Though I’ve followed the stories and images about it and it’s makers for some time, the newly launched XBLA edition is my real introduction to Mojang’s Minecraft and my first opportunity to get into the game hands-on. The game has already smashed previous sales records on Xbox and was an instant hit from the first day it launched. I was among those masses eager to finally have it and see it up close for the first time. It looks like an RPG, but there is no story, there are no quests, just things to create while surviving. It is a “sandbox game” set amid ambient music in an 8-bit world, divided into the realms of the Overworld and the Nether. But just starting out, I was pretty much lost. Lesson one: LAVA = BAD (No Touch). Also dangerous: NIGHTTIME (Hide). Drowning/Falling: AVOID. Honestly, I was not really sure what the game wanted from me. Fortunately, there was also the tutorial. Without it, I might still be wandering aimlessly, punching trees.
Ah, the sages of Penny Arcade*, they speak the truth. (Yep, that was me.)
The sky’s the limit… Really.
“Before you can fly, you must learn to walk” or so they say. Incidentally, having a friendly mentor and going co-op can be especially helpful when starting out. I did both, and between tutorial and co-op, I got a great feel for how the game worked, where I was, and what I would need to be doing. Initially, Minecraft does appear a little coarse, after all, most games are no longer presented in blocky and bold 8-bit glory; and it’s awkward at first glance. It does not take long to adapt, though, and the music does lend a softening effect to the game’s cosmetically rough edges.
In Minecraft, perhaps more than most games, getting oriented is a prerequisite to making real progress. It seemed to help me that I noticed aspects in the game that I could relate to other games. Sure it’s part of getting your bearings, but it also helps to dispel the strangeness of the new situation and helps define it’s dynamics. Here’s a comparison I’m betting you won’t have heard, it’s got a lot in common with Rare’s Viva Pinata: Trouble in Paradise. There are animals and enemies, crops and ingredients with which to build and craft, and a wealth of insider know-how, most of which will confound new-comers.
Games that potentially foster a sort of mastery in players, The Elder Scrolls also offering good examples, have, to me always held special appeal. They reward players for dedication and investigation, both potentially excellent facets for gameplay. Minecraft fosters specialist players and casual players alike, but it looks like the specialists can transform the game into something quite uniquely their own. Minecraft, in the hands of an artist, can have unlimited potential.
Creature Basics: the good, the bad, the ugly (sort of)
I found myself on a strange island, empty-handed, the tiered landscape littered with a mix of cute but odd animals and many trees to punch…
GOOD (Pictured: Cow, Pig, Sheep, Chicken)
These are docile, innocuous farm animals mostly. They roam the landscape and can provide various useful cooking and crafting materials. Some of those materials, can only be acquired by killing these animals, (it’s not difficult to accomplish, but it could feel a bit bad). These animals are basically always present, night or day.
BAD (Pictured: Zombie, Pigman, Creeper, Skeleton)
This motley assortment emerge at night and come to do harm to you and do collateral damage to anything that happens to be nearby, including your buildings and the land itself. They do not all disappear at daybreak either; creepers especially seem to stalk me in my game, and explode in inconvenient places. Enemy monsters, however, can be deactivated by selecting “peaceful” mode. In lieu of that, caution and staying in a good shelter at night are probably your best bets for survival.
UGLY (…it’s not about looks)
Not every natural animal creature is passive and friendly. There are some animals with nasty dispositions that are as much a plague as any monster in the game. One word: spiders. Aggressive, toxic spiders that climb walls… (shudder) Right, moving on.
Blocks and Crafting: …Have I mentioned the Tutorial?
You start with your own two stumpy hands, that’s about it. The most fundamental things you need will be the tools for creating and acquiring other, bigger and better things. Especially if you’ve ever played any game with KEFLING in the name, this will be a familiar and logical concept. Through crafting you can: produce/upgrade building materials; produce/upgrade tools, weapons and armor; create dyes and potions; and construct contraptions or other supplies. Nearly all of the raw materials in the game (the Overworld and the Nether) come in the form of blocks, particularly when it comes to building materials. Your tools determine what kinds of materials you are able to mine.
In addition to hand tools, the first things you will need to construct are crafting tables and furnaces. These essential work stations let you make use of raw materials you’ve gathered, letting you cook or craft new items according to specific plans you are able to view while utilizing the stations. The plans are displayed in icon form, so some deciphering will still be required, unless you opt to use a Minecraft guide or online wiki for reference. It may be a good resource regardless, as the helpful text and tips tend to appear briefly and at random, not necessarily when they are needed or relevant. From my experience, however, I’d recommend getting some quality time in multiplayer. It’s an option worth trying if only to see your friend transformed into a zombie, moments like that just don’t happen playing solo… and in addition to whatever grand 8-bit masterpieces you build, they can be yours to treasure always.
More to Come…
Minecraft is engaging, charming and fun. But I’ve only scratched the surface so far in it, my Taj Mahal is far from built and I still have plenty to explore and to learn before I can claim any real adeptness or authority. Still, I’m not stuck and I’m not aimlessly punching trees, I am playing. And whenever I reflect back on my favorite games, my favorite memories of them always include times like these: first impressions, exploration, revelations and delving deeper into a new world with potential greatness that I’m just beginning to find. While gaming zen is certainly not the only worthwhile reason to play, games that make the most of it are rare. Minecraft is beginning to look like one of those games and I will be glad that I didn’t rush or fail to discover it.
On to the nuts and bolts…
NEW FAQ From Mojang: http://help.mojang.com/customer/portal/articles/539356-xbox-360-edition