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Monday, April 11, 2011

Minecraft, the craft of mining

"Dig dig dig build build build" is the mantra in Minecraft, the indie game that has taken the internet by storm for almost 2 years now. Initially I was going to write a post called "WTF is Minecraft" because up until a few days ago I really had no idea why the hell this game was so popular.

I've been hearing on and off about it for a long time but after seeing glimpses of its 8-bit-like graphics my interest never flared, up until last week when I read this article about how Minecraft's dev, originally a single guy, later 2 guys and currently a small team of about 5 people, made an estimated $32 million in sales. And the damn game is still in beta!

So I thought to myself, if so many geeks are playing this game, there must be something to it. (Note: this line of reasoning doesn't apply to Facebook, Angry Birds, Farmville and other similar rubbish)

I fired up Youtube, watched a few gameplay videos, including this totally awesome fan-made music trailer and, after trying the game out for myself, I was hooked.



A couple of days later, I'm addicted. WoW? What's WoW? This is the new WoW.

It's nothing like WoW, of course. What it is, is a sandbox game which generates a random world composed from tiles (cubes rather) arranged in a grid. An enormous grid. It allows you to "dig" through the ground, through trees, essentially almost any type of material which makes up the world, collect those mats and then use them to build anything your imagination can conceive.



I am over-simplifying because there are 2 versions of the game: Classic which is free and Beta (lol) which is paid. At $20 I've already got my money's worth for the countless hours I've played. Classic gives you unlimited materials and you can just focus on building stuff, while in Beta you need to collect those mats yourself by digging and, if you so choose, you can make the game harder by enabling monsters which come out at night in dark places. By monsters I mean, of course, zombies and skeletons.

While Classic might sound like the better way to play, Beta is a lot more fun because it gets you to dig. And digging, for me at least, is tons of fun. You can dig a long way down, but not forever. There's a set distance between sea level and bedrock, which is several layers of impenetrable tiles.



To dig, you need some tools which you can create by combining various mats in patterns in a 3x3 crafting cube. The patterns are a genius idea. If you want an axe, you can arrange some sticks and stone/iron/etc in a shape resembling an axe and you get your axe. Again, I'm over-simplifying but I just wanted to give an idea of how crafting works.

While digging, you'll come across various minerals, some more precious than others. You can find coal (useful for making torches which light up the dark), iron ore (useful for making tools among other things), and diamonds which are the subject of the video I linked above. It seems that everybody is looking for diamonds because they're very rare and they make the best tools/weapons/armor.



Once you start digging, it's hard to stop. You will end up creating vast hallways, immense chambers and deep shafts. You will discover random caves, underground water streams and lakes, and dangerous lava. Digging in Minecraft is a perpetual journey of discovery. In my short time in the game I've dug a huge shaft all the way to bedrock, with a winding spiral staircase along the inside walls and a center pillar which goes all the way from top to bottom and has a ladder for quick access. Now I'm concentrating on strip-mining at the bottom of the shaft, in search of diamonds.



On the surface, I've built a huge tower, with a winding staircase, all the way to the clouds. From there, I've created skyways to various sections of my island.



Building stuff in Minecraft is cool thanks to the game's physics and the way various blocks interact. Most blocks just "stick" to each other when placed together. They don't need any support from below once you've placed them. This allows you to build the craziest stuff you can imagine. I saw a video on Youtube of a full-scale model of the starship Enterprise created by a guy with a lot of talent but also too much free time on his hands.

There's a lot more to Minecraft than what I managed to summarize here. A huge online community produces mods, hosts multiplayer servers, creates texture packs and other stuff. The randomly generated world looks strangely beautiful in all its Legoland-like glory. The blockiness and low-res textures are features, not negatives. I would suspect the graphics allow Minecraft to run on even the lowest-spec machines.



After a few days I'm hopelessly addicted to Minecraft. WoW is the farthest thing on my mind right now, sorry about that WoW fans. I'm curious how long my new obsession will last. I just want to build crazy stuff and burrow deep into the earth like a demented dwarf, so sue me.

Minecraft shows that an independent designer can really strike it rich with simple, yet /deep/ gameplay. It also emphasizes - and this is especially poignant in this day and age - that graphics aren't everything in a game. If the gameplay is kick-ass, it will more than make up for the lack of modern graphics. People-complaining-about-WoW's-graphics I'm looking at you! How long this Minecraft thing will last, no one knows. All I know is, it's a lot of fun, and now I'm off to dig dig dig and build build build some more!

15 comments:

Rades said...

Minecraft is revolutionary. It really is. Awesome to hear you're enjoying the game! Have you tried it multiplayer yet? If you do some minor setup on your end, you can host a server for you and friends, or you can hop onto any of the infinite multiplayer servers out there to hang out, check out people's masterpieces, or whatever. I sometimes just tour random servers to marvel at the amazing, terrible, or hilarious creations people have built. :D

Darth Solo said...

