Review – Minecraft

Minecraft

I have found myself on the shores of a strange land. I do not remember how I came to be here or know where I am. There are no signs of other people or habitation as far as I can see. I will explore, and see if I can find some indication as to where I am.

Minecraft is an open sandbox style game being produced by Mojang Specifications. Players are dropped in an uninhabited world where they can explore to find resources they need to build tools and shelter to protect them from the hostile enemies that come out at night. That’s pretty much it. But despite what sounds like a very basic premise, the game offers a surprising amount of depth, detail and fun.

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I have managed to fashion a few simple tools for myself from the trees growing in this land and have used them to excavate a small cave for myself in the side of a rock wall. I had to do this because I have discovered that I am not alone in this strange place. Strange creatures walk the land at night and they have proven their hostility towards me. For now I crouch in this dark hole, but when the morning sun rises I will began my search for more resources with which to build weapons and armor for myself. To do this I will have to establish a safe base of operations and start mining for the materials I will need.

When you first start a game of Minecraft you are presented with what seems to be a landscape constructed of Legos™. The basic unit of the landscape is a block. Everything is made of these blocks, from the ground beneath you to the trees and clouds. Even the animals are blocky. However, like Legos, these blocks can be combined in almost limitless ways to create almost anything you can imagine.

Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this is to walk through how you might start a game. When you start you will find yourself in an unknown landscape. There are a large number of these. You may be on a small island, in the middle of a vast forest, on the beach beside an ocean or in the midst of towering mountains. But you will probably see some trees around you. Walk up to one of these trees and hit it a few times. A block of wood will fall off. Pick up this block of wood and hit the tree some more. More blocks will fall off.

Once you have several blocks of wood you can turn them into planks and the planks you can turn into sticks. Combine several of the planks together to form a workbench and you can then use the workbench to combine several sticks together to form wooden tools like pickaxes, hatchets and shovels.

Now look around for an exposed rock face. Hit it with your wooden pickaxe and stone blocks will fall off, leaving a hole. You can widen this hole to make a cave to serve as your first shelter (assuming you haven’t found a natural cave already; the game is full of those). You can use the blocks to make stone tools, which are stronger than your wooden ones, or you can build a structure for yourself out of them.

While digging you may have found some stone with a black substance in it. This is coal. Mining a coal block gives you coal which you can then combine with sticks to form torches, which you can then use to explore deeper caves. You can also use stone to build a furnace that you can then power with coal to smelt iron or gold.

As you can see, the possibilities in the game expand rapidly. And you have almost complete control over everything you do.

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Mining far beneath the surface I managed to find enough iron ore to forge myself a suit of armor and a sword. Now I no longer need to fear the zombies and skeletons which roam the surface of this land at night and which lurk in the deep caverns during the day

It is in these deep caverns that I now find myself spending most of my time. They are magnificent, full of the glories normally only seen in a dwarven fortress. Great falls of lava, underground streams and rich veins of gold and diamond lie beneath this land, only waiting for my torches to illuminate them.

I have mentioned before how much I enjoy exploration in games and Minecraft is one of the best exploration games I have ever seen. You would be surprised that a game primarily composed of blocks would be this good looking but some of the landscapes you encounter are simply amazing. Towering mountains, vast snowy forests, or sandy desert islands are everywhere you look. The world is procedurally generated so you can explore as much as you like and, since the maximum size of the world is bigger than that of the entire Earth you can explore for a long time.

And that’s just the surface. Underground you can find amazing grottoes, waterfalls and lava flows. If there was ever a game that encourages you to explore to see what is just over the next hill, this is it.

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I have finally finished my fortress. It’s walls keep me safe from the zombies and skeletons outside and the moat surrounding it keeps the strange exploding creatures I have called the creepers at bay. I have started a small farm within my walls to keep me provided with food and have set up a stable to raise the wild cattle, pigs and sheep which wander this land.

My main keep has the comforts of home, with a bed and a roaring fireplace as well as my workshop and the entrance to the underground caverns. While I still have not encountered any other inhabitants, I can now be assured that my time here will be quite comfortable.

Exploration is only part of Minecraft, another big part is building and crafting.

It is amazing how much there is to do. For example, you can create a farm, grow wheat and turn it into bread. You can craft books or paintings for your wall. You can create rails and minecarts to travel about the caverns (or turn them into roller coasters) or build boats to sail to other parts of the world. There is even a mysterious substance known as redstone that you can turn into wires and which allows you to build large, automated devices. Some people have even used redstone to build basic, functioning computer circuits.

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I may have dug too deeply and too greedily. I found an area deep underground which seemed to have been man-made! Excited at the thought of possibly meeting others, I broke through the wall only to find a small chamber, from the center of which emerged a horde of the zombies and skeletons. I was quickly overrun and defeated.

Fortunately, whatever power brought me to this land in the first place is determined to keep me here and will not allow me to escape even in death. I found myself once again on the beach where I first arrived in this place. I quickly hurried back to my stronghold and into the caverns beneath it, pausing only to pick up my spare weapons and armor. The skeletons had started to spread out through the caverns but I was able to seal off the sections where they had established themselves and the chamber from which they were coming. Once I have recovered and replenished my supply of arrows I will attempt to rid the caverns of them again and destroy the portal through which they are coming.

The world of Minecraft is also a dangerous place. On the surface during the daytime things are safe for the most part. Cattle, pigs, sheep and some kind of duck or chicken wander around but that is about it. You can manage to harm your elf by falling off a cliff or into a lava flow, but that is about it.

But at night, or underground, things are different. Skeletons and zombies wander the land and will attack you, as will giant spiders or the strange creature known as a creeper that will attempt to get close to you then explode. These creatures will appear wherever it is dark, so stay in your shelter at night and keep your mines well lit.

You do have ways to defend yourself. You can craft swords, bows and armor and use these to attack the creatures. There are reasons to do this; killing creepers gives you gunpowder (which you can use to make TNT; useful for clearing areas rapidly) and spiders drop silk which is needed to make bows and cloth.

Deep in caverns you may find monster spawners. These are usually in areas known as dungeons. Destroying the spawner lets you explore the chests found in dungeons. Chests contain various items, including some that cannot be crafted like saddles or record albums.

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Today I awakened to find others have arrived in this land. I am no longer alone. We still do not know where we are, but we will work together to build a new society in this strange place.

Minecraft also has a multiplayer mode. One person has to volunteer to run the server but then anyone can log in to it and everyone can work together on building projects.

Multiplayer still has some problems. Currently neither players nor animals or enemies can be harmed in multiplayer and some aspects of the basic game (like minecarts) simply do not work. It is worth remembering that Minecraft is still in alpha! The developer (“Notch”, amazingly Minecraft is the creation of a single person) is still working on it and is adding new features all the time. There are still bugs, but it is such an amazing game that it is still worth looking at. Fans of exploration and building games have no excuse to not check this one out.

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