Unless you’re living under a rock you’ve probably heard of minecraft by now, a low resolution (did someone say ‘8 bit graphics’?), game where you spend your time mining and foraging for resources while manipulating your environment one block at a time.
I came across minecraft while following a link to a youtube vid on the minecraft mod – Dwarves vs. Zombies. Honestly, at first I was put off by the graphics but found the central concept intriguing. A minecraft world is built out of blocks, for example trees are blocks of wood stacked on top of each other, topped off by blocks of leaves. You can plant a sapling, it grows over time, if you cut it down and harvest the wood by chopping each wood block, the blocks of foliage will eventually disappear dropping new saplings that can then be planted, and possibly apples you can gather for health.
Mining works on the same principle. You shovel blocks of earth until you get to blocks of stone which you can pick away, searching for blocks of ore to harvest which you can smelt in a furnace to combine with sticks to make improved tools which makes mining and cutting down trees easier. Or you can mine blocks of coal which you combine with sticks to make torches, etcetera.
So now you’ve amassed a huge collection of stone, what do you do with it? You build of course. Towers, houses, fortresses, whatever your little heart desires, one block at a time. Throw blocks of sand in your furnace to make glass for windows. Craft stone steps, wooden ladders and doors and soon you will have a fortress you can feel secure in, but do it quick because every night at sundown the surface of your world becomes a breeding ground for zombies, skeletons, exploding monsters and giant spiders.
It’s a fun concept, the re-spawning monsters every night are a clever twist, it’s that aspect which makes this game of virtual tinker toys much more challenging and enjoyable.
The developers over at Mojang have created a Minecraft Pocket Edition for mobile devices. I’ve heard told that it doesn’t contain all the features of the full PC version, but even so it still has managed to keep me glued to my ipad for the past fortnight. There are two modes, Survival – where you start with nothing and contend with monsters every night and Creative – with unlimited resources and no monsters to interfere with the creation of your virtual Palace of Versailles.
The two finger controls take a bit of getting used to but it’s a gentle learning curve, soon you’re mining and building with the best of them.
The game also comes with a multiplayer mode over local wifi which is pretty cool. As long as the option is set, anyone in your vicinity who has the game, can join your world and play right alongside you, admire your accomplishments, and aid in your building projects. I have however been running into an issue where visitors seem to be ejected from the game on a fairly regular basis for no apparent reason, no matter how good the local wifi. When that happens those much needed 17 blocks of coal your visitor just mined disappear from the game forever, even if the visitor rejoins the game. Believe me that can take the fun out of a co-op game pretty darn fast.
How much replay value can such a basic concept have? Well, I’m at two weeks and counting. Every time I think I’ve exhausted all options, I get another idea like bolt holes and watch towers and I’m back at it again, building and mining away. Every new game takes place in a newly generated, unique world with a new set of geological and topographical challenges which also helps to keep the game fresh.
The game is not as cheap as some IPad apps with a seven dollar price tag currently, for the full version. There is a free demo version though that should give you a taste of the game mechanics.
Check it out presuming you don’t have an addictive personality or failing that, at least have an understanding family . . .