If you have somehow not heard of Minecraft then let me firstly congratulate you on coming out of your coma, and secondly give you a quick summary: Minecraft is a block based indie game developed around combining the lego-esq concept of building creatively with mining, crafting, combat and survival elements. It has had a very public development, with early adopters receiving immediate access to the alpha/beta versions of the game, and has been one of the main driving forces behind the increased interest in indie games. Heralded as the genesis of a new genre, having certainly seen its fair share of ‘flattering’ imitations, Minecraft has undoubtedly left its mark upon the gaming landscape.
For those purely driven by massive builds and intricate machinery Creative mode offers an infinite supply of every block in the game and immunity from the various ills of the world. The ability to fly, in order to easily construct large pieces and survey the land for the ideal location for your build, facilitates the process perfectly as does the ability to instantly destroy blocks. I myself often delve into Creative Mode to try and manoeuvre my way around the still baffling world of redstone circuitry, essentially wiring that provides machines and the like with power. However as in life it is difficult to appreciate anything if it is handed to you, and that is why my numerous creative creations mean far less too me than even the most measly thing I have cobbled together in the main game mode… Survival.
Survival mode is what has occupied the majority of my time and is where the game really excels with a randomly generated, infinite world filled with different blocks, biomes, items and enemies. Spawning upon a new world with nothing but your remarkably strong fists and a sense of isolation is initially a very daunting experience, and you should be prepared to spend your first night in a rudimentary mud hut staring out, petrified, at the enemy littered landscape before you. Once you have established some sort of base the focus turns to mining for materials and crafting which whilst intuitive, as the ‘recipes’ tend to form the shape of the item and are comprised of sensible components, can cause annoyance due to the need to supplant your knowledge with a healthy dose of internet research. Throughout the development process I didn’t mind this, and in truth it is still only a fairly negligible annoyance, but for a fully released game to be devoid of any in game tutorial, tooltips or help of any kind is somewhat disappointing and may alienate those new to the game or result in you missing out on a large portion of the available content.
Survival is now a multi-faceted affair, with both hunger and health to consider, and whilst exhaustion drains the former the latter will be reduced by large falls (FOR THE LOVE OF NOTCH DO NOT DIG THE BLOCK YOU ARE STOOD ON!) and aggressive mobs, whose variety is somewhat limited in the vanilla version but who each exist in their own defined killing niche. For example Endermen, one of the latest additions, are peaceful until you look at them at which point they will go on a murderous, teleportation based rampage stealing your health with their arms and your soul with their horrifying, gaping mouth.
Once beds were introduced, which allow you to sleep your way through the mob filled nights, there was a real sense of absenteeism from the nightlife of Minecraftia. The release has addressed this to some extent with RPG elements such as levelling up, which encourages combat, and important items that can only be obtained from enemies, but you will still find yourself sleeping through the majority of them. Further rewarding those with a predilection for blood is a more refined combat system consisting of critical hits, knockback, blocks and a far more realistic interpretation of archery, that has managed to change combat from a simplistic afterthought into an engaging experience.
The terrain too has become far more varied with different biomes, ranging from arid desserts to swamps, and different areas from the dungeons of old to the new mines, strongholds and villages. There is a lot more to do and mining is more perilous than ever with the threat of uncovering a nest of poison spiders or a mob infested dungeon. Unfortunately many of the latest additions, the villages in particular, are still very much in their infancy and often jut out of the surroundings in an unnatural, jarring way. Adding to the growing sense of this perhaps being a perpetual beta are the villagers themselves who merely wander around pointlessly, unable to interact with you or each other. As a result of this lack of polish finding your first village is rather anti-climatic and when compared to what has been achieved on the modding scene, in particular Millenaire that comes as part of the excellent YogBox, it is downright disappointing.
One can’t mention mods without highlighting the almost unforgivable omission of proper mod support. Many PC games thrive due their modding community and Minecraft exemplifies this beautifully with true innovation and dare I say genius coming from the community as opposed to Mojang itself. Notch himself has acknowledged that the future of Minecraft lays within the modding community, but the long promised mod support is yet to arrive and the installation process remains a torrid affair filled with incompatibility issues, Jar file deletions and an almost obsessive collection of backups. Similarly the multiplayer component isn’t as well integrated as some would hope for, with the need to enter an IP address rather than peruse a server browser, but for me it actually facilitates the sense of community and enhances the already incredibly rewarding online component full of variety, extraordinary feats of group coordination and a welcomed bit of PvP action.
Clearly Minecraft has resonated with me somewhat, unlocking a creativity I had long since forgotten and an aptitude for mundane tasks that is probably, somewhat depressingly, good preparation for my ever encroaching working life. It offers an incredibly inviting yet hostile sandbox world within which you can create your own game, and whilst the release may have added an official ending, with a suitably difficult battle culminating in a somewhat disappointing pseudo-philosophical/poetic ending, this is a game whose only finite element is your creativity. It may have crafted an at times far too dedicated following, who often come across creepier than their beloved, explosive mobs, but I have to admit that I have become enamoured with the game over the last year, and may have become (reluctantly I swear) another notch on the Minecraft bedpost.