So just what is Minecraft?

I’m taking a course for my final semester at SMU called Digital Media in Asia, and was quite excited that my professor, Michael Netzley, is actually making us play Minecraft! To my surprise, though, I was the only one in class who played Minecraft, so I decided to write a crash course explaining one of the greatest games I’ve ever come across!

Minecraft in a sentence

Minecraft is an incredible game that is unlike any other. In a sentence, it’s a first person open world sandbox game.

  • As a first person game, you are controlling a character in a 3D world.
  • As an open world game, rather than being confined to some virtual border or a path that the game forces you to follow, a world in Minecraft has no boundaries and no path to follow. There are no rules or objectives, and you can do whatever you want with it.
  • As a sandbox game, the world in Minecraft can be completely modified by the player.

In otherwords, Minecraft is like a virtual box of LEGOs, allowing you to build anything you want.

Game modes in Minecraft

There are two common modes to play Minecraft:

  1. Creative: Literally no rules and limits. You can use as much materials of any type as you want. Your character can’t die, it isn’t affected by gravity and can fly. People usually use this mode when all they want to do is build stuff.
  2. Survival: You start the game with absolutely nothing, but the whole world is your resource. You start by gathering basic resources like wood, stone and coal, and craft weapons, tools, armour and more using recipes on a crafting table. What are the weapons for? Well, as time passes, day will turn to night, and monsters will spawn anywhere that’s dark, so you’ll need to defend yourself, because you can die. In survival mode, you get to explore caves and dungeons for rare materials that let you craft even more things or build even more extravagant creations. Your character gets hungry with time, so making food will be important too.

Why would anyone play Minecraft??

One thing I get from friends a lot is that they don’t really understand the point of a game whose objective isn’t to score the highest points or fight the biggest bosses. Well, Minecraft players generally play for one (or usually more) of the following reasons:

1. Build Buildings

These guys love to build buildings, amazing structures and entire worlds. They just love to make pretty stuff. Survival adds a thrill and excitement to just plain building, by adding a challenge to find the materials they need, and attempting to build incredible builds while staying alive.

2. Build Machines

There is a category of materials in Minecraft known as redstone. They’re like electrical wires, switches, lights and pistons that allow you to build actual machines in the game. People have built incredible machines in Minecraft, some even helping them to gather resources they need faster.

3. Beat the boss

There’s actually a “boss” in the game that is quite challenging to get to and to beat. Most Minecraft players just see the boss as a “rite of passage”, though, because once you pass that stage, you would have gathered almost every type of material in the game. Once you’ve beaten the boss, though, you just go back to doing whatever else you were doing in the game.

4. Play with friends

There’s a multiplayer mode where you get to play on servers with friends. Unlike games like World of Warcraft or World of Tanks, these servers aren’t owned by Minecraft but by players. I personally turned a spare computer into a private Minecraft server to play with friends. We go on adventures together exploring caves, fighting monsters, then build some really cool buildings.

5. Play against friends

Thanks to redstone, there are actually tons of player-vs-player games you can download and play with friends, from unique modes such as survival (hunter games style) and invader-defence to Minecraft versions of popular games like DOTA or Team Fortress 2.

Social element of Minecraft

Minecraft in a multiplayer environment is like a virtual world with actual resources that could technically run out. That brings about some very unique social experiences when playing together.

“The Working Draft” –  A social experiment

One popular Youtuber, Joe Hills, decided to conduct an artistic experiment to test it out. He gathered a bunch of people from all sorts of backgrounds, not all Minecraft players, and put them together on a server he called “The Working Draft”. His goal is to see how people work together and form their own rules and governments. It’s quite a facinating experiement that has been running for a few months now. You can check out the whole series here.

And that’s why I play Minecraft

I’ve always loved LEGO, and the idea that I could build my own world with my friends, having adventures together trying to gather resources and fighting off monsters while doing that really appealed to me. That’s why I started playing Minecraft, and now have a tiny nettop computer powered 24 hours in my bedroom running my own private Minecraft server.

