Harry Puckett, www.harrypuckett.com Introduction to Game Development September 21, 2011 Game Analysis - Minecraft • Game Title (This should be self-explanatory. Make sure you include the complete title. For example, the Zero Hour expansion to Command and Conquer: Generals is Command and Conquer Generals: Zero Hour) • Game Development Studio and Publisher (This is always on the packaging and/or game web site. If you have difficulty finding this info, look it up at mobygames.com.) Minecraft is a PC game created by Markus "Notch" Perrson and further developed by Mojang, a company created by Perrson after the success of the game. Minecraft is highly unusual in that the game was originally created without a studio or a publisher, having been made and then distributed online by Perrson. An alpha version of the game was released on May 17, 2009, and became wildly popular thanks only to word of mouth, as the game did not have any marketing. Player-created videos posted on YouTube were also greatly influential in the spread and success of the game. The beta version of the game was released on December 20, 2010, and the full version is set to be released on November 11, 2011. The game has gone through nearly constant patching and revisions, however, so that the different version names have been more like benchmarks than large updates. • Platform (What platforms are available for this game? What game platform did you use? In what ways do you think the game might be different when played on another platform?) While Minecraft was created for PC, further versions of it are in development for iOS, Android, and the Xbox 360 using Kinect controls. The graphics for the game are simple enough that it is doubtful there will be much visual difference between the separate systems. All systems are likely to have enough processing power to run the game without much difference either, although the Xbox 360 will most likely run the most quickly and smoothly. The controls are what will change drastically, although it is difficult to imagine what the control schemes will be like. The PC controls for Minecraft are the same as most first person shooters. Moving the mouse lets the player look around, while left- and right-clicking perform basic actions like using equipped items or opening boxes. All of the keyboard controls are assignable by the player, but the basic configuration uses the wasd keys for movement, the number keys to equip selected items, the i key for inventory, esc to bring up the options menu or to exit menus, and so on. Keyboard controls are generally complicated, taking full advantage of the numerous keys available, while touch screen interfaces for phones are designed for simplicity. Taking a PC FPS interface and simplifying it to the point where it becomes only about clicking and dragging would be incredibly difficult. There are simply too many things the player needs to be doing quickly at any one time the game, and the gameplay often requires quick reactions and precise movements, since it does use an FPS setup. Even just looking around may prove to be overly finicky using a touch screen, whether it is done by using a virtual control stick, which have always been somewhat awkward to use, or by dragging one's finger around the screen. In the latter case, the player's finger would probably obscure enough of a phone's screen to be annoying. As such it is likely that Minecraft's gameplay will suffer or at least be greatly changed for the portable versions. Having never used a Kinect or seen it used for anything but dance games, I cannot even begin imagine how those controls would work. It would seem that a full implementation of motion-based controls would drastically change any gameplay experience, however. Whether that change will add to immersion or frustration is yet to be seen. • Genre (What is the published genre of the game? Is it suitable for the game? Why or why not? Would you assign a different (or additional) genre to the published genre?) Although I have been referring to Minecraft as an FPS, this is really only true of the perspective and controls for the game. MobyGames and IGN list Minecraft as an action game, Gamespot lists it as an adventure game, and Wikipedia lists it as a first person sandbox game. All of that says very little though, as the game uses aspects of a number of genres, including simulator, action adventure, first person shooter, role playing game, and survival horror. Some people even argue that Minecraft is just a toy, not a game, as there is no ultimate goal. The player is released into the game world, which is randomly generated when the player starts a new game. In this world they can do anything that they like, such as exploring, mining, constructing, destroying, crafting, farming, hunting, and fighting. All of these are optional and it is up to the player to find something to do in the game. Minecraft is a simulator in that it is a highly simplified recreation of being a miner or builder. Like Sim City, the final goal is mostly undefined, but the player is allowed to keep building and playing as long as they have what they need. The game is an action adventure in the sense that the player can go around fighting monsters and exploring an enormous world filled with different ecosystems. Minecraft is a first person shooter in that it uses the basic FPS controls, view, and interface, and the player can use a bow, although there are no other firearms as of yet. While calling the game an RPG would be great stretch, it has RPG elements, such as the ability to build and equip different types of armor and weapons, the ability to personalize the player's character (in this case by using modifiable character textures), and an experience and leveling system, although this is a new addition and leveling up does not yet have any effect on gameplay. One thing that Minecraft is almost never called is a survival horror game, but it actually holds a great deal in common with that genre. These aspects are often overlooked, however, as much of the hype surrounding the game focuses on the game's open world and the player's ability to build nearly anything. Despite this, Minecraft is, inarguably, a survival game. The main gameplay mode is even called "Survival," as the most basic goal of the game is for the player to not be killed, whether by enemies, accident, or starvation. Like most survival horror games, the player can only carry a limited number of supplies to help them survive, and these supplies are often hard