Minecraft is an odd beast. It’s a game as divisive as it is inarguably classic. There are just as many people who think it’s overrated as who’ve sunk thousands of hours into its weirdly compelling lo-fi charms. Still, the numbers don’t lie, and Minecraft has managed to win itself well over 70 million players every month. The company that developed the game, Mojang, was acquired by Microsoft back in 2014 for a staggering amount of money, so it’s no stretch to say that Minecraft is, if nothing else, one of the most influential games of all time.
Such games are well worth preserving for posterity, and it’s for this reason that Microsoft and Mojang have made Minecraft Classic Online available in your browser. You see, it’s Minecraft’s tenth anniversary this year. If you remember Minecraft coming out back in 2009 and you’re convinced it hasn’t been that long, don’t worry – you’re not the only one. We had to double-check our facts to make sure this much time had indeed elapsed since the game’s developmental release, but unfortunately for those of us who thought we were no longer
Minecraft Classic harks back to a simpler time before gamers knew what they wanted Minecraft to be. Here is a seriously odd creature. Minecraft Classic has no objective markers, no minimap, no quest log, no crafting system, and no mining. There is, in essence, no video game here. Instead, Minecraft Classic is a sandbox in the true sense of the word. You can physically go anywhere and do anything you want, and the only limit to what you can create is what you can personally imagine (plus a few obvious limitations imposed by the basic nature of the game, of course).
Playing Minecraft Classic in 2019 is like looking at the skeleton of a human ancestor. It’s striking just how similar it feels to our modern understanding, but also how different it is. For one, the lack of mining and crafting is strange, but it’s even odder how it doesn’t work to the game’s detriment in any way. Minecraft’s rolling green hills and deep blue oceans are as beautiful as they’ve ever been, and building rustic log cabins from which to watch the wonders of nature in Minecraft Classic is just as absorbing a pastime as it is if you’re playing new Minecraft on your Switch or your Xbox.
Here’s what you actually get in Minecraft Classic. You get one type of geography, which is to say you can play in grasslands and only grasslands. You get 32 building blocks with which to construct your empire. If you’re hoping to gather some gold or smelt some iron, you’re out of luck. The blocks you’re given are the blocks you’ll have to make do with. There aren’t any NPCs – although you can spawn characters to freely run around your creation – and there’s no ecosystem to speak of. There aren’t even any dynamic moving blocks besides the water, and that’s not exactly animated.
Of course, even the most restrictive game is food for geniuses, and it’ll be amazing to see the kind of creations churned out by players in Minecraft Classic in the weeks and months to come. This was, after all, always the point of Minecraft – it’s a creativity tool as much as it’s a video game, and nowhere is this more true than in the game’s Classic iteration. The emphasis here is more on creativity than it arguably is in the modern version. Since there are no game mechanics to speak of, building takes center stage in Minecraft Classic, and it’s great fun.
You will need to work for your enjoyment in Minecraft Classic, but this is the game that essentially began the modern trend of emergent storytelling, so fans won’t mind that so much. You can invite friends into your game, giving Minecraft Classic a kind of post-work chillout-session vibe. You can still explore the biome you’re given, and if you’re not feeling it you can create a new one. You can pepper your landscape with trees and mushrooms, and if you’re feeling particularly adventurous you can embark on a long-term project like building a village or an ambient story for others in your house or apartment to solve.
Minecraft Classic is not unlike telling stories around a campfire: everyone will have different memories of how it started, and everyone will get something different from the result. Some may turn away from Minecraft Classic without realizing its many joys, while others will be just as content to while away hours in this game as they have been in the modern version. The truth is that Minecraft is just “for” some people and “not for” others, and the Classic version magnifies the traits the game has to appeal (or not appeal) to both camps of people.
It’s hard to imagine a world without Minecraft, but if you want to see the closest thing to that world then play Minecraft Classic. This is an unproven concept of a game, a promise of things to come rather than a boast of what currently exists. 2009 was a fertile time for indie gaming, and the industry was just getting to grips with what could be possible in the future. Minecraft Classic is a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed indicator of a wonderful gaming future, and it’s a pretty darn good time in its own right too.