Friday, 9 March 2012

Blip: Minecraft Introduction: Dig, dig,dig.

We haven't mentioned this yet, so I think it's about time. Pop and I are both avid Minecraft players. If you don't know what that is, keep reading and you may well find out.

Minecraft is a small indie game by Swedish video game developer Mojang (started by Markus Persson, better known as Notch) or at least it was small until it penetrated internet culture and gained popularity at en exponentially increasing rate. Now it has been sold over 5 million times and has become permanently ingrained into the fabric of many areas of internet culture.

The basis of the game is its truly open-ended nature. There are plenty of so-called "Sandbox" games out there, that promise never ending gameplay. None of them close to the random replayability of Minecraft.

The game centres around an unknown player named steve - Well the standard skin of the main character is named steve but you can change what you look like by editing a character file. As the player you explore a randomly generated environment that goes on so far it may aswell be infinite. On first impression a lot of people take issue with the graphics and call them out as being outdated but that totally misses the point. The world is made from a multitude of cube shaped 'blocks' coloured in 16x16 pixels, all made to represent something in the game such as dirt, stone, diamond, wood etc. You explore by moving around the world, digging, spelunking, breaking and gathering blocks but also placing them back and thus building structures (according to no preset goal.)

You wander around aimlessly and do whatever you want, that is until it gets dark (thanks to the day/night cycle) and you get brutalised by skeletons, zombies, spiders and the ever terrifying creeper (which near-silently stalks you, rushes you and then explodes, often killing you and damaging the environment around your now blown-up self.) These enemies are known as 'mobs' (short for mobile) and are a contrast to the friendly mobs; Chickens, cows and sheep are examples of friendly mobs. This danger inspires every new player to create a shelter of sorts, out of whatever you can find.

The brilliance in Minecraft comes out of the huge variety of blocks and interactions between them (along with a few non-block entities such as tree saplings and lit torches for light.) Take the aforementioned dilemma for example:

-Some people choose to make a simple square dirt house to protect themselves.

-Others prefer the safety afforded by cobblestone walls.

-There are those that like to dig around and create an underground base or a system of tunnels.

-If large archaic structures are your thing then you could even build a tiny temporary house to keep you safe while you slowly construct a magnificent castle.

People playing minecraft build everything from wacky cubist architecture to scale models of real castles, from homely and idyllic wheat farms to entire cities full of corporate infrastructure. The lack of an overall objective (aside from a dragon hidden in another realm, which some treat as a goal) aids Minecraft in being a creative outlet as expressive as any other.

Pop and I play on a private server together and right now we are still setting up a base that includes all kinds of methods to help gather resources for larger projects. Here's a few example of what I mean:

-A heavy-walled castle for protection with a big brick house inside and skybridges above to safely reach other areas.

-The castle has a melon farm, a pumpkin farm and an automated wheat farm (automated through the use of redstone and pistons, a very simple binary power system that allows you to move blocks and build circuits ranging from pushing a button to open a door all the way up to fully programmable computers.)

-We have pens for sheep of many colours, to harvest multi colour wool blocks useful to build colourful pictures or to add colour to the otherwise naturally paletted world.

-I've just started a rail network in the sky to quickly ferry us around to a few key areas.

-Captured hostile mob spawners. I've set these up by altering water flows to have the mobs dragged up a long tunnel then drop down, nearly killing them and trapping them in a cage of sorts. The survivors can be killed easily to gather their drops, items and experience (used for enchanting items with special, albeit random, abilities.)

If you've not seen it before then I would most definetly recommend you take a look, not only is the game a true masterpiece of patient and reasoned expression but it also has a vibrant, curious community full of active users sharing ideas and collaborating on major projects, videos and the occasional parody music video.

In short, Minecraft represents a cultural upheaval of the bourgeois nature of art and its migration to a classless, hierarchy free place to some, a gloriously constructed piece of escapism to others and to most, a simple and pleasing game about a guy named steve on his ever long quest for diamonds and bacon.

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