to acquire. What makes Minecraft most feel like a survival horror game, however, is its surprisingly creepy atmosphere. Although the game's art design is brightly colored and inspired by 8-bit graphics, most of the game is spent in the dark, whether at night or underground. The darkness itself is a threat in the game, because monsters such as zombies, skeletons, and ghouls can spawn inside of it and will often suddenly appear out of it to attack the player. The player will probably find themselves constantly setting up lights as they explore, especially inside of cave systems. These areas are especially eerie, as they are dark, twisting, and often claustrophobically small. To add to that, the player can often hear the groans of monsters hidden in unexplored tunnels and chambers, although telling exactly where a monster is by sound alone is nearly impossible. All of these aspects help to put the player in an anxious state of mind, in which they can expect something awful to jump out at them from the next dark corner. • Player Mode (Is the game available in single- player, multiplayer modes (or both)? Did you play the game in single-player or multiplayer format? If multiplayer, how many other player-characters were in the game?) Minecraft has both single- and multiplayer modes, although the basic game mechanics do not change much between the two modes. The basic goal of each is to survive, but other than that the player or players are free to do whatever they like in both modes. In multiplayer, a maximum number of 256 players are allowed in any one game world, although practically speaking only a few might join in for any one game. Because Minecraft is so open, the multiplayer mode allows for any number of interesting interactions between players. Players can go exploring together, can show off what they have built on their own, or can team up to build other, possibly larger or more complex things. This kind of teamwork can make the more tedious aspects of the game, like mining for rare materials or placing a large number of blocks, go much more quickly. Some players have even gone so far as to team up to make videos that follow their game characters as they progress through a made-up story. Teamwork is not the only option, however, and some people choose to battle against each other, since players can damage each other. I have never tried this or heard from anyone who has, however, so I cannot say if multiplayer battles work well. Since the game was seemingly not built for player versus player battles, and since the fighting and equipment systems are very basic, it is doubtful that Minecraft battles hold up very well when compared to those in games specifically geared towards multiplayer conflicts. Although there is no in-game system that allows players to communicate except through text messages, many players will often talk to each other while using the external program Skype, which makes interaction flow more smoothly and quickly. Minecraft also has no in-game tutorial or guide to help players get started, instead relying on external wikis and videos. As such, multiplayer sessions can be a great way for new players to learn how the game works from more experienced players. • Time Interval (Was the game real-time, turn-based, time-limited, player-adjusted – or a combination of some of these?) Minecraft is played in real-time, like most first person shooters, and even goes to the extent of not pausing the game while the player deals with their inventory screen, or their menu screen either during multiplayer sessions. The game also has a day and night system, with each full game day lasting twenty real minutes. The inability to really pause the game, as well as the day and night cycle, adds to the feel of the game world as a real place where time is constantly passing and things are always happening (such as plants growing, weather changing, or creatures spawning). Furthermore, this makes fighting in the game even more hectic since the player cannot pause the game in order to switch weapons, heal their character, or even just think about the best way to face the situation. • Audience/Market (What is the intended target audience of this game? Does it appeal to a particular geographic, demographic or psychographic? [Pick one. For example . . . age, gender, lifestyle, region, ethnicity, values] Do you think the game’s content is appropriate to the target audience? Why or why not?) Because Minecraft allows players to do so many different things, it difficult to precisely say who the intended audience is. With over 10 million registered users, there is certainly an enormous audience for the game. On the one hand, Minecraft can be an action adventure appealing to those who enjoy fast-paced, action-filled games, while on the other it can be a building toy appealing to people who like the idea of playing with digital Legos. Gamers that enjoy collecting things or exploring can fill numerous hours doing just that, as there are plenty of rare items to collect or craft and there is a nearly infinite world to explore. Geographically speaking, this game is probably aimed at a Western market, as it was created by a Swedish game designer and has a vaguely European fantasy style to it. English is also the default language, although there is next to no text in the game. There seems to be little reason why the game should not have world-wide appeal, as there is no culturally specific story or the like, and the style is so vague as to be mostly open to the player's imagination (I have seen just as many people using Star Trek character textures as I have seen using medieval fantasy ones). Getting more specific, the art style seems to be aimed at older gamers since the whole design is based on taking nostalgic, 8- or 16- bit pixelated graphics and making them 3D. Younger players used to Next Gen graphics might find this jarring at first, but the graphics are actually very well done and match the gameplay well, so that the stylization has a broader appeal than to only those with nostalgia for older games. The gameplay too seems to be aimed a little more towards older gamers (or at least no younger than their teens), since collecting supplies and building things can be very tedious and time-consuming, thus requiring some amount of patience. The game also seems to be aimed more towards hardcore gamers. As stated earlier, Minecraft has no in game tutorial, so it is very difficult for a casual gamer to just pick up the game and start playing. It