Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Indie Innovation Spotlight – Introduction & Minecraft

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 1, 2012

I talk a lot about indie innovation: How they are doing the stuff that the mainstream publishers don’t dare. And how sometimes it’s awesome, sometimes it’s lame, but at least it’s friggin’ different. So I thought I’d take some time – maybe once a week – and formally recognize some indie games that have really broken the norms, broken some boundaries, defied categorization, or simply threw an amazing twist on an existing formula that made all the difference.

I won’t necessarily be talking about new games here. In fact, considering my backlog of titles, a game less than four months old will probably be a rarity. I’ve got one game on the list that is literally two decades old. But these are indie games – the actual age of the indie game has little to do with its quality, technology, or whether or not you’ve heard about it. Kinda like going back and discovering some awesome music that is years or decades old.

I’m not saying all the games I’m going to spotlight here will be unknown titles, either. While I prefer giving attention to the games that don’t get much attention, I’m not going to slight a game simply because it has become an ‘indie darling.’ Credit where credit is due. And I’m not even going to guarantee that these games are always going to be good. Once again, that’ll be my preference, but there are a couple of weird ones in my library that I’d like to talk about that I don’t particularly enjoy, but they at least took a chance even if they didn’t quite hit escape velocity.

Finally, I want to acknowledge Albert Einstein. No, not for his excellent but frustrating work on the special theory of relativity that made science fiction have to hand-wave in order to make interstellar travel work. I’m talking about his quote, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” In most cases, the innovations (or at least the genre, if they have one) exhibited by games here were built upon a foundation established by other games, stretching back years if not decades. Everything I label “cool and fresh” here will have predecessors that did something similar, earlier, and maybe even better. Unless the game is an out-and-out lame-oid copy of a previous game that I somehow missed, I won’t make any apologies for that.  But if you want me to point out a predecessor, I’ll give ’em their own spotlight.

And if any of you feel like doing a spotlight write-up yourself on an indie game that struck you as being cool and unique, let me know. This is a ripe category for guest posts. 🙂

So with all that being said… today’s inaugural spotlight is a game you’d have to have been living in a cave (or a mine) not to have heard of already. But I figured that would allow me to keep it short and to the point with all the introductory stuff:

Minecraft, by Mojang

What Is It:

Minecraft is a game about mining. And crafting.  And a whole lot more. It’s basically a super-interactive 3D world-simulator for a world made out of blocks.  Anybody who grew up playing with Legos will immediately grasp not only the game, but what makes it fun.  The randomly generated worlds of Minecraft aren’t simply there for looks and passive exploration – it’s all there for you to exploit or reshape. But in spite of your near godlike powers of creation, construction, and destruction, you are not invulnerable – at least in Survival mode. At night, or in the darkness of the worlds cavernous layers that you discover or create – nasty creatures come out that can and will destroy you – and potentially your creations as well. And on top of all of this, Minecraft is multiplayer, allowing these tasks and experiences to be shared.

Minecraft is basically a virtual playground, packed with hidden treasures and predators. While there are some ‘goals’ and achievements suggested by the game, the true goals are dictated by the player.

What Makes It Stand Out:

Besides the fact that Minecraft continues to make enough money to have even EA execs salivating over it, what really kicks in Minecraft is the whole-world interactivity, the thrill of discovery coupled with constant (or at least regular) threats, and the very blocky look of the world.

As was noted by Daniel Cook a few weeks ago, what makes the ‘thrill of discovery’ work in Minecraft is the fact that the entire world is usable on multiple levels of game mechanics. You aren’t just browsing through a museum of some designer’s fantasy. The world is literally your playground, and every location invites you to check it out not just for aesthetics sake, but to see what you can do with it. Our greed, our inner architect, our explorer, our fear of the night monsters, the inventor in all of us – these all get teased with the possibilities. And Minecraft keeps teasing us with constant development and new changes to our worlds – from physical locations like an alternate “Netherworld” dimension that can be reached via a manufactured portal or special “dungeon” rooms – to more elaborate world-rules that inspire more possibilities for creation and play.

The virtual world with its sometimes weird physics have inspired all kinds of wonderful and bizarre creations, from giant scale models of the Starship Enterprise to working arithmetic logic units, to incredible roller-coasters made from creative landscaping and mine car tracks. The world and AI exhibit some wonderfully interesting emergent behavior, and the same applies to the players themselves. Minecraft is a generator of worlds to play with, and with literally millions of players, that’s a lot of worlds…

Other Notes:

Minecraft was inspired by a short-lived game with a similar 3D look called Infiniminer.  But the basis of Minecraft came about before that, with an incomplete project called RubyDung that was inspired in part by Dwarf Fortress, Left 4 Dead, Dungeon Keeper, and even a little bit of GTA: Chinatown Wars.

To date, Minecraft has sold approximately 5.75 million copies, and is still selling more copies in a day than most indie games sell in their lifetime.  By comparison, the second-best-selling videogame of all time, Super Mario Brothers, sold less than 7x as many copies, and achieved that mainly by being a standard pack-in with the NES console.  The original Doom is suspected to have sold over 4 million copies.

Original author and founder of Mojang Markus “Notch” Persson has noted that he doesn’t do design documents, and relies on agile development and experimentation for development. While this may have changed now that he has a team working on the game, in the past he did make occasional lists of bugs and features he wanted to address to make sure things didn’t slip through the cracks.  But for him, the key was simply iterating on ideas and playing his own game a lot.

Filed Under: Indie Innovation Spotlight - Comments: 4 Comments to Read

  • Jackson Lango said,

    I will let you know when I finish my game about street canvassing.

  • JeffSullins said,

    I love that Einstein quote!

  • AtkinsSJ said,

    For anyone who’s not convinced by the Einstein quote, ‘Everything is a Remix’ does a really good job at showing how true it is. ( http://www.everythingisaremix.info/ )

    I’m looking forward to seeing what other games you pick for this. I think I spend more time reading about games than I do actually playing them. 🙂

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