I forgot how much I love the sandbox. It even took me a while to adjust my playstyle expectations – big, random generated world that I can do whatever I want with.

Sadly, I have lost the ability to post pics to my own blog (help, Joe!) – so I can’t share the sheer awesomeness of the completely crappy graphics. Although I prefer to call it ‘stylized realism’. The graphics are part of the charm, anyway.

I learned about Minecraft through Random Mileages blog who heard about it through Rock Paper Shotgun. I felt compelled to check it out. The game is in Alpha (and runs incredibly stable at this stage) and the game is, as advertised. Big sandbox. Do, or don’t do, whatever you want. There are some incredible gameplay moments to be had, and a little discussion about the incredible success of this little title, after the break.

The game in it’s most basic sense is a blocky world, with blocky creatures, and blocky inputs to be found, modified, and turned into other blocky items. There are no in game tooltips, or recipes, and when you find something you have to figure out what you can do with it. There are two crafting grids, a 2×2 and a 3×3 (the latter coming from a crafting table, which you have to figure out how to craft on your own from the 3×3 on hand grid).  You can literally spend hours trying to figure out what you can make by inserting different designs of different materials into the grids.

First play through I just tried to figure out what I was doing. Night time is dangerous (unless you turn the difficulty to Peaceful) as roaming blocks disguised as monsters come out at night to kill you. Best that you have shelter prepared by dusk. Lesson 1 learned.

Second play through I decide I am going to find the biggest mountain and dig deep for valuable minerals. I became lost underground. You think it would be easy to follow your own carved out path into the depths, but there are giant caverns to be found. Your light source (torches – figure out how to make those early if you plan on spelunking) are also a great path marker – until you realize that lava gives off a light source too. I had become lost and tried to dig myself out of it, only to become more lost. Lesson 2 learned.

Third playthrough I had a focus – I wanted to hollow out a mountain and create a ‘great hall’. Blocky dwarves would be proud. I found a mountain, and now had an internal list of very useful items I knew how to make (Crafting table, buckets, pick axe (wood/stone/steel/gold), hatchet, shovel, ladders, mine carts, mine tracks, torches, glass blocks, granite (?) blocks, yay.) I found a nice mountain that was beside the ocean and made a house, complete with windows and a door (doors keep monsters out) and began to descend, clearing out these giant rooms. I even laid track and was able to ride in a cart. Spent hours! At one point I figured out how water works (it starts as a source in a bucket, so you can lay one block of water and it will cover 5 or so blocks) and built a water system for the boats I figured out how to make. I had a sprawling expanse of underground connected caverns accessible by boat or track. More lessons learned.

Taking everything I have learned thus far I started a 4th world (you can have 5) and focused on top of land. You can build homes, bridges, all sorts of things. I made a two level house under the water, with a glass ceiling and glass floor. Like a mini atlantis. I then built a stone pyramid above it,and am making a water ride (corners don’t work so well for boats – they break easy if you crash). Called a Zoombafloom.

My 5 year old loves the game. We started a world together, and was all about building a house. He also wanted to build weapons to fight the monsters, which I didn’t realize was possible – we figured out how to make a stone sword, and by killing cows found leather, which we turned into a helmet. I am certain there is a bigger gameplay option on the fighting angle. From his house, which he wanted on an island, we build a basement – carefully, We hit a corner that went into the water and it flooded. We just put a block back in the hole and the water disappears (once the source is covered). We went deeper, and made an underground tunnel that connected to the mainland – a few times we hit water, and were quick enough to plug the hole. His vision is defeating the monsters, which requires us to mine deeply, to find the rarer minerals so we can (in theory) make better weapons. He now has a home that has sprawling underground tunnels that lead to various mining sites, and we are on our adventure.

There is a wiki and of course in the era of the internet lists of crafting recipes. I looked quickly and turned it off – part of the joy in this game is figuring things out. The water and lava mechanics are a bit odd (I can take 4 – 5 buckets of water and make a lake) but it creates options to be really creative.

There is multiplayer but I haven’t played it yet. I think a lot of joy is t be had – I really want to show Tesh my underwater house complete with stone temple and Zoombafloom =)

If you like to create your own fun, go try it. If you are a builder or explorer, this game is for you.

Gameplay aside, here are some interesting tidbids – Perhaps the most interesting part of the story of Minecraft to begin with.

1) From what I can discern, it is written by a single author. Please correct me if I am wrong.

2) He is charging for Alpha. Interesting development move, but it is working for him, because :

3) He has sold over 300,000 copies of the Alpha, against over 1.1 million registered users (30%!) – at 10 Euros a pop. Straight up math shows great financials for a single developer. Kudos, well earned. (He also mentions that if you buy it in Alpha stage, it is 50% off of what he is going to charge for future versions – and of course you get updated versions included in that charge)

4) Looks like it has DRM – internet tethering. While the game itself is only 227 KB currently, to play you have to log in. (It can be played on your PC or in a Java web browser). Not sure how connected it stays or if it is only a 1 time check. I support this DRM for this title – at 227 KB it would be out and cracked and free for all by now.

If anyone picks this up, or wants to try multiplayer let me know – I am dying to see what two (or more) creative people can do in the world of Minecraft.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. The underwater house sounds *awesome*. I’m a sucker for that sort of high concept. 🙂

    I really want to like and play Minecraft, but I just don’t have the time. I’m seriously debating buying the thing anyway on general principle… and maybe for when I retire. I’d probably make time to play it here and there, but even if I did get it today, I’d probably not get to play much until even next year. Yes, I’m that busy. 🙁

    I’ve heard it’s playable solo offline, but haven’t tested that. I’m not a fan of checking in with the mothership to play a game that doesn’t use online functionality.

  2. Geez Tesh, what is taking up so much of your time
    that you can’t partake in this sheer awesomeness of a sandbox? 🙂

    I also knew you would mention the tethering, you are becoming predictable in your old age. 🙂

  3. Well, I *do* write pretty much the same couple of articles over and over, just phrased in new ways… 😉

    I’m illustrating a book for my mother lately. It sucks up all of my free time. I’m enjoying it, but it’s not kind to my gaming schedule.

    I do think I’ll pick up Minecraft at some point. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting it now while it’s cheaper and just sitting on it until I can actually play it. I get a good game cheaper, and support an indie dev. Win-win, I think.

  4. OK, OK, I caved. Bought the game yesterday, and got all of 15 minutes of playtime. Found a curiously anvil-like bit of terrain on top of a spindle of stone. I intend to conquer it by climbing the cresting wave-like mountain next to it and building a bridge across.

    My Anvilania, high above the cuboid clouds. It has a nice ring to it. Let the Anvils ring!

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