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Book Review: Minecraft 77

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-the-game,-the-book-about-the-game dept.
Nick Kolakowski writes "Markus 'Notch' Persson is the famous indie-game developer behind Minecraft, which is also the name of the new book about his life and work by Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson. (The effect is slightly odd, like naming the Steve Jobs biography iPhone.) Minecraft traces Persson’s development from an isolated young man building simple PC games in his bedroom, to a frustrated game developer who feels the software conglomerates are stifling his creativity, to a multimillionaire who's had some trouble coming to grips with his gamer-land fame. The Persson described in the book is an introvert's introvert, far more interested in coding than partying, although he does display flashes of entrepreneurial aggression that would make Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos proud: at one point, he confesses that he wants to build a gaming behemoth on the scale of Valve." Read below for the rest of Nick's review.
Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus ‘Notch’ Persson and the Game that Changed Everything
author Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson (translated by Jennifer Hawkins)
pages 256
publisher Seven Stories Press
rating 7/10
reviewer Nick Kolakowski
ISBN 1609805372 (ISBN-10); 978-1609805371 (ISBN-13)
summary Markus 'Notch' Persson's development from isolated coder to famous game developer.

He certainly has the money to make many of his empire dreams come true, as Minecraft remains a strong seller more than four years after its Alpha debut. The game features a "survival" mode, in which the blocky hero attempts to survive against hordes of enemies, as well as a "creative" mode where players can mine blocks and use them to build pretty much any structure. The latter mode has unleashed some spectacular displays of creativity, including enormous replicas of the Egyptian Pyramids and the Empire State Building.

While the authors clearly had some access to Persson, they didn’t use that face-to-face time to plunge deeply into his character: there’s precious little insight into how his occasionally messy childhood informed his worldview, for example, or the duality that clearly exists between his more insular self and his ambition to build a massive company that, at its heart, rests on interactions between millions of people. On the other hand, by avoiding the plunge into that psychological thicket, they also prevent their work from falling into the tedious armchair-psychiatry that’s doomed many a biography.

The book is at its best when describing the Swedish gaming industry (from its giants down to the indie studios), and how Minecraft went from bedroom-developer project to worldwide phenomenon. That’s almost enough to overlook how much of a cipher Persson remains, even in the final pages.

You can purchase Minecraft from amazon.com. Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews (sci-fi included) — to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.

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Book Review: Minecraft

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  • very interesting.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2013 @09:31PM (#45196337)

      Much like the actual game!

    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2013 @10:01PM (#45196521)

      Nor merited. The guy made a single video game, that's his life's accomplishment. What else really needs to be said?

      Now a book on John Carmack, Warren Spector, Will Wright, Sid Meyer, Peter Molyneux, Cliff Bleszinski or even John Romero might actually be interesting and warranted.

      • by dyingtolive (1393037) <brad,arnett&notforhire,org> on Monday October 21, 2013 @10:08PM (#45196573)
        I'd want to read an autobiography by Richard Garriott. I imagine it would read something like Fear and Loathing.
        • by malakai (136531)

          I'd take a short story on a few of his Halloween parties. I imagine it reads like 120 days of sodom....

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I think people have a need to read about lives that resemble their own, as well. Persson is living the "shut-in gamer boy" version of a princess fantasy come to true. Girls grow up with tiaras and promises of prince-suitors. Today's disenfranchised 20-something guys have nothing like that. People like Persson are naturally bound to become the rockstar idols of self-insert dreams for these people.

        Who among you can honestly say he would not love to swap lives with Persson? Multimillionaire after writing a rel

        • Multimillionaire after writing a relatively simple computer game? Sign me up for that dreamboat.

          It's not that simple to write something like Minecraft. Think about: maintaining the data for a huge dynamic world, the lighting system, monster AI, some simple physics, particle effects, animating the player and NPC heads and limbs turning, interactions of the various materials, calculating how lava and water fill empty spaces, procedural generation of realistic landscapes, multiplayer...

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Minecraft procgen is literally smoothed noise that has been built up over the years.
            A lot of people still prefer "173craft", aka Minecraft 1.7.3 because of the world gen in that was very specifically a mess and created absolutely wonderful worlds.
            I'm on the edge between them both to be honest, both generators were great. But getting them to play together is hard since they are so wildly opposing systems.

            The chunk system in Minecraft that contains blocks is still terrible. Ever since that McRegion crap was

          • by Anonymous Coward

            Minecraft was helped by a few converging factors that the previous ones (openly admitted by Persson) lacked.