Nah, I'm still trying to get the hang of what's possible to accomplish in single player. Besides, I don't have any friends in real life haha, or at least none who play games.

Smeg said...

Well, to be very very honest I wouldn't call Facebook, Angry Birds and Farmville anything like "rubbish". You may like or hate them but -as you said in your article- "if so many (people) are playing this game, there must be something to it".

I understand your point, because I truly and deeply hate Farmville (70 million fans) but focus on this: you're wasting your real life hours to "dig" pixelated cubes. For the pure pleasure of doing that (Minecraft is not a game at all, it's like building castles on the sand).

I've tied it (Classic) but couldn't really gt hooked. Instead, I find interesting "watching" some impressive creations, yes. But I can do that via Youtube.

Anyway, anything that moves WoW down to the bottom is good. We need more competition!

Darth Solo said...

Smeg, but I said "if so many geeks" :) Anyway, forgive me if I'm biased against FB, because I really am. I can't stand it.

It's wrong to judge other people's preferences but I happen to think that FB is downright dangerous (but that's a whole different story) and besides, I'm a strong believer in satirizing things that I don't like :) Nothing wrong with a little satire!

Yeah, digging pixels is just as useless I guess but it's entertainment to me.

I really wonder how many people actually quit WoW over Minecraft. The game obviously isn't as deep as WoW in the sense of story, character development or progression but in another sense it is even deeper because it allows you to freely express your imagination, something that WoW severely lacks.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

*sigh*

Dangit.

See what you've done?!?!

Next payday, I guess I know what I'll be buying.

Sheesh!

:D

Don Ferren said...

@Lagnut Payday? What's this payday you speak of?

Your review got me to give this game another look, and I bought it last night!

I survived the first night in the side of a hill, and have learned to HATE the Creepers. One of them destroyed part of my house on the 3rd day.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Lugnut Daffodil said...

Yeah I have to try this now if for any other reason than this may be the perfect game for my wife. She's bored with WoW and isn't hardcore enough to move on to Rift or DC Online so this may do the trick!

But again....*peers at Darth*....ENABLER!!! :D

Darth Solo said...

@Lugnut and Don lol @ you guys! I guess I'm that good, eh? Makes me feel warm inside to hear that I managed to corrupt not 1 but 2 peeps into buying a cool game, because it's not often that it happens.

I'm afraid I'm rather chicken as I haven't played with monsters enabled yet. I'll probably give it a try at some point but for now I'm concentrating on gutting that mountain and building tall towers and whatnot.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

So I got Minecraft...

Who would have thought that one of the most tense moments I've had in a game in a long long time would be when nightfall hit for the first time and all the monsters came out and I DIDNT KNOW HOW TO BUILD ANYTHING YET :( :( :(

Minecraft suddenly became How-fast-can-you-build-a-chimney-around-yourself-craft. :)

Good stuff!

Darth Solo said...

@Lugnut you got me ROFL!

Let me give you a piece of advice, from what I noticed so far playing, not that I'm an expert or anything...

When starting out:

- mine some wood
- make planks > sticks > pickaxe
- make a wooden door from planks
- start digging in the side of a hill, or if you find a cave even better
- brick up the entrance with whatever blocks you have handy
- leave a 1x2 space and cover it with the door
- mine some coal, make candles and light up the place
- if you can't find coal, make a furnace, make charcoal out of wood and then make candles

Provided the cave you're in doesn't extend into the darkness, you should now be safe.

Darth Solo said...

Forgot to mention, in case you don't know this already, make the furnace from cobblestones.

Lugnut Daffodil said...

Thanks for teh help! That helped a bunch!

And hey,I realized this morning your skybridges are actually a dang good idea, if for any other reason than to help me not get lost so much. When I travel on foot I get lost in no time, but with some sort of skybridge network setup you can rely on those to find your way back home.

Yep I'm hooked :)

Gyldenfeax said...

Seed 1363181899730807241 is a pretty good map by all accounts with interesting topography to play with. I can't believe how small the beta download is at 264 kb. An awesome portable game to run on any old laptop.

Darth Solo said...

@Lugnut Daffodil yeah I forgot to mention that you should setup a "beacon" next to your base so you don't get lost. Easiest one to do is to build a tall column, a single block in thickness. Stand on the first block, while jumping place the next block on top of the first, and so on. When you get to the top, add one or more torches. Then you can just jump down to your death.

@Gyldenfeax thanks I'll try that one. Yeah, this game will run even on very old hardware. I'm wondering if I can get my parents to play it.

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