Because of what I do, every year men (and yes, one or two women) ask me one question: “What games do you recommend I get someone for Christmas?” This year my one and only recommendation for holiday gift giving is Minecraft by Mojang. You may download a free demo for PC here (Requires Java) or play it in your internet browser (Requires your browser’s Java plugin). Minecraft is also available for Android, iOS and Xbox 360. I recommend the PC version since you can download more addons for free, and can also create custom character skins and texture packs and implement them more easily. Plus, Minecraft is played more easily using a keyboard and mouse than using a touchscreen or console controller. If you like the demo, you can buy it through the Mojang site or send it as a gift by supplying a friend’s email address.
For those who haven’t heard of it, Minecraft is the little indie game that could, which came out this time last year. The graphics are simplistic, iconic and cute, and all figures are rendered in simple polygons. One of the main reasons for the low res is that Minecraft takes place in a completely open, randomly-generated world where you are free to do whatever you like. You may destroy things to your heart’s content or you can gather blocks and materials and build whatever your mind can come up with. People have already recreated the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramid, the Star Trek Enterprise, and other historical and fictional locations and icons in chunky block form.
Starting a game of Minecraft and creating a new world drops you into a randomly generated environment, usually a series of islands. Nearby your starting point, you find an item chest (right-click it to open it) and several torches. Inside the chest you’ll usually find an axe and a couple of basic material blocks. Click these items to pick them up, move them down to your inventory, and click again to add them to what you’re carrying. Press ESC or E to close the chest. When done, use the axe to chop up the item chest and torches, and they are added to your inventory as well. After that you’ll want to start gathering other materials to build yourself a shelter or home base.
The key to playing Minecraft is the crafting system, which allows you to combine two or more materials to form tools and utilities. This is accomplished in the character’s inventory, using a 2×2 grid at the top of the screen. By placing materials in specific configurations within the grid, you’ll be able to create new items as displayed to the right. Start off by placing wood on the crafting grid (any slot) and you’ll convert them to Wooden Planks, which you can take from the right. Place four Wooden Planks in each of the four slots on the grid to create a Crafting Table.
To place a block like the Crafting Table on the ground, you then move it down to the bottom bar of your inventory screen. This bar represents your on-hand items. Press one of the top keyboard numbers or scroll up or down with the mouse wheel until the desired block is shown in the character’s hand. Look down at the ground until a square is outlined (indicating targeting) and right-click to place the Crafting Table on the ground. Then right-click the Crafting Table to enter another inventory screen with a 3×3 grid. This larger grid allows you to craft better tools, such as shovels and pickaxes. To create tools first stack Wooden Planks 2 high from the bottom to create Sticks. Then stack Sticks two high from the bottom center and place Wooden Planks in the top three slots to create a Wooden Pickaxe. You can also use Cobblestone, Iron, or other materials in the top three slots to craft stronger pickaxes. Now that you have a pickaxe, you’re ready to start mining the ground for other materials.
The crafting system is so deep that you can create all sorts of neat things, such as swords, armor, spellbooks, enchanting tables, and even TNT. The best reason to craft weapons are the enemies that attack as night falls. Zombies, giant spiders, and tribesmen with bows and arrows constantly seek out and attack your character. Damage sustained is recovered automatically as long as you keep a full stomach, which involves hunting livestock such as pigs or farming crops in fresh-tilled soil. You can even set up breeding pens for animals as well.
Other facets of the adventure mode of Minecraft include being able to travel to other dimensions. I personally don’t know much about interdimensional travel in the game but I look forward to finding out. The reason I know about these other dimensions are the in-game achievements, which describe using a “portal” to travel somewhere called “The Nether,” and another place called “The End.” So there is a light story in Minecraft that you can engage with if desired. However if the enemies and adventure aspects of the game prove bothersome you can ignore them altogether and even prevent enemies from attacking at night by changing the game difficulty to “Peaceful” in the options menu. That way you can play Minecraft purely as a sandbox creativity game.
Minecraft is updated all the time, as detailed at Mojang’s site. For example, the most recent update has added fireworks to the game and also enchanted books that allow you to enchant items (before, you could only do this at a table.) The game is unrated but is suitable for all ages, in my opinion, due to the ease of use and the simple yet complex crafting system. Item recipes are everywhere on the internet, especially at the Minecraft Wiki page. The look and function of Minecraft can be changed by adding custom texture packs, skins and mods. The ability to play it as an adventure or simply as a creativity tool opens the door to all levels of gamers. I myself am so obsessed with the game that I’ve started a separate blog about it (Redstone Diary) to which I soon add crafting recipes.
I hope you take my recommendation and gift Minecraft for a loved one or for yourself, and have a happy holiday season.