I don’t talk about it much here, but I dabble in game design. For various reasons I haven’t actually released a game in quite a while, but it’s a hobby that I enjoy and hope to some day maybe make a little side income on. For me, the biggest challenge (other than finding time) is coming up with an idea for a game that’s not too big and not too small in scale. Too big and I’ll become overwhelmed and burn out. Too small and I’ll get bored. This is precisely why I can’t enjoy Minecraft. Don’t pick up your pitchforks and torches just yet; I think Minecraft is a great game. I just accidentally stayed up till 2 am playing last night. But all I can think of when I play it is how beautifully simple it is, and how I easily that could have been me making this game instead of Notch if only I had thought of it first.
Would it have been, though? What makes Minecraft Minecraft? Some would say it just happened to be at the right place at the right time. Some would say it’s because of the modability. Both of these are certainly true, but I’m i n the camp that would say that it’s the first game that did a really good job at satisfying a craving most gamers (and non-gamers) weren’t even aware they had. I know I, from a young age, always wanted a game that basically let me do whatever I wanted. Open-world MMOs offered some of the freedom I was looking for, but they’re still bound by certain rule sets, most of which involve combat. People were created to be creative, and while there is a certain amount of creativity involved in coming up with new ways to pwn noobz in PvP, it can’t match actually making something. That’s what Notch’s genius was. He played games like Infiniminer and saw the potential in a goalless, open-ended building/exploration game, and made one when no one else thought it would sell. And he did it very well.
Apparently I’m not the only one with Minecraft envy. It seems like every other game that comes out on Steam has some kind of destructible block-building element to it. Planet Explorers, Fortresscraft, Starforge. And with all the things people have done with Minecraft mods, why bother? Some games, like Ace of Spades, Trove, and Guncraft, seem to be simply tacking the Voxel idea onto a completely unrelated genre. I’ve never played any of these, so I’m not sure if that’s good or bad (or some of both), but from the outside it just seems like they’re capitalizing on Minecraft’s success. Then there’s Terraria, itself basically a 2D clone of Minecraft, which seems to have spawned even more clones: Starbound, Windforge, Magicite, Darkout, Edge of Space (which, interestingly enough, now has official Terraria crossover content). Many of these are good games with their own unique ideas, but if the developers of these games were being honest, I’m sure every one of them would say the game wouldn’t be what it is without the success of Minecraft.
I’ve always been interested in procedurally-generated games, and I really would like to try my hand at one some day, but as for a Minecraft-like voxel game, between Minecraft, Minecraft mods, and every other indie studio out there making their own twist on the block-building genre, I just can’t see how anything I would make could compete. Even if I had a revolutionary new idea, I feel like the vast majority of people would just take one look and say to themselves “Oh, it’s just another Minecraft clone,” and move on without getting far enough to see the differentiating factors. Because honestly, that’s what I would do. So that’s why I have Minecraft envy; I really want to make a game like it and not get labeled a wannabe.