(image shamelessley stolen from Quinns' post on RPS)
I've been distracted by the excellent Minecraft. I'd seen a few posts on it, but what finally pushed me into buying it was Quinns' Mine the Gap series on Rock Paper Shotgun. I've only just started, but I'm having an amazing time building shacks, bridges, and beacon towers, carving stairways into cliffsides, and delving into huge pitch black caves. It's extremely satisfying to stand atop a tower you've built out of blocks you've dug out with you own block, pixelated hands and look out on an infinite randomly generated land, ripe for exploring.
There's a healthy dose of Dwarf Fortress style 'losing is fun!' - enemies blowing you up or arrowing you to death, falling off my most recent construction project, even drowning - I broke a hole in the ice and jumped in. What I didn't take into account was how quickly my hole in the ice would freeze back over, so I was left pounding futilely against the underside of the ice until my air ran out. I lost everything I had collected, but I was laughing. Each death is a lesson on the rules of the world, and an opportunity to laugh at yourself.
It helps that the penalty for death isn't too harsh. You lose everything in your pockets and get returned your original spawn, but everything you've constructed or stored stays as it was. The tiered material system makes it easy to get started or restart after you die. Almost all the blocks can be dug out with your hands, albeit at an extremely slow pace for anything besides dirt and sand. But once you're collected enough materials to build some tools, collection speed improves dramatically. The starting material progression for tools is wood-stone-iron. So you chop down a tree with your hands, then build a wood pick axe to gather stone that you can use to make a stone pick axe, which can be used to gather ore plus coal and more stone to smelt the ore into iron which can be used to make iron tools. This avoids the catch 22 of needing a tool to gather the materials to make the tool that you need to gather the materials, etc. that some other games with building fall into.
And this tech tree of sorts can be climbed quickly, but death is quick and common, so you'll have to repeat the hunt for materials over and over again. But instead of becoming a grind, this is one of the core bits of fun in the game. Wood and stone are very common, but the game forces you to explore to find the rarer ores, taking advantage of the infinite world. And there's always another striking clifface to scale or picturesque waterfall spilling down into a cave to marvel at, with constant rewards. Another reward are the short refrains of music that seem to play at random times. They're beautiful little pieces, they drew my girlfriend into the room to see what I was playing. They reward the player just for still being alive, a sort of a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. And there's enemies and combat and construction on top of all of that. In short it's an amazing game, and all by one guy. I'm more than happy with my purchase.
In other news, I'm attending the IGDA Austin Microtalks this evening, where ten speakers speak for ten minutes on a variety of topics. It should be interesting, hopefully I can meet some industry people there.