A love letter to Notch

Hopefully, now that it’s 21 years old, the above intro appears suitably crude. Because at the time it was published, it was truly a miracle of modern technology. It was written to run on the Commodore Amiga, the typical example of which was about 1/10th as powerful as a $35 cell phone. But what made it impressive was not it’s visual appearance, in spite of the fact that this was produced back when all Macintoshes were only available in black and white and PCs could display no more than 16 colors at one time.

There are plenty of people playing Minecraft that don’t need a deep appreciation of gaming history to enjoy it, but there are a lot of commenters fumbling around trying to explain it’s significance.

Same as wikileaks, actually. Minecraft is an authentic product of the Nation of Internet. It’s possible to rave about the business model, or even the game mechanics, but I don’t think these can be divorced from an element of self-selection. This is a functional, meritocratic development, open to anyone — supposedly the very thing we’re incapable of as a species if one lends any credence to the modern political climate.

As a product, it no longer needs nor stands to benefit overly from more hype, and surely both model and mechanics deserve recognition. But the business model isn’t that unusual these days; looking over Markus Persson’s CV, it’s worth noting that he’d written (and sometimes finished) a fair number of games before writing Minecraft, so to characterize the effort as an ‘overnight success’ seems unfair. Bottom line: games really suck right now because Electronic Arts bought out everybody and their dog and produced a lot of very mediocre garbage, so “indy games” get a lot of favorable press because they aren’t, well, LucasArts.

But neither would I have bought the damned thing if I wasn’t actually hugely entertained by it. Gameplay is somewhere between Populous and TheDraw. Back in the day, if you wanted to have anything resembling a picture on-line, you created a text file that contained special text characters specific to the IBM PC (and sometimes, just text) — a variation of which turns up in emoticons and signatures even today. But actually recreating a picture of some kind took a fair amount of planning and imagination — and was something I enjoyed hugely.

Building games are nothing new. Crafting — the process of collecting various objects in the game and combining them to create new objects, is more recent, but largely limited to multiplayer, on-line games like World of Warcraft. Combine this with the survival element, and you have at least a solid proof of concept, but the balance of micromanagement is what makes it work. The game requires just enough ‘grinding’ (busywork, like collecting materials to craft with) to impart a sense of accomplishment without merely giving away everything.

It also inspires a lot of hacking. A new object was released with the latest beta that provided the ability to play musical notes; a couple of hours later, someone had figured out how to make them play the theme to ‘Super Mario Brothers’.

Oh, yeah. Every ounce of the love flowing Notch’s way? Is completely, unequivocally deserved.

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