Sorry about the lack of blogging lately. It has been a little busy for me and I have not had much time on this game since the update came out. It has been written for a while but needed a few details padding out with the newly introduced content and such and I had not much time to explore them all. Anyway here goes…
In my last blog I said I was going to introduce people to Minecraft. Some people at work have heard me speak of this game and others who know me on the net are most likely already playing it with the same level of addiction as I am.
Minecraft has grabbed my soul with a kind of very basic gameplay could in itself be a study on game design. Minecraft is the core of open-world gameplay with little fluff and fancy graphics that seem like they were torn from an old NES game and converted into basic 3D. It is a simple sandbox with no story and no premise to the setting, as open-world games usually are.
I would direct you to the official website of Minecraft, produced by Mojang Specifications. But this would give you little information on the actual game and I guess you need to see someone play it or be introduced to it in person to fully grasp it. The only footage you will see on the main Minecraft page right now will be a mine car on rails going round like a roller-coaster and it initially looks like some kind of novelty physics demo with construction involved. Think Garry’s Mod for Half Life 2…
But it is more than that. Not much more but more. Anyway, stop reading for a while and watch the video here.
There are a lot of vids on his channel, about Minecraft and it describes the essentials of the gameplay better than I can in words, but I will try anyway and give you my own interpretation of the game, for the sake of people who skipped the vid link. No…. actually, if you did then go back and watch it!
Minecraft randomly generates a world made of blocks around you as you move around the map. It is not pre-set, and is different for everyone who plays, except in Multiplayer which is not quite finished yet compared to single player. But more on that later. I will just say that the game is still in Alpha and in development constantly. The world generated will be six (yes, six, as in 6) times larger than the real world. Each block is 1 meter cubed in size, to give you an idea of scale.
There are trees that grow, and leaves that vanish as you take down the main trunk. You can replant saplings that fall from them as you harvest and they will regrow after a time. There are animals that roam the lands, like sheep, cows, pigs and chickens. You can kill them for different resources like wool, ham, leather and feathers. They all have some uses. The same with the wood you collect which you use for crafting things like shovels to move dirt, sand and gravel blocks, picks that are better at breaking down stone blocks and harvesting resource blocks like iron and stone used to make even better tools and swords to defend yourself.
Against what? Rabid blood thirsty sheep? Well, no. You see, there is also a day and night cycle. In the day you are pretty safe (but not 100%). Outdoors is safer than underground or in dark places, because at night several monsters will spawn. There are zombies who deal damage by touching you, same with giant spiders that are fast and have a jumping lunge they can catch you out with if you’re not watching. There are skeletons who fire arrows at you and finally creepers who explode if you let them get close. To be even more evil, all the monsters have a unique sound they make like the screech of the spiders or rattling of skeleton bones, but the only sound a creeper makes is a short hissing noise when they get close to you just before they explode! When the sun rises, and if exposed to open sky above them, the zombies and skeletons will catch fire and eventually die. But creepers and spiders stick around until you move away far enough for them to despawn. Spiders will not be hostile in the day, unless you attack them or they were already after your blood in the night. But creepers will still attack.
On your first day in the game you will need to gather some basic resources and make a shelter to hide in fear from the undead. You will need somewhere where they cannot get to you, and usually the choice is a cave, as X does in the vid on YouTube. You will also need to stop monsters spawning inside the cave at night and also in the day with the use of torches. You will need to find coal, which can be found underground but also above sea level in the sides of mountains and maybe even under the dirt beneath your feet if you dig down a few blocks. But you are pretty much shooting blind there and you need to make use of your time wisely at first. You have no resources and they take a while to harvest. If you cannot find them then be prepared for a night of fighting and watching your back…
Eventually you will collect enough coal to make some torches to light your cave or even a house you can make from any kind of block you wish, and even make other stuff like glass from sand cooked in your smelter. And if you have a good mine system near your house but get fed up of moving your stuff back and forward when your inventory is full you could make mine carts with a chest inside to store stuff you dig up, and a powered cart to push them down the tracks you can craft with wood sticks and iron for rails.
Tools and weapons will wear out with use meaning you need to craft more, and the better the materials you use the better the tool and longer it will last. Diamond picks, for instance, last a lot longer than a stone pick, and they harvest stuff like gold, red stone and more diamonds faster than a stone pick. To harvest gold you need to use at least a steel pick anyway, and when you encounter obsidian you will only be able to pick it up with diamond picks and even then it takes a long time to break one block.
There are other hazards in the world in the form of water that flows into your caves if you break into a body of water elsewhere. The current could push you around and if it flows far enough it might push you down a deep hole you were avoiding, maybe to your death. If you dig deep enough you will eventually find lava and this too can flow into a cave, though much slower. And blocks like gravel and sand will fall down when you remove blocks beneath them. If you get trapped inside two blocks of either of these you will suffocate unless you can break out fast enough. If you wind up under water you have a breath gauge which turns to health loss the longer you stay down past running out of air. And having heavy armour on like gold or steel will make it harder to swim up to the surface or fight a current that pushes you away, or down in the case of a waterfall.
The designer of Minecraft, Notch, has also stated he wants to add in environment hazards like cold and heat damage.
Now, I have started writing this a few days before the Halloween update (or the ‘Boo‘ update as it became known to Minecrafters) where everything I have said so far was the simple fact of Minecraft. So now I will tell you what Minecraft is now, since I plan this blog for after the Halloween release.
