Minecraft Alpha Impressions
Minecraft is a curious PC game developed by the lone developer ‘Notch’. At it’s core it’s a game of building, mining and crafting. It escapes definition for any particular genre other than ‘open world’ and is very much a game of what you make of it, literally. And as I recently took the plunge in buying myself into the current alpha I thought I’d take the plunge with a little write up on it.
At it’s current stage it’s in two modes, the free to play ‘Classic’ mode and a pay to play ‘Alpha’ mode. Also known as ‘Creative’ and ‘Survival’. The Classic mode is the old, currently defunct, branch of development and while it makes for a great demo to introduce people to the concept of Minecraft, it pales in comparison with the current Alpha mode. As Classic is mostly a proof of concept piece it has no aims or goals, there is very little in the way of gameplay. You are given a randomly generated environment and a selection of blocks with which to build and you’re left to your own devices. You can go exploring, digging up giant cave structures, play about with its rudimentarily mechanics, or use it as a giant 3D version of MSpaint. There’s a multiplayer version too where many people collaborate on creating vast pieces of digital artwork. (which you can see a large selection at Minecraft Museum)
The Alpha mode, which all indicators suggest it will be bumping up to Beta soon, is much more developed than Classic and includes Minecrafts first game mode: Survival. It’s very much a case of ‘does exactly as it says on the tin’. Within survival mode you mine items with which to craft tools and shelter. These will help you survive throughout the night were all the beastly things come out. Alpha mode adds an inventory, no infinite blocks, the ability to crafttools and special blocks, and mobs. Mobs range from farm animals in the day where you can get leather, ham, feathers, then at night out come the zombies, skeletons, spiders and creepers. Creepers will very quickly become one of your most feared and hated video game enemies.
The inventory and crafting mechanic requires you to gather materials during the day, usually by bashing blocks with your fist to break them down, with certain blocks requiring special tools to mine. Then using either your inventory screen or a workbench you create these tools, weapons, armour etc. It’s a nice system that promotes experimentation. It’s a kind of wysiwyg system, make an arrangement that resembles a sword, and hey presto you have a sword. strangely pleasing when you suddenly realise “Wait a minute, if I put a feather, a stick and a flint together…”. My only issue with survival is that I’ve gone off exploring, spreading my wings from the main base in search of new deposits of minerals only to get killed and end up back at the respawn point and hardly any way of finding my old base in the landmarkless landscapes. I’ve since found a nifty 3rd party software that maps out your minecraft world which helped me locate one of my old bases, but I think this kind of map functionality should be added. However with Adventure mode around the corner, which has the main aim of exploring, and this game only being in Alpha I can see it being incorporated sooner or later.
The main detractor for Minecraft, though not for myself, would be that the gameplay is pretty limited and basic. So for those who are looking for more from their games you’ll be done with Minecraft in the first 20 minute day/night cycle. It is also an Alpha title with a unique pay structure. You pay now at a reduced price (currently €10) and it goes up in price as development advances (you get all the updates if you bought in early on) and you’re gambling that the game does continue to be developed. Now from what I’ve seen and the fact I’ve paid for it I’m hoping and thinking that this game will continue to be developed as time goes on, since I bought the game it’s already had rudimentary multiplayer survival added. It is kind of exciting to be part of a game during its development process, see it in action and get to provide feedback that could be implemented the very next day.
If you’re looking for ‘something a bit different’, feeling up for a bit of development gambling, or just looking for a procrastination tool then Minecraft is well worth checking out, at the very least the free version. If the planned features excite you suggest picking the full game up ASAP or maybe you might want to stick it safe and wait for the full game. Up to you.
I’ll leave you with some links that have been handy in my minecrafting days.