Minecraft: Imagination Engine

If you’re not already familiar with its blocky universe, check out my introduction to Minecraft. Existing initiates, read on…

In The Beginning Was The Block

There’s something supremely satisfying about starting up a new Minecraft world. Discovering what landscape you’ll spawn in, the power to delete it from existence if it doesn’t immediately suit your whims. Even though your first night in Minecraft is the most memorable, and at this point you know exactly what you need to do before the sun goes down, it’s still kind of a fresh adventure each time. Why is this?

I don’t think you can get more low-resolution in a video game that you do in Minecraft, but its worlds are so much more immersive than other 3D FPS RPGs. I think in a sense, it’s because in graphics extravaganzas like World of  Warcraft, you’re riding shotgun to the story and the action. You’re not so much in control of your destiny in WoW—your control is little more than the order of the repetitive tasks you’re required to perform.

Back To Block One

The release of Minecraft Pocket Edition for mobile devices  sheds some interesting light on this. Initially intended to be little more than a very basic Creative Mode version of the game, players went crazy and demanded a more full Minecraft experience. The development progress has been quite slow, and new features are added piecemeal. But the slow pace got me thinking with each release: what makes Minecraft Minecraft?

Of course, Survival Mode is a big factor. It drives the story along to a big degree. At first I thought the hunger bar was a bad idea, until I used it. It’s another tool to force the player into action and explore. Caves and ore are a huge factor as well, as they too encourage exploration. Getting out in the world is what starts a chain reaction of events that generate the ongoing saga of your time in the game. Staying out past dark and having a skeleton scare the crap out of you and making you resolve to build some armor immediately—that’s how the “story” unfolds.

Block Head

But unlike scripted RPGs, there’s no epic story arc. It’s a much more personal tale. As I mentioned in the linked article above, I believe Minecraft taps into the reptilian parts of the human brain. They are still there, we just rarely use them. But Minecraft has an ingenious system whereby the tasks you’re completing in the game to “advance” (make stronger tools and weapons, build armor, etc.) actually feel satisfying. In fact, early versions of the Pocket Edition just offered up a ton of unlimited blocks—even in Survival Mode—because there was no way to make many of them due to a lack of furnaces at the time. The odd thing was that I missed that extra work required to craft them for myself.

Although there’s a day/night cycle in the Pocket Edition, there’s no sun, moon or stars. And I feel this also detracts from the experience. But that’s a pretty obvious one. The gentle instrumental music and atmospheric effects would be nice too. But really, I think the most important game elements as far as the immersion factor go are those that encourage the organic story to move along.

Just A Little Bit

Still, I’ve yet to tap into what makes it so immersive. And I think the low-res graphics are the key: with the 8-bit graphics, there’s plenty of room for your imagination to participate. Too often in games, there’s no room left for the player. Even nook, cranny and polygon has been polished to a foregone conclusion about the world you’re visiting. But in Minecraft, you get to decide. Are you stranded on a desert island? An alien planet? Or just a mountain man setting up his corner of the world, Jeremiah Johnson style? It’s up to you.

Obviously Minecraft isn’t for everyone. And some just want to play Creative Mode and build. But at it’s essence, regardless of your playing choice it’s those minimalist pixels that give your imagination a place to hang out, and make you feel like it’s your world.

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Categories: Minecraft

Author:George Coghill

Artist. Geek. INTP. Bicycle rider. Overthinker.

12 Comments on “Minecraft: Imagination Engine”

  1. Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 18:14 UTC #

    Reblogged this on The Overthinker and commented:

    Check out my guest post over at I rez Therefore I Am about what makes Minecraft “Minecraft”.

  2. Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 19:28 UTC #

    “But really, I think the most important game elements as far as the immersion factor go are those that encourage the organic story to move along.” I agree!

    Also, the low graphics are indeed interesting, and yet, look at your pictures, the landscape and atmosphere conveys so well, you captured a variety in landscapes and biomes.

    I haven’t tried the pocket version, only the PC game. I’ve actually spent very little time in creative mode, and when I did, I got dizzy from the flying. I guess it’s that personal story and connection to the world that you shape, I love about the game.

    • Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 19:41 UTC #

      @Ironyca The Pocket Edition has potential, but there are some key elements missing that take away the immersion you get from the full version. The lack of Creepers is a big one! The starry sky, the sun and moon, and caves are the big ones.

      Another limitation for the immersion in the Pocket Edition is the abrupt borders at the end of the “world”. I think they should have just had the worlds be islands in infinite ocean to maintain the atmosphere. It’s a bit Truman Show-esque to run into the edges 🙂

  3. Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 23:55 UTC #

    Hi George… I have tried to understand the attraction of Minecraft in the past. Thanks for opening up this world in your article. I like the Survival Mode stuff, story line, hunger and other features, but without a place to get beautiful shoes and dresses and hair, I’d be lost (*giggles*). Great post… Yordie

    • Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 23:58 UTC #

      OMG, you and your shoes!!! Don’t you just wear flip-flops in the speedboat anyway??

