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Minecraft? Mine! Craft!

September 22, 2010

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Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last two weeks – or have next to no interest in video games – you’ve heard about Minecraft, a sandbox game which allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world. It is currently in development by Markus Persson, aka “Notch”. The game is currently in it’s “alpha development” stage, but had already become enough of a fleshed-out game that it’s playability is remarkable. It’s Java-based, so it’s got cross-platformability, has a great community in place, and is damned fun to play. I don’t want to get too much into the cons, as it is still very early in development.

While I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details of the game’s development history (you can find that easily enough on Wikipedia), I will mention that I first heard about it through a post on Penny Arcade. The PA guys put together a comic based on their initial experience with the game, and the next day I purchased it.

And not a moment too soon. The weekend after the PA comic surfaced (on or about September 17th, 2010), Minecraft.net was crushed under the weight of overwhelming interest. Even unrelated community sites, such as minecraftwiki.net and the forums at minecraftforum.net suffered similar server overloads. As the Minecraft servers came back up the Tuesday after Penny Arcade’s comic was released, Notch explained that people were buying the game so fast that PayPal couldn’t keep up with it. After the first day of the new server, he claims there were 10,000 orders for the game. While the game is being offered at 50% off right now – which comes out to 9.95 Euros – that’s pant load of money. No wonder Markus announced recently that he and a friend were going to be starting a game development company, and are already looking at office spaces (one with a sauna, it’s told).

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I shall create my grand fortress upon that mighty rise in the earth!

My own experience with the game has been great. The concept is simple – you’re dropped into a large virtual world. You’ve got nothing to your name, but the world is rich in resources. Wood, stone, ore and other crafting materials are abundant – some harder to find than others. Unless you read through some of the fan-made tutorials, though, you won’t realize that while docile animals wander the landscape during the day, at night the nasty critters come out. Before sun sets on your first day, you’d better get yourself a little hidey-hole made, or you’ll do what I did and spend your first night cowering half way up a cliff face.

You’ll also need to craft yourself some tools – but how? Without the aid of an online tutorial, I probably would have gotten frustrated and given up relatively quickly, but according to the game’s launch screen, there will be a tutorial level to play at some point in the future. With the help of a fan-made outline, I was able to sort out collecting wood, converting them to useable resources, creating a crafting table and sorting out some rudimentary tools.

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The crafting table interface.

Time moves quickly in the game, and before I knew it, night was falling. I had to create a home, and fast. Crafting a few wooden mining picks (I made several because wood doesn’t last long when digging through rock with it) I began carving a hole in a cliff wall, collecting the stone as I went. While I was at it, I also managed to find coal – which in the game looks like stone with flecks of black in it. Coal can be combined with wooden handles in your crafting table to make torches. Torches are the only easy source of light at night, and burn indefinitely. With only basic materials (stone and wood) I was able to create a cozy little nook in the side of a cliff, a crafting table, a furnace (for smelting ore, cooking food and crafting other materials) and a large storage chest.

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My mighty (ahem) fortress.

At night, while it’s dangerous outside, you mine. Digging through the stone and dirt can get tedious, but there’s always the thought of what’s behind the next rock? Is it a vein of iron ore? Is it a deep cavern that descends into the dark where you may find diamonds, gold or even electrically-charged red rock? Will the next block you break release a gush of water into your mine? A deadly flow of lava? A swarm of blood-thirsty zombies? Only one way to find out… keep going.

Speaking of which, another aspect of the game is farming. With the right tools, water can be collected and moved around, creating irrigated fields where you can grow things like wheat which can be used to make bread. Food in the game is scarce, and while you don’t need to eat regularly, you do need to eat to restore health. Some of the food sources are pork collected from wandering pigs, mushroom stew and bread. You can collect milk from cows, but that is currently just a placeholder and has no use. Another farmed resource is reeds, which can be used to create paper, and eventually books. These will all be fleshed out further as the game develops.

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Mighty fortress, revision two.

You don’t need to create a hole in the ground for your home, either. You can utilize the common materials in the game to craft any type of structure. Gravity also works differently in Minecraft, meaning that if you can attach a block to another block, it will hang there in space until you destroy it. Want to craft a floating monument? Start by attaching it to the ground, tree or cliff face and then break away that connector at a later time. The stone will float freely in the air, allowing for creative and fascinating constructs.

I’ve been talking about the single-player aspect of the game, but it is also going to be available as multiplayer. People will be able to join in on servers to work cooperatively or competitively in Survival mode. Work together to build a fortress against the creatures of the dark, or separately to steal each others’ resources and become king of the castle. Multiplayer isn’t currently very bugged right now, with some resources not working properly, and filled with “griefers”, folks who deliberately try to destroy the work of others just for kicks. Already there are anti-griefer mods and scripts being developed by third-party coders and I’m willing to bet that the best of them will be incorporated into the final release in some way, shape or form.

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With it’s simplistic design, deep complexity and interesting concept, I’m going to give Minecraft four blocks of dirt out of five, even for it being in it’s alpha stage. As I delve more into multiplayer, I’ll follow up with a discussion about it.

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R.

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From → video games

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