Monday, August 05, 2013

A Critical Review of Minecraft

Minecraft, is the indie sensation that it seems everyone is playing.  I only jumped on the bandwagon starting last year.  In part after hearing about the Caledon Minecraft Server in ISC chat.  This is my single-player world:

I even have a blender render of my "base", this one was done via mcobj:

And another done using Chunky:

And here's a complete "map" of my world, made using the "minutor" tool.

But this is review and criticism and I'm going to say a couple of things up front:

1. I don't think Mojang should be charging what they are for what is still a Beta product.

2. I don't think nerds should have been going around encouraging non-nerds to pay the full price for a game that is intentionally designed for the hardcore nerd audience.

Now some people might be thinking:

But CC, you find Minecraft enjoyable and play on the Caledon Minecraft server now and again.

Yes, but it is enjoyable despite Minecraft's Very Serious Flaws as a game.

Let me start at the beginning of my Minecraft experience:

I spawned in, saw some trees and tried to harvest them.  I kept failing and was wondering why...then I found out you have to hold the mouse button, not tap it.  By that time it was late in game, monsters spawned and I died.

That is one of the games most serious flaws.  It tells you NOTHING.  No explanation of controls and UI, not even a simple one line saying "Try going over to some trees and holding down the mouse button near their trunks."  This is bad game design at it's other game would have discoverabiltiy issues such as this tolerated.  Not Final Fantasy, not World of Warcraft, not Skyrim, not even Second Life.

Now there's some who are thinking:

But CC, part of the fun of the Minecraft Experience is figuring things out.

Oh really?  Did you figure out how to make an enchanting table on your own?  Did you figure out how to make food on your own?  Did you figure out how to tame horses and that horse saddles are only available in stronghold chests on your own?  Did you figure out that the only way to get those special music discs was to have a skeleton shoot and kill a creeper...on your own?

No, you didn't, you used the wiki.  Everyone does.  No one "really" figures this stuff out.  Not even the people who make the wiki figure it out...they use code tools to disassemble the code to figure out what things do!  In fact, it would be almost impossible for anyone to actually figure this stuff out in-game.  Game information that should be supplied in-game isn't.  That's a serious design flaw.

Some are probably thinking right now:

But CC, isn't it nice that there's a Minecraft community that figures this stuff out?  That's one of the great things about Minecraft.

Perhaps, but it's also one of the greatest weaknesses.  The existence of the community let's Mojang, the developer, off the hook to fix the serious UI and discoverability issues.  So Mojang has never given the game the proper "polishing and finishing" it so desperately needs.

The community is a weakness in other ways.  After I died and figured out how to collect wood I did some Googling on how to do stuff in Minecraft and here's a paraphrasing of some info I found that was supposedly aimed at newbies:

You need to protect your home from mobs, you should set up traps using redstone, pressure plates and pistons to dump mobs approaching your door into lava.

Yes I really did see something like that intended as newbie advice which is freaking hil-ar-i-ous.  I STILL haven't seen redstone, and this advice giver is basically expecting new and mostly non-nerd players to do some very advanced stuff!  How many people who aren't already programmers or electrical enginneers or perhaps hardcore nerds of some kind do anything complex with Redstone.  Not many.  Redstone is a feature for the hardcore, not the rest of us.

Besides, the best way to protect one's base is with a simple cobble wall and sufficient lighting, reasonably quick and easy.

 I saw something similar recently when trying to find out how to make a passageway for a rail that monsters couldn't go through.  I was seeing all kinds of advice given involving Redstone, switches, detectors and whatnot until finally someone said:

Geez people don't make things more complex than necessary, just make a 1 wide by 2 high passage and put a glass pane or wood fence piece in the top.
That is one of the weaknesses of the community.  Too many "Stop Having Fun" guys always recommending doing things in an overly complex hardcore way.

Not only that but the game designers themselves are catering to that hardcore community with new features and added complexity.    Jeb said that himself.... and that's another issue.  Prima Donna Programmer Notch says he's easily bored so rather than actually "finishing and polishing" Minecraft he's gone off to something new.... which is also a common happening in the open-source movement.  The Visionary quits because polishing the thing an d fixing bugs isn't as exciting as adding new features so they quit and leave the project to the second stringers.

And then those second stringers start adding features because it's more "fun" than actually polishing what's already in there.

Here's other things I seriously don't like about Minecraft:

While there is an in-game map, it's an item you have to craft and requires redstone to craft.  You actually have to hold it in your hand to have it update and use it.  While realistic, that is most certainly only fun to the Hardcore and the "Stop Having Fun Guys".  Other Modern games implement proper maps into the UI.

Melon seeds, used to grow melons to make healing potions, are only obtainable in strongholds.

The new "Regional difficulty" feature is designed to get players to explore more says Mojang, by increasing mob difficulty if you stay in one area. But...exploring beyond your bases range basically means setting up NEW  full bases every so often, thus making things more time consuming than they already are and punishing new (and more casual) players.

The increased Skeleton fire rate and knockback effect was designed specifically to appease the "hardcore" who were complaining that the game was too the expense of everyone else

The recent change in how health regeneration works was done for the same reason, and punishes new players.   Thank you ever so much, "Stop Having Fun Guys".

Thanks to Regional Difficulty and changes to Zombie spawning, you can lose the first village you find to Zombie infestation... making things even harder for non-hardcore players for whom villagers are sources of harder to acquire materials.  Not only that, but even FINDING a village is extremely hard.  Do you know what I've seen recommended:  Use your seed to create a superflat creative world and then fly around and note locations of villages...then go to those locations in your regular game.   So in other words....cheat...because the game tells you nothing and gives you no hints.

The Random Number Generator can simply screw a new player by dumping him in certain zones, like Taiga.  I have seen many recommendations that say:  "If you start in Taiga, delete the world and restart. You want grassland because it will be easier to farm and get animals."

The cult of worship that has sprung around Mojang, Notch and indie games in general.  Think about it, do you refer to any programmer of any of your other games by a cute nickname.  Heck do you even know any of their names at all?  If Bethesda or Squaresoft released a game that was seriously in Alpha form and wasn't ready to play and gave no information to players...what would happen?   There would be holy hell and demanding of refunds....but Mojang and Notch are given a pass because of the "cult of indie worship"   I don't think that's right.  Indie developers should be held to the same quality standards other developers are.  If the players of FFXIV think the game should be Free-to-play until the issues are fixed...then Mojang shouldn't be charging $27 for Minecraft.

So in conclusion:

Minecraft is like Dwarf Fortress or Nethack.  If you don't know what those's not really for you no matter what your nerdy friends say.

And yes, I'm a redhead in Minecraft too.

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