Notch first of all added a new realm to explore called Hellworld, though he renamed it to The Nether just before release, and was also called The Slip for a short time too. Anyway, I will keep calling it Hellworld… The Hellworld can only be reached through a portal, the first aspect of magic-like mechanics in Minecraft, and Notch has said he would like to add more magic to Minecraft in the future to facilitate things people request on the forums. You need to have 14 pieces of obsidian first, and make a large rectangle standing up, that is 4 wide by 5 high. So that gives you a 2×3 space in the middle. Set this on fire with the flint and steel crafted item already available, and you have a portal to Hellworld. Why go there?
Well, there are new resources in Hellworld, one of them a block that glows as bright as a torch and another that burns forever if set on fire. But given the scale of the world itself on the surface, Hellworld is compressed and runs parallel to the real world. Your portal will be mirrored in Hellworld, and when you move just 1 block away from it in Hellworld, and then go through another portal there that you might make, you will be 160 blocks away in the real world from the first portal. So this becomes a good fast travel method. Though.. keep reading for my initial experiences of this. It was not as advertised.
There is a new hostile creature in Hellworld too; The Ghast. This is a 4x4x4 square large flying jellyfish thing that is hard to kill since it moves quickly, and spits fire. In a world where blocks catch fire easy and burn forever (And water evaporates in Hellworld btw) you can die pretty fast. They also have a very slim chance of spawning in the real world around your portal and they are the first mob that will be able to destroy a block with their attack. None of the others, save the creeper, destroy blocks. And even then the creeper only destroys them when they blow, and they still only do this when they are 1 square from you so they don’t break down walls to get to you, and neither do Zombies.
Having said that, the Ghast does not blow up much of the world like a Creeper does. Maybe one or two blocks break on their attack and I hear they do not break cobblestone or obsidian but I have yet to try this. Since they fly the only real way of hitting them is with a bow and arrow and they dodge well. Also their size seems to betray the eye on gauging their true distance so getting a good aim on them is tricky when arrows are affected by gravity. However you can, if you time it right, hit the fireballs and deflect them away from you.
Also, Notch has added biomes to the game, where the climate can change as you generate new areas by exploration. Old areas remained the same, though there are slight variations in grass and tree colour added in where altitude and temperature takes effect on the world, but the changes of biome type, ie, snow or desert, only take place in new areas generated after you apply the update. So, to put it another way, if you have only wandered a few minutes away from your spawn point and home then that area will be as it always was and everything beyond when you venture out in future could randomly change. If you have explored for hours on end and have a massive map already generated you will have to go further to find new biomes. In the future there may be new block types or even resources in biomes and the monster spawns could become more biome specific.
Notch intended to remove torches, ie the stick and coal type I talk about above, as being an infinite light source that they were when I started writing this blog. They were to be replaced with a lantern instead as an infinite light source and made torches finite so they burn out over time. You can reignite them with flint and steel and they burn for a while but expire again soon. So your priorities when starting the game for the first time would be to make temporary torches, as they are quicker and easy to make at first, and search out some steel and flint quick to relight them as you need them until you build up a supply of lanterns. Fortunately for long time players, torches placed down, in the inventory and stored in chests would be replaced with lanterns to begin with, saving people a large job of putting down more new lanterns where they want infinite light.
However, Notch could not get torches to burn out properly, whatever that means, so this was scrapped for now. And you can still harvest the red hellblocks that burn forever, though not good in a wooden house. And the yellow light blocks I have heard being called sulphur are as bright as a single torch. When you collect them they drop into dust and you need 9 dust to remake one block of light. I am now using them in my ever growing house to keep the middle sections lit and they look better than makeshift torch holders since they cannot be fixed to a roof and only the floor or the sides of block.
As part of the Halloween spirit you can collect pumpkins that are already carved and turn them into lanterns or even wear them as a helmet, that does not provide armour value though it creates an effect of looking through the eye and mouth holes which was pretty funny. And while before the update, if there was just a little light from a torch a monster would not spawn, there is now a chance of them spawning in slightly lit areas, getting greater the deeper you go so deep mine shafts and caves might still have plenty of monsters unless you stick a torch every other block. Notch has added in the ability to fish, making use of the already in-game fishing rod, new sounds for hell as well as new music and a clock you can craft that shows you the time of day. The sunset is nicer, with an orange sky instead of just a dimming blue sky to night as well.
Overall you make your own destiny in Minecraft and could dabble in multiplayer mode to craft with friends and make whole cities. A search on YouTube might show you some people’s crafted areas they made with friends on servers. A visit to Crafthub shows you the potential for construction if you have the imagination and time.
Minecraft comes with an old free version that is just a world builder with unlimited blocks and no crafting or monsters or even day/night cycle. The alpha version is around 10 euro until it goes beta. Pay for an Alpha game? Well Mojang Specifications is an indie developer planning to continue development on Minecraft in the long term and maybe bring more games to people soon. They are practically in their baby stage looking for backing and investors still and have about 5 people on staff so far, most likely all of them a friend of Notch. So if you think this game is worth your investing and supporting the makers then do buy it. If not then don’t, as no one forces you to until it is done. As I look at it now, it is not so much a full sandbox game in its own right, despite the constant updates and content additions, as it is worth the money in the first place.