Can You Dig It?

Can You Dig It?
15 Minutes of Minecraft

Michael Fiegel | 11 Jan 2011 11:55
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Find a tree, punch it and collect logs. Turn the logs into wood and sticks. Create a workbench and make a pick. Find some coal and make torches. Mine some stone and make a home. Make a sword and wait for the monsters to come.

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If that all made sense, you've obviously played Minecraft and know that the above is pretty much an encapsulation of how the game begins - not just on your first playthrough, but every time you create a new world. It's an introductory experience that's informative, representative, and actually somewhat intuitive, teaching you almost everything you'll need to know in about 15 minutes.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and nowhere is this truer than in the world of videogames. In his Keynote Address at GDC 2010, Sid Meier, Director of Creative Development for Firaxis Games, pointed out that "[o]ne of our rules of game design is that the first 15 minutes have to be really compelling, really fun, kind of almost a foreshadowing of all the cool stuff that's going to happen later in the game." Brian Fleming, co-founder and producer at Sucker Punch Productions, agrees that it's crucial to get the player into the game as quickly as possible.

"I think that first 15 minutes is extremely critical for getting players to willingly suspend their disbelief," said Fleming. "Our approach is to minimize/eliminate/delay everything we possibly can in the startup sequence." After that, he said, "the game is on. No cut scenes, very little if any narration, just point them in a good direction and let's go."

There's some disagreement on the exact time frame that encapsulates that all-important first impression - for example, independent developer Jay Barnson writes that "[t]he player must be delighted and feel a level of mastery over the game within 5 to 15 minutes." Depending on your internet search terms, you'll find everything up to 30 minutes listed as the amount of time a game has to impress you, but 15 minutes seems to be the mean, median and mode of the introductory experience. When it comes to Minecraft a quarter hour seems to be a perfect fit, albeit not at first glance.

Minecraft actually has a 20-minute cycle (10 minute day, 1.5 minute sunset, 7 minute night, and 1.5 minute sunrise), a feature that the game's creator, Markus "Notch" Persson, had to experiment with to get right.

"I tried a 30-minute day cycle early on, but that ended up being too boring," says Persson. "Then I tried a 15-minute day cycle, but that was too hectic. The 20-minute cycle has the advantage of the first night coming somewhat soon, and the nights being long enough for mornings to feel rewarding."

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