Minecraft is probably one of the biggest indie games out there, and one that almost everyone knows of. It has captured the attention of many players, and even developers are either inspired by it, or just develop for it. The game is a good example of how good graphics really aren’t everything, and that simplicity can go a long way. Through this article I will be reviewing the game, and giving opinions from a game development point of view.
The interface for the game is very simplistic, and just gives you what you need. You have your hotbar with your 9 equipped items at the bottom of the screen, and your stats above that. The inventory screen has your inventory grid, equipment, a crafting grid, and if you have any, your buffs / debuffs. The usable tiles such as the crafting table and furnace all have their own interface, which changes the top half of the inventory screen. I think the interface is one of the biggest draws to the game, as Minecraft is very easy to learn and get into because of it’s simplicity.
Gameplay in Minecraft is very flexible, and allows players to choose how they play. It can be played as a creative sandbox game, purely for creation. Even there, you can choose to either create art and structures, or as some do, create complex circuits and machines. You can play as a survival game, building a home and fending off monsters. You can play as a town building game, finding a village, upgrading and defending it. You can play for the adventures, looking around for new interesting things. There’s even user made maps and mods to play the game as an RPG or to solve puzzles. On top of everything, you can choose the difficulty of the game, to better suit your level of play. The game allows for many choices, making it have a huge target audience, and with an infinite procedurally generated world, the game can be replayed forever.
Minecraft has little to no story, as it is purely a sandbox game. What you make of the world is up to the players, if a story is wanted you can make your own. Of course some larger mods add stories of their own to the world, and custom maps may have a story behind them. Instead of story, the progression through the game is controlled with crafting. In order to get further into the game, players must craft tools and devices, which allow them to get materials to craft better tools and devices. This leads up to the two bosses of the game, which are designed to be extremely challenging for players to face alone. Beating these bosses gives new items only obtainable from them, whether it is the decorative dragon egg or a powerful material to make one of the most useful devices in the game. At this point, many players may either change how they play, or turn to mods to allow further progress.
The dungeons and structures of Minecraft are a large part of what makes the game interesting. You can find villages of NPCs around the world, which the player can take refuge in or trade with the villagers for items. You can find temples which contain treasure protected by traps. There are small dungeons, containing rare loot protected by monster spawners, as well as massive strongholds, containing much more treasure and a portal to one of the bosses. Ravines, caves, lakes, oceans, forests, there is an endless list of things to see in Minecraft. If the list isn’t long enough, the players can make their own, or add mods that add some for them. Every update of the game seems to add more structures to find, the list constantly growing.
Items are a large part of the game, and make up for a huge amount of its success. More specifically, the crafting system is what gets the attention. Players collect materials from all over the world, plants, blocks of stone or dirt, etc. They then use the crafting grid to make items, generally by “drawing” what they want with materials. Want to make sticks? Put 2 wood planks above each other on the grid. Want a chest? Make a square out of wood planks. This simple but flexible system allows for a lot of variety, but keeps the game easy to learn and play. Also, because you are “drawing” the item on the grid, it is generally quite easy to remember the recipes, making it more convenient for players. Items can also be enchanted in the late game, further increasing the strength of them, as well as giving another simple system to for players to learn. Although different interfaces are used, other crafting devices all have simple easy to understand recipes, such as the furnace needing fuel and an item to heat, or the alchemy stand taking ingredients and putting them into 3 bottles.
Minecraft has plenty of unique features, from the redstone devices to player content. Redstone is a dust that is collected deep underground. Using this dust like a wire, it is possible to make complex machines using the devices made from redstone. There are pistons which can push and pull blocks around, dispensers which can fire items, tripwires, explosives… The list goes on, and is one of the most modded systems in the game. Redstone can be used to make secret entrances, traps, combination locks, and by some very dedicated players, even entire computers can be created. Another great feature is the ability for players to create their own content in game. This currently includes maps and books. Players can make maps of different sizes of areas, and trade them to others, or just use them for their own reference. Books can be written in, signed, and traded with other players to share secrets or instructions. There is also a large amount of plants and animals that can be farmed, and rare materials to be found. Although these make single player interesting, they really shine in a multiplayer setting, allowing players to cooperate by focusing on their own resources and trading for others.
As great of a game as it is, a game can always use improvement. There are many things that can be added the redstone system, better traps, more logic, etc. More late game content, bosses, and items would be nice too, as the vanilla game gets quite boring once you’ve mastered everything. Being a sandbox game, it can always use more content to make it more interesting. The game could also use some cleaning up in the graphics engine, to make the game run smoother. The strange thing is, I’m not the only one with these opinions. Minecraft has a massive modding community, possibly the largest of any game out there. All the previously mentioned things and more have been added to the game, and with user made modding API’s available, these mods can work together and be mixed to make your own ideal game. This is probably the most attractive feature of the game, and it wasn’t even added by the developers themselves.
As a game, not many get as big as Minecraft has. It has attracted millions of players, and inspired dozens of clones, 2D and 3D. A large part of its success is its simplicity, regular updates and the developers listening to their player base. I expect to see much more from the game in the future, and expect it to inspire many developers for years to come. Next week, I will be reviewing some of the largest and most popular mods for Minecraft.