I'd forgotten that Minecraft can be terrifying. It wasn't until I was leading a conga line of zombies through a dark forest, hunger stinging me, dehydration stabbing away, that I remembered the fear it can instil. I say "remembered", like I rationalised it. "Ah, yes. This feels familiar". Really, I was screaming and swearing and panicking and clenching. MineZ sharpens Minecraft's fangs
in the same way that DayZ turned Arma II feral.
You'll note the similar naming convention: this is DayZ in Minecraft. A server-side mod that puts you and other players into a world without rules. Survival like it used to be, back when you couldn't easily sidestep a zombie because you didn't know what the hell you were doing. This time it's because zombies are meaner, stronger, faster and can see you from a long way away. There are no other NPC creeps to mess with, just the undead. And humans.
It starts on the south coast. You spawn with only a bandage, sword, water bottle, and an eye (that sends chats out to the world - I'll explain later) in your inventory. You'll need to eat, drink, and not die. Like DayZ, how do it is completely up to you. Life is hard, made harder still by heading north where the cool things are. Loot is semi-rare, and you can always rely on people to be assholes right from the second you're born. I've died seconds after spawning on a few occasions, I've watched people chasing others and did my best to get out of sight. It can be wholly unpleasant, which is the entire point.
It's a hand-made world of desert, forest, snowy mountains, dotted with abandoned buildings, towns and villages; a place still in flux as the developers play God with the landscape. Like DayZ, places are relatively far apart. It's a fair yomp from the edge of the world to the centre, and it's possible to see only a few buildings on that route. The towns are where most of the loot is sat, in crates housed in the buildings. There you can pluck weapons, food, and armour. If you're brave enough to enter, that is. They draw a crowd.
The first one I found was Grimdale: it's one of the bigger areas. I couldn't see anyone around, and it was getting dark, so my options were limited going in there, or braving a forest full of zombies. Here was a walled town that offered some protection, so the choice was easy. I did my best at scoping it out, looking for a floating name tag or two. It's important to note that the chat channel is split: if you type into it normally you'll only be 'heard' locally; holding the eye casts your voice across the server. It enables people to scheme without being overheard, but it also lets you tell the server when someone has ganked you. I had to use it before I managed to get into the town: I was so busy looking in that I missed the prick sneaking up on me. He killed me and took my pathetic leavings. I hope the wooden sword gave him splinters.
When - and not if - you die, the server punishes you with a minute's downtime before letting you log back in, and you're spawned on a random section of the coast. There's little chance of getting revenge.
All I have is hope. Hope that he starves and dehydrates and cries about it. Hope that someone bigger, with more armour, sees him taking a drink and wants his bottle. When it's not people coming up Behind you and catching you unaware, it's hunger or thirst. The Minecraft UI bears the bad news: what was once the game's levelling system now tells you how hungry you are and how thirsty you are.
I did once die with a full bottle of water in my inventory, because I wasn't paying attention: even if you are used to the Minecraft UI and forget what the numbers mean in this instance, the game generates chat messages to warn you. I was busy looting a village and died anyway. That really hurt, because I was finally in a group and feeling confident. We all met on the road: I spotted six of them emerge from the desert and asked if they were friendly. They bobbed by pressing crouch, and I joined their little fellowship. Someone asked where everyone was from: Australians, Americans and a Scottish bloke in London. All questing together.
They were going to Yawpton, a small town in the middle of a forest. As we followed the road, the zombie attacks became more numerous: we formed a tight little knot and swung swords together. Health was doled out, weapons swapped: I took a half-worn wooden sword and combined it with my nearly broken one in the inventory to make a slightly better one. You can do this with any perishable object, just like vanilla Minecraft. It would do till we got to town, where I was promised there would be loot.
And loot there was. Loot galore. Yawpton is a square of buildings with a tower in the middle. The biggest of the buildings has many chests. We went from floor to floor, treasure hunting. I was handed a glowing bow and some arrows, and upgraded my armour. I was proud, I was a member of a thing and that thing had weapons, equipment, and armour. It wasn't until we'd agreed to move on that my game started hitching: I thought I was being attacked and flailed a little before noticing the 0 hydration level. I died of thirst with a water bottle in my hand, face down in a fountain. It was because I'd made friends that I died. I was reading their messages and missing the warnings.
Friended to death by thirst is probably a first for anyone, ever.
But grouping made me thirsty - in the gaming sense - for more. There's a wider world out there, and I've only seen perhaps a tenth of it. The further north you go, the more dangerous it gets, too. I want to see it what's beyond Yawton and the frozen forest I made it to after I respawned (and was murdered for my shiny hat). I'm torn between wanting more scenery and hoping they don't overpopulate the place: more hills, caves and hollows in the forest, sure, but keep the buildings to a minimum, developers. You are reading this, yes? Good.
I'm still finding my way in MineZ, in an experience that echoes both people discovering Minecraft for the first time, and people discovering Day Z for the first time. I've yet to kill for anything other reason than preservation, though, and I'm not counting it out when it comes to revenge for a previous killing, or stopping an attack in front of me. I've not planted wheat or uncovered what the green dyes purpose is. But, again, like DayZ and early Minecraft, part of the fun is the discovery. It's possible I'll have seen enough when I know how it all works. Or its possible it will evolve and draw me in further still.
For now, though, all I can do is report back here, to you. If you're intrigued, then all you need to know to get into the game, including the free public and paid for private servers, is here.