I’ve been playing a lot of Minecraft lately

This game has been sucking down a few hours of my time lately. It’s been the only game I’ve been playing on my computer for a while, and it came along at just the right time. I’ve been wanting to play something I could get lost in for a long time, and I even bought a few games off Steam (basically a pay-to-download game service) but I didn’t get into the games I tried.

Recently I’ve tried Machinarium (beautiful and atmospheric, but I’m not good with puzzle games) and World of Goo (fun, but not that involved for me), plus I looked at Psychonauts (looks alright but I didn’t really get to the gameplay part). I’ve also wanted to play Civilization IV in preparation for Civilization V, but I’ve been reading so much about Civ 5 I’m just going to wait for it to come out. Alien Swarm off Steam is free and looks cool but my friends are never online to play it. Then I read about Dwarf Fortress, which is a simple 80’s-style game that is hardcore and usually ends up with your colony of dwarves dying horribly.

That’s about when I found out about Minecraft.

Basically, it’s a first-person (i.e., you see out of the eyes of your player character) game where you start off in a randomly generated world with nothing but your hands to punch things with. Over time, you create (or ‘craft’, in the vernacular of the game) pickaxes, axes, shovels and hoes to mine, chop, dig and plant things to create as simple or elaborate a game world as you like. After all, you’re the sole inhabitant of the whole world – which is about 8 times the surface area of Earth.

Well, alone apart from the zombies, skeletons, spiders and creepers, which come out at night and try to eat you. So the first thing you have to do when you spawn into the world is chop down a tree, make a couple of simple items and then quickly make a shelter to pass the night safely.

At daybreak, most of the monsters burst into flame (so don’t exit your shelter too soon!) and you can go hunting for cows to make armor, pigs for food, sheep for cloth or chickens for feathers (for your arrows).

It sounds like a lot to remember and do, but once you get into the game exploring empty caves for coal, iron, gold or diamonds becomes  an exciting ritual of placing torches, hacking at the walls or ceilings and avoiding the creepy crawlies.

So what’s the point of the game? Basically, it’s a ‘sandbox’ type of game – you can make anything you want within the constraints of the game world and its related physics. There are floating islands, magnificant arches, deep valleys, dangerous-looking caves, sky islands, underground lava lakes and more – and that’s before you get building and digging! Basically, you dig for coal to make torches and to fire the furnace to smelt iron ore and other stuff, build castles or houses or towers out of the rock you dig up and explore, explore, explore!

Here’s some videos of what you can accomplish with enough time and effort: a massive castle, a working railway station, a functional adding computer, or just check out any of the other videos of epic Minecraft builds!

The game plays mostly in the web browser, but I think most people download it because if you play on different computers the game worlds are all different – the game data is saved to whatever computer you’re playing on and you won’t be able to play in the browser in the same world each time if you swap computers.

Some versions of the game are free to play, but it’s only €10 to buy the ‘alpha’ release, which is the pre-pre-release version so features get added on about a weekly basis. That’s about $13 or £8 for a game that will easily take up several hours of your time in the first couple of weeks.

The official site where you can play/buy Minecraft is here.

There’s a wiki here that will tell you some of the crafting ‘recipes’.

For a good beginner’s walkthrough, check out this series of videos: one two three four

If you try it out, stick with single player unless you have friends that have a secure multiplayer server (otherwise you might get folks that come and wreck your castle or steal the ore you’ve worked hard for.