Minecraft. You’ve heard about it, read about and maybe even tried it. Minecraft is to PCs what Angry Birds is to the iPhone…a simple game that everyone talks about and can’t stop playing. I took a glimpse at Minecraft several months ago and wrote it off. Now, however, I’m changing my tune.
It might not look good, but…
By all rights, Minecraft shouldn’t be any fun. Even with its retro-charm looks, there’s nothing spectacular about the game play and for all intensive purposes, there’s nothing to do. There’s no explicit goal. So what’s the big deal about this game? Why are so many people playing it? I’ve decided that it takes a special person to be able to enjoy Minecraft. I’ve also decided that the free version of Minecraft does not do the game justice whatsoever.
The free version of Minecraft is basically nothing more than a sandbox. You’re dropped into a barren world and you’re allowed to do whatever you want, which is more or less limited to building with blocks. This is great if you just want to play around with virtual Lego bricks, but that wasn’t enough for me so I gave up on it. I need something more than just brick stacking to get me to spend my money. So what got me to drop $20 for Minecraft? Good old fashioned peer pressure.
The game within the game
I was talking games with a friend and he mentioned that he had been spending a lot time with Minecraft and even setup his own Minecraft server. I picked his brain a bit, explaining that the free version didn’t offer much, and he agreed, but he then pimped the game enough that I was willing to take a leap of faith on his recommendation. The idea of a shared Lego sandbox was interesting to me. Stacking bricks alone might be too boring, but stacking with friends…much better. The funny thing is, my friend didn’t think I would enjoy Minecraft at all as it doesn’t really fit my gaming MO.
The paid version of Minecraft starts the same as the free version but I quickly discovered that this full version is more of a “game” than the demo. I started with some basic block stacking in efforts to build some sort of fort but then the land got dark. The moon rose and it was night time, and night time is a bad time. Once the sun goes down, zombies and skeletons run amuck and without any sort of shelter or a weapon I died almost instantly. Frustrated and pissed, I hopped online to find one of the few hooks Minecraft offers…you need a guide.
In other words, you can’t play Minecraft without the Internet. There are no in-game guides, quests, or NPCs to talk to at the tavern. You have nothing but instinct, which apparently in my case just isn’t enough. Thankfully, since I was entering Minecraft quite a bit after its popularity peaking, there are a treasure trove of Minecraft resources to be found online. Wikis, charts, videos and even mobile apps are all available to make your Minecrafting experience all the better…and if you resist, you won’t have any fun. On my home PC I’m fortunate to have two monitors, so one screen is open to the Minecraft encyclopedia while the other has the game and it’s a lovely combination. As you dig through your Minecraft world and come across a new item or brick you just hop online and find out what it does and how to use it.
Congratulations, you just killed a sheep and acquired two blocks of wool! Now you scurry online to find out what this wool is actually good for, only to find it’s not really good for anything. Well, you can dye your wool different colors but it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. It isn’t used to make clothes or trade for gold or anything. Just about every item or resource you find in Minecraft follows the same formula. Some resources are used to create basic weapons and tools that actually serve a purpose but in large you’re just creating more and more blocks with which to build.
Build and survive
There in lies Minecraft’s genius. Minecraft is a game about aesthetics. It’s a creative game and if you don’t enjoy a little creative thinking and defining your own goals, then you won’t get any joy out of Minecraft…but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any challenge. I mentioned the day/night cycle of Minecraft, and that alone is your biggest constraint during play. You only have a limited amount of time to spend above ground before it gets dangerous. Of course, if you build weapons and armor, your chance of survival increases, but in order to make items you need blocks and that means digging. Lots of digging. After all, the game is called “Minecraft” and that means you’ll be exploring lots and lots of mines and even creating them. As you dig you’ll collect different bricks that are then used to create other bricks, vehicles and (useless) items. Not only will you have to mine the crap out of your world, you’ll need to build safe houses all over the place to store your inventory…it really becomes quite a chore keeping things straight, but that’s part of the fun.
Minecraft is as much about resource management as it is about landscape architecture. In my first week of playing, I’ve found myself starting to plan my urban sprawl. Much like Miner Dig Deep on Xbox, Minecraft plays to my need for order and Zen-like routine. However, that means it’s twice as devastating when you die and respawn virtually naked. Your world and buildings are saved but you have to rebuild all your weapons and tools…unless you smartly store and inventory your items. See…there is a challenge. The best tip I can give a new player is to pick an item you want to create and starting looking for it. I suggest the clock.
Like to build and dig? Give it a try
I admit that Minecraft isn’t for everyone and I thought it wasn’t for me, but after a few hours with the full version I was hooked. The single player mode is enough for me, but the multiplayer option is a lot of fun too. You connect to Minecraft servers and walk around other worlds seeing what other players have done. By visiting a few public servers I was able to learn a lot about building strategies and saw items I wanted to create. However, even without multiplayer servers, the internet guides alone are enough to keep you exploring and digging like Indiana Jones.
The only problem with Minecraft is that games like this typically run out pretty quickly as you seemingly discover and do all there is to do. Luckily though, Minecraft is still in somewhat of a beta development state, which means updates are coming out all the time adding new features and new items, so you know there will be more stuff to do in the future. And if that’s not enough for you, the Minecraft community has tons of add-ons, plugins and themes that can change the game entirely. Minecraft really puts the player in control and that’s just what I like.
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