One could certainly argue that any game in which you have to come up with your own ways to amuse yourself can’t be held up as an example of good design. After all, you could amuse yourself in Kane and Lynch 2 by spelling out dirty words in bullet holes or trying to get corpses to form little pyramids. But I stand by my declaration that Minecraft is not a game, strictly speaking. It’s a sandbox in its purest form, without even any story or gameplay obligation to drive the experience. I guess I just have a soft spot for lone developers, since I’ve done a bit of that in the past (and in the present, and I’m currently debating whether to give any reports on what I’m working on in case I get bored of it as well).
Minecraft hits a lot of the right buttons. The discovery of a few solitary cubes of ore is enough to sustain you through all the tedium of carving out an entire quarry in search of it. And I’m impressed at how wide and expansive and compelling to explore a game world can be when randomly generated from what I presume to be a comparatively simple set of algorithms (simple enough for one guy to put together by himself, at any rate). But Minecraft is still a beta, and the advantage of that is there’s still time to suggest additional changes and crafting recipes. Here’s a short list I’ve come up with.
A Buggering Tutorial
Mentioned it in the review but worth repeating, Minecraft has probably missed out on a lot of potential long-term users when casual players have played it out of curiosity and confusedly punched dirt for half an hour before getting exploded by green pixel cocks (that was for all those viewers who asked me why I didn’t draw the penis comparison in the video, hope it was as fulfilling as you dreamed). In this day and age, people have short attention spans and first impressions count. The “game” really sells itself short by not even having just a couple of text windows reading, say, “MAKE TORCHES. DROP EVERYTHING AND MAKE TORCHES. IF YOU HEAR A RUSTLING SOUND, YOU ARE ALREADY LOST TO OUR CAUSE.”
Some kind of ore detection system
Speaking of short attention spans, I hope you like the sound of a stone pickaxe tapping away at a block of the same material because that is going to be the soundtrack for virtually the entire Minecraft experience, give or take the occasional dirt-shovelling solo. Blindly hunting for ore is a rather tortuous process that gets even more demotivating when you know there could be ore just a single block away but you’d never know because you opted to dig the other way. I know the sense of achievement from working hard to create something is part of what I liked, but just a little more intelligence to go on would be nice.
So perhaps a metal detector could be crafted from, say, some smelted iron and sticks. It would make some kind of rhythmic tone when you’re holding it that gets faster the closer you get to iron or gold ore. Diamond isn’t metal, so you’d need a separate detector for that, perhaps made from gold and the bones of fallen skeletons for the extra exoticism. Alternatively, perhaps some kind of subtle visual cue could be added to blocks when ore is close, like a subtle change of shade or colour that deepens the closer the ore is. Then we could rename the game MineCraftSweeper.
A sluice gate
Now, one aspect of Minecraft I didn’t touch on was creating mechanisms. It’s quite an amusing little side thing that most brings to mind the model railway analogy for me. You can create electrical circuits with switches and a wire-like material (that you can only get from quite rare ore, naturally) to make doors open or play elaborate music boxes. But if you want something a bit more sophisticated, say something that moves terrain around, things get a bit silly. A lot of them seem to involve diverting water onto torches that are supporting collapsible blocks like sand or gravel, but the only way to divert water is by exploiting water’s slightly buggy properties. I was trying to get a his ‘n’ hers shower room going in my skull fortress with water that turned on and off with a switch, but looking into it every time I wanted to turn it off I’d have to climb onto the roof and rebuild a few walls. Seems like a rather imperfect system.
So here’s my last request: a sluice gate. Nothing fancy. Just some kind of block that admits water when power’s flowing through it and doesn’t when there isn’t. It’d also make it a lot easier to create a system that dumps lava on anyone who steps on your floor plates.
More ways to get blue dye
I mentioned in the video that one of the big flaws of Minecraft is how some objects are extremely rare regardless of how useful they are, and one of the worst examples of this is making dye. Plain grey stone rooms are all very well but the only way to splash a bit of colour around the place is to dye cubes of wool, and dye has to be refined from natural ingredients, admirably. Now, red, yellow, green and white dye are all quite straightforward (flowers, more flowers, cacti and skeletons respectively, and there is definitely no shortage of skeletons). But the only way to get blue dye is from lapis lazuli, which is an alternative ore almost as difficult to find as diamond. And blue is not an obscure colour, that shit is primary.
So more ways to get blue dye would be nice. Perhaps from zombies, because they wear blue shirts. It’d make a hell of a lot more sense than the feathers they currently drop. As it stands you can either hollow out the entire planet in the name of finding enough blocks for the dungarees on your giant Mario statue, or learn to appreciate autumnal décor.
Bursts of coloured confetti and sounds of fanfares and rounds of applause playing whenever you successfully kill an exploding bush monster before it gets to you.
That would be nice.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games and writes the back page column for PC Gamer, who are too important to mention us. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.