It was November of 2010 when I first downloaded Minecraft, which was still in its "alpha" version at the time. I was visiting a couple of friends who had already purchased the game, and seeing the epic glass tower one of them had created made it impossible to resist paying the games $12 fee.
Upon spawning in my first ever randomly-generated world, my friends gave me just one piece of advice: "You need to build a shelter before nighttime." I wandered around in the wilderness punching trees and digging up dirt, but it didnt take long for me to throw in the towel and turn to an online crafting guide, which taught me how to make tools and torches (the latter of which are important for creating safe, well-lit hidey holes).
Surviving the first day/night in Minecraft is one of the most memorable gaming experiences Ive ever had right up there with my first time getting the wing cap in Super Mario 64. It sticks out in my mind because it was something Id never done in a video game before. Minecraft is chock-full of moments like that.
One of my original creations: A recreation of Fallingwater at Bear Run by Frank Lloyd Wright.
The possibilities offered by Minecrafts world reveal themselves to the player at an incredible rate during those first few hours, and budding creators will find themselves becoming more ambitious as time wears on; my dream of digging out an underground lair was eclipsed by an idea I later had for a massive castle in the sky. Eventually I even began experimenting with recreating real-world architecture.
Most of the time Ive poured into Minecraft has been spent on private multiplayer servers run by friends. Its actually quite hard to go back to playing in the single-player mode once youve spent 100+ hours working alongside friends to create a gorgeous mega-structure. The rewards of seeing people you know admire your work gives value to all of the time you spent creating something, and the inherently cooperative nature of the game can turn gathering dirt into an experience that can be fun for hours on end. Perhaps thats why I stopped playing Minecraft when my other friends quit at some point in July of this year.
Upon getting assigned this review, I updated my Minecraft client and once again spawned into a new world. It had been a few months since Id last booted up the game, and I was surprised by how much had changed; NPC villages and expansive underground dungeons are now a part of the standard Minecraft experience, along with countless new types of vegetation and craftable items. Players are even forced to eat food constantly in order to stay alive, these days.
The randomly-generated environments in Minecraft are often just as stunning as the things people create within them.
Some of these changes remind me of the special, themed sets that LEGO constantly releases things like the Pirates of the Caribbean-branded Black Pearl or the Log Cabin set. I never liked those.
Why would I want to follow a blueprint for something when I can use my imagination to create anything I want? Keep your Star Wars cruiser and give me my giant bucket of plain old bricks! Legos are about creativity, right?
I suppose that Mojang threw in the new, pre-crafted structures to give players something to interact with once they grow bored of creating things, but nothing about the dungeons or NPC villages are particularly interesting. Minecraft fans have created some truly fascinating scenarios using mods (check out this hilarious playthrough of the "Survival Island" mod for an example), and these work far better as guided experiences than the things that Mojang itself has built into Minecraft.
Admittedly, critiquing Minecrafts ready-made dungeons and NPC villages is a bit like complaining about the beans served alongside an immaculate five-star steak. Sure, the side-servings might be mediocre, but at its core Minecraft is one of the most forward-thinking games ever created. It spits in the face of the conventional games industry, and its raked in millions of dollars while doing so. Decades from now it will be viewed as one of the key benchmarks that defined the still-burgeoning art form we call video games.
Protip: Its worth $27.
PROS: A brilliant creative outlet thats perfect for gamers of any age; one of 2011s best original game soundtracks.
CONS: "Uncreative types" wont get much out of the games randomly generated dungeons.
My pride and joy: the sky castle I created alongside three of my closest friends.