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By Johan Keyter 15 February 2011

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If you're a regular denizen of the internet, you might have heard of an indie game (independently developed game) called Minecraft. The game sets players in a massive, randomly generated world with the simple task to survive and prosper.

Unfortunately many people get turned off by the game when simply giving it that first glance and not exploring it further. The game's graphics are a tad... rudimentary given today's standards of ragdoll physics and 4x anti-aliasing, but it's this basic design that gives the game its charm, causing us to fall in love with pixelated blocks as if it was the era of the Nintendo Entertainment System all over again.
 
Minecraft was initially created not by a huge team of developers with million dollar budgets and over-excited publishers breathing down their necks, but was crafted into life by a single man, Markus “Notch" Persson, a game developer from Stockholm, Sweden. After the game's dramatic success, he founded his own company known as Mojang, which now employs seven people who help shape the world of Minecraft on a daily basis.
 
 The striking scenery of a Minecraft world
 
So what the hell is Minecraft?
 
Simply put, Minecraft (beta) is a survival sandbox game in which players are tasked to survive in a massive, randomly generated world. Survival is best achieved by manipulating the millions of 3D cubes which make up the game world, enabling players to do anything from building houses and castles, to crafting tools and weapons. Except for the obvious objective of surviving, there is no overarching storyline in Minecraft. The game doesn't force you to do anything, instead it is focussed on creativity and players creating their own stories as they explore the expanding world.
 
There are no sergeants barking orders in your ear while you run through another brown tinted bullet hell here. Instead, chop down some wood, craft yourself a pickaxe, go to the top of the nearest hill and choose a spot to call home.
 
Random Worlds
 
As we've said previously, the world of Minecraft is randomly generated, and this means that no two worlds will be the same. You can literally start the game up a thousand times, with a different and exciting world map appearing around you each time. The Minecraft world, like the real world, also suffers from changing conditions and a variety of natural factors. This means players can encounter anything from grassy plains to huge imposing mountains, inland seas, rivers, dams, huge oceans, deserts, icy tundra and snow covered rolling hills.
 
Incidentally, the “map” in Minecraft is only bounded by how far down you can tunnel and how far up you can build. However, it expands north, south, east and west unendingly. There is a theoretical limit to how big the Minecraft world is, but you aren't likely to reach the edges in this lifetime, seeing that the Minecraft world is eight times the size of planet Earth (no jokes)... and that means a lot of exploring.
 
As far as the eye can see... note the snow covered hills in the distance.
 
Surviving your first night
 
This might all seem quite daunting at first glance, but not to worry, we can get to the rest of the world in time. First things first in Minecraft, and that's surviving your first night alone in the wilderness.
 
The game runs on a day/night cycle, meaning the sun rises each morning in the east, and sets each evening in the west, plunging the world into the darkness of night. In total, the cycle lasts 20 minutes, and is comparable to one day passing in the Minecraft world.
 
Except for the obvious problem of not being able to see much, the night time brings with it a much more serious danger... monsters. At night, monsters (or mobs as they're called in-game) can spawn anywhere where there is sufficient darkness, and they will try to kill you.
 
When the sun goes down, the monsters come out to play.
 
But we can worry about that in a couple of minutes, when you first load a game of Minecraft the time is automatically set to early morning, meaning a full day's worth of sunlight is available for us to get to know our surroundings. After surveying your immediate surroundings, it's a good idea to start collecting some wood. Simply walk up to the nearest tree and start punching the trunk (by holding the left mouse button), after a while a piece of trunk will break off.
 
After collecting some wood, it's time to really get to work. To do this, we simply open our character's inventory, pop our freshly harvested wooden logs in the small “crafting box” and create a couple of stacks of wooden planks by clicking on the logs. Next up, a work surface is needed, so it's time to create a workbench.
 
To do this, simply pop four wooden planks into the four crafting slots and you'll be able to craft a workbench - the bread and butter of any Minecrafter. With a workbench, we can start creating tools (punching trees is hardly a productive method of harvesting). To do this you'll have to use your materials to “draw” a rough picture of what we want to create. So let's say we want to craft a wooden pickaxe, first we need the handle, and that means making sticks. Use two wooden planks placed vertically to create a stack of sticks. Then, right click the workbench (giving us a much larger crafting area), and place two sticks vertically for the handle of the pick, after that take three wooden planks arranged horizontally in the top grid of the box, and voila - we've created a wooden pickaxe!
 
The same pickaxe “recipe” can be followed to create stone, gold, iron and diamond pickaxes, simply replacing the planks with whatever material you want to make the pick out of. In addition, players can craft a myriad of other tools in the game, from axes to shovels to swords to compasses, clocks and even fishing rods.
 
