Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Crafty Blocks

Credit to Penny Arcade. Had me laughing my ass off.

I've found a game that's reconnected me with my childhood obsession of Lego and building things. It's an indie title called Minecraft, created by Markus Persson, recommended to me by a fellow developer. The most popular game mode is a single player sandbox mode. When I say sandbox, I mean quasi-literally a giant box of an open world where you build things and play. In a nutshell, your avatar is alone in a large world completely formed by a 3D grid of blocks. The only interaction (in this mode anyway) is destroying and placing these blocks. There are about 40 to choose from ranging from natural materials like wood and stone to more elaborate things like obsidian, glass and even bookshelves, as well as small decorations like torches and flowers.

The clean, polished, retro art style does a lot to complement the simple, move, jump and build mechanics. That being said, the real charm of play comes from the emergent gameplay experiences one can have while creating all sorts of cool structures. When the world is so aesthetically simple and limited to large details, you're allowed to follow suit and create blocky objects and structures. You feel like a kid with an unlimited supply of building blocks! However, in my opinion, the one critical mechanic is that you have to be fairly close to a surface to build on it.

For instance, if you want to build a tower, you need to create scaffolding so you can reach the higher parts of your structure as you go. If you want to build roofs quickly, you have to build rafters so you can more easily reach the various surfaces. In addition to this, the underground world is massive, allowing a player to build large networks of caves and tunnels. As well, water and lava conform to rudimentary physics. If you're not careful, you can flood your entire network of carefully built caves, or, if you are careful, irrigate your virtual farmlands.

While it is free to play, the sneaky catch is that to save your game, you have to pay for a premium account (a very modest 10 Euros). Rest assured I had my credit card out and building by childhood dream castle block by block the same day I discovered it. A game like this may not sound like much and you may think me crazy for dropping the money, but consider the following facts:

-This game has been in development for only a little over a year
-It was developed by a single person (plus audio guy Daniel Rosenfeld)
-It has over 220,000 users with an 8.37% conversion rate averaging over 60 sales a day
-I really doubt Markus had the marketing budget to push the game through any high-traffic web channels

Those are rare stats for an indie developer, he must be doing something right!

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