Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Mining in the Indie Game Scene

Last blog post, I briefly mentioned how there is a thriving independent, or "indie," game scene.  Well, I feel it's time to give the independent game scene a little time in the spotlight.  While it's virtually impossible to talk about all the fantastic indie games out there, I want to focus on one of the greatest independent games of all time; the poster child of the indie game scene-Minecraft.

First released to the public on May 17, 2009, the game has been a huge hit ever since.  Developed by Markus "Notch" Persson, Minecraft is a game that tests not only the ability of the gamer to think, but their ability to be creative as well.  The player begins randomly spawned in a randomly generated map.  The game takes place from a first-person perspective, and the object of the game is to mine and survive.  The player uses the materials gathered from mining to help them survive and and find even better, rarer materials.  However, the player is given no set of instructions, or "recipes" for the games tools, so the player must figure out how to create the tools of survival themselves. As the player progress further into the map, the situations get tricker and the monsters (mobs) get tougher.  The player must always have a plan and be one step ahead of the game.

The idea of Minecraft wasn't exactly original.  Much like what Einstein did with Poincare and Maxwell's ideas, Persson created Minecraft out of the work of others.  Already working for a small game development company, Persson was a fan of some independent "build and survive" games such as Dwarf Fortress and Dungeon Keeper.  Persson decided to create his own game in the genre, but the game was not fully defined until he played Infiniminer.  Persson was impressed with the game, but he knew that he wanted to create a better game.  He knew that he had great ideas on how to make a similar, but better game, and he decided to run with it.  In order to do this, Persson had to scrap pretty much his whole previous attempt at game creation.  He used some of the old code, but most of it was new, of his own creation.  He also understood his limits in art, and like many of the creatives we have studied, remained in the single field of programming.  because of this, Minecraft has a rather simple graphic style, as seen above.

Players don't play Minecraft though for the fantastic art or groundbreaking gameplay.  They play it because it they have fun and it gives the gamer control to do whatever they want, whatever they enjoy. If you watch he video above, the man talking gives a brief overview of the point of the game, but says that he really just likes to explore. He forgets the normal conventions of a video game and just explores.  Too many games today forget that gamers like to have FULL control over what they do.  The game world is really just a blocky pallet for the gamer to do with as he chooses. 

Yep, that's video game icon Mario in Minecraft.  When gamers are given 100% control over someone, almost every time a huge amount of creativity is going to come through.  But gamer creativity isn't just limited to things that can be done within the game; gamer creativity expands to what gamers can do with the game.

Recently in class, we have been talking a lot about collaboration.  Persson, known as Notch to the Minecraft community, highly values the opinions and ideas of those that play his games.  Notch frequently takes the ideas that gamers send him to make his own game better for those who are playing.  Notch is constantly updating Minecraft, often due to the ideas sent to him by the community he's so proud of.  Notch highly appreciates the entire Minecraft community that has spawned because of his game.  What pushed Notch to actually complete the game was the incredible initial response he received when he released an early version of the game.  Notch also was going to make the recipes for tools easier to figure out, but decided not to, because he did not want to take away from the community dedicated to figuring them out.  Notch will even hide secrets for players to find, and often it takes a group of players to find the secret together.  It's the kind of collaboration rarely seen in the games industry.  Recent attempts at so called "collaboration" have failed between the gaming community and the big studios.  It's refreshing to see that there are small steps being taken to redefine collaboration between players and creators.

But, as we said in class, collaboration has it's flaws.  Some ideas are constantly submitted with no end, for example dragons.  The community will get focused on this one idea, and the creativity stops for a little bit.  Other times some members of the community feel a little too entitled and complain when things aren't implemented the way they wanted.  But for the most part, Minecraft remains a place where a gamer can do whatever he wants, in collaboration with other fans of the game.  Some people (including electronic music artist Deadmau5) invite people over to their world through the internet to help them create crazy, fantastic things.  Notch has stated that he will support the Minecraft community as long as the fans want him to.  Minecraft owns the independent market not only becuae it gives players almost limitless possibilites, but it also has a great collaborative relationship between the creator and the community.

Much like many of the creators we have studied in class so far, Notch has really redefined a genre. The indie scene is thriving like no other, and it's success has even brought the reboot of some long forgotten indie series of past.  How did one simple game redefine a whole genre?  By collaborating with the people who play his game, and giving them a game that really has no limits, where just about anything can be created.  It would like if Martha Graham collaborated with everyone who watched one of her performances!  Still today, Notch, and now his wife, work with players to give them the ultimate creative game experience.

1 comment:

  1. One of the concepts I really enjoy about Minecraft is that it inspires the people who play it to be creative and even expand on what the game can do with modifications and such. The fact that gamers can create music or art or tell stories through a game is inspiring. Notch himself is even a person that promotes this creativity by allowing gamers to modify his creation into something new and different. He and the people he works with to create new material for an ever-expanding game look to the creative people in the community for ideas. Thus, the collaboration is a big factor into the evolution of Minecraft as well.

    I also see Minecraft's success attributed to the fact that it is analogous to real world products such as Legos or Knex and the like. All these products feed on creativity and imagination much like Minecraft. The interesting part about Minecraft though is that it allows for almost infinite creativity because the medium in which the ideas come to fruition is digital, making it perhaps more effective a medium than real world counterparts.


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