Monday, August 13, 2012

Let's Talk About Minecraft - My Thoughts on Progress

With the recent news that Minecraft on PC has sold seven million copies, it seems like that's the perfect jumping-off point to do a little reflecting on Minecraft's success versus its progress.  I think when I type that last sentence, there's a reflexive tensing that goes on out there for certain people who may be a little in-the-know about the game, since I'm sure you kinda get what's coming.  Honestly appraising the amount of hard content in Minecraft is a hard task since the numbers simply don't add up to the dedication, the loyalty and, most importantly, the amount of money that's been drawn by it and, at its worst, you'll get the people with that dedication and loyalty that will argue to the ends of the Earth that what is there is all it needs, even though the game is known to be in a state of ever-continuing-updates until Jeb burns out or something.  More level-headed people, I think, will understand the logic behind the numbers and get where I'm coming from when I get into it here.

From my perspective, where Minecraft is at now, including the latest version of it (actual version 1.31, not the snapshot), it's simply not a full game yet.  Before knees start jerking and this and that, I should clarify that 'being full' and 'being good' are not the same thing, so where I say I think it's not a full game, that is not to say that I think it's a bad thing.  I feel like I have to throw that down as a disclaimer so as to not incur any wrath which is honestly kind of disheartening.  It's just that I have found between now and when it released that I've sort of flipped my judgment on it being a 'full' game.  Maybe it's because I've seen the amount of post-release support and while it's been great, it's not been -really- great, or maybe it's just because a little bit of the luster has been lost.  Or maybe I'm just thinking more rationally about the game now.  For whatever reason, I take a look at the release version patch notes and I'm just tearing my hair out at what it has listed and just how little has shifted from then and now.

Any other game that launched, fully released, as Minecraft did in the state that Minecraft was in, would be crucified by reviewers and the like, even if it had the complex and satisfying world-building possibilities of Minecraft.  NPCs were in the game simply to be there and have served exactly zero purpose until the latest update where they gained the ability to trade with the player and breed, though whether or not they can establish their own houses for the new people created is not something I know.  These are -the only- other NPCs in the game, these Testificates (which were originally a place-holder.  They are now official unless they get a change.) and from release to now, eight months later, they did nothing.  The player could not interact with them in any way aside from stealing things from their village (with no repercussions) and killing them (again, with no repercussions) and that mostly remains still.  The latest snapshot has added the ability for Testificates to like or dislike you depending on how you treat them, but snapshots are purely optional until they are fully-fledged updates, and thus do not count.  Especially since 1.4 is likely months off yet since 1.3 has just released.

This version of the game was also the one that introduced "The End" realm which consists of a sponge texture, some pillars with things that support the Enderdragon, said Enderdragon and Endermen.  It is a boss realm, pure and simple, and has barely any thought past that.  You can find the fabled Enderdragon Egg after defeating the dragon and collect it by using overcomplicated matters (since just breaking it to pick it up like any other block would be insanity) and then put it in your house as a trophy, maybe, but that's about it.  Or you can farm Ender Pearls which more or less cease to have a purpose after you have found the stronghold in your world, i.e. where the portal to The End is, which means that yes, you have easy access to the thing you need for the portal after you have found and turned the portal on.  In the eight months between now and the release of the game when it was added in, there has been absolutely nothing done with it, so it exists in the exact same state as it did back then, which is to say a state that seems a little too under-done, especially for another realm that is in the game itself.

Of course, that is not a new thing, since the Nether realm went so long without serving a concrete purpose other than "fast travel" which is trumped by minecart systems any day, what with the lack of ghasts in the overworld.  Only with the release version did the Nether get anything resembling a purpose with Nether Wart (used for potion-making, also added in release) and Nether Fortresses which are giant, empty Nether castles that have Blaze spawners in them if you're lucky.  Which is subjective, of course, since Blazes, as an enemy type, are kind of awful, since they can fly around an area known for very high places that end in dips in vast lava oceans, meaning they're hard to harvest from, and can set you at fire.  And will.  Several times.  It is worth noting that, at release, netherwart could only be grown in the Nether, thus giving you a reason to stay there.  Since then, the latest release has taken that away, so reasons to care about the Nether has once again been taken down a notch.  Yes, you still have to find them there initially, but that's about it.  The Nether, as it remains, is kind of a perfect statement of the game, since it has potential, but nearly nothing is being done with it.

I -should- state that I'm not one of these people who are knocking what -does- get released because it's not what they -think- should be released, the "Why are there -cats- in the game, they serve no purpose!" crowd.  Oh no, I think that everything that has made it in deserves to be in, I just think that it's not enough and has been entirely too staggered and short-sighted.  For instance, you can write in books now in the current version of the game.  In a game where bookshelves exist.  So where do you store these written-in-books?  Storage chests, of course.  Giving an item that requires three tiers of creation (Sugar Cane to paper, paper/leather to books, books/wooden planks to bookshelves) to make a purpose beyond making sure enchantments done at a table smack-dab in the middle of a mess of them is too much to ask for, apparently.  Which seems, yes, like I am just whinging and being a dick, but I'm sure you get where I'm coming from - I just think there needs to be a little more purpose added as well as more things.

I could go on and on about all this stuff and I might some day, but for now, I honestly think that's enough.  I've probably ruffled enough feathers as it is, and that's while just really scratching the surface of what I consider to be the 'issues' the game has currently.  I have to stress, again, that I don't dislike the game, nor think it's bad, but I think there are some fundamental oversights that have either only now, eight months later, been attended to, or are still so far off that we don't even know.  I understand that it's basically just Jeb working on the game currently and he's doing a good job for what he's got to work with.  A great job, even.  But that's not an excuse, nor is it okay for Minecraft when it would be horrible for any other single game out there.  I'm honestly not saying something that outlandish when I say that the game needs more.  Here's hoping that it gets that and that the non-PC versions of the game start getting treated a little better, since the XBLA version is still in Beta, and the Pocket edition is literally like two years ago Alpha.  This is not how you do games, no matter who you are or what you've made.

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