Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Of blocks, building, and bastards.

I had heard great things about Minecraft, and seen even greater things. Some of the things that people with far too much time on their hands have been able to build are literally staggering. Me? Well, I don't have anywhere near enough time on my hands. But, I do have an absolute boatload of enthusiasm on my side. I'm also fairly smart, so I didn't doubt that I, too, would soon be creating some slices of pure magic.

Turns out I was mistaken.

Things started out simple enough. I had the choice of singlepayer or multiplayer. Since I didn't know what I was doing, I figured it was best to start out in singleplayer. I was asked to choose a name for my world, so I went with my old Animal Crossing standby of 'Flapston'. (Yes, I am that shallow. The word 'flaps' makes me giggle.) And I appeared in a snowy place next to a lake.


All looked idyllic enough. A quick wiggle of the mouse made me realise that the big beige thing at the bottom right was my fist. With it, I could punch holes in the very ground! These holes were in turn collectable by me, and could be placed on top of each other somewhat like Lego bricks. Which is obviously how people have built such PHENOMENAL things.I mean, some guy made a copy of Rapture from Bioshock. As in, you could literally walk around and if you knew the game well enough you knew where you were going.

Of course, I had no such joy. All I had was blocks of bloody sand to play with! I did also discover that I could punch trees to collect wood, but I was seemingly unable to collect stone. Sure, I could punch it repeatedly until it eventually broke, but there was no little collectable small block if I did that.

Soon, I noticed how dark it was getting. It never occured to me that the game played out in any kind of time like this, but I did realise that building and even walking around was going to get a bit hard if I wasn't able to see anything. Suddenly, though, I spotted a person! I was sure I was playing single player, so I thought this was some NPC come to help me out. I went over to talk to him ...


AND DIED! Seriously, the bastard killed me. Yeah, some NPC he turned out to be.

Things got worse. At night, Minecraft turns from a game about blocks into a game where everything kills you. Dudes attack you, spiders attack you, and whilst you can punch them like they are so much ground, that doesn't work on everything. There was another dude that attacked me, except he had a rather nasty trick defence mechanism up his sleeve. The bastard exploded, killing me instantly.

At this point, I hit the Minecraft Wiki, to see if I could make any sense of what the hell I was witnessing. There, I learned that I needed to use my wood to make a crafting table, which would then allow me to make a pick. This pick would allow me to collect stone, and most importantly COAL, because the aforementioned exploding bastards only spawned in dark places and I needed to get light into those places. Light comes from torches, which can only be crafted on the tables, and the torches are made of sticks (from the wood) and coal. The crafting system is quite clever once you KNOW IT FUCKING EXISTS, but until that point (which, as far as I can tell can only be reached by knowing the sodding Wiki even exists) you might as well be playing with a beachball on the moon. Not a lot makes sense, it's no fun in the dark, and all your hard work can be undone if you so much as blink for a second.

Minecraft is about survival. Day is fine, but night is full of dangers. You need to create a place where you can hide, so that no exploding bastards (which I have since learned are called "Creepers") can come and kill you. I did not know this, and instead sufficed with building a tall column made of 30 sand blocks with me atop, which proved to be effective in stopping things from getting to me.

So, I am precisely one billion miles away from building my own version of Minas Tirrith, or even building my own dog kennel if I am honest. However, I am a lot more enlightened as to why so many will lose so much time to this game. I am not sure I will ever scale the heights some have, but I have a whole new level of appreciation for some of the truly incredible creations that adorn the web.

You can buy Minecraft here, and probably should do whilst it is still in beta. The full release will cost 25% more than the current price, and will also be out on the same day as Skyrim. Which means you won't be buying it that day. Despite my seeming hatred, I can see the goodness inherent, and hope to one day build SOMETHING that I am proud of. Until then, I will be wandering the world looking for coal, since Flapston seems to be completely bereft of this resource.

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