Thursday, June 30, 2011

Minecraft: Gameplay – 1 : Graphics - 0

Well, it has become a phenomenon, and at last I have properly encountered it.  I spent several hours exploring the world of Minecraft today, and I have to say that I am impressed.  Minecraft is an incredibly vast and varied game where you can build just about anything you can conceive of – at least in shape.  Functionality is being continually added, but even now, the scale of the game’s potential is staggering.

Since when did 'sandbox' mean 'construct a new civilization out of blocks'?
I understand that the Beta version of this game was essentially an epic sandbox that allowed you to build anything you could conceive of, and people have built incredible things.  The version I tested today, which I believe is the release version, is much more of a survival game.  You are in a world.  It has many resources, including animals, and you have just yourself and the ability to craft anything you have the materials for.  Thus begins your adventure, if you can call it that.  Your first challenge is to survive the night, when monsters appear.  So you gather wood, turn it into planks, and build a hut.  Then, like primitive man discovering technology, so too do you make a wooden pickaxe which lets you mine stone which builds a better house.  A sword will defend against the monsters and from there the sky is the limit.  Literally.  Find more resources, build bigger and better things, construct intricate tunnels and rail networks and jukeboxes and a trail of houses across a world which is significantly larger than the surface of the earth!  The game, though simple at first, becomes as complex as you can make it, and it is both breathtaking and addictive to see.

Now, the biggest gripe that I think most people will launch at Minecraft is of course its graphics.  They are very simple, and hearken back to an age closer to the original Warcraft game more than anything else.  It’s a shocking thing to see in a game being produced today. However, the gameplay doesn’t suffer significantly for it, and in fact having everything laid out in neat cubes makes planning structures just that little bit easier, although of course going in anything other than a straight line is a challenge.  The graphics can sometimes get in the way of understanding exactly what you’re seeing, especially if you get turned around in the tunnels you dig, but that’s hardly a significant problem.  Basically, after you’ve played it for even a short time, you suddenly realize you’ve stopped worrying about the graphics at all, and you’re entirely focused on dealing with the threat of this laughably pixelated spider which is jumping at you.

That’s the surprising thing about Minecraft: the danger of it.  Though the zombies and creepers aren’t particularly threatening visually, the pure terror you can have when you’re half a mile underground, digging away, and suddenly there is a guttural growl behind you... that sound will shake you to your core.  You look around in all directions, and there’s nothing there.  So you keep digging, and the zombie snarls again, this time closer.  In the mines, no one can hear you scream.  The people watching me as I played were laughing quite a lot about just how paranoid I was being – building a back door to my house by tunnelling for half a mile, and placing a door inside the tunnel to trap anything that got in.  When you suddenly realize you’ve constructed an elaborate security system out of pixelated cubes, you understand the power of Minecraft.

This is an excellent game, and I can see why even the Beta version became so phenomenally popular.  This is not the Beta version however, and it is far more of a video game and far less of the ultimate sandbox.  Or rather, it is still the ultimate sandbox, but now you have to earn your right to play in it.  The graphics are incredibly low, but the content is so vast that it makes up for it several times over.  It’s a game that anyone can play and pretty much all ages and demographics can enjoy.

Gameplay – 1 : Graphics – 0

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