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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Game Play: Minecraft

I had peered over the shoulder of other Minecraft players via tweets and YouTube videos and to be quite honest, had no idea what big deal was all about. If you've been living under a rock, Minecraft is an indie sensation; grabbing awards and selling like hotcakes. And when you first look at it, it looks basically like a game about punching blocks.

And even once you first jump into the game, the game seems like it's just basically about punching blocks. You may have seen videos about people creating enormous towers and elaborate traps, but you've got a fist and mountain full of dirt to get through and little idea of what else is out there. Then night falls and there's a lot of groaning going on and a pretty good chance you might just die.

Maybe it's a sign that gamers have gotten so used to in-game tutorials and intro level handholding that there's an expectation that you simply shouldn't need documentation anymore, but trust me when I say the first thing you'll want to do in Minecraft is read the tutorials to get a grasp for the basics of the game, how to build important little things like torches, and surviving your first night.

Once you've gotten past that step, and especially if you're a child of the Lego generation - there's a good chance you'll be addicted to the game right away. Minecraft is essentially a lightweight RPG for the Lego set, where mining for materials means that you can control the world more and more - and eventually you'll be trying to do things like carving out an underwater observatory for simply no other reason than to see how what it's like when you're done.

The mechanics of the game are, to be honest, quite fascinating. It's not questing as much as exploration and the risk to reward ration is heavily tied to investment in time rather than loss of save points or experience. I've been playing the game quite a lot and really my most horrible fate to date is losing a diamond pickaxe while I was trying to tunnel a water plume from the ocean to my dungeon's floor. It's annoying - but it really just means I have to go find another diamond vein somewhere. The monsters, part of the creatures called mobs in Minecraft jargon, are more parts of the environment than encounters - they're something to be tamed just like that landscape you'd rather seen turned into a castle. The emphasis on the sandbox nature of the game is important, and really what makes it shine.

It's also interesting to look at Minecraft's roots - the game essentially takes Infiniminer, which was intended to be a team game about, well, mining blocks and building things, to solve the complexity issues around Dwarf Fortress, a game about mining, crafting and defending yourself.

It's a relatively untapped subgenre of the sandbox variety - very different from the GTA concept of simply running around a moderately fixed environment. But the appeal is now officially undeniable, and I'd keep an eye out in this space in general.

Obviously, highly recommended.


Clamatius said...

I liked Minecraft. But the funny thing about it was playing Minecraft for a while made me want to play Dwarf Fortress, not more Minecraft.

Josh said...

Yeah, I can get that. It's definitely re-peaked my interest in it as well, but I haven't had time to pull the trigger. That castle won't build itself...