I’ll be the first to admit it – after the first episode, I wasn’t sold on Peter Capaldi as the new Doctor of “Doctor Who,” with the bewildered Clara following behind like a lost puppy, haphazardly flinging aggression around like cream pies in a “Three Stooges” marathon.
But that’s okay, because you can have a say on what the good Doctor does in between episodes — if you happen to have “Minecraft” for Xbox 360. Not only do you get to send the new Doctor, as well as Clara, to go on adventures, but Microsoft is looking to roll out all the Doctors from the 50 years of the show, their companions and his biggest enemies. You’ll take on Daleks, build your own TARDIS and do the right thing by leaving Rose Tyler at home (we all know Donna was the superior companion for the tenth Doctor)… The creators of the show. as well as Microsoft, see this as a way to continue the adventure even after the credits roll.
But when I donned my little red fez hat, straightened out my bowtie and held my sonic screwdriver high into the air, someone far into the distance yelled out, “What the hell is ‘Minecraft’?”
Needle scratch. At least, if you happen to be under the age of fifteen: For the young and/or video game-savvy, such a question is absolutely impossible to imagine. The film equivalent would be somewhere in the realm of being curious of that new Disney property, “Star Wars,” and wondering if it was any good.
And the parallels between the two might not be too far off. Both were modest-budget ventures which took the world by storm, spawning not only a league of devoted fans, countless homages and conventions; but also changing the very mediums that they were created in. A bit of a stretch? Yes, but I want to begin to give you a grasp of the impact this one game has had across the gaming universe. Understand “Minecraft,” and you’ll begin to understand the power of games.
Like any good story, this one begins with a man and a dream. Markus “Notch” Persson first started on the project to create a three-dimensional world vast in scope, with elements that allowed you to customize your character into the way you want them.
Notch names several games that influenced him but it would be “Infiniminer,” a game about digging in a massive world and looking for minerals with other people, which would be the most important. (It’s like George Lucas watching old samurai movies as a story about a galaxy far, far away formed in his mind.)
Both games share the same boxy look that appears as though someone zoomed and forgot to enhance. What you get is a world made of uniformly shaped squares giving you the impression of trees, mountains, or even animals. Even without fine detail, you quickly grasp what you’re looking at, and even at a distance, there’s a beauty to all of it. You might as well get used to it, because you have a nearly infinite world to explore.
You start the game by waking up on this lonely planet with nothing to your name. For some of you that’s a typical Thursday night, but here you’ll need to pull your cube corpse off the ground and start rummaging for anything useful. You have only twenty minutes before night falls. “Minecraft” randomly generates the world around you, sort of like shuffling through a deck of cards with things on them like “forest,” “ocean,” or “weird skeleton warriors.” To survive, you’ll need to start punching trees. Yes, you read that correctly – punch trees.
With enough wood and dirt, that you also managed to punch and collect, you should have just enough time to start building a little earth hut, where you will hide and hold your breath for the next 20 minutes of night. When the sun goes down, the monsters come out to hunt. You’ll meet beasts and undead creatures of all kinds along with “Minecraft’s” favorite denizen — the creeper, a nearly limbless hopping thing that loves to find you when you least expect them. You will scream like a girl, spill your coffee everywhere and have to explain to your roommate that you saw a spider on your shirt and tried to drown it with coffee.
At this point of the game, you can start building, exploring and working through miles of tunnels to find the precious mother lode. But don’t expect handholding, or a giant arrow in the sky showing you where to go next to get that really cool sword. Everything is up to you. Even to figure out the formulas to craft items, most people simply go online to locate the recipes, though the good old-fashion solution of trial and error still works.
One of the things “Minecraft” is most noted for is the freedom it gives the players to build and experiment with the tools. You start off with simple objects; axes, torches, helmets and swords. With a little time and experimentation, you move to switches, complex machines, mine carts, glass. A friend of mine once made a solar-powered chicken cooker in the game that would harvest the eggs, grow the chickens, cook the meat, and put it in a box for others once a day.
Players can use the creative mode to make everything from a recreation of the “Game of Thrones” intro, a life-size model of the USS Enterprise from “Star Trek” or even a really cool video of “Beetlejuice.” And the players share this with each other not just through videos scattered throughout YouTube, but as files you can download and experience yourself. If you are looking for an adventure, there are thousands out there waiting for you to download with the help of “Minecraft.”
This is where we get back to the “Star Wars” parallel, because one of the things that makes this one game so amazing, so endearing, and gives it a longevity way beyond most games comes from the community that developed around it. Notch let people into his world early on in the production phase of the game. Even before it was ready for release, players were posting videos online and giving his team suggestions on what features they wanted. The release of the full game actually didn’t seem so big, since so many people were already playing and creating new items as a part of this world.
Three years after the release of the game, the developers sent out a new version with new resources, new underwater content, a giant boss — all for free, to players already enjoying the game. The idea of some games as a service came from titles like “Minecraft” where players pay to enter, but then receive more as time progresses. And more games are starting to follow this pattern as a way to move away from the free-to-play model. Instead of buying out a game in bits and pieces, paying for a smaller experience helps to fund a much larger one.
“Minecraft” is available everywhere. No, really. After arriving on the PS4 and Xbox One this week, you can get the game on your phone, PC and practically every possible console you might own. If you want to understand where games are going, this may be your first step into the future. “Minecraft” opens up a world of limitless possibilities, driven by the player and created by the fans who love it.