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Game of the Day: Minecraft

Date/Time Permalink: 10/06/10 11:47:14 am
Category: Linux Gaming

For once, I've been swept along with the hype-wagon. Because Minecraft is just that good! I've been so hooked on this damn thing ever since I downloaded it over the free weekend, it's been like having a heroin habit.

Now, it hasn't been the most stable experience. It is after all Alpha (we'll be talking about the Alpha version all the way through this). And its biggest downside is that it is written in Java. I know some of you run screaming from the mere name right now and I don't blame you. The developer says that he might release it as open source someday; perhaps the time to suggest a rewrite in a more game-friendly (and cross-platform-friendly) language will be then. As it stands now, if it runs slow on your machine, it's probably because it's Java. The memory allocation strategy of Java can best be described in three words: Nom nom nom.

Anyway, I'll just say that if you have trouble running the Linux version in Java, you're on your own! I got mine working through a series of black magic rituals which I do not now recall, the way you'd block out the memory of a car wreck.

What is this game about?

It's the ultimate wide-open sandbox. Much more so than every simulation game I've seen. The basic premise is to acquire (mine, and farm, and lumberjack, and smelt, and craft, and engineer) various resources, then use them to build stuff. Optionally, you can turn peaceful mode off and fight monsters, too. The graphics are deliberately sucky and blocky; you'll recoil from the screenshots in horror, but play the game for five minutes and you'll be so immersed you won't remember what you were complaining about.

This game has depth like you wouldn't believe. Comparable to Nethack! Instead of trying to explain, here's some YouTube videos:

Yeah, it's that deep! Every time you start a new world, it generates a completely new map that goes on for miles.

My own gallery I have to bore you with.

I've been shying away from the typical castle/fortress designs that so many others do to try to find more original expression in the game. So...

Minecraft_Better_Homes_and_Gazebos
Outside of one home showing garden and gazebo. (Macadamia! Gazebo! Bulbous bouffant!)

Minecraft_Tiled_Wood_Floor_and_Lava_Light
Interior of same house, with pattern-tiled wood floor and gold-furnished lava light.

Minecraft_Lava_Fountain
One world I just experimented with fountains. This is a lava fountain.

http://www.penguinpetes.com/images/Minecraft_Lava_and_Water_Sculpture.jpg
A lava and water fountain, encased in glass so the streams don't cross - Professor Egon would approve.

Minecraft_Spiral_Waterfall
A spiral waterfall, just to show I can.

http://www.penguinpetes.com/images/Minecraft_Tetris.jpg
Tetris tribute.

What makes this game so raving popular?

I have a pet theory, which is that Minecraft is derivative to the extent that it can be any game you want it to be:

  • Equip a bow and arrow and hunt mobs - now it's a first-person shooter.
  • Run around exploring - now it's an adventure game.
  • Build a city - now it's Sim City.
  • Build a mine cart roller coaster - now it's Roller Coaster Tycoon.
  • Start a multiplayer server and live in a town with your friends - now it's Second Life.
  • Raise crops and keep cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens in a pen - now it's Farmville.
  • Keep an inventory and craft better weapons and armor - now it's an RPG.
  • Build mechanical/electrical stuff - now it's The Incredible Machine.
  • Hop from block to block while avoiding lava - now it's Super Mario Brothers.

All that from a first-person perspective. People have even made mini-games within the game.

So, while the game costs money (less than $20 currently) and isn't open sourced yet, it gets a pass here for having a Linux port. And for being a landmark game; I predict that this thing is going to get much, much bigger still and that a whole new genre of games will start to come out. We're already seeing dozens of imitations out there - the basic idea of building things with blocks in a 3D environment goes back to games like Infiniminer, so Minecraft in itself isn't that original. It just knit the unique set of features and elements together in an original way that just gets the formula right!

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