No, I'm not dead. I just haven't been in the frame of mind to write much. That will change, I hope.
Instead of writing this weekend, in addition to the normal flurry of soccer games and kid parties and such, I discovered an inventive and addictive little indie game — Minecraft. It's not done yet — it's still in Alpha — but even in that early state, it is more fun and immersive than many big-company productions costing five times as much.
Minecraft drops you into a blocky 3-D landscape — everything, from the trees to the water to the soil, is made of blocks. So long as the sun stays up, you can wander safely. At night, the beasties come out, and will getcha. To protect yourself, you need to harvest resources (like wood and stone), make tools to harvest resources more efficiently, and then build yourself a safe place to pass the nights — and perhaps even arm and armor yourself. Slowly you progress from mere survival to mastery of the landscape, amassing the resources to build whatever immense above- or below-ground structures please you. There are caves to explore, rare resources to find if you delve deeply enough, and increasingly complex things to craft — all the way up to powered mine carts, if you find the right resources.
As is often the case, I can't quite put my finger on what x-factor makes the game so addictive. The graphics are primitive, and the gameplay is simple, but the combination of exploring (and worrying that I may accidentally dig into a deep cave, or a lava flow, or an underground river) and creative building gives me what I want in games.
Rock Paper Shotgun has had great coverage. This weekend it's been impossible to register or buy the game — the viral success crashed the guy's server, and led to this one-man studio suddenly making so much money that PayPal shut its account down for suspected fraud. But it's only about $14 right now, and that will get you the full game when it's done as well as the chance to play the Alpha. There's an early multiplayer mode that has great potential, there are already player-made skins, and I'm thinking it will be a modder's paradise (I've been imagining a zombie-apocalypse-survival mod, in which the beasties are gradually more persistent and attack structures).
Highly recommended. And now some pictures:
Here's the tower I've been building on a small sandy island near my starting point. Note the glass windows on the upper levels — you can craft glass by making a forge, and finding coal, and using it to smelt sand.
And here is a view of the same tower, seen from a nearby mountaintop. I got to the mountaintop not by climbing, but by digging a mineshaft from my original tiny safety cave.
Edit: Fixed pictures.
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