As far as toys go, you can’t get much simpler than a set of blocks. Whether it’s the classic set of wooden blocks or the now equally ubiquitous Legos, it would be almost impossible to find some person who hasn’t played with blocks at some point in their childhood. In fact, some people never seem to grow out of it. After all, someone has to be buying those humongous $400 Lego Imperial Star Destroyers and Death Stars, and I’m pretty sure it’s not kids saving up their allowances. In fact, there is a significant community of adult Lego fans who, thanks to years of experience and much bigger budgets for parts acquisition, build some thoroughly ridiculous stuff. I do keep a small container of Legos around on my desk to use for a little bit of messing around, but quite frankly, even my best efforts are thoroughly amateurish compared to what some of these people are pulling off. Every once in a while I’ll wander through the Lego shop at Bellevue Square and see some set that looks like it would be fun to put together, but I have a tendency to get about halfway into things like that, lose some critical piece or lose interest, and leave the rest untouched for some indefinite period of time before finally getting rid of the thing. Combined with the fact that these days I don’t exactly have a whole lot of space in my apartment for such things, I find it’s best to just skip the stuff. Then again, who says you need actual blocks?
If you spend any significant amount of time reading the various game Blogs on the Internet, there’s a good chance you’ve heard of Minecraft by now. There’s also a pretty decent chance that if you’ve heard of Minecraft, you’ve either spent way too much time messing around with it by now, or you just can’t figure out why anyone even bothers with it in the first place. In a nutshell, Minecraft is a game which has so far been built by one person (who, thanks to the runaway success of the project so far, is now adding more people to the project) which basically puts you down in the middle of a procedurally generated world with nothing, and through a combination of exploring, crafting, digging and building you can go from punching trees with your bare hands to harvest wood to building your own tools, finding resources underground, and eventually building pretty much whatever you can think of. You do have to watch out for various enemies that will come out of the dark and attack you if given the opportunity to do so, and as you might be able to tell from the screenshot above it’s all pretty blocky, but the game (at least in its current form) does away with pesky things like environmental impact statements and gravity, and lets you build all sorts of cool stuff.
The tower you see above was built within a matter of roughly an hour, including collection of materials and crafting the necessary parts. Given the fact that everything is basically built out of big blocks of approximately a cubic meter apiece there isn’t room to get too detailed with things, but given enough blocks and enough space (which, given the fact that the theoretical maximum size for a Minecraft world is roughly four times the size of the Earth, shouldn’t be much of an issue) you can build just about anything you can think of. A number of people from an e-mail alias I probably spent way too much time on back in my Microsoft days (it’s been less than a year since I last worked at Microsoft, but it seems like it’s been ages) have started their own multiplayer Minecraft server, and over the course of roughly a month that the server has been up, people have built entire mountains entirely out of glass, turned old in-jokes from the alias into humongous statues, created an extensive network of roadways and pathways all hovering ominously ten stories off the ground, and basically built their own little world (and just about burned the place down in the process, but that’s another story.) I’m a bit late to the party compared to some people, but once I managed to get an issue sorted out that was preventing me from building anything without getting booted from the server, I’ve been working on establishing my own little spot on the server. So far, my major contribution has been this lighthouse.
My next project at this point is to get rid of the inconvenient mountain currently located underneath it and make it float in mid-air. Ominously, of course. After all, has anything that big ever floated in mid-air and not been ominous in the process? Selective interpretations of the Laws of Physics make things like that pretty easy to pull off actually. All you need is the patience to spend about an hour or two in otherwise unproductive digging. Of course, this is small potatoes compared to what other people have been building (in fact, just off in the distance beyond all that fog lies a rather impressive floating castle that’s about twenty times larger than my puny little lighthouse. Then again, it’s actually pretty quick to put stuff together in Minecraft as long as you have the resources to do it. Perhaps Minecraft’s runaway popularity can be explained by the fact that there’s a lot of people out there who, in spite of claiming otherwise, never really grew out of playing with blocks, but the demands of adulthood have prevented them from being able to do so in any self-respecting fashion. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with playing with blocks of course. Maybe if I’d hurry up and get married and have a kid or two I might even get the chance to do so.
Oh, and since I happen to have it handy, I might as well throw in a quick night shot of the lighthouse too.