As possibly the biggest PC indie hit in years (despite still being in Alpha), MineCraft demands your attention. What kind of game is it? What makes it special? Maybe you don't know, and you expect us to tell you. Well, okay.
MineCraft is a building game, essentially. You're dropped into a randomised, overwhelmingly cuboid world with no goals but continued survival, and you build. Every day this week I'll be playing a game of MineCraft on the hardest setting and reporting on my progress, giving you not so much a taste of the game but a juicy banquet. It's probably worth mentioning that I haven't actually played MineCraft before, either. Dig into the first course right after the jump. It features sheep, flowers, a burial and a dreadful boating accident.
There she is! My virgin territory, freshly generated, overflowing with life. Look! It has square clouds and a square sun, and square sheep and square pigs, and square trees. The brown, cuboid thing in the foreground is my character's stubby appendage, my bare hand, with which you can quite rapidly tear apart wood and stone, because that's the kind of game MineCraft is.
Now, onto the important question: What shall I build? I shall build it all, clearly. All of it.
First things first though: shelter. In MineCraft horrible beasties and uglies come out when the sun sets, and since I have no means of defending myself (yet) I need very much to not be here when it happens.
The above cliffside looks like as good a place as any. The black speckles on some of the higher stone blocks are coal, which is important. All that's left for me to do is rip a me-sized gap in the rocks. Having torn apart a couple of trees on the way here (God, this is the manliest game) I have all the necessary lumber. Open up the MineCraft wiki and HERE WE GO.
STEP ONE: Open inventory. Craft logs into wood.
STEP TWO: Craft wood into sticks.
STEP THREE: Craft four pieces of wood into a crafting table.
STEP FOUR: Place crafting table in world and go over and use it.
STEP FIVE: Using this new, bigger crafting grid, craft two sticks and three pieces of wood into a MIGHTY wooden pickaxe.
LET'S DO THIS RRAAAAAARGH~
It's a good bit of hole, one any man would be proud of. A real manhole. But I can't sit around giving myself a blowjob. Night is about to fall. It's dangerous times, and I need to skedaddle.
By crafting some pieces of coal with some sticks, I create torches and use them to illuminate the inside and outside of my cavern, which is starting to look quite homely. This done, I hastily disassemble the crafting table with a few swings of my wooden pickaxe and proceed with the aforementioned skedaddling.
Using some of my now-abundant collection of rocks, I barricade the entrance to my fort. Ain't nobody getting in here. This done, I spend the rest of the night at my workbench, crafting everything I can think of.
At this point I need to state just how unspeakably fun all this is. Shredding and re-assembling the game world is quick, tactile and satisfying. The entireity of MineCraft taps directly into that part of your mind that made it so fun to build forts out of sofa cushions as a kid. Even digging a hole in MineCraft brings on an inexplicable thrill of freedom and panic. It's embarrassing. The game's also as pure a definition of a sandbox game as there's ever been. The way everything in MineCraft can be dug out and put somewhere else, the world actually feels like it's made of sand.
Come the next morning, I've made myself a variety of stone-headed tools- a couple of pickaxes, a hoe, a spade, an axe, even a sword. Once that was done I still had time to kill, so I turned my leftover stones into a forge, and my leftover wood into some steps and a boat. All in one night! Robinson Crusoe was a right lazy bastard.
Disaster. While attempting to position the steps I built the night before, I accidentally place them facing the wrong way, in the wrong place, and then accidentally rip up some earth for good measure. This is the worst thing. It is the apocalypse. Who would live in a house like this? An asshole, that's who.
I decide to take out my misery on any and all animals docile enough to be nearby.
A discovery! While attempting to murder a sheep with my sword I find myself hacking blocks of cloth off of him instead. What am I going to do with cloth? Not sure yet, but I'm sure it'll be fabulous. You'll see.
Having completed my quest for vengeance, I decide to go exploring. Finding nothing but a few flowers (which I stole, obviously) I return home.
Or I return to where I thought my home was. It wasn't there. I continued on for a bit longer, and was at the peak of a mountain with unrecognisable terrain in every direction when I finally admitted I was lost. I couldn't find my home. Everything I'd achieved in the last hour had been for nothing. Everything I'd dug, and built. All wasted. I would have to start again. I would have to pick up the shattered and muddied pieces of my broken dreams, and - oh. Wait. That's my cave down there. What's it doing down there? Stupid cave.
Filled with nothing but loathing for Stupid Cave, I decide to try and pretty it up a bit.
You know, I planted a lot of flowers when I was playing Wurm Online, too. I wonder if I'm lusting after a gardening game. As for the small field, that's really just for show. I don't have any seeds to plant yet. I am all front.
At the back of Stupid Cave, I carve out a small staircase. What I really need to continue up the tech tree is iron ore, and that means mining, which is pretty simple process in MineCraft. You just dig.
And dig. What surprises me most is how claustrophobic this tunnelling feels. You get a genuine sense of being under a thousand tons of rock, and despite my tunnel being a single, long, downward curve, I can't shake the feeling that I'm perpetually at risk of getting lost in it. It's excellently creepy.
After cutting out something the size of a small videogame dungeon over the course of another in-game night and day I find I have five pieces of iron ore and one piece of gold ore to show for it. That is fuck all. Dispirited, I decide to go on another of my ill-advised adventures. This time, I'll test out my boat.
This is the body of water nearest Stupid Cave. Wet! Dangerous! Big! Let's make it a little more manageable by plopping the boat down.
My goodness! Have you ever seen a more noble vessel? If you say yes, you're lying. Looks like the sun is setting. I'll just nip over to that island in the distance and back.
For reasons I'm still not entirely sure of, there's a dodgy-sounding noise the moment my boat touches the opposite shore, the boat vanishes and I'm dropped into the water like a stone. Pulling myself onto the island, I rapidly assess the situation. The sun's about to set. It'll take me forever to swim back to Stupid Cave. I'm stranded, I still have no decent means of defending myself, and the monsters will spawn any minute.
Gritting my teeth in panic, I equip my shovel and start digging straight down.
I dig what amounts to a large grave. All is silent. Do monsters make any noise? I pack the dirt back in place over my head and jab a torch into the wall.
I'm trapped. Buried alive. The island is tiny and I have no idea how deep the water around it is, so I can't dig in any direction because I'm terrified I'll flood the chamber.
My heart skips a beat as I hear a monstrous groan from directly above me. There's something up there, and it wants in. Carefully, I equip my sword. The number of hours between now and dawn stretch and recline in front of me. It's going to be a long wait.