“Minecraft” Game Design Analysis

I’ve been playing a bit of Minecraft lately.  I remember playing it a long, long time ago at some early Alpha stage and thinking it was some kind of block building game with really crappy graphics.  Not too interesting.  However, the developers kept adding features and now it has become an addictive, amazing phenomenon…with really crappy graphics.  Somehow that doesn’t seem to matter much.

So why is Minecraft so successful?  It has evolved into much more than just a building game.

I think part of the answer is that it incorporates several different game styles.  In the book “Challenges for Game Designers” they call these the “game core.”  Here’s a list (comprehensive, I think, if my notes are correct) of different game cores, and how they are incorporated into Minecraft (specifically the Survival mode):

  • Territorial Acquisition – as the player explores and builds, he claims a bit of the world and makes it safe to live in and carry out other activities.
  • Spatial Reasoning (a la Tetris) – you need a good sense of geometry to build giant structures out of blocks that don’t all look like cubes.  Some people even draft out their creations first in CAD programs.
  • Survival (FPS) – when night falls, the monsters come out.  You need a shelter, or some really great combat skills and a lot of arrows, to survive until dawn.
  • Destruction – to create in Minecraft, first you need to destroy.  The whole world is made up of blocks that can virtually all be collected and placed elsewhere.  Sometimes players like to destroy their creations just for fun (or those of others on multi-player servers – this is called “griefing.”)
  • Building – the main core of Minecraft, if we can call it that.  Giant statues, working CPU’s, digital displays, railroads … lots of creativity out there.
  • Collection – players collect different types of blocks and items.  There are also special, hard-to-obtain items like music CDs that are part of a set.
  • Chase / Evade – kind of similar to Survival.  If you are without shelter and night falls, you had better start evading all those mobs!
These last three may or may not be present, depending on how you look at it:
  • Prediction (a la Rock, Paper, Scissors) – this one is a little bit of a stretch, but predicting where specific minerals can be found deep in the earth could fall under this category.
  • Trading – not a part of the single player game; might be present in multi-player.  Not sure as I haven’t ventured there yet.
  • Race to the End – not really present in the game, unless players want to race themselves.  I have tried to see how far away from my home base I could explore into the unknown in a day’s time…guess that is kind of a race.
So Minecraft contains 7 out of 10 (and maybe all 10) game cores!  I guess it has something for everyone.
The other great thing about Minecraft is its infinite nature.  The game world creates itself as the player explores.  There is no practical end.  Very cool from an indie programming point of view — the developer has spent a lot of time making a really good procedurally generated content system.
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