Saturday, October 02, 2010


Yes, I have joined the Minecraft craze, and it appears that I’m not alone. People who haven’t played don’t seem to understand the appeal - almost without exception with reference to the graphics. Clearly the game must not be good because it is not high-resolution. Therefore I must only like it based on a sense of nostalgia. While the graphics are indeed somewhat retro, this really fails to capture what makes Minecraft so innovative

You start in a first person view, viewing a randomly-generated natural world. You have an empty inventory, a full health bar, and only your fist as a tool. Where it gets interesting is the fact that the world continues on forever (well, technically only 4 billion square kilometers), and is infinitely mutable. Any solid object you can destroy or dismantle, and any empty space you can fill with something you’ve built or collected. You could simply explore the natural world forever (as long as you can avoid the zombies that come out at night), or you could build a hut, carve out a cave, construct a castle, plant a forest, design entire cities, build and ride rides, or carve your own bust into the side of a mountain. Pretty much anything you can imagine your Minecraft world being, you can build, one block at a time.

As a game, Minecraft Alpha isn’t that special yet due to the lack of significant guided objectives. However, even BEFORE its beta, it has sold over 100,000 copies! My theory is that it exploits an unrealized desire in some people to create a world of their own design. The first person view makes the interface very simple – game level editors can get so complex that your average architect couldn’t make a compelling structure, while building with blocks is an idea so simple that babies do it regularly. The physics builds attachment to the things you build; the rampart of your castle has much more meaning when you had to place it, brick by brick, building and tearing down scaffolding as you go (and, if you’re like me, falling into the moat a few times).

I don’t see Minecraft as just a low-res game demo, I see it for the infinite possibilities that a such a broadly mutable sandbox provides. Even without any actual ‘game’ to it, Minecraft is very enjoyable. It is still in very active development, and more meaningful ‘game modes’ are in the works. I can’t help but imagine the possibilities of games played in such an environment.