Minecraft is a breath of fresh air, a slap in the face, and a sight for sore eyes. It’s a breath of fresh air because its open-ended design rewards players for their creativity and ingenuity. It’s a slap in the face to those who think that in order to succeed in the industry you need a huge budget, follow a traditional retail distribution model, and use cutting-edge technology.
And it’s a sight for sore eyes for those looking tirelessly for a game that allows them to build, create, and tinker without being forced to follow arbitrary constraints. Already a blockbuster hit even before its official release, Minecraft has managed to capture the attention of millions by using a design philosophy similar to the one that Will Wright espoused while at Maxis.
And that philosophy is to give people the tools to shape and form the game they desire. In short, if you let them build it, they will come. Designer Markus "Notch" Persson did just that, and so many people flocked to the game that it should serve as an incentive for independent developers to keep thinking outside the box.
Minecraft is a difficult game to classify, at least at first. It’s played from a first-person viewpoint and has some monsters to battle (if you choose anything more than "peaceful" as a difficulty option). Yet while you can create weapons, gain levels, and engage in combat, it’s not quite a role-playing game, either.
Minecraft is perhaps best described as a world simulation, where the true goal is simply to survive and thrive using the resources that you find. You are essentially alone in a massive, randomly generated world comprised entirely of cubes. At first glance, the game looks downright primitive. Yet that’s part of its charm. After a few hours in the game, the roughness begins to fade away and you get immersed in trying to build something, to see what lies beyond the next hill, or just how deep you can dig.
The heart of the game is the ability to modify or alter just about anything in front of you. The world is your personal playground, your toy box. While the single-player mode offers a long-term goal (to slay a dragon), the game is largely unstructured, which makes the game more personal.
The crafting system in place is simple yet surprisingly deep, letting you combine ordinary and rare resources to create the tools, supplies, and mechanical contraptions to build a home, town, or even a city for your own personal amusement. You’ll be able to hack away at trees to gather wood, chip away at rocks to collect stone, tunnel through mountains, and dig underground. You can do this by yourself, or team up with others to work toward a common goal.
If there are criticisms, it’s that for some players, the bare-bones look and lack of clear objectives may be a turn off. If you don’t want to spend time trying to figure how things work, or if you could care less about exploring a mysterious world, then you might not see what the big deal is with Minecraft.
It’s not a particularly strong action game, as the combat is rather basic, the interface is a bit clumsy, and there isn't really any story. But that's probably the point -- you make your own stories in Minecraft, and the ones you create yourself are almost guaranteed to be more memorable.
Any doubts about what can be done in Minecraft can be quickly put to rest by its community, filled with passionate players who have created some truly remarkable things with the game. Browse some of the Minecraft creations on YouTube and you’ll be awed at just how much can be accomplished with this seemingly simple, innocuous little game. Minecraft does what so many games are unwilling to do: spark the player's imagination and then move out of the way.