This might sound overly complicated when written out in text format like this, but in the game it doesn't even take five seconds.
 
An example showing how to craft a stone pickaxe.
Mining rocks
 
Now that we have some wood and a pickaxe we can start mining rock, and our first order of business is to find coal as we'll need a source of light as soon as the sun sets, lest we want to die horribly and alone in the wilderness. Exploring the world a bit, coal is usually spotted with relative ease (although not always, random world remember), and players can then proceed to mine out the black speckled rocks to harvest some coal. With a bit of coal in hand, we can now combine this with wooden sticks to create torches and bingo, we have created a light source.
 
Now that you have coal, it's a good idea to find shelter for the night. Players can either choose to take refuge in a natural cave, or if you're more ambitious, craft an axe and you can build a small wooden house. Placing torches around your dwelling of choice is recommended, as monsters can only spawn in almost absolute darkness, and trust us, you don't want monsters spawning inside your house. With a place to shelter, some light and basic tools, we can easily survive our first night in the world of Minecraft, patiently waiting for the sun to cast its warming rays over the land once again, burning the monsters of the night away.
 
The sunlight burns monsters to a crisp.
A new dawn
 
Surviving your first night is seen as a right of passage in the Minecraft world, but the first day was only the start of our adventures. As the sun comes up the evil is vanquished temporarily, allowing us to go back out and start foraging for new resources, create new tools, hunt some animals for food and much, much more.
 
At this stage, you might be wondering why the game is called Minecraft and not Survivalcraft. Well, after players have created a comfortable little dwelling, it's time to start digging. You see, just like in the real world, all the earth's most precious treasures lies beneath its surface, we're talking iron, gold, redstone and diamond, some of the most useful and rare commodities in the game. To get to these, mining is what we'll have to do. For this reason, it's usually a good idea to create a mining shaft with a safe entrance either inside or very close to your main base, because while we might explore the surface during the day, we'll be slaving away in the caverns at night.
 
A mining shaft extending to the bottom of the earth. Note the diamond pickaxe, one of the most powerful tools in the game.
 
The rest, is up to you
 
If we were to even attempt to explain the rest of the complexity associated with Minecraft, this article would easily run into the tens of thousands of words. The beauty of the game is exploring it yourself and discovering new things.
 
Do take note, this game has a lot more going for it. From creating swords and bows to full suits of armour to venture into the night with; to farming wheat and baking bread; to mining deep underground and even creating sinister portals to the netherworld -Minecraft is a game that can keep a player busy for years.
 
At present, the game is still in beta form and is available for purchase from the Minecraft website. Users can purchase the game right now for a discounted price of 14.95 euro, which equates to just short of R150, and start exploring, with all future game updates available for free. Notch has stated that he would like to see the game being sold on store shelves as a regular title in future, with a lot of additional content available.
 
The inside of the "TechCave", a handsome home if we do say so ourselves.
Multiplayer
 
And just when you thought that this was a solo adventure, Minecraft turns the tables again, with a multiplayer client now available with all beta purchases. Using this, players can hop on to any of the huge number of Minecraft servers available worldwide and can start forging a unique adventure with other players from around the world.
 
We recently started exploring the multiplayer Minecraft world, and the enjoyment one gets from surviving, to building villages, towns and even cities together, is something that is truly out of this world.
 
A multiplayer game showing a wonderfully constructed lofty residence. Building credit goes to "pixelguy".
 
Conclusion
 
In its short existence, Minecraft has achieved things previously unimaginable for an indie title. The game recently surpassed one million online sales, and it's still in the beta phase, which should tell you something. Seeing a tiny team reach the levels of success, usually enjoyed by multi-million dollar AAA titles, ignites a spark of hope for the game industry as a whole, proving that all you need to succeed is a good idea, a lot of ambition and some hard work. Kudos to Minecraft and Mojang, you have successfully managed to change our perspective of indie games forever.
 
Do heed this warning though, once you start playing Minecraft, it has a tendency of overtaking all your previous games in pure addiction factor, this game got the magic formula just right. 
 
Included at the end of this article is a video by one of the earliest preachers of the Minecraft message, a popular YouTube caster who goes by the name of 'X'. If this game sounds like something you might be interested in, we heartily encourage you to check out this video and see for yourself in a more visual way what secrets Minecraft holds. Another handy resource to consult would be the Minecraft Wiki, so make sure to bookmark it if you do buy the game.
 

PROS
Feeling like you've truly achieved something in a game after admiring the hours of work you spent on creating that perfect base.
CONS
A few bugs still manages to slip in, but these are ironed out on an almost daily basis.
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