This isn’t going to be your typical Mac app review. Minecraft isn’t sold on the Mac App Store. It’s a cross-platform game that has over 3.5 million paid players across Windows, Mac, and Linux, making it one of the most wildly successful indie games in recent memory.
Minecraft is a creative/adventure sandbox game originally devised by independent Swedish game developer Markus Persson (known to the community as Notch) and continually developed by his company Mojang. Minecraft has its inspirations, but as a gamer, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a game quite like Minecraft gain so much steam and such a huge following. What makes it so great?
To say Minecraft is “blocky” would be an understatement. The game relies on the cubic nature of the environment to produce randomly generated worlds rich with breathtaking terrain, trees, oceans, animals, monsters, caves, and now abandoned mine shafts, strongholds, and NPC villages to be discovered. Upon launching the game, you’ll see a beautiful main menu. You can connect to multiplayer servers or simply play on your own. In my opinion, both are equally as rewarding.
The core aspect of the game has often (and most accurately, all things considered) been likened to Legos, the popular plastic-brick building toy. Creativity and construction was, from conception, and still remains, the meat and potatoes of Minecraft. The game has a huge collection of materials from various types of wood, stone, and brick to lava, water, and various precious ores from which you can craft items and build almost limitless structures. Creativity mode is based solely around building, allowing you unlimited resources to construct whatever your imagination can create.
Survival Mode is the more gamey part of Minecraft. It is not for the weak of heart. The game has a distinct lack of instruction, and as a result, the ill-informed will die before getting the hang of things. The feeling of wonder and discovery you get in the first weeks of playing Minecraft cannot be replicated.
Beginning a new game will spawn your character (a relatively nondescript miner named Steve) in a randomly generated world. Minecraft has a day/night cycle, and when night falls, the baddies come out. Right from the get-go, your survival clock is ticking. The goal here is to survive the first night (you won’t have time for anything beyond a rudimentary shelter). I don’t want to ruin any of the exciting discovery for first timers here (hint: your fists and tree trunks are enemies), but there are several “How To Survive Your First Night” tutorials scattered about the Internet.
What makes Minecraft interesting is that, despite its simple execution and gameplay, it has a profound ability to parallel the development of civilization. When you first begin your world, you start with absolutely nothing. The sun is going down fast, and your primary objective is survival. This continues for quite some time, as there are many unique monsters that want your flesh, not to mention your gradually depleting hunger-bar that constantly needs fed.
After several days of playing, once you have a shelter and renewable resources for food (such as farms), survival becomes less difficult, and you begin to explore. You chart the terrain around you, spelunking through caves and mining for valuables such as coal, iron, gold, lapis lazuli, and the holy grail–diamond. They can be crafted into stronger armor and tools, continuing the reduce the difficulty of survival.
The terrain continues to generate randomly as you explore further outward away from your spawn point, and there will always be new unique features to discover. But when the overwhelming excitement from exploration has diminished, players tend to turn to creativity. Having achieved a sustainable living environment where surviving is no longer a concern, the next logical step is to increase “quality of life” as it were. Evidence of this can be seen around the Minecraft community, as players share their designs for redstone powered machines, interior design, efficient mining and farming techniques, and stunning architecture.
The entire process from the survival phase to the equivalent of a first-world civilization is rather lengthy, making Minecraft a game with huge replay value. Each new world you generate will be completely random, providing infinite possibilities for play styles and in-game existence.
The sense of civilization can be expanded upon by starting (or joining) a multiplayer server. I’ve done both, and while it is fun joining a massive hosted server and seeing what other players have built (some of that stuff is just insanely impressive), the most fun I’ve had with the game is playing with a small group of close friends.
The folks at Mojang continue to work hard developing Minecraft, and as a result we’ve seen dramatic improvements to terrain generation, combat, exploration, and creative potential just in the last few months.
Minecraft began in mid-2009 with a series of tests in a webpage-embedded java applet. It began as a purely creative game, giving players a set of blocks with which to build anything they wish in a mostly stagnant environment. An offline mode and a downloadable client released in what is colloquially referred to as the “Indev” phase, and updates were released every few days as the developer seemed to tirelessly improve the game. This sort of schedule continued through the Alpha phase and into the Beta phase until recently, when huge and game-changing updates started being developed in preparation for the game’s November official release date.
If you’re a developer, regardless of whether you make games or apps, take a page out of Mojang’s book. The constant contact the developer has with the community is not only impressive and heartwarming, but has, in some cases, resulted in improvements to the game. One modder created a mod that added pistons (the implications of moving parts was huge), and the idea was adopted by Mojang and implemented into the main game.
Normally, when I come across an app that I absolutely geek out over, I do my best to mask my childish excitement with a collected and stoic nod of approval in the general direction of the developer. I’m not going to do that here.
As a gamer that has largely retired from time-sink desktop games (I’m a veteran of WoW, CounterStrike, Age of Empires, you name it), I simply cannot give enough praise to Notch and his crew for developing a game that made me feel like a kid again. I’ve played Minecraft with my family, friends, and strangers alike. Being a part of the beta testing has been a roller coaster of updates and game changes that has taken the game in directions that I never could’ve expected when I began playing. The concept is simple, but the creative freedom the game provides is unparalleled.
Have you given Minecraft a shot? Let us know your experiences!