Digging for Victory: Minecraft Explored • Page 2

A look at the indie game phenomenon.

To fans of Minecraft the game's solo creator is known simply as Notch. To the wider world he's Markus Persson - a programmer who has worked on game development for web-game titles, but whose true passion lies with the indie development scene.

That's not entirely unusual, in itself. The thriving scene includes many people whose day jobs involve writing other people's games. Their participation in indie projects or competitions allow them to make their own games, for a change.

What's unusual about Persson is that he took this to the next level, quitting his game development job in order to focus on his own indie projects. He didn't leave full-time employment entirely - a man has to eat, after all - but in order to spend more time with his games, he did leave the games industry.

Minecraft itself was inspired by the likes of Dwarf Fortress, Rollercoaster Tycoon and a little-known title called Infiniminer - yet while those inspirations can be seen pretty clearly in the game, it's Persson's own ideas that come through most clearly.

As game budgets have risen elsewhere in the industry, there has always been a niggling sense that design by committee has become the standard. It has dampened the appetite for risk-taking and quashed the personal touch of great designers and artists.

Developed by one man working alone, Minecraft is quite the opposite - filled with rough edges and odd design decisions, yet equally stuffed with the charm and clarity that comes from being the product of a single vision.

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The scale of the world's map is near infinite. Behold an aerial view of Eurogamer's own community server.

That vision has been rewarded handsomely. Although free versions of the game do exist, access to the Alpha version costs around 10 - a half-price offer for early supporters of the game, which will cost about 20 when it's finished. This gave Persson a revenue stream from Minecraft, one which has snowballed into serious profits as the game's popularity has soared.

Indeed Minecraft first came to the attention of many gamers back in September, when it was revealed that Paypal had temporarily frozen Persson's account. Annoyance at this treatment of a respected indie developer caused the story to spread at first - astonishment at the fact the account contained some $750,000 made sure that the headlines went far and wide. By the start of October 2010 Minecraft had a million registered users, 300,000 of whom had purchased the game.

The money generated has allowed Persson to re-enter the games business - but this time as the boss of his own studio, Mojang Specifications. The indie vibe behind the game won't disappear - Persson founded the studio with a friend who is working on his own indie project, and the pair plan to hire just three other staff members, a web developer, an artist and a business guy.

Persson's plan isn't to diversify his focus on Minecraft. Rather, it's to ensure he gets to spend as much time as possible working on the game, instead of having to concern himself with finances or correspondence.

For all its success and all the plaudits heaped upon it by the addicted masses (myself included; I practically dream in cubes these days) Minecraft remains very much a work in progress. It's not so much that it's rough around the edges, more that some of the edges haven't been built yet.

Whole branches of the game's "tech tree" trail off into nothingness. Certain materials can be acquired but don't appear to serve a purpose as yet. Core systems remain in flux, frequently altered by the regular updates to the game client.

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Notch and friends in the game.

Yet despite all that - or perhaps, in some odd way, because of it - Minecraft remains utterly compelling. Even in its present form, which fully merits the "Alpha" tag, the game's ambition is nothing short of glorious.

Nowhere is that seen more clearly than in the multiplayer mode, which allows players to set up worlds in which they can work co-operatively to build truly epic constructions. It's broken and buggy but it's also hugely entertaining. It's arguably one of the finest experiments in collaborative creativity the internet has ever seen.

Minecraft's ambition is matched only by one thing - the ambition of its players. Once you get past the point of building your castle and mining the land for materials, it feels like the most natural thing in the world to begin building ever more impressive and daunting structures.

The internet teems with screenshots and videos of worlds which have been transformed into vast theme parks, into levels from famous games of yesteryear, into statuaries of beloved game and film characters. A few hours browsing Minecraft's greatest hits on forums and YouTube makes my own effort - a soaring tower which touches the clouds and ends in a vast glass-floored viewing deck - feel nothing short of pedestrian.

If you're going to join the legions who are discovering Minecraft, don't come expecting polish. If a lack of hand-holding is offputting, the game probably isn't for you just yet. If you need clearly defined objectives or crave narrative, you'll get your kicks elsewhere. But if, like the game's creator, the thought of raw creation fires you up, you'll never find better value for your 10.

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