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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Help! I'm Addicted To Minecraft!

My penchant for getting addicted to games is legendary. I spent an entire series, early on in the blog history, detailing my love of video games throughout my life. I went from the age of the Atari 2600 through PC gaming and ended up at the PS2. And I always vowed to go back and more entries on PS3, Wii, and even online gaming. Unfortunately, I got lazy or busy, depending on your understanding of my free time.

To bridge the gap, I did a couple of ‘one off’ posts about Uncharted and Fallout 3 for PS3 and the Call of Duty series for the Wii. Since then, I’ve taken a break from those and had focused on Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, which is a game that can get your adrenaline really pumping. I do not suggest playing it for any length of time and then driving anywhere. You’re liable to find yourself speeding.  But this is nothing compared to my new timesuck.

My wife has a piano student who is a bit of a gamer.  He has an Xbox 360 and was a big Halo nut.  We’ve talked a lot about gaming and we’ve spent lesson time racing, much to wife’s dismay, I’m sure. However, he started asking me one day about Minecraft. I had never heard of it. I thought he was talking about Minesweeper.  To hear him speak of it made little sense because he’s in high school and has a tendency to talk really fast and not make a lot of sense unless you really pay attention to him. You can see why I like this kid instead of my usual, “Get off my lawn” mentality. So, I did a little research and was utterly amazed at this game. I also resisted it with as much will power as I could muster.

Unless they are a gamer, trying to explain Minecraft to someone can be frustrating. They don’t understand game physics or sandbox modes or anything like that. So, I found it very hard to try and relate to others about what Minecraft is without saying, “Just go to YouTube and watch a video.” But, I’m going to try to do it for you, the reader.

Imagine the island from LOST as if it were built by the creators of Wolfenstein and then ask people to just go out and build stuff like in a SimCity style of game. Not clear enough? OK long version it is.

To get you into the right frame of mind you have to understand the brevity of the design. Everything in the world of Minecraft is built using blocks. It’s a very cubistic world with really no angled surfaces except for liquids. For being 2011, the level of graphics are laughable but believe me, once you start playing you’ll forgive the crudely drawn landscapes.

You start out on an unknown continent. You have no items in inventory. You have no real direction. You just start building. There’s no score, no end, and no limits to your imagination. Sounds like a typical Saturday with my kid and her basket of blocks. That’s what this is, essentially, a game of building with blocks. Except you have to get the blocks from your environment.

The hills are made of dirt and rock and the beaches are made of sand. There are trees around and even snow in some areas. Basically, you walk up to a tree and punch it. It pops and there is a floating block of wood left in its place. You grab the block and continue to karate chop the tree until you have several pieces in your inventory. Now, you need to start making a shelter. Why? Because nightfall will be soon upon you and the monsters will be out. That’s right, monsters. There is a day and night cycle in Minecraft and during the day, animals roam free. At night, skeletons and spiders and zombies search for unprepared miners. And perhaps the worst of the lot, the creeper will sneak up on you, hiss and then explode. So, your first order of business in Minecraft is to build a shelter. You can do that by opening up your inventory and putting a piece of wood into your ‘crafting’ area. It can then be rendered into wood planks. Those can be used to construct a crude, but effective shelter to keep you safe from the nasties. During the night, you can focus on building tools. Once you are safe, open your inventory and build a crafting bench. One plank in each of the four crafting squares will render a workbench with an expanded area of nine spaces in which to craft items. Place wood planks into the center of your crafting area to split them into sticks to make tools.

Building tools is a fairly simple process. You need only to consider what the essential parts are to a tool. Since you have a nine square crafting area available, putting wood planks in the blocks to form a ‘T’ will construct a wooden pickaxe. This is essential to your inventory in order to do anything else. Well, there are other ways, like luring a creeper into an area and then letting him explode in order to collect various remnant blocks of cobblestone, but that’s dangerous. So, once you have your wooden pickaxe and it is day time, once more, venture out into the world and find rock. Use the pickaxe to bust up some stones in and collect the cobblestone. Using the same method as the pickaxe construction, replace the top of your ‘T’ with cobblestone and you will have constructed a stone axe. Put two a vertical line, consisting of one stone and two sticks and you now have a shovel. You can also build hatchets and hoes as well.

