Games for Lunch: Minecraft Alpha

Posted by Kyle Orland (September 15, 2010)

Games for Lunch chronicles the first hour of a different game every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Each hour ends with the answer to the only question that matters at that point: Do I want to keep playing? For more information, check out the Frequently Asked Questions.

Developer: Markus Persson
Publisher: Markus Persson
Release Date: May 17, 2009 (Alpha)
System: PC
ESRB Rating: N/A
Official Web site

In a nutshell: I'm almost entirely sure I'm doing this wrong.

0:00 I've been hearing a lot of buzz for this quirky indie title, but not enough to really know what it’s about or how it works. Hopefully it'll be easy to dive into with no prior knowledge...

0:01 I decide to try the in-browser version rather than wasting time on a download. The game still spends a good minute downloading Java files, though.

0:02 No music, no fancy introduction, just the MINECRAFT title with a pulsing yellow “Woo, worldofminecraft” message on the top. “Play tutorial level” is grayed out, which is kind of unsettling. I guess I'm on my own...

0:03 I go with Normal difficulty rather than Peaceful, Easy or Hard. Peaceful does sound rather peaceful, though.

0:04 I start up a new single-player game and the game spends a few seconds generating a new world from scratch. I see that world from a first-person perspective. My environment is made up of a series of cubes arranged to resemble a snowy world with lots of tiered cliffs. To my right: a steep mountain. In front of me: an ocean with a far off island continent.

0:05 I have a targeting reticle and what looks like brown stick as a weapon. Clicking pushes the stick forward a bit lamely. The only sound is that of my footsteps crunching in the snow.

0:07 I click around to test my stick against the snow, grass and trees. It makes slightly different sounds on each, and sends up small tufts of dust, but otherwise there's not much to it.

0:08 An extremely blocky cow moos at me. I attack him mercilessly with my stuck until he disappears in a puff of smoke. Somehow in the middle of all that I picked up what looks like a branch from a tree.

0:09 The water is frozen solid, as I find when I try to take a flying leap into it from a cliff and lose a a few points off my heart meter when I land (with an “eugh” sound). Some nice, slidey physics when I walk on the water, though.

0:10 I come across a small clearing with six tiny yellow flowers. I swing at them with the branch and they shatter into tiny flower pieces, which I can collect. Hey, it's something to do...

0:12 I'm amazed at just how little there is to do in this world. So far I've amused myself by climbing up the jagged mountain face with a series of jumps. It's kind of fun, I suppose, but where's the action? Or not even action... where's the game?

0:13 I tap the 'I' key to examine my inventory, which so far consists of the branch and a bunch of flowers. There's a “Craft” area that lets you combine up to four objects together into one, but combining the branch and flowers doesn't seem to do anything.

0:14 I head down the mountain when I see a herd of pigs in the distance, but I'm a little too eager in my descent, losing all but one-half of my last heart in the fall. Luckily the pigs don't attack back as I reduce them to pork chops, which I can use as a new weapon, apparently.

0:15 This latest cow I've killed seems to have dropped his hide. Hooray for collecting stuff!

0:17 I've spent the last three minutes simply attacking pigs and cows, occasionally collecting stuff they drop. The little noises and jumps they make as I attack are incredibly cute. I feel like I should be able to eat the pork chops, but can't seem to figure out how.

0:18 In my inventory again, trying out every single combination of my four items and still not managing to craft anything. What am I missing here?

0:19 As I leave the inventory screen some music slowly fades in. It's a lilting, haunting, sparse piano tune. Nice.

0:20 Just spent a good minute clicking rapidly to hack at some dirt, on the off chance I could break it. No luck, but the sky gets continually darker as I hack. Um, I hope those two events aren't related.

0:21 Apparently not, as the sky continues to get darker after I stop hacking. It eventually gets so dark that all I can see are the stars in the sky. I hear some chickens in the background, but I can't 100% confirm their existence just yet.

0:22 I seem to be slowly regaining life through the night, which is nice because I can't do much else. If I squint I can make out the falling snow, which is starting to play tricks on my eyes.

0:25 Playing around in the pitch blackness, I discover it wasn't actually the night that was helping my health -- it was right-clicking to eat some of my inventoried ham. Yummy! Nothing else in my inventory seems similarly edible, though.

0:27 I guess I'm just waiting until morning comes, now? Really there's little else to do in the pitch blackness. I'll let you know how it goes.

