Review – Minecraft

Rating - 9.0/10.0 - 9

I can’t remember what triggered my first encounter with what I can only describe as the cult phenomenon of Minecraft but I do remember it was the video on the Minecraft Website. That was it… I was hooked. Here you’ll find a rough review of the game and some screenies of my most adventurous crafting, mixing redstone with minecarts to create a fairly funky (in my humble opinion) minecart station system on our multiplayer server (no, it’s not a public server), so read on for my thoughts about this excellent life stealer.

So, lets begin with that last statement. Minecraft is without doubt one of the best life stealing games I have ever experienced. Thankfully I was never into Everquest, but I did read lots about it and I know a thing or two about losing my life to games having spent days playing Ultima Online and Quake III (to name two), but Minecraft… a more accurate moniker might be Minecrack… like the old Evercrack lines that did the rounds many years ago. It’s seriously addictive… just a little bit more… and a little bit more… and a little bit here… tinker with that… “Oh crap… it’s 2am… do I really need sleep… surely more redstone will help me avoid that”.

Just in case you’re not familiar with Minecraft, let me set the scene… the graphics are blocky (the closest I can get to an accurate description is a souped up rendition of Dungeon Master… the GUI elements are simple, the icons are clean, crisp bitmap graphics all rendered over a blocky, I think the technical term is voxel, 3D scene, … the landscape is blocky… you break stuff up with your hands or tools and you make stuff. And that is the essence of the game… mine stuff and craft stuff. But, you’re doing this in a completely free way, there are no rules (other than the basic laws of physics, like falling down a big hole will kill you, lava is hot so don’t swim in it and you can’t breathe underwater in your bath tub so why should you be able to make like a fish in game?), no real quests… just mine stuff and craft stuff.

And I hate it… I hate it because it is so fantastically addictive I’m thinking of starting a local chapter of Minecrafters Anonymous… “Hello, my name is Athena and I am a micecrafter… I’ve not crafted anything for 6 days, 4 hours, 27 minutes… I’ve mined 657 iron, 245 redstone, been to the Nether and harvested 384 Netherak, killed 25 creepers, 47 zombies, 34 skeletons, 18 spiders… am I still on the wagon if I’ve not crafted anything????”

It is quite simply a masterpiece and one that has undoubtedly made it’s creator rich… especially as over 1.6mil people have purchased a copy of this as yet, unfinished game (yes, thats right… it’s still in beta and people, including me, are paying money for it). For my rating… it has to get top marks, but because it’s beta and because of how it’s developed, I’m knocking a point off for some serious performance issues.

This is the only downside… it’s written in Java so it’s not the speediest of engines, but under normal circumstances, performance is acceptable. It can however get bogged down and become a little laggy, which is somewhat unexpected given the simplicity of the graphics. My laptop handles Ultima Online and some other older games without too many problems, but it can sometimes struggle with Minecraft. My desktop machine has no such problems. Stability is another issue… overall it runs without hitches, but can sometimes blackscreen and crash, but for a product that is still officially in beta, it’s pretty good.

Here’s a few screenies of my single player world ‘Randomonia’…

One of the funkiest things in game is redstone. Using it you can craft a number of ‘electrical’ items such as redstone torches and powered rails. Input can come from buttons, pressure pads, levers and detector rails and you can control doors and minecart rails (and soon, pistons) to create complex systems (I have seen a 16 bit, IIRC, adder developed with redstone).

To give you an idea of whats possible with ‘a little’ redstone logic and some minecart track (and I’m not saying this is the greatest of all stations or redstone logic or anything like that), these screenies show one of the two minecart stations I’ve just built. These sit at two different levels and provide minecart transit up, down and into the mine. The cart rider can elect to go up, down, into the mine or get off at this level. Carts without riders pass through and go straight upstairs to a storage area to be unloaded. The first screenie shows some of the track elements of the station, the second shows a view across a large room full of redstone logic that controls the various tracks to send the cart in the desired direction. As I said, I’m not saying this is the greatest but it is my first major undertaking.

So, to conclude… Notch, you are a genius. Minecraft is quite simply amazing. It’s simple. And there in lies the key I think. It’s simplicity. You don’t get bogged down in the complexities of plot lines and lots of controls. You mine stuff and you make stuff as you desire. I guess it could be considered as Lego for the internet generation. Play it at your peril :-)


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