THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF MINECRAFT

For the past couple of months, Minecraft has very slowly crept up on me. Favourite Internet communities were doing hilarious Let’s Play videos, new memes were born, and everyone was fascinated by this unlimited virtual Lego set. The limit was your imagination, and having to contend with deadly enemies determined to not only kill you but destroy your creations like a jealous younger sibling brought that extra tension that was irresistible to gamers. And the best thing is – in multiplayer you can still go smash your elder brother’s perfect castle into bits, it just takes a bit longer.

When I went to my local geek con in mid-June, one of the most popular pieces of merchandise was the square cardboard Creeper head, the swirl of greens and faint grin easily seen across the crowded convention centre. Minecraft had arrived, and it was making pixels cool again.

My husband caved first. I would sit at my desk in our shared office, while I heard the sounds of him picking at dirt blocks, the sickening crack of falling too far, the popping of lava, blobbing in water, and a few quiet shrieks and profanities as a Creeper lolloped dangerously close. He showed me videos of people’s amazing creations: the 1:1 scale model of the Enterprise D; a relatively-dimensional TARDIS; TNT explosions so huge the game can’t render them; huge troll faces on grass plains; and buildings literally touching the top of the world. I resisted for a while. But, eventually, it got me.

I played my husband’s copy of the game while he was at work. In hindsight, it’s a good idea that I don’t have my own copy. I was immediately sucked in. Armed with a cup of tea, and the Minecraft wiki in the background, I set to work.

I really wanted to build my base in a snowy tundra, and I spawned on a beach. I wandered for an in-game time of three days, until I finally found the perfect spot. I had water, lava, a view of the sunrise, and plenty of sheep. I built an awesome log cabin out of spruce, with a bed, coloured wool rugs, paintings, bookshelves, and a sign. (It’s very telling that even though I had nothing else in the house, I had three bookshelves.) I had a natural mine nearby, in which I got ridiculously lost a couple of times. I planted flowers outside, and watched the snow falling on the roof. It was awesome.

The one thing I didn’t realise was that to spawn in your bed, you had to sleep in it. Whoops.

I proceeded to die in the most spectacularly faily way – I found a hole in the ground, and went to see how deep it was and went too far. Seriously.

I respawned on the beach where I started, to my surprise. I tried desperately to remember which way I walked, by the landscapes I went through. I wandered around for days, following the sun in every direction. I was going in circles. I discovered a closer and bigger snowy tundra to my spawn point, which was annoying fact number 1. Eventually, I accepted annoying fact number 2: I was hopelessly lost, and there was no way I could find my house again. Annoying fact number 3: I’m usually a pretty good navigator, but I’d done the stereotypical female thing of having a terrible sense of direction in a pixellated world. My husband delighted in making gentle fun of me, even when I distinctly remember him effing and blinding because he once got stupidly lost in his own mine.

I exited to the title screen, and restarted the game. With a heavy and shamed heart, I proceeded to delete my game and start over again.

I found another tundra. I rebuilt my cabin, bigger and better with my increased knowledge. I found a much better mine with more minerals, including my much-wanted and elusive lapis (which I used to make a blue rug under my bed). I had more sugar cane, which satisfied my insatiable need for paper. I had all the sheep I could shear. I built a boat and went across the ocean looking for squid. I slept in my bed. This game was ten times better than my previous attempt, but the magic was gone.

My house is built. I have my sign, my paintings, my books, my brightly coloured floor. I’m coming up against the same problem that I had with Lego when I was a child – there’s so much to build, so much I could do, that I don’t know what to do next.

So, I’m interested in what you guys have gotten up to in Minecraft and maybe get some inspiration for things to build. What cool stuff have you made? Have you lost your house like I did? Have you used a pressure plate in devious ways? Have you toiled away for hours only to have a Creeper explode in the middle of your work? Let us know!

Minecraft is available for PC, Mac, Xbox 360 (through Xbox Live Arcade), Android, and iOS. You can buy it here.

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DEADLY DUNGEONS

If you have read through my older posts, you will already know that I am a big fan of dungeon crawlers and fantasy games in general. What I didn’t have, however, was one that I could keep in my pocket!

Deadly Dungeons, developed by code_zombie for Android devices, is a very well designed RPG, set within an underground labyrinth. Having been split from your party, the player must fight for survival, exploring a variety of dungeons for a way out. As your character progresses, however, you are lead to a  ‘confrontation with an ancient evil, and a descent to hell itself’, battling a variety of monsters and beasts en route.