takes some investment of time to learn how the game works and what all the play can do. It can also take quite a while for a player to collect the supplies needed to craft rarer items or to gather enough supplies to make large or complicated constructions. If the player does not want to bother collecting supplies in the normal way, then they also have to be able to figure out how to patch the game to let them use whatever supplies they want at any time. A large number of players have done this in order to build very complex, expansive constructions. • Rating (How is the game rated by the ESRB [Entertainment Software Ratings Board]? Do you think the rating is appropriate? Why or why not? Look at the individual content indicators – did you see them present in the game? Do you think the indicators were appropriate? Why or why not?) Minecraft does not yet have an ESRB rating, although it may be given one when the full version of the game is released. The game will probably receive an E10+ rating, because the violence in the game is cartoonish and there is nothing very graphic (the intentionally low resolution graphics make even the zombies look very un-gory). The only things that might tip the scale towards a T rating are the sometimes very creepy atmosphere, one slightly more obviously gory enemy found in a Hell-like area of the game, and the fact that the player must kill cows and pigs to gather food. • Challenge and Fun Factor (Was the game fun and/or challenging? Why or why not? How long did you play the game? If you weren’t playing this game for a class assignment, would you have continued to play it?) Minecraft is very fun, if the player can find something they enjoy doing in the game and can set goals for themselves. Because there are so many options, however, this is not very difficult to do. There are achievements in the game, but they are very simple to attain (one, for example, merely requires the player to look at their inventory screen). The achievements generally serve as an afterthought rather than an impetus to do something new. Still, it is easy for a player get started on one small task (like collecting wood), which will lead to another task (building a pickaxe), which will lead to another task (mining for coal), which will lead to another task (discovering a cave to explore), which will open up another task (making new or better items from the supplies found in the cave), which will lead to other tasks (using those items to explore further or defend oneself while building things), which will lead to other tasks (having to mine for more supplies to rebuild the player's worn out items), and so on. The game follows a branching structure that quickly opens up as the player collects more and more supplies, allowing them to build more or adventure further. It is easy to lose track of time while playing the game, and easy to put in several hours of gaming only to open up more options for many more hours of gameplay. The downside, however, is that the game becomes very repetitive, falling into a cycle of explore, craft, build, then explore again. The branching structure loops back into itself, becoming a web of options which are usually variations on the same few tasks. Since the game offers no objectives to achieve, a player can easily lose the drive to keep playing after they have done a particularly long or tedious task, have just lost all their items by dying, or are having no luck finding the supplies they are looking for. Extended gameplay also relies heavily on the player's desire to build things. If the player is only interested in exploring for the sake of exploring, then the gameplay gets old that much faster because there is no drive to gather large amounts of supplies for building and there are only so many types of environments to explore and enemies to fight. • Features Analysis (Choose 2 of the following: sound, story, dialogue, character development, interface, gameplay strategies, mission design, artificial intelligence, artistic style. How are these features used in the game, and why do you think they were successful?) For all its open-endedness, Minecraft is a very sparse game in terms of features. There is no story, dialogue, characters, or missions, although there are plans to add these into later versions of the game. The sound in the game is very minimal, being used mainly for basic things such as digging sounds. The only music in the game occurs during sunrise and sunset, when short clips of soothing, atmospheric music will play to signal the time of day to players underground. This music actually feels very out of place in the otherwise very quiet game, and stands out strangely, especially if the player is exploring a deep, spooky cavern or fighting monsters when the calm music starts to play. On its own, though, the music is very pretty, and as an added bonus the player can find rare items in the game that are records containing the songs. The player can then play these records anytime using an in-game record player that they must build. This allows the player to have some control over the in-game soundtrack. Where the game’s sound really stands out is in relation to the enemies. Each enemy makes a unique sound which becomes immediately recognizable to players. This allows players to know when specific enemies are nearby but hidden. One especially infamous sound effect is the hissing of monsters called Creepers, which are programmed to sneak up behind a player, hiss, and then explode, often killing the player instantly. All of the enemies in the game have simple AI like this that makes them distinctive. For example, zombies continuously follow the player, Spiders jump around, and Skeletons shoot arrows from a distance. Enemies added to the game more recently display more advanced AI. Zombie Pigmen, for example, travel in small packs and will completely ignore the player until they are attacked, at which point they will gang up to attack the player. Endermen, which are tall, thin, shadowy beings with glowing eyes, will wander around picking up blocks. They will ignore the player until the player rests their cursor over them. At this point they will stare back at the player as long as the cursor is kept still. When the player moves the cursor again, the Endermen will teleport towards the player and attack them. Animals in the game also display basic AI, and will run from the player when they are attacked. Wolves are unique and more advanced, as they travel in packs, will attack sheep, or will