Monday, 26 December 2011

Number 5: Minecraft

Finally given a full release this November, after nearly a year in beta, Minecraft had already become something of a phenomenon even before it was finished. Not many games can boast sales figures in the millions before a complete version is even available. Players have been drip-fed updates  over the last few months, as each new version brought new ideas and features to the game. It now incorporates both a Survival and a Creative mode, as well as support for online servers where players can alter the world together. It offers something for everyone.

In Survival, you're immediately plonked in a randomly generated world with nothing but your two hands and all the natural resources around you. No need for a story, or exposition bogging you down; just start exploring, experimenting, and building. It's wholly refreshing that Minecraft can be whatever you want it to be. Enemies show up when the sun goes down, and thrive in underground caves, but if you don't fancy that tension then simply turn down the difficulty. If you want a scary and rock solid survivalist adventure then ramp it up, and enjoy hiding from creatures and having to find food to ward off starvation.

Thanks to the on-the-fly generation of the biomes, it always feels worth exploring just a little further into the world. Despite its blocky style, Minecraft is capable of producing some lovely sights, as well as jaw-dropping natural structures. A thick forest can make way for massive snow covered mountains, huge cacti-spotted deserts find their end at a glittering sea stretching into the horizon. You just know you'll need fell that nearby tree, build a boat, and set sail to see what's beyond the ocean. Few games allow the player this much freedom to explore such an endlessly compelling and tempting world.

That's without even mentioning the underground. As you'd guess from the game's title, mining plays an integral part in your adventure. Many natural resources and precious stones have to be dug up, and for that you have to venture into the vast and often claustrophobic cave systems. Dig almost anywhere and you'll soon uncover a natural tunnel. Your lust for coal and iron compels you to enter, and soon you're following the network of tunnels and caves deeper and deeper into the earth. Hours can pass by, and if you were foolish enough to not leave a trail of torches guiding you back, you'll quickly get lost in the endless underground. All alone in a strange cave, your last pickaxe has broken, you only have a handful of torches, and all around you can hear the groans and rattles of the nearby enemies: few experiences in gaming are more terrifying.

The other side of the coin is, of course, the creativity that Minecraft has inspired in people. All over the internet are stunning examples of not just impressive structures, but whole cities and worlds created within it. The Enterprise, The Titanic, and even Middle Earth are all some of the creations that the Minecraft community have put together, and there are so many more to see. In its Creative and online modes, Minecraft is an advanced virtual Lego set, and the only limit is your imagination and patience. If creation isn't what you're into, friends can all adventure and explore together as well. So while it functions perfectly as a tense solitary experience, as a social one it's even better.

Minecraft's success has surprised almost everyone. Few could have predicted that it would take off in such a huge way so quickly. Thanks to word-of-mouth praise from early adopters, and videos showing some impressive creations, people flocked to try it out for themselves. It's made Minecraft one of the biggest indie hits in gaming history, and it's fantastic that so many people have been able to play and enjoy it. If you haven't already then try it out for yourself. Get involved with the community, find a server to play on, and enjoy yourself. Or generate your own world, and simply start exploring. You won't regret it.

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