            One: Youtube. Especially the affiliate links algorithm. This meant that people who had a lot of follow-on watches and had people watch a long stream got more money. And minecraft was something that they could record playing and get people watching.

            Two: Minecraft is shit. Really. Without going to a wiki, try to play the game. How are you suposed to even know you're meant to PUCH A TREE to break a block

            • by Cederic (9623)

              Without going to a wiki, try to play the game. How are you suposed to even know you're meant to PUCH A TREE to break a block? How do you know you're meant to press "E" to open your inventory and then put that block of wood into the four-square bit to turn it into wood and THEN put those four bits of wood on those four spots to make a crafting bench with then you can build an axe. After putting it down. And how do you know how to make an axe? What sensible person would think that a wooden axe would chop wood? Then we get into all the other recipies. So minecraft is shit. So you need to watch someone else play to find out how the hell you're supposed to play (or read a wiki. But that's reading, so natch)

              And yet Dwarf Fortress makes nothing like the cash that Minecraft does, and is far more fucking impenetrable.

              Nothing you've highlighted explains the success of Minecraft as opposed to a dozen other games. If anything its accessibility (aided by Youtube tutorials or not) combined with the raw creative capability it offers is what's led to its success. People can play, create, share.

              They like that.

      • by game kid (805301)

        "While the book lacks much about his thoughts on the whole Spore thing (presumably due to various contractual agreements with EA), the book is still somewhat illuminating about Wright. 6/10"

      • There already exists at least one book about Carmack and Romero: Masters of Doom.

      • Nor merited. The guy made a single video game, that's his life's accomplishment. What else really needs to be said?

        What the game was. How he made it. How he sold it. How he continued developing it. How this method brought about a worldwide phenomenon.

        Now a book on John Carmack, Warren Spector, Will Wright, Sid Meyer, Peter Molyneux, Cliff Bleszinski or even John Romero might actually be interesting and warranted.

        To the niche audience of geeks and gamers who likes that type of game. Persson on the other hand made a game which is played by millions of eight to eighty year olds, and is still a big seller almost four years after its initial release. With Minecraft, we are clearly dealing with a significantly different gaming beast.

        • And in another year Chris Roberts with Star Citizen, although given his Wing Commander Series throughout the 1990's maybe enough to warrant a book...

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        Now a book on John Carmack,...or even John Romero might actually be interesting and warranted.

        Your wish is my command.

        http://www.amazon.com/Masters-Doom-Created-Transformed-Culture/dp/0812972155 [amazon.com]

  • by RedHackTea (2779623) on Monday October 21, 2013 @09:41PM (#45196401)
    ...of the entire book. Would that still be pirating? This can be made easier with qCraft.
  • That's awesome! It's a phenomenon, but I don't see how it's different from the experience of so many failed entrepreneurs. Especially when it doesn't shed light on the PERSON, and only talks about the experience.

    Oh, and except, you know, that he didn't fail.
  • 10. Diamonds are a girl's best friend
    9. Don't Lava me Alone.
    8. Baby, it's Dark Outside.
    7. Here I am, with Open Doors.
    6. He's a Creep, oh yea. Sssssssss!
    5. Hmmrrmm. Hurt you.
    4. White Feather Spies
    3. Do the Chunk.
    2. Build me a pillar to the Sky.
    And the current number one hit.
    1. Hmarrrr. Hmarrr. Brains.

  • Minecraft: The Unlikely Tale of Markus &amp;amp;lsquo;Notch&amp;amp;rsquo; Persson and the Game that Changed Everything. That's a lot of scrubbing. "Soap stains, Mark. How do you remove soap stains?! They're the end game [comedycentral.com]!"
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 21, 2013 @11:30PM (#45197083)

    Give me a break.. Notch is never going to build a gaming behemoth.

    In the years since minecraft has been released - a modding community has transformed the game a thousand times over, whilst his own "gaming behemoth in waiting" Mojang, trundle along with fairly small and unimpressive additions to the game.

    To illustrate this - next up, they are introducing a "stained glass update".

    Now, that's fine - I didn't necessarily pay for updates - but what was promised to me was a way to modify the game without having it broken every new build. This, they have massively failed on.

    We're still waiting for the mod API, notch.

    Notch made a good game, seems like a good guy and all, but he's fucking lazy (I don't blame him, effectively the greatest challenge of his life - to put food on the table is over) and/or unsure of his direction.

    From the outside, it seems to have low standards for his employees and what they do for the game (I've no idea if that is true - it's just what it seems).

    (Still, nothing can hold a candle to the develop of Cubeworld - who essentially released an alpha for money and thinks going completely silent and ignoring your community for months and months at a time constitutes a constructive way to engage the community).

