Monday, May 23, 2011

A Blocky World

When people think of art, they think of paintings, drawings and music. Most people don’t think of games as a creative medium though. Recently, the National Endowment for the Arts announced that it officially considers games to be an appropriate expressive medium for creativity. Most of the time, a programmer wouldn’t be considered a particularly creative person. After all, all they do is write millions of lines of code, weave it together, and make it work. It isn’t like a single misplaced letter, number, or punctuation mark can make the entire project break. In case you didn’t catch the sarcasm, that’s how it is. Just as an artist gracefully combines brush strokes to create a painting, the programmer combines lines of code to create his or her artistic work.

Enter Markus Alexej “Notch” Persson, a game developer hailing from Sweden. Markus, a member of the Swedish chapter of Mensa, began programming at the age of seven, working on his father’s Commodore 128. Ever since then, person has been programming, working as a developer for numerous companies. In early 2009, Persson began coding the basic parts of what would grow to be Minecraft, a game that has exploded in popularity and has sold over 2 million copies. Shortly after development of then-named “Cave Game,” Persson played a game called Infiniminer, which would shape the direction that Minecraft took - a world composed entirely of blocks that could be placed and removed at the player’s will.

Describing this game as a surreal experience is an understatement. You spawn alone in the world – you’ll trek through deserts, hike through mountains, spelunk through caves, and wind your way through dense forests. The beauty of the game lies in how Persson coded it – to be procedurally generated. Every time you start a new world, you’ll be greeted with brand new scenery. As you explore, the game generates new terrain, all unique to the world you’re in. This goes on to be something that can be up to eight times the size of the earth. Minecraft is truly a work of art.

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