Sometimes, we wonder how people ten years ago used to live. Back in 2009, there were only two Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and only one of them was really worth watching. We didn’t have ride-share taxi services to make travel more convenient, and we couldn’t trace our family trees with commercially available DNA testing kits. Crowdsourcing had only just taken off thanks to Indiegogo, and the iPad was a glint in Steve Jobs’ steely eye. Perhaps most terrifyingly, Instagram didn’t launch until 2010. We don’t know how we lived without these things which we now consider to be essentials.
Also in 2009, another young upstart was getting its first shot at fame. TIGSource, a forum exclusively devoted to independent game development, was about to receive gaming history in the form of the first uploaded version of Notch’s sandbox creative game Minecraft. Fast forward ten years and, of course, Minecraft has almost completely taken over the globe with its lovable blocky graphics and incredible range of creative possibilities. To celebrate the game’s tenth anniversary, Mojang and Microsoft have made it possible to play Minecraft Classic online right from your browser.
Between 2009 and 2011, when Minecraft would see its first release, Notch (real name Markus Persson) added a number of features to the game which we now consider standard. These features included extra items, extra blocks, a survival mode, and changes to the game’s physics and general feel. Minecraft Classic doesn’t have any of these things. In many ways, it’s got a similar mission to Blizzard’s upcoming World of Warcraft Classic; it’s intended to show people just how far Minecraft has come in the intervening ten years since its original release.
It does accomplish this, but it does something else besides: it shows us that Minecraft has always been fun, and that stripping away many of the game’s constituent elements does almost nothing to diminish the sense of enjoyment we derive from it. Minecraft Classic is fun in the same way as being placed in a literal sandbox would be. This is a game that gives us the opportunity to focus on our imagination, to strip away all the ancillary things that distract us from pure creativity. Many creatives feel better working under limitations, and Minecraft Classic is the perfect evocation of that.
Since the boundaries are limitless, you can pretty much create whatever you like in Minecraft Classic. You’re given 32 blocks to play with, each of which is a different color. Of course, since they’re all voxel-style blocks, they’re all the same shape and size, so there won’t be any slopes or curves here. Still, that won’t stop you from building ancient geometric space monoliths or massive, overextended mansions on shaky cave-complex foundations. You can build whatever you want, and you can call it whatever you want too.
Of course, if you don’t have friends around to see your achievements and assist you in creating them, then you won’t be able to show off your creations. That’s why Minecraft Classic comes complete with a multiplayer function which allows friends to join your game. Simply generate a link from the game’s rather sparse main menu and send it to your friends. If they paste the link into their browser, they’ll be able to join your game. There’s a chat function and not very much else; this is probably a multiplayer game best enjoyed with people in the same room as you.
Even if you do decide to fly solo, there’s plenty of fun to be had here, but you’ll need to be willing to make up your own games to a certain extent. Exploring cave complexes and hollowing them out to make a den for your future supervillain career is still extremely enjoyable in Minecraft Classic, just as it is in the regular version. Gazing out over the azure oceans and wondering what other blocky people are creating blocky worlds of their own making has a special kind of nostalgic twang to it that’s hard to replicate in the more populated modern Minecraft.
Minecraft Classic is, to put it simply, as fun as you want it to be. If you don’t get any joy from building worlds and stepping back, looking at them from a distance and revelling in your achievement, then this isn’t the game for you. There certainly isn’t a story, although there’s ample opportunity to make one up for yourself. The multiplayer is basic at best, and it’s not possible to populate your world with thinking, feeling NPCs like it is in the Minecraft of today. What you’ve got here is a blank slate, several slightly cumbersome paintbrushes, and the instruction to do as you please.
For some, that won’t be enough. We’d recommend those people check out Minecraft Classic anyway, though, because this is the birthplace of an undeniable gem. Minecraft Classic may not enthral like the new version does, but it’s still a surprisingly absorbing and compelling time sink. There’s more to do here than you might think, and the skeleton of Minecraft is very much visible even as “crucial” features are missing. Plus, it’s free. What more could you want? Don’t raise your expectations too high and you’ll love Minecraft Classic for what it is: a fun, diverting, and addictive museum piece.