By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Throughout these reviews I have referred to Minecraft multiple times. It is the quintessential indie game of the current generation. Markus “Notch” Persson first released Minecraft to the public as a paid alpha on the 17th May 2009, one of the first games to pioneer such a development funding method. This paid alpha was pretty early stuff and the pricing model reflected this. The game sold well enough to allow Notch to develop the game full time. Personally, I got my first taste of Minecraft on the 5th February 2011, with Beta release 1.2_02. Compared to the modern releases, this was a very different Minecraft. However it still had the same addictive qualities that the modern releases do. If you’re unfamiliar with Minecraft, then it is essentially an open world randomly generated sandbox game based around voxels of around 1m3. The generation of this world means that it is practically infinite in size providing a huge amount of exploration potential.
There are three principal game modes: creative, survival and adventure. Creative game mode allows the player character unlimited access to the different voxel types, or blocks within the game. The player can then fly or walk around, placing or removing these blocks at will and providing a 3D canvas based around these blocks. The survival game mode is based around, well, survival. Survival requires the satiation of hunger as well as surviving the hostile mobs that spawn in dark areas and at night. Survival can also be used for creative purposes and is often more satisfying because the blocks cannot be broken instantly, must be gathered from the world and movement is restricted to non-flight. Adventure mode is designed in such a manner as to even further restrict player actions. Someone can create a specific map or level in much the same way as a traditional game and then distribute for others to play in a restricted mode so as to the protect the integrity of the intended experience.
Survival is really the essence of the Minecraft experience and was pretty much all that there was for me back in beta when I first started. At the time I would often need something to chill out with after studying, so rather than attempting to relax with a more intense game, Minecraft offered an amazing escape–a simple portal to a world that I could mould at will. That first world that I created and worked on lasted probably a year before being abandoned due to updates breaking compatibility. The first shelter I built was little more than a dirt hole and that first night I succumbed to the inevitability of getting hit by the mobs, or more specifically the suicide bomber, Creeper. I then moved to a cobblestone shack in the desert which would eventually expand to become a huge, multi- building, multi-courtyard walled fortress. Nowadays there are many many more possibilities on top of what I did back then: redstone offers circuitry, there is a potion system using grown and gathered ingredients, and there is an enchanting system for modifying tools and weapons based upon experience points. In fact let’s explore some of these in a little more detail:
Redstone, redstone, redstone– well, it’s certainly something. Redstone is a basic form of electronic(ish) circuitry built into the game. Nowadays redstone has been expanded to include note blocks, repeaters, comparators, doors, torches, lamps and so much more. The complexity of the redstone circuits and mechanisms that players manage to create is seemingly never ending; from huge redstone powered computers to simple automated doors. Redstone is the reason some people play Minecraft as it appeals to that logical, mathematical demographic of players. Combined with the minecart system which provides a train-like system among others, redstone can do a great deal. It’s worth noting that redstone functions like this are not restricted to any particular game mode and that these basic circuitry functions can be used just as easily to automate processes in survival mode as they can be used to craft an experience in adventure mode.
The game has also received, in one of its many post-release updates, a system for creating potions using ingredients. This system alters the way in which the game is played as players can actively buff attributes such as speed or night vision through the collection of ingredients and the brewing of them into potions. Whilst it doesn’t revolutionize the game entirely, it is one of those elements that was added in order to expand upon the game elements of Minecraft which up to that point were suffering a little from being just a sandbox. The idea of having to explore and travel to different places in order to gather ingredients, and then find a method of farming these ingredients to produce a steady supply, added another layer to much of what already existed in the game. Farming was already in place as a mechanic from the much earlier feature of food production, and the potions aspect just expanded upon this. In terms of how successful the potions system was at bringing out the game in Minecraft, I’d say it achieved that goal. The potions add a depth and give the game that nudge ever closer to an RPG. This isn’t achieved with just this feature but it certainly helps.
The real key to forging Minecraft into a game, and the game it is today, was the introduction and refinement of the experience and enchanting systems. Minecraft was a gear-centric game, as individual characters could not level attributes — everything was about the gear. Mojang evidently saw this and used it to create the experience system. Experience is gained in the form of orbs which are dropped from killed mobs and certain completed tasks which then fill an experience bar. When filled, the will give experience levels. These levels are then used to enchant weapons, armour or tools in order to assign them a variety of attributes, each leveled according to how much experience you spend leveling them. There is also an anvil which allows the naming of weapons and the repair of certain favourites. The essence of this is that it took the existing game element of tiered gear and then expanded upon it hugely, providing that needed sensation of progression.
The RPG elements don’t stop there, as the early attempts at NPCs have evolved to turn them into an economy based upon emeralds. These NPCs will trade items for emeralds and trade emeralds for items. Combined with the gear system, potion system and the experience system, the game in Minecraft is now fairly fleshed out. It used to be that the only way to play Minecraft was to set yourself goals, aim for a sandcastle that you wanted to build, go about scooping up all the metaphorical sand you needed for that particular task and squishing it down into the metaphorical bucket. The introduction and expansion of the game in Minecraft has resulted in that original plan being stil relevant, but also so much greater as gear progression, farming, more efficient resource collection, better building and such give that oh-so-great sandbox a direction.
More to come next week in Part 2.
Minecraft is available on PC, Mac and Linux (JVM is pretty nice like that) for approx £17.00 (approx $27.30). There is also a slimmed- down pocket version for Android and iOS for £4.99 (approx $8.02) and £4.35 (approx $6.99) respectively.
Minecraft PE Android
Minecraft PE iOS
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