0:29 I just played “TAILOR” on a Double Word Score in Words with Friends on my iPod Touch. That's a pretty good word!

0:31 Light slowly returns to the world and I'm back in the game.

0:32 Some sort of man-sized cactus creature just came up and attacked me from behind. Before I can fully turn to attack it back, it explodes with a tinny “BSHOOM,” taking a chunk out of the ice as it does. I use the opportunity to take my first swim, and luckily resurface before the water refreezes over top of me.

0:34 I pick some red flowers to go with the yellow ones as I hear the telltale bleating of sheep in the distance.

0:35 I follow a side of beef over the side of a mountain, which leads me to an arrow just sitting there, on the ground. I can't seem to figure out how to equip it as a weapon. Putting it in the left-most inventory slot seemed to work with other items, but now, no dice.

0:38 I've chased a tiny chicken into a small cave with an icy overhang. He can run, but he can't hide, as I hack him into his component feather. I also find some replacement ham, which is briefly equipped as a weapon and then unequipped for reasons I can't fathom. Gotta love playing Alpha versions, eh?.

0:39 I wish I knew what the hell I was supposed to do with these 30 yellow and 10 red flowers. I must be missing something, here...

0:41 Wow am I an idiot. Apparently holding down the mouse button leads to rapid-fire chopping that can actually dig up snow or break apart blocks of dirt. That dirt at least turns into collectible dirt clods, which start to quickly fill my inventory.

0:43 There's a whole new world of stuff to do, now! I hack up a tree trunk and collect the resultant lumber. The tree canopy actually doesn't fall to the ground... it just floats there like some sort of hover-tree. In fact, I can actually hack up at the leaves and turn them into branches, even though they seem well out of my character's reach.

0:45 Found my first sheep! The first hits knocks off his wool, which is a collectible item.. A few more hits and the sheep disappears in puff of smoke. What, no mutton?

0:47 More playing around in the inventory, to see if I can craft something out of my new items. I find that right-clicking lets me split up big collections of a single item, which is nice. I still can't seem to combine anything into anything new, though. Man I wish that tutorial level had been available...

0:48 I've somehow made my first successful combination, turning one clump of dirt in to... four clumps of dirt. Please do not ask me how this makes sense. Also, the lilting music has come back.

0:50 In Dead Rising 2, I bet combining the ham and the arrow would make some sort of awesome ham arrow. Here, it results in nothing.

0:51 While I was in the inventory, the game transitioned to night time again. I guess this is the game's way of telling me, “It's time to stop going around killing livestock and spend some time crafting.” That's all well and good, I suppose, but I still can't seem to craft anything...

0:53 I continue to turn clumps of dirt into further clumps of dirt by placing them in the craft box. It doesn't always work, but when it does I always get four times as much. One time I actually get what looks like a bundle of sticks out of the dirt, which is nice, I guess.

0:54 The four crafting slots are arranged in a square... I wonder if the positioning of the items matters. I hope not, if only because that's a LOT more combinations of items to try out.

0:55 Apparently the dirt I've been making from my crafting is a fundamentally different type of dirt than the dirt I got from the ground. It's a little darker, and won't combine with the old dirt in my inventory.

0:56 Part of me thinks it's well past time to give up and go search for an FAQ or something to figure out what the hell I'm missing here, but part of me is happy just experimenting aimlessly. This reminds me of the old days, before the Internet, where I had to guess-and-check incessantly to figure out how my used SNES copy of Populous worked.

0:57 A low, menacing grumble in the background stuns me out of inventory reverie. I go back to the game to see the day slowly dawning. It's still dim, though, meaning I can still see the cubic moon shining bright in the sky. Cute.

0:58 It's full daylight now. Playing around on the keyboard, I finally figure out why I was having trouble equipping items as weapons – each of my nine on-screen item slots is assigned to a different number key. This is probably apparent to everyone else who's ever played a computer game, but I somehow missed it. I'm now finding that everything I own can in fact be used as a weapon, including flowers and blocks of wood. Awesome!

1:02 Spend the last few minutes aimlessly breaking up blocks of sand and stone, collecting clods of sand and nothing, respectively.

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? Now that I've gotten as far as I think I reasonably can just putzing around with the engine it's time to load up some sort of online walkthrough and figure out how I was supposed to be playing the game.

This review was based on a Alpha version of the game purchased by the reviewer.

Check out hundreds of archived Games for Lunch reviews on the official Games for Lunch blog.

I've been writing about video games for 17 years now and for some reason they're still paying me


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