The first thing that really struck me with this game was its size: this is not your average, quick phone game – in fact, it could even comfortably sit as a full desktop release. A lot of time and effort has certainly been invested into Deadly Dungeons, boasting random generation for its levels, as well as a variety of skills and spells to learn and upgrade. As with all games of its type, there is a functional levelling system that allows you to focus on a certain class, or indeed create a character who is balanced in melee, ranged and magic attacks. Numerous item drops and discoverable loot are also very welcome additions to the title, allowing for old equipment – such as weapons, armour, amulets and potions – to be traded with Zebo, the in-game merchant.

Fighting is conducted by tapping the weapon/item symbols when an enemy is in your path, with different aspects to consider: axes are slower hitting, for example, so must be combined with evasive movement if the creatures have a strong attack. It is also important to note that the game moves in real time, so keep an eye on where each beast is inside a room, because you can very quickly become encircled and trapped without realising it. Keys can be found throughout the game – or from Zebo, allowing you to open locked chambers for additional exploring (with a chance of the key breaking on use). A criticism I could make about this game, however, is that shields do not seem to have much use in battle and only really serve as amping your overall defence. A very small issue, but noticeable – especially so when it can be used as a physical weapon alongside your primary.

Overall, Deadly Dungeons is a really great addition to any gamer’s phone and includes a range of difficulties (from casual to permadeath hardcore) as well as a number of character images for you to choose in the style of Neverwinter Nights. For only £0.99, this is a true bargain that should not be passed over lightly.

Buy it from Google Play here

Visit the website here

DELVER

Still very much so in alpha development, Chad Cuddigan’s Delver is a Minecraft-esque roguelike that has a huge amount of potential for the future. Currently running on both Windows and Android, the beauty within this release is its simplicity, applying very minimal, easy to learn controls through each level of its descending dungeons.

Atmosphere is definitely a key feature within Delver – often leading you through dark, claustrophobic tunnels, each holding a selection of unforgiving beasts and baddies intent on your demise. At this stage there are only three varieties of weapons: daggers, swords and wands – however, that isn’t such an issue, with each holding its own power, ability and design. Wands are the only ranged weapon currently implemented, but hold a lot more effectiveness than the average blade, allowing you to take out oncoming enemies from any distance in a satisfying explosion of pixel blood. Each wand has a limited number of charges, however, and so must be used sparingly in combat. Armour throughout the game also relies on much the same principle as the weapons, increasing in defence depending on its style and class.

There is a colourful selection of potions to be found, however it would seem that all but one heal your character – despite each description declaring an unknown effect. This has no real downside on gameplay, but it would be nice to see a bit more variety in how each colour corresponds to your character – especially if there were overall attack/defence stats included. Each potion could perhaps carry its own positive/negative effects, allowing for you to focus more heavily on a certain style of play – for example, using speed and attack, but lacking in defence.

Another feature that I would love to see included would be durability. With a lot of low grade armour and weapons scattered about each level, it seems a little bit of a waste to ignore a use for them. If each weapon, in the same sense as the wands, had a certain number of uses – or hits, in the case of armour – there would most certainly be a much more increased sense of difficulty and desperation – especially on the lower levels, where gameplay can be pretty comfortable at this current stage of development.

All in all, I highly recommend trying Delver out – It’s a nicely made, fun little game that takes little knowledge or computer power to run and I will most definitely be following with each future update.

Download Delver for PC here

Buy Delver for Android here

Follow Delver‘s development blog here

GURK II

I had to make a long journey by train the other day, so the first thing I did was scour the Android Market for a suitable travel companion. What I discovered therein was too good to not share…

Larva Lamp’s Gurk II is an extremely simple 8 bit rpg, with full levelling and a variety of spells, weapons and armour to loot along the way. Despite being far more finished than it’s predecessor, Gurk, both are great examples of how less is more; hours of entertainment can be found within this very cheap, very cool little game.

Following in the footsteps of the classic RPG titles, Gurk II is turn based, allowing for random monster attacks and battle tactics, as you choose which strategies and paths to take. Also included are stat rolls for characters, boats, summoning and advanced spells – a whole lot more features than other games of this size on the Android Market.

The main downfalls within Gurk II lie in its resolution. As the images above show, the actual play screen is really not that big, meaning that only tablet users will ever really experience the game at a normal ratio – however, this isn’t a massive issue and I found I could play quite comfortably after the first few minutes.

But, be warned – this game is challenging, and an understanding of its mechanics will be needed if you want to progress at a good rate. In my first attempt, I found my players slaughtered constantly, ever pitted against larger and larger swarms of higher powered enemies. It was in my second try, though, that I began to pay attention to the items and potions and their effects, where I instantly found myself playing at a much better standard with no deaths recorded so far.

Overall, Gurk II is a great game with a lot of content. I highly recommend purchasing this – or its free prequel, Gurk – as it will kill the boredom of any RPG fan.

Get Gurk for free from Google Play here

Buy Gurk II from Google Play here

Visit developer Lava Lamp’s website here