Summary: Minecraft is an indie sandbox game that has been getting a lot of attention from the press lately. The Alpha version is updated weekly by its creator Markus Persson (AKA Notch) and it has been sucking up my free time like a freakin’ vacuum. Not too often does a 15MB java app compete for attention with new releases from major studios… What makes this game so special and why should you be playing it? Read on in today’s article!
I have a problem. I lose track of the hours because they pass like minutes. I sleep through the afternoon because it’s practically dawn when I finally get to bed. I neglect my girlfriend because I don’t notice the phone going off. I actually had to make time to review that other –craft game! Why? Let me explain…
I first heard of Minecraft a while back when my little brother showed me he had been creating some 8-bit art (turns out a lot of people do that with the game). I thought nothing of it, but a couple weeks ago I remembered the name and went to its official website on a whim. After reading about the game and what it was about, I immediately paid the $13 for a full license because I knew it was right up my alley.
What the heck is Minecraft?
Minecraft is a sandbox-style building game with a variety of rather large blocks representing materials in the world’s environment. (Yes, its graphics are about on par with Doom; if you can’t look past that you might as well stop reading now.) Every map is procedurally generated with grassy plains, forested hills, sandy beaches, towering mountains, and most interestingly, sprawling networks of underground tunnels and caves. There is no real point of the game but to explore and build to your heart’s content. That, however, is where the similarities between the free and pay versions of the game end.
You start with nothing more than a full health bar and your bare hands. You could take a look around and explore the world; it spans infinitely in every direction. Well, there is an invisible ceiling high up in the sky and indestructible “bedrock” far, far underground… However, you may wander toward the horizon endlessly, since new areas are automatically generated as you go.
If you want to build something, you’re going to have to collect resources. The good news is, they’re all around you. Dirt, sand, rock, wood, everything can be “harvested” and collected, then carried around in your inventory until you do something with it. All raw materials can be placed just like they can in Classic, but many can also be crafted into items. Speaking of which, you should probably collect some wood. All you can do now is punch away at a tree, but I’m sure that’s where pre-historic man started, too.
Logs are crafted into planks, which can be crafted into a workbench, which enables you to craft more complicated items than is possible on your own. The crafting system uses a grid (2x2 via your inventory, 3x3 using the workbench), in which you place items in a specific configuration to create the desired item. These “recipes” are based largely on common sense, so you should be able to figure them out on your own if you were so inclined. If you don’t mind spoilers (or you’re about to quit out of frustration), you could look up the proper combinations on the Minecraft Wiki.
You can turn that wood into a number of useful tools, such as a pick axe to be used for mining stone. You can also make an axe so that chopping trees is easier, a shovel for digging, or a hoe for farming. Stone tools work better and last longer, so it might be a good idea to find a mountain to start digging at. As you go, keep an eye out for coal (stone blocks with black dots on the side), which will really come in handy later. You’ll also need some shelter because it’ll be night-time soon, and monsters spawn in the darkness. Weren’t you wondering what you were supposed to survive? Build a house, dig a cave and block the entrance, whatever, just have some place to hide for the night. I hope you made some torches with that coal…
Once morning rolls around, the zombies and skeletons and whatnot will burst into flame and die out. Beware of the nefarious creepers, though, because they can live in sunlight and will explode if you go near them. Mostly what you’ll find wandering around during the day are mild-mannered livestock, which you can slaughter to receive all sorts of goodies – cows yield leather for armor, pigs drop some health-restoring meat, and chickens have lots of feathers (combine those with flint and sticks…). A sword will make them fall much faster than your fist, of course.
Congratulations on surviving your first day! You now know the basics of Minecraft life and should be prepared to fight monsters if need be. What’s next is up to you; I’m keen to digging deeper underground for better materials like iron and diamonds. They can be used to create higher quality tools and armor. Remember I mentioned underground tunnels and caves? You can dig them yourself, or go spelunking in pre-existing ones. The latter have a higher chance of containing mineral deposits, so look for entrances throughout the landscape. Small dungeons with treasure chests are scattered about, as well, but they are guarded.
Minecraft is all about exploration, adventure, and creativity. You can literally go anywhere and do anything, so use your imagination! I’ve barely scratched the surface of what is possible, but I’ll list some more features on the next page.
Here’s a list of many of the cool features already in the game:
I know I’ve left out plenty of things, and new stuff is being added all the time, but you get the idea. Notch has made development of Minecraft his full-time occupation, which is pretty awesome. In the past few weeks, sales of the game have been booming thanks to an interview with PC Gamer, a mention on the Team Fortress 2 blog, and various other media attention. They have peaked at around 1500 copies sold in 24 hours, which comes out to around $20,000. With more than 53,000 purchases thus far, he’s grossed nearly three-quarters of a million bucks! Granted, Paypal and Swedish taxes eat up a good portion of that, but this cat is still making a six-figure salary. As far as I’m concerned, he deserves it.
Once Minecraft is finished, Notch hopes to get distribution on Steam, and there will be updates “for as long as people enjoy and purchase the game.” After that, he might even release the source code and everything as public domain, due to his dislike of GPL and similar licenses. Click here to learn more about the origins of the game and Notch’s “fun first” philosopy.
If you’ve read this far, I’m betting you’ve seen enough to realize you need to try this game as soon as humanly possible. On top of everything I’ve already talked about, there’s actually been an early version of the Survival multiplayer server released. There are a lot of bugs and many standard features of offline Alpha still need to be implemented, but once that is done, the game will graduate to beta and the price will double, so buy now. You can also click here to try out the Classic mode if you’d like, but I leave you now with an example of a fellow with way too much free time on his hands:
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