This month’s theme is Play with Pixels – and what is more pixel-astic or appropriate than Minecraft? For those who have never heard of it, our friend Stuart works with Apex Minecraft Hosting and he’d like to take you on a Geek 101 journey into the world of Minecraft. Stay tuned for a special 30% coupon off of your own Minecraft server hosting at the end of the post!

Since it was launched in 2011, Minecraft has become one of the most well-known and popular titles in the world. From fairly humble beginnings it has gone on the sell more than 70 million copies, is available to play on just about anything with a screen, has a successful range of toys and there’s even a movie in the works.

If you’ve not been exposed to the game at all it’s a little hard to see what all the fuss is about. The gameplay isn’t especially innovative, there’s no real story and the graphics are extremely basic – so why is it so popular?

The best comparison I can make for someone who doesn’t ‘get’ Minecraft is with Lego. In essence it’s just a pile of blocks, but with a little creativity and imagination you can build pretty much anything. Minecraft is the ultimate sandbox game – you are free to spend your time in the game doing pretty much what you like, but there are a few basic tasks which need to be completed to keep Steve (the main protagonist) alive.

The game begins with your character being placed in a huge, blocky world which has been procedurally generated. Every game world will be different, but each will contain various biomes such as jungles, snowy areas and deserts. You are free to travel around the world and set up a base anywhere you like, although the regular day/night cycle means it’s usually in your best interest to build a shelter close to where you spawn initially.

In the early stages, your main aim is to keep Steve alive. When darkness falls, various enemies (commonly known as ‘mobs’) appear and will happily attack our hero. These enemies can include zombies, skeletons armed with bows and arrows, and nasty little walking bombs known as Creepers.

Fortunately, much like your garden variety vampire, these enemies can’t get in to your home unless you let them in. So the first thing most players should do is build a basic shelter, usually by chopping down a few trees, crafting some wood and putting it all together. You can also head underground to mine some stone to build your shelter, as well as using it to craft weapons and tools.

It’s this mechanic which forms the core of the game. You go out exploring, mine for materials and craft them in to something which makes life a little easier for Steve. This can include better quality tools and armour to protect yourself from mobs, rare items to trade with villagers, magic potions to help with combat and, eventually, materials to build a portal to another dimension.

The enemies aren’t the only threat to Steve’s health – you need to make sure he’s fed regularly to keep his health up. There are various ways of keeping him happy, from cows and pigs for meat to growing your own vegetables. You can grow wheat and sugar cane for baking bread and cakes, and there are various recipes you can make using the items you harvest. In time it’s a good idea to build a fully working farm, with animals breeding and crops needing harvested on a daily basis.

Essentially, the point of the game is to survive and thrive in a fairly harsh environment. While it doesn’t sounds especially exciting as a concept, it’s amazing how it draws you in. Before you know it you’ve spend the last three hours digging through a cave looking for gold or trying to coax livestock to your farm. It’s oddly relaxing and satisfying to build up your home and farm and gradually improve your equipment.

It’s also a fantastic multiplayer experience, particularly when you play online with friends. There have been some amazing group projects built, including replicas of Westeros from Game of Thrones and various other popular fantasy worlds. The PC version also has access to countless custom maps, which adds another dimension or two to the game.

While there are public servers out there, the best way to play online is through a private server which only you and your friends can access. This helps avoid ‘griefing’, an unfortunate aspect of online gaming which essentially amounts to bullying and destroying/stealing other people’s stuff. In a game where building and collecting items is basically the whole point of playing, it’s something you should look to avoid!

Hopefully we’ve given a fairly broad overview of what Minecraft is about, although it’s hard to even scratch the surface in a single article. The game has grown much more than was originally intended, and there are so many creative ways of playing and exploring the game that it would be impossible to cover everything. The best way to understand the game is to play, and once you’ve mastered the basics you can start looking at the thousands of guides and tutorials online. You’ll be building something amazing in no time!

Stuart works with Apex Minecraft Hosting – for 30% off your first invoice for private server hosting use the code FRIENDS at checkout. Thanks for reading and be sure to leave us a comment letting us know your experience with Minecraft!