As someone who’s been deep in high technology for the better part of 2 decades it’s been interesting to watch the dissemination of technology from the annals of my brethren down to the level of the every day consumer. For the most part its a slow process as many of the technological revolutions that are unleashed onto the mass markets have usually been available for quite some time for those with the inclination to live on the cutting edge. Companies like Apple are prime examples of this, releasing products that are often technically inferior but offer that technology in such a way as to be accessible to anyone. Undoubtedly the best example of this is their iPhone which arguably spawned the smart phone revolution that is still thundering along.
When it was first released the iPhone wasn’t really anything special. It didn’t support third party applications, couldn’t send or receive MMS and even lacked some of the most critical functionality of a smart phone like cut and paste. For those brandishing their Windows Mobile 6.5 devices the idea of switching to it was laughable but they weren’t the target consumer. No Apple had their eye on the same market that Nintendo did when they released the Wii console: the people who traditionally didn’t buy their product. This transformed the product into a mass market success and was the first steps for Apple in developing their iOS ecosystem.
With the beachhead firmly established this paved the way for other players like Google to branch out into the smart phone world. Whilst they played catch up to Apple for a good 3 years or so Google was finally crowned the king early last year and hasn’t showed any signs of slowing down since then. Of course in that same time Apple created an entirely new market in the form of tablet computers, a market which Android has yet to make any significant in roads too. However whilst Google might be making a token appearance in the market currently I don’t they’re that interested in trying to follow Apple’s lead on this one.
Their sights are set firmly on the idea of creating another market all of their own.
For products that really bring something new to the table you really can’t beat Project Glass. Back when I first posted about Google’s augmented reality device it seemed like a cool piece of technology that the technical elite would love but if I honest I didn’t really know how the wider world would react to it. As more and more people got to use Glass the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive to the point where comparisons to the early revisions of the iPhone seem apt, even though Glass is technically cutting edge all by its own. The question then is whether Google can ride Glass to iPhone level success in creating another market in the world of augmented reality devices.
There are few companies in the world that can create a new market that have high potential for profitability but Google is one of the few that has a track record in doing so. Whilst the initial reviews are positive for Glass it’s still far from being a mass market device with the scarce few being made available are only for the technical elite, and only those who went to Google I/O and pony up the requisite $1500 for a prototype device. No doubt this will help in creating a positive image of the device prior to its retail release but getting tech heads to buy cutting edge tech is like shooting fish in a barrel. The real test will be when Joe Public gets his hands on the device and how they integrate into our everyday activities.
Sandbox games and I have a sordid history. Whilst I often enjoy them it’s not usually because of the engrossing story or intriguing game mechanics; more it’s after I’ve finished the mission at hand, saved my game and then promptly engage Jerk Mode and go on whatever kind of rampage the game allows me. Long time readers will remember this being the case in my Just Cause 2 review where I grew tried of having to do everything within the rules of the game and modded my way to Jerk nirvana. Still there have been some notable exceptions, like Red Dead Redemption, where the combination of certain elements came together in just the right way to get me completely draw in an engrossed in the story.
Minecraft, whilst sharing the sandbox title, has almost no elements of a traditional game in this genre. Having more in common with game mods like Gary’s Mod Minecraft throws you into a world where the possibilities really are only limited by your imagination. Over the past few months I have watched the news around it go from a single story to a media storm and I was always fascinated by the way it managed to draw people into it. Up until a couple weeks ago however I hadn’t bothered to try it for myself, not even the free version. However after watching a few videos of some of the more rudimentary aspects of the game I decided to give it a go, and shelled out the requisite $20 for the full (beta) version.
That’s a deep mine…
The premise of the game is extremely simple. You’re thrust into a world where everything is made of blocks and at night time hordes of zombies and other nefarious creatures will emerge from the wilderness, baying for your blood. The tools you have at your disposal are only your blocky hands but the world of blocks around you can be used to your advantage. By cutting down trees you can make wood which can then be converted into a whole range of tools. The race is then on to create some kind of shelter before nightfall comes, so that you might have a place to hide when the horde arrives. As you progress deeper however you’ll begin to discover other rare and wonderful materials that can make even better tools and weapons, leading you to delve even deeper underground in order to find those precious resources.
However whilst the basic idea extends to only surviving through the night there’s the entire meta game of creating almost anything you can think of within the Minecraft world. The world’s resources are pretty much at your disposal and their block like nature means you can build almost anything out of them. This has lead to many people building extremely ornate structures within Minecraft, ranging from simple things like houses right up to the Starship Enterprise. As with any sandbox game I took the opportunity for absurdity as far as I could imagine it at the time building a 1 block wide tall spire high up into the clouds where I mounted my fortress of evil.
All that’s missing is an Eye of Sauron.
The basic game mechanic of Minecraft has a dinstinctly MMORPG feel to it. You start out by cutting down trees for wood so you can make a pick axe to mine cobblestone. You then use the cobblestone to make better tools in order to mine iron. You then use the iron to mine other resources like gold, diamond and redstone. Much like the gear grind that all MMORPGs take you through before you’re able to do the end content Minecraft gets you hooked in quickly with the first few resource levels passing quickly. Afterwards it’s a much longer slog to get the minerals you require to advance, usually requiring you to dig extremely deep to find them. Like any MMORPG though this mechanic is highly addictive, leading me to lose many hours searching for the next mineral vein so that I can craft that next item.
After the first week however I started to grow tired of the endless mining that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I had dug all the way down to bedrock and had found numerous rare resources but seemed to be lacking the one mineral I needed to harvest them: iron. Googling around for a while lead me to figure out that I was digging far too deep to find much iron and that the best place to find resources was in randomly generated dungeons or caves, basically pre-hollowed out sections of the map that were always teaming with resources (and zombies). After randomly digging for a while I started hearing the distinctive zombie groan and I followed it to the ultimate prize.
Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff!
Exploring this find lead me onto a string of caves all containing the resources I needed to progress further and I was hooked again. Whilst the last few hours I’ve spent with Minecraft have focused more on extending my fortress of evil and the surrounding area I still find myself often taking a trip down into the mines in the hope of coming across another cave or mineral vein as the excitement of finding one is on par with getting some epic loots in a MMORPG. I also set about setting up a Minecraft server so that I could play along with some of my more dedicated Minecraft friends although with a server fan dying I’ve had to put that on hold until I can ensure that it won’t overheat with more than one person playing on it.
Would I recommend this game? Most definitely, especially if you’re the type that enjoys sandbox style games that allow almost unlimited creativity. I was the kind of person who lost hours in Gary’s Mod, making whacky contraptions and using them to unleash untold torment onto hordes of Half Life’s NPCs. The tables are very much turned in Minecraft’s world but it’s just as enjoyable and I have no doubt that anyone can lose a few good hours in it just exploring the retro world that Minecraft generates for you. The game is still technically in beta but for the price they’re asking it’s well worth the price of admission.
Minecraft is available for PC and web browser right now for a free trial or AU$20. Game was played on a local single player instance for the majority of game time with an hour or so spent on a multiplayer server. No rating is being assigned to this game as it’s still in beta.