If you play Minecraft and feel that I’ve made any mistake in this post or left something important out, be sure to let me know! And share your experience on why you play Minecraft!


How I think Google could take over Gaming and TV

I was very easily convinced by the pitch that OUYA gave in their kickstarter video, and if I had been a bigger gamer (and more cash to spare), I’d have put down my money to support it. If you don’t know what it is, you should really check out their video below. In a nutshell, they’re trying to revive the difficult-to-enter console gaming industry by creating a new console based on an open platform: Google Android.

Ouya is an idea with lots of promise. And given how they’re not only on-time, but even ahead of schedule, they’ve gotten the execution part right too. I’m personally quite excited to give one a go once Jerrick receives his.

But it got me thinking though:

Why isn’t Google doing this?

Putting everything else aside and just looking at it from a technical perspectice, Ouya is nothing more but an Android device with a big-screen UI and support for hardware controls. Of course, their main success factor is the backing of an experienced and credible team capable of gathering support from great mobile game developers, and a team that appears to know what they’re doing.

Furthermore, Android has already proven itself to be a great open platform for both developers and hardware manufacturers, and Ouya (along with manymany, manymany others) has proven that there is demand for Android to be run on a TV to play games with. Thanks to lack of support from Google, however, everyone is coming up with their own big-screen UI and controller APIs. 

That’s not too hard for Google to achieve, isn’t it? I mean…

Google only needs to add 3 things to Android!

That’s right! All Google needs to do is introduce these 3 features in Android:

1. A hardware controller API. This API would have two sides to it: one end is designed for software developers to receive a standard set of hardware events such as “primary joystick up”, “A button” or “Right Trigger”. The other end is designed for hardware manufacturers to send events to. So this API would be some sort of middleware, translating any hardware controller a manufacturer could come up with to standardised events for Android apps (which includes games). Developers (especially game developers) would no longer need to create or decide between several versions of the same app for different devices (Ouya, Gamestick or what have you), while manufacturers won’t have to worry about whether developers would support their platform!

2. A big screen launcher. This launcher would be designed for a hardware controller on a TV screen rather than a touchscreen to launch apps, similar to how Google introduced the “Car Home” launcher for cars a few years back. Manufacturers, of course, could replace that launcher with their own, but having a stock launcher would set a standard for them to meet when it came to TV UIs.

3. Gaming Profile. Achievements and ease of finding friends to play with is what makes Xbox Live really successful and appealing. Apple did a relatively good job with GameCenter. I’m sure Google, with their multi-form-factorness, will do better. They could even power it with Google+! Kill two birds with one stone?

What a world with official Android Gaming support by Google would look like

If Google makes it so easy for developers to make games that run on both touchscreens and hardware controllers, I believe the whole gaming scene would explode. 1 single platform on multiple form factors. You could potentially be playing a multi-player game on the go from your phone with a friend who’s playing on their big-screen TV, or continue a game from phone to TV when you get home!

And think about the different variety of hardware you’ll find for that single gaming platform! In addition to smartphone and tablets, you’ll have dedicated consoles (like the Ouya), to controllers with a built-in screen (like the Nvidia Shield), to perhaps even built into a TV! Imagine what kind of crazy transforming or docking device ASUS could come up with! I mean, people are already attempting it, but if Google made a standard for different control options, developers will jump onboard so much easier!

Also, given the fact that the limiting factor to Android’s power is so often battery life, dedicated hardware like TVs or consoles could potentially have more powerful graphics and computational processors, allowing experiences that could be on par with the Xbox!

What about Google TV?

I personally believe that this strategy would be so much more successful than Google TV as far as getting Google to be in everyone’s TV goes. The problem with Google TV is that despite being built upon Android, it’s really a whole new platform for, manufacturers, developers and worst of all, consumers, resulting in very little success to date.