Now that you have a decent amount of inventory built up you want to hold onto it. So using wood planks, construct a chest by placing a plank in all of the nine blocks except the center. Place the chest in your shelter and fill it up with your stuff. Place two chests next to each other and you double the capacity. You can build a furnace the same way using stones and now you can smelt ores and other materials to build more items. Use wood as fuel and sand as an ingredient and you can make glass for windows in your shelter.

The important thing to remember is protecting your items. If you die, you respawn at your original starting point and you lose all your items. If you are pretty close to where you died, you may be able reclaim all your belongings which will all just be floating in the air. However they can disappear over time. That’s why chests are so valuable. It’s the basic rule of adventure gaming. Take only what you need to explore and return to deposit your acquisitions. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Once you are ready to really explore, grab some tools and head for the nearest hillside and just start digging. Eventually, you’ll open up a cave or a tunnel into a mine. In order to light the way and see where the monsters might be, you’ll need torches. A simple recipe of two sticks with a piece of coal on top and you’ll have a way to mark your path as well as keep the monsters from spawning behind you while you are exploring. Two rules of thumb when exploring a mine are never dig straight up and never dig straight down. Because, sand and gravel react with the same realistic physics as the real world, you can potentially suffocate yourself in a sand or gravel avalanche because they will fall if there is space below them. Also, lava will fall and monsters will fall through holes in the ceilings of caves. When you dig straight down, you run the risk of breaking into a cavern and falling to your doom.

This is why Minecraft is so addictive. When I was just outside, digging in the dirt and not really making sense of what I needed to do to survive, Minecraft was rather boring. Punch a pig here. Karate chop a tree there. Oooh, big fun. Then, I had to take shelter. I broke into a hillside and found a small cave and set up a simple dwelling. I waited out the night while I read up on how to make tools. There was a lot of rock around me so I started digging into the walls. I busted out a block and there was this expanse behind it. It just went on and on forever. It was dark and there were noises. I quickly walled up the opening with dirt but I kept thinking. I want to see what’s in there. So, I basically spent time building up tools and supplies to do some exploring and that’s when I realized that I had been playing for a few hours. I simply just gave in to the possibility of what that little hole in the wall could become.

Eventually, I moved on from the cave dwelling because cows and pigs and chicken and sheep kept spawning inside. Not to mention, on occasion, skeletons and creepers spawned inside, regardless of all my torches. I died quite a few times and couldn’t get back inside to where I kept all my weapons were at because a big effing archer skeleton “Waz in my house, killing me lotz.” So, now I am building a new house a few feet away on top of a mound. Unfortunately, building a proper house takes time and I have to run inside the cave with the chickens and pigs while spiders sit outside my window during the night. To fix this, I’m building a tunnel from the cave to the construction site in order to move back and forth. This is what Minecraft has done to me. I’m building tunnels that take twice as long as the actual house construction will take. However, once I’m done, I will have access to a tunnel that will lead right to my cave and all the caverns within. Eventually, I will move on to other caves or even begin to dig in the basement, starting new caves.

So, if you’re even the least bit interested in all this madness, go pick up Minecraft and watch your life slowly be taken away from you. In the meantime, go watch these hilarious Brits enjoy the wonders of Minecraft. Even if you don’t feel like taking on Minecraft on your own, because you have a life, waste a good lunch hour watching their YouTube videos. They’re a riot and make sure you wear earphones because they swear quite a lot. British humor, w/ swearing, ranks up there near Muppet violence on my list of things I absolutely love.

And once you've made that jump into playing, I highly suggest going to Minepedia to research how to do things.   Have fun!

I've also done some shirts for my stores.

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