THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO VIDEO GAMES PART 5: MINECRAFT

MINECRAFT

Alright, this one is here to fulfil a couple of niches that I felt needed addressing, because they shouldn’t be ignored and this game amply killed two birds with one stone. Think of it like this – did you like Lego as a kid? Of course you did, Lego is awesome. If I were doing a list of the best non-electronic games, then Lego would be number one, and numbers two through ten would simply state “See number one.” Well, Minecraft is like Lego, but with monsters, TNT, and the power of flight added in. And that’s an upgrade not to be sniffed at.

Minecraft satisfies two criteria I wanted to talk about, namely survival games and creativity games, and also proves a pet theory of mine – that you don’t need good graphics to sell. The whole thing looks like it’s made out of a mixture of cardboard, Playmobil, and kiddie’s wooden blocks, but comes together quite well, giving it has a sort of unfinished charm in its appearance. And that’s kind of cool on its own.

As you start a new game you’re provided with two choices – either creative or survival mode, and this is really going to impact what kind of game you play. It’s not like picking a difficulty setting or whether you want subtitles, this will change everything until you start a new game.

Creative mode makes you immortal, allows you to spawn any item you want, and gives you the power of flight just to top it off. It encourages you to build statues, structures, massive and awe-inspiring projects. Perhaps you’ve seen the life-size Starship Enterprise that hangs in the air in the exact way a continent does not, or the fully functional digital clock that somebody made with the few redstone assets that the game gives you. I myself have made a castle the size of a large city, and also a city the size of a large castle. Just because I could, and it was very satisfying. The large dimensions of the individual blocks and pieces mean that structures go up fast, but there’s a diversity to these assets that means that the constructs never look rough or weird-looking, at least once you’re building creations above a certain size.

On the other hand, survival mode limits you to the ground, forces you to mine for resources and hunt for any materials you want, gives you an empty stomach that needs constant refilling, and finally throws in the occasional monster hoard for you to bat away with a stick. There is an end to the game, sort of, which involves dropping into a couple of other dimensions to beat a surprised-looking dragon to death, but it’s not an obvious one and you wouldn’t know it was there without the wiki to hand.

Speaking of, you are going to have to alt-tab out of the game a lot to check the internet, in order to know what’s what and how it helps. Crafting is a big part of this game (of course it is, it’s in the title), but the game doesn’t tell you how to craft anything unless you’re playing the console version, and some of the more elaborate objects can be completely obscure. Perhaps watch a couple of the eighty-bajillion “let’s play” videos out there before you start, so you know what you’re doing. Otherwise, things might get ugly when hissing green death comes to your door.

But once you do know what you’re doing, you’ll recognise two important things. Firstly, that there is nothing more annoying than collecting enough rare metals and gemstones to embarrass a professional rapper, before plummeting head-first into lava and losing it all like a subterranean brother of the Three Stooges. And secondly, that it has been seven hours since you started playing.

It’s hard to explain to somebody who hasn’t experienced it. Time does weird things when Minecraft is turned on, so you’ll probably make the startling realisation that you’ve unintentionally pulled an all-nighter more than once.

Oh, it’ll start subtly. “I’ll just build a small house for me to put all my equipment in, then I’ll go to bed and get some shut-eye. Actually, I’m going to want some windows whilst I’m making that, so I’ll pop down to the beach and grab some sand. That shouldn’t take long. Ooh! A bit of iron in an exposed cliffside! I’ll just chip that out for later. Except damn, I left my pickaxe back home, so I’ll just head to the forest to get the wood for one, so I can get at that those resources. Hold on, a village! I wonder what I can find there? Emeralds, eh? Those seem useful, I’ll put those in a chest so that I can trade them later, only I can see a herd of cows over there, and I need to grab some meat so I can – Wait, why is my alarm ringing?”

Minecraft is a one of those curiously addictive games that combines limitless ideas with some very simple objectives. Have at ’em, my friends, and tell the creepers that I said “Hi.”

If you liked Minecraft, you’ll probably like Terraria, because it’s essentially a 2-D adaptation. Or why not give Don’t Starve a go?

TOMORROW: TURN BASED-ALIEN INVASION!

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