Gadgets and Gizmos (India) - - GRAPHICS TABLET - BY ANAND RA­MACHAN­DRAN

You be­gin all alone on a de­serted is­land. You ex­plore. You col­lect wood and stone and sand. You make sim­ple tools. You build your­self a shel­ter. Later, you hunt pigs and gather fruit for food. And fight off mon­sters in the dark.

And it’s all made up of cube­shaped blocks. Yes, even the pigs.

It’s re­ally hard to de­scribe Minecraft. Lego with mon­sters. Lego Robinsin Cru­soe. Doom with blocks and with­out guns and with farm­ing. See what I mean? Hard.

But, im­pos­si­bly, this in­die game cre­ated by a sin­gle de­vel­oper has been down­loaded 14 mil­lion times, and has grossed over 30 mil­lion dol­lars within weeks of its re­lease. That’s more than many AAA ti­tles make over their life­times. It has made its cre­ator Markus Pers­son (a.k.a. Notch) very wealthy, and his stu­dio Mo­jang one of gam­ing’s hottest prop­er­ties. What makes Minecraft so spe­cial? While it may be hard to de­scribe the game, it is eas­ier to de­scribe the Minecraft ex­pe­ri­ence. Which is where I’ll start.

You be­gin all alone on a de­serted is­land. The en­tire is­land is made out of cubes—mud, grass, stone, coal, sand, water, even the clouds and the sun are made out of Le­go­like cubes. It’s beau­ti­ful in a sur­real sort of way.

And here’s the thing—you can dig, chop and cut through the en­tire land­scape, one cube at a time, and gather the re­sources it of­fers. Dig up a mud cube and you get some mud. Chop a tree and you get wood. Cut through stone with a pick­axe and you get some stone.

You can then use these ma­te­ri­als, block by block, to build stuff of your own. Homes, bridges, walls, tow­ers, sheep can­nons—al­most any­thing you can imag­ine spring up as you painstak­ingly cre­ate a world around you to sur­vive the el­e­ments. And the mon­sters that come out at night. Yes, I’m telling the truth you about the sheep can­nons.

It’s a mag­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence as you re­shape the world around you—carv­ing out val­leys, trenches and cav­erns, lev­el­ling moun­tains and rais­ing plat­forms, build­ing struc­tures, walls, stair­cases and other things of beauty. It’s a fun­da­men­tal hu­man in­stinct to en­joy see­ing or­der emerg­ing from chaos—and Minecraft taps into this quite beau­ti­fully. When you fin­ish putting the fi­nal touches on your first log cabin, beau­ti­fully lit with torches, dec­o­rated with a bed and book­cases and win­dows, and step back to take a look, it’s a feel­ing of pride and own­er­ship that is ri­valled by few games in­deed.

Now, it’s time to kill the mon­sters. Yep, Minecraft has all sorts of nas­ties that pop out at nights try­ing to kill you. But you’ll be ready

for them. You can mine iron ore from the depths of dark cav­erns and forge them into pow­er­ful ar­mour and swords. You can kill spi­ders, take their webs and use them as bow­strings in wooden bows. And you can kill them skele­tons, zom­bies and creep­ers good.

Minecraft is one of gam­ing’s great­est sand­boxes. It’s an amaz­ing and com­pelling ex­pe­ri­ence just ex­plor­ing, craft­ing and build­ing things in this world. Play­ers have taken it upon them­selves to push the lim­its of the con­struc­tion tools of Minecraft— peo­ple have build epic struc­tures such as full- scale mod­els of Hog­warts, The Re­ich­stag and even the USS En­ter­prise. Play­ers have cre­ated cus­tom tex­ture packs that make Minecraft look like An­i­mal Cross­ing, Halo and Fall­out. Peo­ple are be­gin­ning to in­vent their own games us­ing Minecraft’s physics en­gine. Yes, some of them in­volve sheep can­nons that can launch our woolly friends to­wards the moon.

Minecraft’s blocky, retro-legochic (aided by some imag­i­na­tive sound de­sign) also adds im­mea­sur­ably to the ex­pe­ri­ence. Some­how, the rel­a­tively ab­stract aes­thetic lets our imag­i­na­tions take over and fill in the blanks—re­sult­ing in a world that’s as re­al­is­tic, beau­ti­ful, idyl­lic, daunt­ing or ter­ri­fy­ing as we imag­ine it to be. Minecraft avoids the clas­sic trap of fall­ing into the un­canny val­ley by steer­ing very wide of it. It’s a great im­mer­sion win.

The suc­cess of Minecraft is be­ing repli­cated by other games as well. Minecraft clones are spread­ing like wild­fire, each one of them bring­ing some­thing new to the core game­play and en­joy­ing great suc­cess. Ter­raria, a 2D in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Minecraft me­chan­ics with some Castl­e­va­nia- style plat­form­ing thrown in, was the top-sell­ing game on steam dur­ing the week of its re­lease, out­selling ti­tles like The Witcher 2 and Por­tal 2. FortressCraft, an­other Minecraft- alike on Xbox Live Ar­cade, be­came the high­est gross­ing In­die game of all time on Mi­crosoft’s plat­form.

The in­cred­i­ble suc­cess of the genre can per­haps be ex­plained by the fact that peo­ple sim­ply love putting things to­gether and pulling them apart. That’s why kids love Lego—it lets us play with it any way we choose. Look, I made a gun! Hey! I made a mon­ster! Woot, I made a cas­tle! It is as re­al­is­tic or as ab­stract as we’d like it to be.

Minecraft is an im­por­tant game— an­other in the list of il­lus­tri­ous games that are more about cre­ation than de­struc­tion. It proves, yet again, that games that let peo­ple ex­press them­selves and ex­er­cise their imag­i­na­tions work well and en­joy great suc­cess. It’s an­other mile­stone in gam­ing’s evolv­ing his­tory—cre­at­ing a genre and en­ter­tain­ing mil­lions of happy, happy play­ers.

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