Friday, August 27, 2010

Guest Moments: Diary of a Minecrafter

 [In this pseudo-regular section, I record some of my more memorable gaming moments, the moments that remind me why I play games. Those who follow me on Twitter will already be aware of my recent obsession with Minecraft's emergent gameplay. The simplest of systems (mine resources to craft tools to mine better resources to craft better tools) is applied to a sprawling, procedural world for you to explore, tame, and master. New stories are born practically by the minute. The following is one such story. However, it is not my own.
The first time I read the following story I was laying in a bed in a Melbourne youth hostel. It was 7am on a Sunday morning and my phone beeped with a new email. For some reason I rolled over and checked it, only to find this rambling, livid, excited tale from my brother, Glynn Keogh, who had just lost an entire night to his Minecraft world. It was a good tale that exemplified exactly what I love about this game, so I asked him if he would let me re-post it here. So thanks, Glynn, for the following tale.]
Note: Screen captures are taken from my own game, not Glynn's adventure.
 
Progress on the subterranean highway is going well. For many long hours I have toiled down here, far below the surface world, forging a safe path hidden from the ferocious creatures and demons that roam through the night up above. It started out as a humble mine, but time and necessity drove me to make it so much more. Back up on the surface I am constantly on edge as soon as that great square sun hits the horizon; but buried here amongst the rocks and dirt, I am safe and free.
For the hundredth time tonight, my pick axe digs into the tunnel wall, and another chunky cube of rock breaks off. The highway is another foot longer. Soon it will be time to travel back to the tunnel entrance and begin laying tracks for the cart system that will eventually make journeys faster and safer. A few more squares and I will raise another shaft to the surface to gauge my progress, for it is daylight and the world outside is safe. Another chunk of rock breaks apart, the sound reverberating off the tunnel walls. But there’s also another sound, the most dreaded sound a minecrafter will ever hear underground.
Running water.
I curse to myself and continue to listen, struggling to pin-point the direction of the underground stream. It seems to be coming somewhere from the left of the tunnel, but for all I know I may hit it if I continue forwards, too. This is my first Minecraft world and I’ve never struck water underground before, but I know it’s something I certainly don’t want to do. This tunnel is the backbone of my entire domain and I cannot afford to lose it; I have no wish to risk the surface world at night. There’s really only one option, so I backtrack slightly and begin digging into the wall towards the sound: better to find the stream on my own terms than unwittingly flooding the entire highway later on. Grabbing a torch from my pack, I seal the side passage off behind me in case the worst happens. One way or another I will find the stream, but it will never reach the highway if I can help it.
I dig for a long time, far longer than I expected would be necessary. The sound of rushing water is misleading; it seems to come from all directions yet never can I locate the source. My good steel pick is blunted from the continuous digging, and I am forced to use my back-up stone picks. Soon even they are all but exhausted. My torch supply is also dwindling rapidly. I decide that once my last pick is gone I’ll head back to my safe house at the mine entrance, make some new tools and go back to the tunnel proper. If I can’t find the water after this long it must be safe enough to keep digging. My final torch dug in to the ground beside me, I dig away at the rock one final time and my pick is destroyed. The rock drops to the ground…followed by a rushing torrent of water.
In that brief second when the water pushes its way through the hole, I realise just how inexperienced a miner I am. The side tunnel I’ve dug is completely unorganised and random, the result of me wildly trying to trace the confusing sounds. Worse still, the tunnel slopes away downwards the way I came. As the water hits me I know with utter certainty that this tunnel is almost perfectly built to become completely flooded.
Suddenly I’m under the surface, and so is my nearest torch. A few seconds more and the torrent has smothered my other light sources. I’m plunged into darkness so complete my monitor may as well be turned off. All I can see is my rapidly dwindling air supply, and all I can hear is rushing water. Every now and then my head somehow breaks the surface and I stop myself from drowning, but I can tell that I’m being swept far further than the start of this tunnel. Somehow I’ve entered a natural cave system.