      • Wednesday, 08 August 2012 at 15:19 UTC #

        I wear boat shoes in the speedboat, yo!

  4. Tuesday, 07 August 2012 at 23:57 UTC #

    Welcome to iRez George!! Yay!

    Awesome post, thank you so much!

    I know you’ve touched on some of this here, and some of it on your intro post:
    http://georgecoghill.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/minecraft-zen-and-the-craft-of-mining/

    but could you run down a few details, like:

    1. Is there a free to play version? For example, if a group of us wanted to go take a field trip, can we all meetup there?

    2. I guess the 2nd half of Q1 already did this, but is it MMO? Single player? Both? How / when?

    3. Besides a possible free version, how is it priced? Buy? Monthly fee? You mentioned “setting up a server” is easy / cheap… what do I do with a server? (and how easy / cheap is easy / cheap! 🙂

    4. So “Creative Mode” is “just build” mode, no mining required and no zombies (hmm… I wonder about the infamous vampires in Kowloon…) What are the different modes?

    I know you mentioned the Minecraft Wiki… so if these are really dumb questions, feel free to just answer with wiki links.

    Thanks so much for joining us! We’d definitely love to see more pix / vids… so please feel free to add either as comments on this post or a new future post whenever you have time.

    Thank you George!!

    • Wednesday, 08 August 2012 at 00:23 UTC #

      @Vanessa: there’s so much, I forget what needs to be included!

      1. There is (finally!) a free demo version, but you do need to sign up for a (free) account. I am not sure what the limitations are as I own the game and can’t play the demo here.

      2. It’s both single-player and MMO. A new feature just added to the just-released 1.3 version adds the ability to do multiplayer on your LAN, even in single-player games.

      There are many online servers that are public, but most are private. Some will whitelist you for access if you ask. Google “minecraft server” and you’ll find tons of directories.

      If you buy the game, you can download the server version. It’s pretty easy to set up and run, but you’ll need a spare computer (Mac or PC) to run it, and you’ll need to allow access through your router’s firewall. Again, tons of resources online on how to do this. I am hoping with the new built-in server feature, they will allow external connections in the future so there’s no need to run a server if you just want to let people hop in your game.

      3. Price: ~$26. No monthly fee, unless you pay to host a server elsewhere. And those you can get for about $3 per payer, per month. But if you host your own server, it’s free (but you have to buy the game).

      4. Creative Mode gives you all the blocks, there are no monsters or health bar, and you just build. It’s a virtual LEGO kit. Survival Mode adds all the other stuff discussed in my posts.

      Part of the Minecraft experience (positive or negative) is that you’ll rely heavily on the Minecraft Wiki. You’ll need it to understand what items you can create especially, but it has tons of info on setting up the server, as well as all the modes of the game. It’s amazingly extensive!

      And these’s so much more to explore, like mods which alter the look of the game or the functionality, or “skin editors” where you can change you character’s look (and add shoes!).

    • Wednesday, 08 August 2012 at 01:00 UTC #

      To George’s post I’d like to add that I’ve been part of several multiplayer servers, both with study mates, friends and a real public server. The only real price is buying the game, of course unless you want to run a multiplayer yourself, which we did from our own computer (we just only turned it on at certain times), so it didn’t cost us extra and we could play with a Swedish friend.
      Once you buy the game, lost of public servers will let you enter as a tourist – they will not allow you to build or break down what others have built, but they do let you walk around and see their world. People usually make sure the spawn areas are very impressive too. When I visited public servers, they had room for 50-750 online players at a time, the actual number of people online fluctuate.

      You can make your own skin, aaaaand you can do it using paint! Yaaaay, even the noobs can join on this one, I did my own skin for example 😀 or you can get one such as these: http://www.minecraftskins.com/

      Generally, there’s so many free features surrounding this game, skins, texture packs, mod packs, entire worlds because everyone shares their creations.

      There’s one thing I’d like to stress with Minecraft:
      Out of all the games I’ve ever played, I think this one wins on how much quality game time you get for your money, it’s endless. A lot of games have a defined end state, and of course, when you completed it, you’re done. This game just keeps on going, there’s so much you can do and share with the community.

  5. Wednesday, 08 August 2012 at 01:15 UTC #

    Great info George / Ironyca! Can we organize a field trip? Like, any Saturday this year… it’d be great if peeps could get on the demo version, I’m sure we can sign up for accounts… and then maybe see a bit of what peeps have created and maybe stack a few bricks ourselves.

    It could be anytime, Sept / Oct, whenever… but I think peeps’d be interested… especially now that Yordie knows there are shoes! 😛

    • Wednesday, 08 August 2012 at 04:25 UTC #

      I have a multiplayer server set up here, I can add people to the whitelist if they would like to explore. Not sure if you can access multiplayer servers with the demo version or not.

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