Ladies and gentlemen, I officially caught the Minecraft bug. If you consider this for a second, it was inevitable. I am a massive nerd, and this game is like crack to my people. I resisted it for a while, but eventually it was stronger than me. And honestly, this is probably the best €15 I have ever spent. Or, you know, $20 which is I believe what it turned out to be at the current exchange rate.
I assume that everyone present already knows about Minecraft, right? No? What do you mean, no? Who are you, how did you find my blog and what rock have you been living under sir? Welcome to the internet, I guess… You must be new here. Very well, for your convenience I shall explain.
Minecraft is an independent sandbox game made more or less by a single guy which is estimated to have already made him over 5 million dollars. Enough to quit his day job, hire some employees and make development of the game his full time job. Cause, you see, the game is still in beta stage, and it’s author is constantly updating and adding new features, which everyone who has already purchased the game gets for free.
It looks like this:
I see some of you recoiling in disgust. “Look at the size of these pixels” you say “there is no way this game was made in 2010”. That, my friends is by design. It is just the graphical style that Notch (the creator of the game) chose for his world. You have to remember that this game started as a solo hobby project, and it did not have a team of graphic artists to design it’s meshes and textures. And even if Notch had an army of designers at his disposal, a photo realistic Minecraft simply would not work. You see, the cubical blockyness of the game is the central concept that binds the whole game play.
You start the game in a procedurally generated world, made out of cubical blocks. Everything you see is made out of cubes – the sand on the beach, the rocky mountain, the grassy knoll, even that tree in a distance. Every single block is fully destructible, and upon hitting it several times it will usually pop into your inventory leaving a cubical hole where it was located. You can put any other cube from the inventory into that hole… Or for that matter anywhere else in the world. So, you can dig a hole in the ground and then use the dirt to build yourself a little dirt hovel. Or mine some stone and built a huge stone tower. Kinda like I did here:
The cubes neatly stack together and fit perfectly without gaps or overlaps. This mechanic is positively brilliant. Mining and stacking blocks is so simple, intuitive and straightforward that it takes only a few seconds to grasp. It is easy to learn, but difficult to master which is how games are supposed to be after all. The thing is, that this mechanic would simply not work with photo-realistic graphics. There is no way you could make stacking elements so easy and so seamless. It would either look ridiculous and out of place, or be much more complex and difficult to figure out.
But that’s not all. Minecraft as the name suggests has a very complex crafting system. You can combine the cubes you collect in the world to make a wide rage of better cubes, tools, furniture or various other items. For example, you can combine some sticks with some stone to make a stone pick in order to mine more efficiently. Or you can build yourself a furnace from mined stone and use it to bake bricks from clay in order to make brick cubes for your brick house. Here, for example is the interior of my house with furnishings and what not:
Or you can make yourself a sword and a bow to defend your newly created house from zombies.
Yes, there are zombies in this game. And skeletons. And bunch of other monsters, chief assholes of which are the exploding creepers who absolutely love to blow up your carefully built constructions. They all come out at night with only one purpose in their life: to fuck your shit up. They are fairly weak and they move slowly, but they can be dangerous in larger groups:
It is a game of exploration, crafting, building and survival. You need to build structures to survive, you need to craft in order to build, and you need to explore in order to find crafting components. And you have to try not to die while exploring. All of these separate game play activities are simple and intuitive but combined create a very complex experience. There is always something new to do in the game. There is always something there to keep you playing. When you are bored with building you can go foraging or mining. When you are bored with that, you can craft stuff and prepare building components. If that gets boring you can make yourself some weapons and armor and go exploring the world. Chances are you will come back with pockets full of rare and useful components you can use for building and crafting… Or you can just amuse yourself with totally juvenile stuff:
Much like my beloved Nethack, Minecraft has that “infinite replay” value. It is a pure sandbox with no plot, no story and no ending condition. Each time you start a new game it procedurally generates a totally random world for you to explore and build over. Not to mention the fact that Notch is constantly adding new crafting formulas and new block types.
It’s an excellent example of something I have been saying for a long time now. Graphics are irrelevant. Things that matter are plot, story and game play, with the two first items on my list being optional. Awesome graphics are nice, but they are merely just the icing on the cake. And you don’t want to make a cake just from the icing. You could of course try, and I’m sure that there would be people willing to try it, but it wouldn’t be a very good cake, would it? The icing might be delicious, but if you eat a while plate of it, you will probably be sick to your stomach. It’s the same with video games. If all the game has is graphics, then it is not going to provide you with a rich gaming experience. Sure it will be neat at first, but then you will quickly get used to the nice visuals and get annoyed how there is just nothing else to this game. But if you nail down the game play it is like having a delicious, nutritious and moist cake which doesn’t even need any icing to be tasty and filling.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that while Mincraft does not look like much, it is really a fun game to play. Much more fun than COD: Black Ops for example.