The strategy I’m suggesting, however, is to make the existing Android capable of running on TVs using a controller. I mean, everyone is familiar with Android today. In fact, Google TV’s current strategy of overlaying powerful Google data on top of TV could even become just another app on Android that they could bundle with Smart TV manufacturers.

This strategy could make Google instantly become the king of gaming platforms and TVs! Something I’m sure Google would really like to become. 

Google, you’re the only hope!

I mean, seriously, so so many people have been attempting to do this with Android: Sony Playstation Mobile, Ouya, Nvidia Shield, Gamestick and so many more! But nothing beats the owners of Android themselves doing it officially!

The fastest way for Google to achieve this?

Ouya seems to be doing a good job adding the 3 things I mentioned above onto Android, not to mention the amount of positive press they’re getting. Why not just acquire Ouya and get them to work on the Gaming and TV part of Android? 😉

I blog to create conversation and hear different perspectives. Feel free to share with me why Google should/shouldn’t/could/couldn’t do this!

The Taxi Uncle’s Samsung Galaxy S3

Disclaimer: The view in this article is no way representative of what all consumers think (obviously), but it does show us one perspective of consumer’s views on Android and iOS. Throughout this conversation, I made sure to not offer any of my opinion on the subject, or reveal what I do.

I personally love to find out about how consumers make gadget purchasing decisions to learn how to provide more accurate advice, so when I noticed my taxi driver’s Samsung Galaxy S3 as he was driving me home, I couldn’t help but ask.

Me: “You’re using Android?”

Him: “Yea. Don’t get Android, it’s not good.”

Me: “How come?”

He went on to explain to me that he used to own an iPhone 4, and when his contract expired, he decided to get the S3. Unfortunately, most of the features he are used to on his iPhone 4, made possible by apps, aren’t available. He cited a few examples:

  1. On his iPhone, he can easily print an A4 document with a wireless printer, but on Android, it somehow kept making him print two pages in landscape. When he found an app to do it properly, it didn’t work. 
  2. He downloaded an office client, and it didn’t work.
  3. He tried to get kids apps for his grand children, and those didn’t work neither.

Another thing he mentioned about his life before and after S3 was very interesting:

“My iPhone 4 was jailbroken, so most of my apps were free. But on Android, even when I paid money to buy the apps I needed, they refused to work properly.”

So I naturally I asked:

“So why did you get an Android phone?”

“You see, people are like that. Other people say ‘good’, then you believe them and buy it. But although it looks good on paper, when you really start to use it, it becomes very different. My friend recommended it to me, said the S3 is very good. I went back to scold him after that! A lot of my friends got Android for the same reason, and now they’re also not happy with it. I just don’t think Android is for me.”

He then went to offer his perspective on iOS and the S3:

“The good thing about the S3 is that it’s very pretty, lets you use SD cards, and lets you swap the battery yourself. The iPhone doesn’t let you do all that. You can’t change the battery, and after about 2 years, you’ll definetly run out of space, which is about the right time you need to change it. The iPhone is a selfish phone, but even then, it is still worth buying because it does what you need it to do.”

(Most amusing quote:) “At the end of the day, imitation will never be as good as the original. Samsung needs more time.”

“The other day my friend, whose contract is ending soon, said he wanted to get the S3. I told him to get the iPhone 5, then I’ll give him S$100 to swap the iPhone for my relatively new S3! He was shocked and I asked if I had too much money!”

To test my theory about what makes Android popular among the other people, I further asked:

“Do you watch videos on it?”

“Ah, videos, Android is very good. But the thing is I don’t watch videos, so that doesn’t benefit me. Android just isn’t for me. If you like to play games and watch videos, then you can get Android. If not, iPhone is better.”

At the end of the day, it further proves that we need to stop telling people that one device is better than the other. That’s because the truth is, everyone is different, and so are the devices. We tend to leave out 2 very importand words at the end of our sentence: “The iPhone is better for me“. These two words make a huge difference when we advice others.

I liked that the taxi uncle, while pouring out his Android grieviences, made sure he said “Android just isn’t for me“.