obviously down from launch, they're steady at the moment.

Aside from the technical bugs, Leach says one of the hardest things about the game has been balancing its casual and hardcore audiences. In-app purchased items in the game are sold for hundreds of thousands or even millions of in-app coins, and Leach says that "the range of motivations" to earn that currency "is enormous. These beginner types will come on and earn a few thousand coins and think they've done well. But the hardcore audience, 100,000 coins for them is no work at all. So how do you balance that?" Leach says that's the main crux of the conversations during Curiosity's development, and that "a lot of it came down to who's going to be on middle marker and how much they can earn."

Users continue to tap away at the big cube in Curiosity, but 22cans and Leach have moved on to the next experiment, a "re-imagining" of Peter Molyneux's original god game, Populous, called Godus. The team has headed to Kickstarter for funding on this project, and Leach says that's because while Curiosity was the kind of experiment that was meant to say "hey world, we're here," Godus is more involved, and it's "the kind of title that potentially publishers may not have gone for."

Not much is known about the game, but it will allow players to warp the geography of a virtual world, as well as oversee virtual citizens living and fighting in various battles together. Currently, 22cans is hard at work on a prototype of the game, and Leach says the prototype is mostly being developed on Mac and iOS (the studio has also announced that the final title will be available on Apple's platforms as well). But the current prototype, according to Leach, is only code "that we are using for our own internal evaluation process. None of this code is going to go into the final product. This is code that's going to get binned."

So Godus as a finished project hasn't even started yet. As a developer, Leach says he's very excited to work on it, however. He started "kind of midway through the Curiosity project," and says he "was spending the first few weeks trying to catch up to what we were doing." But Godus, on the other hand, is more his speed. "When we first started talking about Godus, that's when I thought this was the product I was meant to make," Leach says. "I'm doing something here that is going to run beautifully on mobile devices and is going to look as good as a desktop game."

Godus' Kickstarter is up and running now, and with about seven days left, 22cans has picked up just under three-fourths of the money it's asking for. But Leach's enthusiasm is still very strong. "There's so many reasons to be excited."

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