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 16×16 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.
Maybe it says something about the state of horror games that some of the scariest moments in gaming come from the blocky yet charming Minecraft. This game will make you afraid of the dark. In doing so, Minecraft proves that fear doesn’t require fancy visuals. Minecraft plays off of the use of light and dark very well. You’ll hear zombies moaning and shuffling in the half-light while exploring deep caves. You’ll hear the hissing of spiders and clacking of skeletons outside of your home in the dead of night. What you won’t hear are the infamous Creepers that sneak up behind you before whispering their hissing messages of doom into your ear and exploding, taking you and a good chunk of the game world with it.
It’s the unique balance of creativity and suspense that is most enjoyable. Surface construction has more meaning when it’s finally lit up at night (enemies can’t spawn in the light) and secure from evil intruders. Exploration of the deeps feels more satisfying when you’ve cleared an area of danger and manage to secure a base of operations from which to mine rare materials.
The game wouldn’t be as much fun without the threat of monsters roaming the night or inhabiting dark caves, but combat in general just isn’t particularly fun because the system in Minecraft is fairly primitive and enemies aren’t intelligent. It’s not a tactical challenge to defeat them. The only thing you can really say for the enemies is that they do deal a healthy amount of damage and therefore have to be respected for their relentlessness.
More important to me is that there aren’t really any real objectives. Exploring and clearing out monster spawning dungeons to make my habitat safe is fun, but I can’t help but wish there was a quest mechanic of some sort. Whether it’s finding clues to locating a bunch of specialized pieces of materials that have to be used to create a massive object or “clearing” a zone from evil, minor goals would go a long way to providing more context to mining and construction and the satisfaction of meaningful success.
To be sure, the current version of Minecraft is the deal of the century. Sure, you’re paying for what’s essentially an undeveloped game but what’s there is undeniably fun and addictive. It’s got all of the building blocks (yuk yuk) for a long standing addiction even with its rather large issues. The development team at Mojang Specifications (the once one-man brigade of Notch has turned into a company with actual employees thanks to the success of the game) continues to add features such as the recently released Halloween update that added a dangerous Hell world (called the Nether) and climate biomes. I hold a lot of hope for the finished product. I’m sure the crazed fever surrounding Minecraft will eventually die down a bit, but Minecraft has all the makings of an indie classic.
I mean, this is ridiculous.