I’ve not played Minecraft. It might be the biggest indie hit that has ever been, with over 11 million registered users on the site, with 2.5m of those having rummaged through their pockets to pay for the newer version. It might have a presence on the internet through videos, memes and general gaming consciousness that far outstrips that of a lot of top-dollar games. The most I’ve toyed with it, though, was…well, just now actually, a quick two minutes of the free version just to see how it plays. That first sentence was true when I wrote it, honest.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m mightily impressed with the game and have found myself marvelling at all manner of contraptions that people have constructed, from functional computers with redstone circuitry to 1:1 models of the Enterprise. I like it even more when it spawns fan trailers like this one, which features men running around in cardboard-box outfits. Ha.
Still, whenever I look at fantastic projects like these, I can’t help but think that all I’d end up doing would be building a crummy little hole before getting repeatedly blown up by Creepers. I’m sure many other players do just this, but I still haven’t taken the leap, probably because I’m a bit of a traditionalist who wants games to have stories and characters and things like that. I’m unashamedly in the themepark crowd rather than the sandbox one.
This Minecraft project might just have tipped the scales. It’s the first time I have looked at the game and been utterly blown away rather than filled with a degree of admiration for the game and its players. The project is Minecraft Middle Earth. The players behind it have constructed a vast swathe of Middle Earth at a scale of about 1:4, which takes around twelve hours to cross. It’s astonishingly huge, but scale isn’t even the crucial factor here, but the artistry behind the creation.
In this video, a motley band of adventurers (Gandalf, Blastoise, the Joker, Scooby Doo, a few stormtroopers, etc.) make their way from Bag End in the Shire to the Mines of Moria, taking in Bree, Weathertop and Rivendell along the way. The host of the video, who is being shown round this incredible world, remains pretty much gobsmacked throughout.
It’s a lengthy video, so you may want to skip to the highlights. The Shire is pretty enough and the Prancing Pony Inn at 15:54 is a nice touch, but the good stuff begins at 27:10. First there’s a lovely recreation of the Ford of Bruinen, where the Ringwraiths were swept away by a flood when in pursuit of Frodo. Then there’s Rivendell at 28 minutes, which proves that Minecraft can still look beautiful even when the whole world is made from straight-edged cubes.
If you only look at one area, though, look at Moria, which, at the bigger scale of 1:2, is just huge. I cannot think of a suitable way to describe some of the areas in there, which are so immense that the game takes a good long time to render things in the far distance. The entrance is at 30:27, and from then on things get more and more stupefying. 33 mins: the first colossal cavern; 38:30, the endless King’s Hall; 39 mins, the waterworks of the Sunken Chamber; 40:10, the incredible Chamber of Light (if the most you can manage is five minutes, watch the last five, from here on in). If you watch the whole video in its entirety it becomes even more impressive, as you realise that there is no single path; the group might be following a set route past the landmarks, but there are roads and passageways and landscapes sweeping away in all directions.
I still don’t know whether I’ll actually play Minecraft because of this, but one thing is for certain; where before I thought it a really, really clever sandbox construction game, it know appears as nothing short of a technical marvel. Yet whilst the game and the tools it offers are incredible, the skill, imagination and mind-boggling creativity on show from the Minecraft Middle Earth team is even more impressive.