I've long had a deep interest in video games, however in the last few years, there have really been few games that felt compelling or interesting.
I downloaded a game called Minecraft, it isn't really free, but I haven't had to pay for it yet because it is still in development and I have been playing it offline. I'm fairly sure it is being made by one guy, and it is really the talk of the internet town right now.
Most games give the player a very thin shell of a world to run around in, and fight bad guys. Walls are impenetrable. Objects are unbreakable. Things look right, but they don't react correctly.
In this game, the graphics have been simplified to the point to which they only represent the data which makes up the game. The fundamental data of this game is a three dimensional array of cubes. This array is probably about a thousand cubes, by a thousand cubes, by 200 cubes deep. And each one of those cubes is made of a different material: Rock, ore, sand, water, lava, trees or other such materials.
The game begins by randomizing this array. Hills, mountains and oceans create the surface. Trees, grass and flowers grow on the surface. But the game does not stop at the surface. It randomly generates a world all the way down deep into the earth. Deposits of ore, crystal and lava are placed underground. Rudimentary fluid simulations eat out underground caves.
The player is than dropped into this world. It is a dangerous place, with enemies who will attack, thus the players most viable options is to dig themselves a mine from which to get materials and to hide in.
Creating the mines is an amazingly creative process. It can be done in any way which you chose. You can create a well organized mine slowly slopping down into the earth. Lighting it along the way with torches and placing steps to make it easy to navigate. Or you can dig straight down, hope to hit valuable resources, and than dig yourself out.
I played the game yesterday, and without any intention of having one, I had an adventure. I dug my mine deep into the earth, and suddenly and came upon an underground cave. It was extensive. It was true exploration as I had no idea what lay around the next bend in the darkness. I would hastily place torches as my fear of the dark had been renewed. I actually felt at times like I was hundreds of feet underground.
Soon I had built an underground base, where I could manufacture goods out of the mined ore. When I returned to the surface, I discovered there was also a farming aspect of the game. To rejuvenate health, one must eat, thus I planted some wheat. But wild animals were continually stepping on and eating my wheat. I decided to build a wall to keep them out.
Within a few minutes of beginning this wall for my farm, I realized that I was no longer building a wall, I was designing a castle. It had a torch lined parapet, and stairs leading up to the wall.
It wasn't long before I was beginning to make a lava filled moat.
The graphics in this game are simple, yet the data behind it is complex.
I started the game with empty hands and now have a castle.