It’s not often that a game from a virtually unknown developer can turn the industry on its head, but that’s exactly what sandbox-building world simulator Minecraft has done. It went from niche indie secret to web phenomenon almost overnight, making its creator more than a million Euros before it was even out of beta. Now that it’s reached its first official version, there’s never been a better time to see what all the fuss is about.
After choosing between Survival and Creative modes, players are thrown into a randomly generated world, without any defined objectives or means to defend themselves. Deserts, oceans, forests and snow-covered tundra cover the landscape, with mountains and deep caverns to explore stretching off to an infinite horizon.
Our editor's own crazed construction, lunchtimes have never been so productive - click to enlarge
Adventurers will flock to Survival mode, where you start with limited health and an empty inventory. Here, you must forage for materials, build a shelter and defend yourself from any enemies you encounter – monsters range from shambling zombies and jumping spiders to skeleton archers and deadly creepers. These snake-like creatures explode when you get too close, which can result in a destroyed shelter and a quick death. Without weapons or armour, you won’t last long – monsters are tough and the game is unforgiving to the foolhardy. Before you can go on the offensive you’ll need to craft yourself some equipment.
Monsters only come out at night or in dark underground caverns, so days are spent collecting resources to combine into useful equipment, weapons and armour. There are few clues as to which items can be crafted together - some take a little common sense but others require much more thought. Wood can be split into planks, which in turn can be turned into sticks to use as tool or weapon handles, but you’ll need to start digging to mine the materials needed to smelt the stronger weapons and armour. Mine carts, compasses, fishing rods and all manner of different items expand the game significantly as you discover how to craft them.
The eventual end-game requires you to build a portal to The End, an alternate universe ruled by the EnderDragon, but you could literally play forever and never get there – some may hate this seemingly pointless quest, but others will be hooked on the freedom to go at your own pace.
If the idea of harvesting resources seems like too much work, you can play in Creative mode. This is essentially the digital equivalent of Lego, a sandbox that gives you unlimited quantities of every object in the game to build whatever you want. A quick search on YouTube will reveal some fantastic creations, including life-size Star Trek space ships, working 16-bit computers, levels from other games and real-world buildings, all redesigned in block form. What starts as a small project will often spiral into a mammoth undertaking that can be seen for miles on the horizon.
We love riding the roller-coaster with our diamond sword - click to enlarge
Your friends can join in on the fun too, as Minecraft supports multiplayer servers. Many of the amazing projects found on the internet are collaborations, completed by teams of players – the lack of competition and essence of camaraderie makes a welcome change to the competitive nature of many modern multiplayer games.
Minecraft’s graphics are sure to divide opinion – the pixelated blocks that make up each world definitely can’t compete with today’s blockbusters, but they have their own retro-inspired charm that should appeal to fans of older games as well as the console crowd. Music and sound effects are in short supply too, but this helps create ambience in a world where you are very much alone.