I havenâ€™t been writing much recently, and it seems very much like something I should start doing again, if only because all these opinions bouncing around in my head need an outlet of some sort. So Iâ€™m going to write about games Iâ€™ve been playing recently â€“ seems like as good a place to start as any.
I was on vacation in Singapore lately, with the only computing devices at my disposal being my iPhone, my parentsâ€™ 2006 iMac and my slightly newer laptop. As it turned out, said laptop was completely incapable of playing pretty much anything I threw at it (with the exception of Civilization V, but even that started to chug as my game progressed further). As a result, I ended up trying out a game that has made an absolutely ludicrous amount of money based off word of mouth alone.
I am, of course, talking about Minecraft.
Simply put, this game is about building stuff. You collect raw materials, use them to build tools which you can then use to mine other raw materials which you can use to build other tools and items which you can use to mine other raw materials which you can use to build other toolsâ€¦
I think you get my drift.
That said, Minecraft tries to throw a few curveballs at you through the addition of a day-night cycle and AI monsters. At night, said monsters spawn in non-illuminated areas and start roaming the map, looking for you and your precious buildings. Of particular note is the iconic Creeper that will run towards you in its best imitation of a suicide bomber, with similar effects. These monsters (or mobs, as theyâ€™re called in Minecraft lingo) will spawn in dark areas even in the daytime, so management of light becomes important. You can also craft weapons and armour that will let you deal with mobs, if you so please.
My only question isâ€¦what does it all lead up to?
The only purpose of the game is to survive and keep building stuff. Your penalty for death is to lose everything youâ€™re carrying and return to your spawn location, but this doesnâ€™t seem like a really big problem since you can store away materials and tools in a separate stash. On top of that anything youâ€™ve built stays around (unless of course it got blown up by a Creeper) so all you really need to do is make some new tools and youâ€™re back in business.
A friend of mine told me that this game was â€˜like playing with Lego.â€™ My problem with that analogy is that when playing with Lego bricks you start with an end in mind, either from the instructions that came with your model kit or from the plans that you drew up yourself to build some magnificent sculpture using commodity bricks. Once youâ€™re done, youâ€™re done, and the fruits of your labour are visible for all to see. In Minecraft, you build and build with seemingly no end, and since death carries relatively minor penalties all there is to do is keep building.
Games that go on forever without victory conditions have one massive drawback, in that eventually you end up seeing everything the game has to offer (or feel like it, anyway) and quit out of boredom. SimCity has this problem, which is why I eventually gave up on it in spite of loving SimCity 4 to pieces for its complex economic simulation. With Minecraft, I hit that ceiling after about an hour of playing. Since there isnâ€™t anything to do beyond mining and building to find new materials to allow you to mine and build even more stuff, eventually you get bored. The AI mobsâ€™ purpose is basically to slow you down, nothing more.
If death in fact resulted in losing all your stuff (and the Minecraft wiki assures me that once upon a time, it did), then we might be looking at a contender for a decent survival game, but as it stands itâ€™s not much of one. That said, Notch now has my $15, so I hope he makes good use of it.
On a side note, while trying to take screenshots for this post, my graphics card driver crashed twice. Almost like it was trying to tell me something.