"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!
Patch 1.0.5 commentary
6 months ago