Minecraft is favorite game of many geeks, but not everyone has heard of it. Here’s what it is, why geeks love it so much, and how to get started for yourself.
If you’d rather see the game for yourself, scroll down to the bottom for a How-To Geek video tutorial.
What Is It?
Minecraft is a game created by Markus Persson, AKA “Notch,” and the Mojang development team. It’s a free-form sandbox creation game; you can think of it like a virtual Lego world with aspects of Doodle God/Alchemy. Upon starting a game, a vast and intricate world is created, which includes mountains, hill, oceans, natural mines, underground rivers, and so forth.
You’ll find cows and pigs and chickens roaming around, and at night (there’s a day-night cycle in place) you’ll see some monsters spawn and hunt you down. You can even domesticate wolves, a feature that was recently added to the mix. Everything is based on roughly one-cubic-meter-sized blocks, giving it that pixelated boxy feel, but make no mistake; this game is beautiful.
The controls are pretty easy to manage. It uses WASD for movement (replicating the arrow keys) and the mouse is for turning/looking. The Inventory key is E, which brings up all of the stuff you have collected on your person and you equip items for use here, too. You’ll also see a 2×2 grid which you can use for “crafting” tools.
You use the mouse wheel or the number keys to cycle through equipped items. Left-clicking will use an item and clicking and holding will continuously use it. The right mouse button is an “alternative” use; it lets you place objects or fire arrows from a bow. You jump with the Space bar and Left Shift lets you “sneak,” which puts you in a crouching position and prevents you from falling off of edges. All in all, pretty standard FPS controls, which you can change if you like.
There are three major aspects to the game: crafting, mining, and surviving.
There’s no real goal in Minecraft, per se. You go around and build fantastic things in the world using things you can get from the environment. You can chop down trees, dig up dirt, and mine stone, for example. Certain types of blocks you can just place as-is, so you can make a wood house. The important mechanic, however, is crafting. You can put different materials together in different configurations to form different tools and objects. Your inventory screen lets you craft in a 2×2 grid, but you can build a workbench which allows you a 3×3 grid. In general, you put materials in configurations that look like what you want to make. Here’s the configuration for a stone pickaxe:
This is for a furnace, which you can use to smelt iron ore into iron, or make sand into glass:
This is for torches:
You can make chests where you can store stuff, too. Between being able to place objects and blocks and being able to create new ones, you make some pretty majestic things. Here’s just a small taste of what you can build:
While you can make useful tools out of wood, it’s not going to be enough for more advanced objects. Iron ore, as well as more durable materials, are found deep underground and to get to them you need to mine. The deeper you go, the more interesting things you’ll come across.
As you can see, mining isn’t just about gathering materials, it’s about exploring the world. That’s as big a part of the allure of Minecraft as building and crafting. And the more you explore, the more likely you are to find rarer materials.
To add to the challenge of the game, you have to survive. Dying doesn’t get rid of your saved game, but you lose everything you were carrying on your person, which can get destroyed before you get back to pick them up. Aside from falling from too high a height, jumping into a pit of lava, or drowning, there are plenty of other ways to die. Let’s take a look at the various baddies that spawn in the Minecraft world.
These guys are pretty easy. They’ll find you and come at you, but they just move in straight lines. You know one’s nearby when you hear a low grunting noise, something you’d expect from a zombie. Upon being exposed to bright light, like sunlight, they’ll burst into flame and die.
Spiders are neutral in the light; they won’t bother you unless you bother them, but they don’t burst into flame either. At night, however, they will attack on sight. They can jump and climb, which means they’re harder to avoid.
Skeletons will look for you and shoot arrows at you. Their ability to attack from a sizeable distance makes them really dangerous, and sometimes you’ll even find them mounted on spiders. Thankfully, Skeletons die in the sunlight, like Zombies.
These things will be the bane of your existence. Upon getting close to you, you’ll hear them sizzle. Another second at close range and they’ll explode, doing massive damage to anything around them and destroying raw materials. Not only do they not die in the sunlight, they can can climb ladders. Tread carefully.
Most monsters need a certain amount of darkness to spawn, so you’ll see them more at night and in underground caverns.
Whether by monsters or by falls, you’re bound to take damage. You can kill pigs to get raw pork, which you can cook in a furnace and eat to regain some health. You can farm to get wheat to make bread, cookies, and cake. You’re also able to change the difficulty so if things are too much for you, set it to “Peaceful” and almost all of the dangerous creatures won’t bother you anymore.
Why Geeks Love It
By now, you’ve got an idea of how Minecraft works, but to see it as a geek sees it, you also have to consider the following:
- Creativity is required: It’s no secret that creative pastimes can help you be more creative in other areas of life, and Minecraft’s vast world-building potential is the perfect place to unleash it. The possibilities truly are endless.
- Cross-platform: Since it’s written in Java, you can play it on whatever operating system you happen to be running at the moment. And, with some Dropbox-magic and know-how, you can take your save files with you wherever you go!
- Servers: What’s a good game without online play? Not only can you find and join others’ communities, you can run your own server. There are numerous mods and third-party servers available, too.
Video Tutorial of Your First Day
Getting through your first day in Minecraft can be difficult for beginners, so here’s a video tutorial complete with audio commentary. It’ll show you the basics of how the game works and what to do to survive.
Minecraft is currently in beta, which means it’s got some bugs, may be unpolished in places, and things are constantly changing. It’s at a reduced price while it’s in beta – currently €14.95 – and you get access to updates through the final version. There’s also no DRM involved! It’s a good idea to take a look through the copyright notice before you pull the trigger so you know exactly what you’re getting. You can find out all the necessary information at Minecraft.net.
Yatri Trivedi is a monk-like geek. When he's not overdosing on meditation and geek news of all kinds, he's hacking and tweaking something, often while mumbling in 4 or 5 other languages.
- Published 04/8/11