After awhile I manage to clamber on to dry land, amazed at the fact that I haven’t died. The rushing water has deposited me somewhere on a cavern floor and continues to flow past me in the dark, sounding deceptively tranquil and calm. I have no idea where I am, only that I didn’t build it. There is no way out; the newly formed river is filling the only entrance to the cave, and I have no wish to jump back in any time soon. I have no torches, no picks or shovels, and no coal. All I have left in my inventory is my sword, some wood, and the stone I have been mining. Resigned to finding my way out with zero lighting, I turn off all the lights in the house and count myself lucky that it’s 1am; by making my own world pitch black I can faintly make out the outlines of the cave with some effort. With a chunk of rock in my hand I begin pounding at the wall of the cavern, prepared to dig my way out by hand. This will take some time.
I dig for a ridiculously long time, guided only by the soft, constant trickle of water. I follow the underground river upstream, hoping to work my way back to a familiar tunnel. Several times along the way I am forced to hastily dam the stream and alter its course, lest I be swept away once more. Finally, my eyes aching and my hands sore from clawing through so much solid stone, I break through into another cavern. The hole I’ve dug is already leaking water as I once again have struck the cursed river, but I manage to duck through the tiny gap without being swept away. Incredibly, this cavern is actually lit, and for the first time in ages I can actually see properly. The cavern is beautiful in a deadly sort of way. The centre of the floor is a pile of loose gravel, which I manage to climb on to with some effort. The mound is surrounded on one side by the large body of water I had managed to find myself under, and on the other by a huge pool of lava, the source of the glow.
As I stand surveying the scene, my screen suddenly flashes and I am knocked forwards as something strikes me from behind. Only luck stops me from falling head first into the lava. Turning around, I see a zombie advancing out of the shadows towards me. I’d be lying if I said this didn’t scare the crap out of me after all I’d been through. I draw my sword and charge the monster, knocking it back and gaining myself a little room to maneuver. I duck around behind it in an effort to get away from the lava, receiving a blow to the head for my troubles. My hearts perilously low at this stage, I know that another hit will end this adventure. I charge a final time, and send the zombie flying into the molten rock. I start breathing again.
I slouch away from the computer for a moment; my nerves just can’t take it anymore. As I watch the lava flow slowly by, I decide upon a course of action. I retrieve the almost forgotten planks of wood from my pack and craft them into a workbench. I could have done this earlier, but the notion of crafting items in pitch-black damp caves seemed too unfeasible for me to consider. But here in the light of the lava, I could finally set to work. Using the very last of my wood and some stone I manage to craft a single low quality pick. It is the most wonderful tool I’ve ever held. My new pick in hand, I begin the task of digging my way out. By now I have no idea where I am or in which direction lay the subterranean highway, so I go the only way that makes sense: up. All this effort, all this time and glorious adventure in the name of fleeing the surface, and now I am desperate to escape the underground and see the sky once more. Therein lies the beauty of this game: every hole I dig, every wall I build, every tool I craft is all in the name of forging a little place where I can be safe. And now, as I claw away the last few chunks of dirt and sunlight shines down onto my face for the first time in hours of play, I am finally safe.

After finally finding my way home from that fantastic and terrifying hole in the ground (another adventure in itself), I am once more at the advancing end of the subterranean highway. Now with new tools in hand and a good number of fresh torches in my pack, I am ready to continue my work. The sound of running water is no longer audible through the tunnel walls, and I can only assume that my efforts to redirect the stream were successful in leading it away from this point. In any case, I am not about to go looking for it again. Happy to finally be back to mining, I swing my pick at the wall and another chunk of rock shatters. But before I can swing again, the gap I have opened up is filled with loose gravel. I scoop it clear, and yet more replaces it. Careful to avoid a fatal cave-in, I continue scooping away the debris until the flow stops suddenly. With a loud clatter, something heavy lands at my feet.
A makeshift workbench which, until moments ago, had been resting on a pile of gravel between a river of water and a pool of lava in a cavern, which is beautiful in a deadly sort of way, not 3 squares above the fore of my subterranean highway.

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