Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The story of Minecraft

Bear with me, this is a long story for our blog, but it has been an development I've found quite interesting and have been playing myself.

This is what you are greeted with on the frontpage of Minecraft.net:

Minecraft is a game about placing blocks to build anything you can imagine. At night monsters come out, make sure to build a shelter before that happens. It also has music by C418! So far 4270804 people have registered and 1300092 people bought the game. More stats here.
You are dropped in the world and have to figure out what to do, there is NO in-game tutorial.

However the Minecraft community is large and productive and there are many tutorial videos (Funniest tutorial video around). There is also the Minecraft Wiki and many forums that that go into detail of the many things one can do in Minecraft.

As of now 1,300,124 people have bought the game for a price between €10 for the alpha version and €15 for the later beta version. Up to the beta the whole project was mostly created by one man, aka Notch, and the sounds were done by C418. So what transpired to make Minecraft such a huge success? The seed that planted Notch's vision of Minecraft was a game called Infiminer (free download).

MineWiki: Infiniminer is the game Minecraft was originally based upon. It was developed by Zachtronics Industries, and released in steps of incremental updates during April-May 2009. It quickly garnered a following on message boards around the internet, and eventually inspired Notch to start working on Minecraft. Like Minecraft, Infiniminer is a block-based digging/building game. It was originally intended to be played as a team-based competitive game, where the goal is to locate and excavate precious metals, and bring your findings to the surface to earn points for your team. However, as the game gained popularity, players decided it was much more fun to build things than to compete for points. Zachtronics discontinued development of the game less than a month after its first release. The source code was made public, spawning a handful of mods and spin-offs, but the game eventually faded into obscurity as the more polished Minecraft was announced.
From the words of Notch:
I found Infiniminer. My god, I realized that that was the game I wanted to do. I played it in multiplayer for a while and had a blast, but found it flawed. Building was fun, but there wasn’t enough variation, and the big red/blue blocks were pretty horrible. I thought a fantasy game in that style would work really really well, so I tried to implement a simple first person engine in that style, reusing some art and code (although not as much as you’d think) from RubyDung, and came up with this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F9t3FREAZ-k
After a lot of coding, Notch produced Minecraft Classic on the 17th of May, 2009. This mode is still free to play so you can get a feel of the game, though feature and game wise it's far behind the paid version.

It is in the old (free) creative server hosted by Reddit that I first encountered the world of Minecraft. It was a Reddit only multiplayer server where people could just build stuff by plomping different blocks down. This is where I made my first big structure (The Dom Tower).

Notch continued to work furiously on the game and after a few intermediate updates (Survival Test, Indev,Infdev) he released Minecraft Alpha on the 28th of June 2010, only slightly more than a year after he started. Compared to classic, Alpha was filled with all manners of new content and possibilities. Most importantly a survival aspect was added to the game. Monsters come out at night and are found in caves, take shelter or take up arms against them. By using the different materials you mine you can craft all manner of objects like swords, arrows, armor, farming, food, boats, railcarts and tracks, also logic circuits which are almost exclusively used by the very tech geeky (NOFI) userbase of Minecraft.. Alpha also included different biomes like snowy, grassy, and desert (see the almost infinitely large landscapes here), also an Underworld called the Nether was created, accessible by portals.

It's is very rare for an Alpha version of a game to ask for money (€10), but this was also an investment, because anyone who bought it in Alpha is guaranteed to also get the beta version (€15), and the final release (€20) and any additions that might come later.

Many people who had played the classic version were quite willing to invest the money to get the Alpha version. Almost all of the sales of Minecraft have been driven by word of mouth advertisements, and Minecraft related posts ending up on many (game)blogs. Obsessed Minecrafters have been producing amazing structures (example 1, 2, 3, 4 ,5) which often get reposted on social media sites. Minecraft sales really started to explode when fanbases were created on sites such as Reddit/r/Minecraft/, forums, and popular gaming press sites.

At one point the influx of new users was so high that the account verification servers crashed. In a gesture of goodwill Notch then gave away free Minecraft to anyone for one weekend. This seemed to be a good idea because it resulted in even more people buying it after the weekend was over.

A lot of money came in, so much that Paypal froze $763,000 on Notch's account because they were suspicious of the sudden large influx of money. The issue was sorted quickly though. Notch then decided it was necessary to start a company, Mojang, to deal with the business and programming sides of such a successful game. The work that went into this distracted Notch a lot from his coding work, so progress was slow during this time, and entitled little shitfaces started whining on many forums about why he wasn't releasing weekly updates.

On December 20, 2010 Mojang felt confident enough to release Minecraft Beta, this upped the price to €15. The Beta fixed a few multiplayer issues and also included some elements the community had been asking for. The addition of note blocks allowed some obsessed people to create whole songs in Minecraft. The inclusion of dyes allowed people to shear sheep, color the wool and create all kinds of colorful buildings.

Of course you could also just use the dyes to make colored sheep.

No one knows when Minecraft Final will be released only that it will cost €20 at release. Everyone is curious about the things that might still be included before the final version. However the future of Minecraft isn't solely in the hands of Notch and Mojang.

Because of the relative ease at which the Java code Minecraft was built in could be altered, the modding community really took off. There are many mods now that truly increase the beauty and possibilities of Minecraft. There are tons of different texture packs that make the game look strikingly different and prettier in some cases. Modders have added tons of new creatures to the world, new items, new craftable equipment and even flying mounts. People have also been improving the graphics and lighting engine.

Besides the isolated single player survivor mode, you can also play multiplayer worlds. Whereas in Creative you just build (or troll other people), in Survival you can craft and battle each other and monsters. Creative multiplayer maps have yielded some extraordinarily grand designs as can be seen here on a Google Maps like viewer of the old Reddit server.

This has been a brief summary, it can go much deeper. After reading this, many people will still be confused about why Minecraft is fun and what the point of it is? There is no end boss to fight after all (until someone makes a mod for it). You could see it as a giant immersive LEGO playground where you mine the land and use your creativity to build nice things which also protect you from monsters that come out at night. The only way to find out if it appeals to you is to watch some of the videos on youtube, I recommend some of the Yogscast videos, these guys can be hilarious too. You could also play a bit on the free creative servers, or just take the jump and buy the beta version for €15.

Since I started on this post 750 people have bought this game.


cybrbeast said...

If the Rainbowboys like the game we could easily setup a private server where camel can make his hilarious swastikas (or maybe some architecture, that is your specialty), Annom can build giant penis monoliths everywhere, pimp can build a bulk cargo harbor, Dekus could surely implement some of the things he learned in graphics design, and Douche will of course ruin other peoples' creations, like the troll he is.

Kamielkaze said...

I think i'm going to buy this game, i heard a lot about it and this was intressting. Maybe i don't find time to play it but then it isn't wrong to sponsor this. I own server would be cool!

Nice read!

annom said...

Wow, that's a nice and long post!

I have absolutely 0 seconds to waste until late next week. I like the concept and may try it, although it looks like too much manual labour for me, is that true?

Can I write a script that builds giant penis monoliths?

cybrbeast said...

Yes it is a lot of manual labor, but it's usually quite fun.

However you can automate a lot of stuff. Quick and large map editing can be done with the MCedit program (also made by the community).

It is very easy to script with Python for Minecraft. Many people have have scripted automated construction and mining programs.

Maybe something to play around with once you finish your thesis :)