Minecraft's custom worlds continue to beguile jaded gamers
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Never mind the level editors - there's a new kid on the block...
The chances are that you already know about Minecraft. With its unique visual style, active community, numerous awards and widespread acclaim, it seems like this unlikely indie game is set to have a big impact in 2011.
In its simplest sense Minecraft is a kind of sandbox editor, with a loose focus on construction and exploration. The game is very open and non-linear, with no tutorial, missions or even a goal. You are simply presented with a potentially infinite world and allowed to do as you please. Building, mining, framing, or exploring... there is no shortage of things to do and create, and with the game still in development, more features are being added all the time.
The game's visual style is one of its most distinctive features. Everything is made out of blocks - and I mean everything. From the landscape to the animals, the whole game looks like some sort of throwback to the days when big, chunky pixels ruled supreme. Blocky sheep bounce across angular hills, blocky squid swim in eerily square chunks of water, and leaves grow from trees in rigid 1x1mm chunks. Even the sun is a perfectly square block moving across the sky. After seeing this for the first time, you could be forgiven for thinking that Minecraft is simple, old, or lacking in depth; but, as any player will tell you, this could not be further from the truth.
Since its initial release in 2009, Minecraft has been growing exponentially. Supported by its loyal and active community - one in which over a million accounts have now been registered - Minecraft's transition from indie classic to mainstream title remains inexorable. Designed and made by one man, Markus Persson (or Notch as he is known), Minecraft was initially released for free, in quite a different form to how it is today. Based mostly on another block-based game, Infiniminer, the first iteration of Minecraft was a simple open world, with the player having the ability to spawn infinite blocks of any type, allowing them to build and design almost boundless structures and buildings.
As the game steadily grew, it was split into two modes; ‘Classic Mode’, where the blocks remained infinite and the game remained free; and ‘Survival Mode’, which added a host of new features and required players to mine their own blocks and crucially, pay for the game. But with that purchase came the promise that all future updates and add-ons would be free to those that bought the game at this early stage. Later, multiplayer was also added, allowing people to combine their mining and construction efforts on a private or public server (albeit in a very buggy way).
Not long after, Notch announced that he would no longer be updating Minecraft Classic, stating that all his focus and efforts would be concentrated solely on Survival Mode. Since then, the scope and variety of the game has grown immensely; Minecraft now features hostile enemies, electric circuitry, mine-carts, hand-crafted tools, armour, weapons and of course, a larger selection of blocks. The updates are still coming too - over Christmas, the game moved from alpha to beta testing, meaning further developments - and, by employing additional staff, Notch continues to release a steady stream of new features and bug fixes.
The appeal of Minecraft lies somewhere between the Lego-like fantasy world from which many of our fondest, childhood memories were born and the excitement of playing a game that is still in development, with both Notch and the community adding new features, mods and fixes all the time. Yes, the game can still be very buggy - especially in multiplayer - and yes, the style will not appeal to everyone, but these minor faults are totally compensated for by the uniqueness of the experience, and the sheer joy of finishing a complex build, or discovering a vein of diamond deep within the earth.
Due for an ‘official’ release later this year (and the rumour of a name-change), Minecraft still has a way to go before completion. Notch himself has stated that he plans to add some sort of end goal to the game, and a tutorial to make the initial experience more user-friendly, along with a host of other exciting new features that he is determined to keep secret. If you haven’t played it yet, there really has never been a better time to pick it up.
Anyhow, if you will excuse me... I have castles to build.
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