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      They announced a long time ago - maybe years ago at this point - that they were abandoning a mod API in favour of providing source code access. Any mod API would be inherently restricted in ways that successful Minecraft mods aren't.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      From their blog, posted today, for the 1.7 patch:

      It feels like we’ve been working on this for a year now, with more than half a million lines of code changed over 1,104 commits we’ve been working extremely hard on this update. We’re calling this one “The update that changed the world”, because it really has in two different ways; there’s over twice the amount of ingame biomes, and we’ve overhauled lots of the code preparing for the plugin API.

  • Wait, what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stickerboy (61554) on Tuesday October 22, 2013 @12:08AM (#45197281) Homepage

    "...To a frustrated game developer who feels the software conglomerates are stifling his creativity..."

    Are we talking about the same person here? Notch takes Infiniminer, adds some new features and extensibility to the basic gameplay, which becomes his one and only claim to creative success. And it's the software conglomerates' fault that he doesn't have an original idea out yet?

    Lucking into the Angry Birds /FarmVille style sweepstakes does not a gamer genius / tycoon make. He wants to build a Valve? Good luck.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      I believe that's in reference to his time working as a software developer for an online games company and developing his own projects - Minecraft, various game jams - in his spare time.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Well, thank god he did it. Because Infiniminer doesn't run on Linux.

      Now if only minetest would really take off. From what I can tell it's a better engine

    • by b1t r0t (216468)

      Notch takes Infiniminer

      Sorry, bullshit. First Minecraft video posted by Notch on 2009-05-13. Infiniminer source release on 2009-05-16. This means that Notch had been working on Minecraft for some time before Infiniminer's source code was released. Also, Infiniminer: .NET, Minecraft: Java.

      So he didn't plagiarize anything more than the basic idea of a big world full of blocks. But Notch actually followed through to completion (more or less), while Infiniminer didn't. [rockpapershotgun.com]

      As Steve Jobs was fond of saying, "Real artists ship."

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Seriously though, Tarn and Zach seem much more interesting than Notch, especially if you look into the journey that led to Tarn working on it full-time.

    And unlike Notch he/they're doing it out of passion for the specific game, not just 't3h m0n13z'.

    Still prefer if it was open source though :D

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Where do you get that Notch is just doing it for "teh moniez"?

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Tuesday October 22, 2013 @12:38AM (#45197427)

    ... Notch was in the right place at the right time. The success of fortress craft (clone) shows that there was an audience untapped for basically what amounts to a basic 3d modelling tool with some minor game elements.

    • by issicus (2031176)
      yes. I thought Terraria was a lot more fun, better art. You can't make a 3d model of boobs though...
      • I agree, I've always thought that minecraft was a great sandbox but they forgot to put an actual game in there anyplace. A handful of mobs, awkward combat, anemic equipment progression... it can be great fun to build grand structures but it just seems like every big idea they had to add to the game ended up being half assed leading to a constant nagging feeling that the game just isn't living up to its potential. I've always kind of wished they'd just open source the thing and let the community create somet

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          I've always kind of wished they'd just open source the thing and let the community create something awesome.

          There's lots of open source minecraft knockoffs, some of which are technically superior (e.g. minetest) but the community has not done anything all that awesome with them yet. You're welcome to put a hand in.

  • You're all weirdos (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    A guy does something he thinks is fun. He manages to convince other people to pay for using the thing. He works on it until he doesn't think it's fun anymore. Then he goes to try his hand at more fun things. Isn't this normal? What's all these calls about him having a "bad work ethic"?

    Also, people will only write books about successful people, because they're fun and it's fun writing it. Again, not strange.

    • by Sockatume (732728)

      Celebrity. People feel that because he's successful and they know who he is, he should stop being a human being.

  • The game features a "survival" mode, in which the blocky hero attempts to survive against hordes of enemies, as well as a "creative" mode where players can mine blocks and use them to build pretty much any structure.

    Did the reviewer play the game at all? "Surviving against a horde of enemies" is a pretty poor description of Minecraft survival mode, and in creative mode, you don't mine blocks to use them since you can get any block for free.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Remember when Minecraft was relatively unheard of? People were thrilled with it. I only heard or read good things about it during the Alpha and early Beta stages. And let's be honest, in those earlier stages, it was way buggier and way more crappy than it at release or even late Beta. Then everybody and their dog started playing it, and it suddenly became cool to rip on Minecraft. People started (and still are) bashing Notch for using Java, not having enough threads, eating food to stay alive when he could

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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