attack the player if the player attacks them. They can also be “tamed” by being offered a specific item, and after this they will follow the player around and attack any monsters that the player attacks. While all of the creature AI in the game is pretty simple (and imperfect, as creatures will still stupidly walk into lava or fall off of cliffs and die), the individual actions for each type of creature make each feel very unique. This adds a good deal of variety to the game and makes the adventuring aspects more interesting. Thankfully, Minecraft has not followed the all-too-common practice of just changing the textures for an enemy and making these re-skins slightly stronger in order to artificially pad the number of enemy types in a game (there is one exception, as there are rare types of Spiders that can poison the player). • Critical Analysis (Explain why this is a current favorite game... and what are its problems. Explain, with support, what is good and not-so-good about it. And don’t skimp on the “not-so-good”... no game is perfect. Show that you have a detailed, critical eye and aren’t just a fanboy/girl.) While I would not say that Minecraft is my favorite game, I have had a lot of fun playing it, find its gameplay and structure fascinating, and, as an aspiring game designer, find the story behind its creation to be inspirational. When playing Minecraft I can lose myself in the seeking out the right supplies to build things that I want, or can have less guided fun just exploring cave systems for whatever I can find. When gaming, I often obsess about collecting things, and there are tons of things to collect in Minecraft. Then again, this is also where I find the game rather annoying. While there is a multitude of items to collect, many of them are pointless or ridiculously rare, and there is no real reward for collecting them. Dying in the game makes the player drop all of the items that they are carrying, including armor and weapons, and these items will all disappear if the player does not find them within a short period of time. This becomes incredibly frustrating, since it is very, very easy to get lost in the game, especially when exploring cave systems. It is not uncommon to spend a long time exploring a cave, collecting lots of rare items while wearing equipment that may have taken hours to earn, only to be suddenly killed by an enemy getting in a lucky hit. All of the items that the player was carrying are then practically lost, as finding one’s way back through a maze of caves to where one died can be nearly impossible. The player is then presented with the choice of either giving up on the game, or spending numerous hours to rebuild everything they lost. Some kind of map system or a pointer aimed towards where the player lost their items would be incredibly helpful. An annoying, recent addition to the game is the hunger meter, which constantly drains and requires the player to carry food around to keep the meter filled. There is also a health meter, however, which lowers as the player is damaged. Previously, food would directly restore the player’s health meter, but now it refills the hunger meter instead. If the hunger meter is above 90% full, then the health meter will slowly refill. This makes it so that players cannot directly heal themselves, and thus makes it easier to die when being attacked because the player must defeat the enemy without healing. The player also has the option of hiding and waiting for their health meter to refill, but this is a test of one’s patience. The hunger meter also necessitates that the player carry around more food than before, as they must regularly refill their hunger meter. Before, the player only had to carry a little food in case they took a lot of damage. This extra food crowds an already very limited inventory. The player must frequently return to some kind of personal base to store away items because one can only carry so much. As such, exploring is often inconveniently interrupted by the necessity to empty one’s inventory. Exploring can be further interrupted by tools, weapons, and armor wearing out with use until they break. This requires the player to carry around multiple copies of a single usable item for extended adventures. Still, new tools must be regularly built, which can be very expensive. This is especially true with the faster, stronger, and more durable equipment that requires a lot of very rare supplies to build. All of this becomes even more frustrating because the player’s inventory must be constantly managed, rearranged, and organized. The inventory system is simple and works but it is very tedious to use, and there are no options to automatically sort items, except that certain supplies can be stacked so that they take up less space in the inventory. For example, 64 pieces of wood can be stored in one inventory space. A system to help players automatically sort their items would be incredibly helpful and appreciated, as it would get rid of an incredible amount of game time that is spent merely sorting one’s items. Minecraft has always been a work-in-progress. New patches have added features that have been interesting (changing weather), useless (achievements), helpful (showing item names in the inventory), and frustrating (the hunger meter). I am very curious to see where the game changes from here, especially with the inclusion of a plot, NPCs, and more RPG elements not too far away. Hopefully, in-game tutorials and references will also be added so that players will not need to constantly refer to websites for information on the game. These additional layers of structure have the chance to change the gameplay tremendously, turning it away from such openended, toy-like fun to a more linear progression involving a storyline and character development. It is highly doubtful that these additions will completely negate the open-endedness of the game, however. Hopefully, these additions will help motivate players to continue playing for a longer time. As of now, it is easy to get very tired of the game after having experienced the basic mechanics, as there is no real reward for doing anything. The only reward as of now is the satisfaction of having met an entirely internal, personal goal, such as building something large and complex or getting a full set of diamond equipment (the rarest and most powerful). Giving players a tangible reward for doing well in the game will be an invaluable addition.
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