It is difficult to talk about Minecraft in such small terms since it now encompasses so many things: a genre-making game, a fresh subculture for jaded Lego collectors, a medium for artistic expression, and more, all in a single package. Just to touch on the bare essentials, Minecraft is a procedurally-generated sandbox game that combines exploration, construction, crafting and supply management; all with the promise of creative expression as the glue holding the bricks in place.
Minecraft‘s quintessential elements are mining or otherwise acquiring materials before making whatever you like out of them. When creating a new Survival Mode world to play in, your first question will probably be “What do I do?” The answer is simple and twofold; look around you and start pressing buttons. Experimentation with the cubic terrain and flora will probably lead you to discover that you can remove and replace blocks of matter. In order to save you some time, here’s a protip: hit trees first, since wood is what you could call the root of the tech tree. Not only will you face obstinate trees, dirt, and rock that refuse to budge without some effort and specific tools, but also wildlife, both docile and hostile. Sheep, chicken, wolves, skeletons, zombies, giant spiders and more await the business end of your sword (once you make it). Before that though, it’s more important to erect a shelter of some kind, since monsters come out at night, and spawn with such frequency that you’ll need a place to hide from them.
But wait, there’s more! Not only do you have to defend yourself, but you also have to eat, both to regain health and to keep from starving to death, so find a food source. Also, be sure to watch out for patches of lava both in the open and underground, since touching lava will kill you (unless there’s water nearby) and likely destroy your gear as well. Once you’ve learned to avoid the many dangers, it’s time to mine. But what to do afterwards? Should you build a castle? Dig to bedrock and strip mine for valuable ores? Explore the oceans, swamps, mountains and tundras? Create a pumpkin-headed snowman-making machine? Slay enough monsters to enchant your sword so that it sets enemies on fire? If it isn’t already apparent, the sheer volume of content in Minecraft is brain-meltingly huge, and the possibilities for activities are as limitless as the blocky horizons. On that note, yes, the graphical quality of Minecraft is laughable, but, then again, Super Mario Bros used the same bitmap size for the Mario sprite, and we can’t pan it for that. The terrain has its own organic feel that transcends the voxels of its composition, and the algorithms forming it can produce some breathtaking vistas. The look of Minecraft does take some getting used to, as does practically every other element of the game, and if that was completely intended then more props to Mojang.
If desperately fighting to stay alive isn’t your cut of meat, then perhaps you’d prefer the softer side of Minecraft – the Creative Mode. Invention is inherent to the premise of the game, which could explain why this mode has exactly the same appeal as Garry’s Mod – that of messing around with the game’s mechanics and possibly making or discovering something cool. Here, you have unlimited access to all of the blocks, tools, and items contained in Survival Mode, plus invulnerability and the ability to fly. Given all of that, you could theoretically create a replica of the USS Enterprise, or the Twin Towers, or the Taj Mahal, or something equally as awesome of your own devising as long as you don’t mind playing catch-up.
Catching up is something of a must, since Minecraft has technically been available to play and test since May of 2009. Markus “Notch” Persson and his crack coding team have been adding more and more content since the first experimental alpha build, and more is to come. The 1.0.0 version that was warmly celebrated at the MineCon release party is by no means the final one. This is likely the most noteworthy point to be made at the moment about Minecraft: it is a work in progress. Despite the recent inclusion of more monsters, item enchanting, potion brewing, the Nether and End areas to explore and conquer, and a final boss fight; Minecraft is still unfinished. More features are in the works, a list of which would be tedious to go through.
As if all of this isn’t enough, both Survival and Creative modes can be played with friends. Multiplayer servers exist for every game type, and a number of games have been invented within Minecraft, allowing players to compete with others and to test their knowledge of the game. To further enhance the experience there is also a significant pool of mods. The selection is already quite broad, and there are plenty worth trying. Even more so once Mojang finishes its planned mod API, allowing for easier integration.
At this point I realize that I have only just began to touch on what Minecraft truly contains. The rabbit-hole runs deep indeed, or rather, the mineshaft. Even if you don’t see a reason to try it on the PC, fear not. Ports are on the tracks and scheduled for arrival within the year — an Xbox Live version is promised, while iOS and Android versions are in early release. Minecraft is without a doubt worth the purchase, and even if you don’t immediately see the appeal and decide to go do something else, Minecraft will still be around in the future, with more goodies in its already gargantuan backpack.