The basic premise of Minecraft is exploration, survival and building. It has a very primal appeal, combining the creative drive and freedom of building-based toys with the exploration and discovery of wandering around in some crazy backwoods environment. The most obvious analog is the infamous Lego with its simple pleasure of construction, basic mechanical rules—blocks stick on other blocks—and limitless opportunity for creativity. Minecraft, more or less, is childhood.
The world itself is blocky and stylized, with a graphical level of detail that reflects the early 2000s era PC video games. The visuals are low-tech but appealing, with a simple pixelated style and a cubic design aesthetic that remains consistent in all aspects of the game. The world, the trees, the animals and even the player’s avatar are made up entirely of cubes and blocks. This design choice allows the developers of the game, which is not finished entirely, to develop content easily and quickly.
The world is created anew using a type of controlled randomization called procedural generation. Every hill and cliff and ocean and endless cave—all of it’s new every time. Also, as a nice bonus, every world is about 16 times the size of earth. Finding new places and discovering natural formations such as massive underground lakes is one of the most interesting and awe-inducing things one can experience in a video game.
The game plays much like a standard platformer, with simple controls—walking, looking and jumping, but the real interest comes from the ability to break and replace any block in the world. From chopping down trees to literally moving a lake from one place to another, each and every cube of dirt, rock and gravel can be broken, picked up and placed in another location. You can also create things from these pieces, such as tools like pickaxes or shovels, or more complicated things such as minecarts, tracks, ladders or redstone circuits.
Redstone is a rare mineral that lies deep underground and carries a charge. It can be attached to a torch made of the same material and turned on or off. This means that it can be used in a basic computing. Naturally, with people having entirely too much time, someone immediately created an ALU, which stands for Arithmetic Logic Unit. It’s a kind of simple computer that can do basic math. They made a computer inside a video game. Aaaaaugh.
Minecraft has become something of a phenomenon, with the game’s popularity skyrocketing in the span of a few short months. So far, over a million copies have been sold of the game, and it’s not even really complete yet. There’s something really enrapturing about the game that makes you want to discover what’s over that mountain and then what’s behind that giant tree—then you’ve found a floating island with waterfalls coming off of it above a giant lake.
However, there are troubles in the world. Usually the player doesn’t discover this until the first night. That’s also about when it might be noticed that there’s a day-to-night cycle that’s quite impressive to look at and will completely distract you from the fact that there’s probably a zombie behind you. There are several kinds of monsters in the game—zombies, skeletons, spiders, skeletons riding on spiders and Creepers. Creepers are the worst.
Firstly, they’re hideous. They look like a cactus with four tiny feet on the bottom that scrabble and shuffle toward you like some kind of horrible dream. At first you can’t even figure out what it is or what it wants, only that it keeps moving toward you, hissing. Instinctively, you retreat, wanting whatever that thing is to just go away and stop existing, and that you could just forget it ever happened. You try climbing something, anything. Even a lava-fall. But really, you can’t escape.
And then it jumps. Somehow, in some horrible offense to physics, the thing jumps. It just sort of heaves itself off the ground at you and explodes. If you survive, which is technically possible, then you are left with a completely new outlook on the idea of hiding and a giant hole in the ground. So you dig and dig and dig. Eventually, the interior designer inside you takes over and you end up putting up torches and planting gardens and then you realize that it’s been a long time before you went outside to gather any resources or find new trees or anything.
Then you realize that you’re pretty all right with that. Because there are Creepers out there.