Preview: Minecraft

Dan Adams | 17 Nov 2010 11:00
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I can't begin to describe the level of addiction I've been contending with because of Minecraft. Even with the discouraging realization that completing some of the construction projects I'm planning will take forever and a day, it's hard to stop coming back. It also doesn't seem to matter that Minecraft's gameplay really isn't very good in some fundamental ways. I just don't care about that. I want to build my lava staircase and that's all there is to it.

I was late to the Minecraft craze. I started playing the game at the beginning of October. I'll admit I was initially bored by the idea when I first heard it mentioned. I looked at a couple of screen shots and what people were writing about it and didn't get it. Dig up some ugly blocks to mine for iron and gold? There's no objective? Mining for the sake of mining didn't exactly sound thrilling.

Thankfully, I ran across some more postings about Minecraft and the excitement/humor surrounding the game was infectious. Still, while there was no lack of posts about Minecraft in general, it was hard to find information on the point of the whole thing. Then I clicked a link to a series of Youtube videos, which follow a player's very first game of Minecraft. Although the videos didn't elaborate on a specific point to the game, they did illustrate that it didn't necessarily need one.

I was mesmerized with the utter silly creativity of it all and was hooked before I had ever even played a second of the game. I capitulated and shelled out a mere 10 Euro (roughly $13.70USD) and haven't regretted it.

Minecraft is an incredibly simple complication. Each new game creates a randomly generated world filled with equally-sized blocks of materials that can be smashed to bits and re-imagined into as grand an object as a player's time and creativity will allow. It's Lego for a generation grown large on electronic brain food. While the premise is simple enough, it opens up a complex relationship between various materials and randomized map generation, which provide dynamic gameplay and creative opportunity. It's simple enough that anyone should be able to hop right in and begin digging and building, yet complex enough that players have managed to build some overwhelmingly complicated things.

Chances are, when you first step into Minecraft, you'll be confused. It's easy enough to locate important information on forum posts and videos (including the helpful Minecraft wiki) but games are made to be played, not researched. Having an optional hand-holding checklist of things to do at the beginning of a game to get new players started (collecting wood and coal or making tools, torches, and a house before sundown) would probably be helpful. Maybe I'm slow, but I don't know that I ever would have thought to use the inventory to combine items to make other more useful items that help make even bigger and more useful items. Thankfully, the game has yet to reach beta, which means there's still an opportunity to implement a layer of accessibility for new players so they aren't introduced to a blocky world of confusion.

The simple art style is probably one of the most initially off-putting aspects of the game. Nearly everything is a cube. All default textures for the sides of these cubes are 16x16 pixels. In other words, textures can be rather ugly on close inspection. Yet this blocky style is a major part of what makes this game so ridiculously likeable. It's fun, functional, and looks different than everything else on the market. Happily, if you don't like the way it looks, there are a number of texture packs out there that can provide an "upgraded" look to the game. Whether it's themed like Super Mario or simply more detailed than the default art, there are options. That said, the original set of textures have a certain charm that too much detail tends to drown.

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