A long time ago in geek history (so long ago it’s in the original Jargon File), the game with the deepest possible game play was considered to be Nethack. Within this simple text-based environment, it seemed almost anything was possible, and the depth of the game inspired the familiar saying “The Development Team Thinks of Everything.” For a shorter time period not long ago, the other text-based game Dwarf Fortress got the same reputation.
But Minecraft set the new standard. We’ve seen deep games before, usually called a “wide-open sandbox” concept: just build a huge interactive world and let players dive into it and explore. But Minecraft is one game where it’s demonstrably possible to replicate any other game: Given infinite resources, time, processing power, and framerate, you could build a computer in Minecraft complete with a display and controls which let you play another video game.
No, we’re not kidding:
OK, so it’s not as high-def. While we’re showing off, how about a bit more of a show? There’s a whole genre of Minecraft roller-coaster demos themed after popular movies. Such as Ghostbusters:
And The Nightmare Before Christmas:
And… wait, we promise to stop there. At this point, there’s enough Minecraft video content out there to stoke a 24/7 TV channel. We could go on all day.
Minecraft is also available as a Pocket Edition (hence the “PE”) for mobile, which makes it quite playable on an Android tablet.
Differences with Pocket Edition
Minecraft on the tablet has a few adaptations its obliged to make. Since the keyboard / mouse control standard is out the window, it uses the arrow button pad on one side of the screen and a jump button on the other. You use the stylus / touchscreen to free-look. Inventory is managed a bit differently, as is crafting and other dialog-based tasks. Here’s a handy review of the most recent version:
The present author can add to that: It’s exactly the same experience otherwise. I’d love to show off screenshots of my own creations, but I’m strictly a hardcore survival player with no cheats or mods. This means what little I build is a base to farm from followed by the quickest transportation routes for exploration.
No, wait, I’m not telling this right. So far my current world is two months old, and I spawned in the middle of the densest and biggest Roofed Forest biome I’ve ever seen. So the first night I had to scramble up a tree and build a platform treehouse there. Then it was a constant fight against zombies, creepers, and skeletons spawning day and night until I could carve out a base. At some point I got tired of chopping down trees and just made a flint and steel lighter to start burning them. Even that got too tedious as I ran through a dozen lighters, so after I’d mined down that far I took to mass-ravaging of forest with a bucket of lava poured from a safe distance and height atop a pillar of gravel. After some two weeks of this I finally discovered, Gawd almighty, a RIVER only about a hundred blocks from my spawn point. Nearly screaming from the claustrophobia I launched a boat and have since explored the map enough to discover a couple other biomes and a village which was unhelpfully stocked with nothing but farmers, two butchers, and one librarian.
But at least I haven’t died yet. So far, the closest brush I’ve had is with baby zombies, a new mob which spawns these fast little devils who run around your ankles and kill you quick. One thing the pocket edition interface handles poorly is close combat, especially with something half your size and twice your speed. But since getting bow-and-arrow and armor and ascending to enchantment technology, it’s smoother going. I’ve managed all the crops except carrots, melons, and cocoa, and of course netherwart because I’m too chicken to try the Nether just yet. I’ve lost too many hardcore maps where I was doing great until I tried my first portal only to be killed by an extremely unlucky spawn, like on a floating island of gravel surrounded by ghasts.
If you’ve never played this game, none of this is making any sense. It’s easy to forget the separation between Minecraft and the real world sometimes. Here’s a few tips we found which are common knowledge to most players:
The Ever-Expanding Minecraft Phenomenon
Minecraft’s first official release was in November of 2011, after being widely popular from alpha since May of 2009. Which makes it only just over five years old now, shocking both because it still feels fresh and new (anybody out there ever finished the game solo yet?) and yet an established part of geek culture, like Star Trek and Magic: the Gathering. For all that, there is a whole annual convention, Minecon, dedicated to the game. The most recent Minecon had an attendance of 11,000.
Minecraft is a unique milestone in video game history. Starting from lone indy developer Markus “Notch” Persson, its blocky standard follows the rule of fun rather than realism. It’s about as realistic as a world can get, while maintaining the functionality of its fully interactive environment. There have been attempts at knock-offs, especially more realistic graphics, but Minecraft hits the sweet spot between realistic enough worlds to be breath-taking at a distance while still being modular enough that you can easily put together a wood plank hut. Now that Microsoft has bought the rights, Minecraft may prove to be the most profitable software product Microsoft controls in the long run.
Minecraft is also unique for being the most ambitious game ever attempted in Java. This made it portable to every major platform straight away, being one of the few games to run identically on Windows, Mac, and Linux PCs. Just when the “Java is dead” calls on Slashdot were swelling to a crest, Minecraft came along and just about revived Java at the end user level.
The culture around Minecraft has spawned whole window displays of merchandise at any mall’s Hot Topic, a whole shelf of books including fiction works based in the Minecraft universe at every bookstore, and several other layers of cultural phenomenon besides. It’s even taught in schools as an educational game, since laying out redstone is a direct metaphor to programming circuitry. We have yet to see the full impact it will have on geek culture. In twenty years, will the first “Minecraft generation” look back nostalgically the way we do now to Mario Brothers, Warcraft, and Pac-Man?
We’ll have to see. But in the meantime, we have to wind up this post. It’s almost dark, and the creepers will start spawning.