Friday is a big day. It marks the 93rd anniversary of the end of the Great War, it is the release of a horror film I really don’t care about, and it’s the official release date for Minecraft. But Enosh, haven’t you been posting about Minecraft for like a year now? Ah, yes but if you’d been paying attention you would know the game was still in alpha and beta testing at the time. Minecraft’s development cycle has been a bit out of the norm I’ll grant you that. First of all, the game has been publicly available almost as long as it has been in development. Once the game entered beta Notch and his newly hired programmer Jens Bergensten continued to add features, something usually reserved for alpha testing. Even though the game will be officially released during the inaugural MineCon in Las Vegas, there is no guarantee that the new features will stop there. In fact, Notch has said in all likelihood feature additions will continue free of charge for all alpha and possibly beta adopters, I don’t remember.
Notch and Jeb have each added numerous features leading up to the release and for the past month the feature creep has come to an abrupt halt. This has given the boys time to catch up on the bug list. Unfortunately I’m still unsure that the lag issues and general inefficiency of java will be addressed before Friday. Granted when I moved away from the hustle and bustle of my beloved Cincinnati I lost a great deal of internet speed, but a game this simple should not have the lag issues it does. It certainly shouldn’t have the CPU and GPU requirements that cause many laptops running the game to overheat. For the first four months I played the game I was forced to find an array of tricks to keep my wife’s laptop running the game without becoming unstable and shutting down completely. These including stunts like playing the game on my balcony at night in the middle of winter and sticking the heatsink end out a window while playing. Eventually I figured out if I played the game unplugged I could get an uninterrupted hour of play time.
Since I am focused on the official release of the game Minecraft, it only seems fair that I describe the game for those PC gamers who have been hiding under a rock for the past year, or for the Xbox gamers who haven’t given a second thought to the countless Minecraft clones available. The game is a virtually endless sandbox game with only the slightest story line and a reasonable emphasis on adventuring. The central mechanic of the game is elegant in its simplicity. You must gather resources from the world around you in order to first build a shelter, then the tools and decorations necessary to make that shelter or other structure more pleasing. The tools range from the simple pickaxe and torch to TNT and a block capable of moving other blocks when powered by an electricity substitute. While many players may focus on adventuring or constructing elaborate buildings, an entire subset of players focuses their energies on constructing elaborate machines and even simple computers from the electricity substitute known as redstone.
There is a game mode aptly named creative mode which gives the player infinite resources and the ability to fly. They can mold the world to their liking without fear of death and without “wasting” time searching for a particular block essential to their design. But Tophat and I prefer the traditional survival mode in which we must both mine our materials and craft our tools. The game mode is called survival because there are a number of enemies which will disrupt your work in a series of creative and frustrating ways. The enemy “mobs” generate only in the dark either at night or underground and range from the basic zombie and skeleton archer to the Kamikaze-like exploding Creeper or the strange teleporting Endermen. These mobs in their own way serve the mild storyline. The story, which unfolds without cutscenes or any real explanation, revolves around your character Steve who in his travels discovers villages full of strange, as of yet silent men with long noses, abandoned mine shafts, and portals to other worlds. He can learn to craft potions and enchant his tools and if he is lucky he will eventually discover a stronghold. The stronghold is an abandoned structure full of rooms, chests, a library, and a portal to the End. The End is the source of the Endermen and a world from which there is no return. It is unclear if these elements will be more coherent and solid in Friday’s release, but Notch has on the one hand stated there will never be a set storyline forcing the player into a linear progression while on the other he held a contest to write the end message displayed when a player “beats” the game. What parameters must be met to reach the end is anyone’s guess.
So if this surprisingly addicting game sounds like the thing for you I highly recommend buying it before the release on Friday. You will save a few dollars over the final release price and have instant hipster status. But this is something that is in and of itself a little confusing. No new features have been coded into the game for almost a month and the game will be more stable than it has been previously, in theory. Yet, it seems that Notch intends to return to adding features to the game in the future. So the exact difference between the beta and the full release is still uncertain at this point.
It is likely that we will never again see such drastic changes to the game as the year-old Halloween update or the adventure update which introduced potions, crafting, abandoned mineshafts, strongholds, and the End world but I could be completely and utterly wrong on that point. Tophat and I have thoroughly enjoyed the adventure update and are eagerly anticipating the release so that we may return to our work in progress we had put on hold while Notch was releasing updates to the terrain generator, our own version of the floating city of Columbia. We have not visited our little slice of self-created Skyland, which may or may not be related to this, since some time in August and there is much we left unfinished. Speaking of unfinished, there has been no news on the progress of official support for third-party mods in the game or whether said support will be included in Friday’s release. Mod support is something Tophat and I have pined for going on six months now. There are a great number of mods available which add rich new experiences to the game, but whose implementation can be difficult if not impossible on a multiplayer server. Never the less, Friday will be an exciting day. Even if we’re not in Las Vegas for the big party.