By Quintin Smith on September 20th, 2010 at 3:59 pm.
We call this one “Kicking It With Caverns”.
I wasn’t going to do another Mine The Gap. I decided that I’d hit the sweet spot of persuading you guys that you needed MineCraft in your lives without spoiling too much of it. HOWEVER, a guy called Deriuqer commented on Day 4 that if one of the things I loved about MineCraft was how it let me get lost, why did I build a compass specifically so that wouldn’t happen?
It was a good question. But what happened next in my game was a kind of perfect rebuttal.
Let me clarify. Actually getting lost in MineCraft is a bit of a headache. When I say I want games which “Let the player get lost”, I don’t mean I’ve got a burning desire to experience having no idea where the fuck I am. What I mean is that I want games with worlds that have not been designed with an eye to helping the player get around.
The difference between a “game that lets you get lost” and a game that doesn’t is the same kind of difference as you find between a linear game and a non-linear one. The point isn’t the physical acts that you can do in one and not the other, the point is in the atmosphere it creates.
Killing someone in a non-linear game is much more exciting than it is in a linear game, because you also had the option of not killing them. Likewise, in the game with the world that you can get lost in, exploring is that much more exciting because the prospect of getting lost looms overhead. A compass was my little victory against the looming spectre of getting lost, but it didn’t change the fact that this was still the kind of world that you could get lost in. The world, in a word, was still dramatic.
Anyway. Guess what happened instantly the next time I played MineCraft? I got lost, of course.
When we left me, I’d just found what I was calling the promised land. I decided I’d have a nose around its caves, and discovered that this place was as teeth-clenchingly impressive underground as it was overground. After an hour of travelling downwards, hacking apart the occasional monster and pulling huge chunks of iron, gold and diamond from the walls, I found a huge chamber filled with gravel.
An arrow came twanging out at me from the darkness ahead, catching me in the chest. As with all surprise arrow attacks in MineCraft, I immediately shat myself and launched into a state that could at best be called “highly unpredictable”. I went leaping from one gravel platform to another, piecing my way through the darkness towards my enemy. When I saw the lone skeleton archer I screamed “YOU AND ME, BABY,” loud enough for the neighbours to hear and flung myself at him at the exact same time he fired an arrow. My sword swing knocked him off his gravel spire. His arrow shoved me backwards off the same peak. Both of us dropped like pennies into the darkness, and after nibbling on some bacon to recover my strength I went dashing off after him, dropping torches as I went.
When I finally found him and dispatched him, I’d been turned around three or four times. Thinking I still had my bearings, I pushed a little deeper.
I didn’t have my bearings. When I turned back around, I couldn’t seem find the gravel chamber. I was stone cold lost.
It’s as if the Earth itself had rotated around me. The caves simply aren’t the same place that I’d been exploring ten minutes ago. Before I’d lost my way, dead-end tunnels that shrank to nothing had felt dangerous and exciting. Now, they’re suffocating and scary. Likewise, the groans of buried zombies seem to be coming more frequently, and get louder each time I complete another lap of the area.
Technically, I could dig my way out of here. Pick a wall, and start cutting out a long, upward staircase until I hit the surface. But that’s a shit option. I’d come down here for an adventure. The prospect of hacking out a backdoor, block by block, seems a failure of such awful proportions that I can’t consider it without laughing. I just keep on searching. Besides, digging down here was always going to be dangerous.
This deep, lava flows are common. I can’t imagine exactly how it would happen, but I can definitely see myself accidentally tapping some magma vein and not only dying, but having all of this precious ore in my inventory smelted into nothingness.
You can actually harvest obsidian if you engineer water to flow into lava. This is among the many pieces of knowledge I have which are no goddamn use right now.
I get so desperate I make a few forays even deeper into the caverns, just in case they hook up with some tunnel I explored previously. It’s now been 20 minutes since I first got lost. My options are exhausted. I’m exhausted. I consider drawing a paper map. I don’t do this, because I come up with a plan that’s marginally less depressing.
I’ll jump in this underground river! Fortune favours the bold, yes? I’m sure I’ll jump in the river and it’ll deposit me in a new tunnel network, and from there I’ll be able to pick my way up, and up, all the way to the surface!
I look at the water. I go to take a running jump, then stop myself at the lip of the ledge. I look at the water again.
I’ll jump in this underground river, and it’ll take me straight into a hole where I will not be able to breathe, and my asphixiated corpse will be carried down into the breeding chamber of Achk Kchk, King Of The Spiders, and he will use me as a condom.
I decide not to jump in the river. That gravel chamber has to be around here somewhere.
Or does it? Maybe it’s moved. Or maybe when my back was turned the planet twitched unthinkingly, snapping the passage shut.
Somehow, the idea of spending enternity in these caves is still more appealing than digging that back door. Oh- oh, my God! I know this chamber! I haven’t been here in ages!
Up! Yes! Up, and up, and YES!
My brain cannot process daylight. Light? From the DAY? I find a decent staircase and go scrambling up to the surface. It’s not enough. I keep climbing, giddy with freedom, all the way to the top of a mountain.
It’s amazing to think of that whole world underground, continuing to exist out of sight. Man!
It takes me a good ten minutes to calm down, minutes I spend thinking hungrily about how inexplicably boring most games manage to make caves. MineCraft’s randomised caves are some of the most spellbinding locales I’ve ever encountered in a videogame, and a large part of that, I think, is because you’re always at risk of getting lost. It’s an omnipresent enemy you’re forever dueling with, and sometimes that means he gets the better of you. And that’s fun too.
If you haven’t bought MineCraft yet, you owe it to yourself to go and check it out. Until Notch gets the authentication servers back online, it’s still free, too, so temporarily you’ve got nothing to lose. Go on, dude! Get lost.