Minecraft isn’t the first mining and creation-oriented game, but Mojang founder Markus “Notch” Persson triggered a modern phenomenon by making it. Minecraft is the ultimate sandbox, letting you build anything, mod everything, and even create whole new worlds for your friends to destroy. People have even built careers around just recording themselves playing it.
But like I said — it wasn’t the first. Notch freely admits that Minecraft’s inspiration came from other games, so it is only fitting that it’s triggering a whole new batch of titles like it. For the last two months, I’ve slogged through the various inspirations, analogs, and clones of Minecraft and assembled this handy tour of the most interesting games I found.
This is in no way an exhaustive list, but if you’re interested in trying the games that both inspired and take inspiration from Minecraft, these ones are a good place to start.
Xbox Live Indie Marketplace
240 Microsoft Points ($3)
If you ever looked at Minecraft and said, “I would rather buy items, not craft them,” the Total Miner series might appeal to you. As you explore the surface world, you discover mobile stores that you can take with you all over the map until you decide to go underground. You trade the goodies you mine for currency to spend on torches and new equipment.
This is a neat concept, but digging is a horrible task thanks to the poor audio mixing when you try to mine. I also wasn’t a fan of having to abandon the store above ground. I understand the limitation for this, but the beauty of Minecraft is that I can just craft more torches if I run out mid-dig.
80 Microsoft Points ($1)
“Bit Digger” is a bit of a misnomer. If you actually dig anything in this isometric building game, you inevitably end up trapped beneath several layers of soil with seemingly no way to escape. But if you avoid mining and instead view Bit Digger as a quirky little building-block game, it provides a decent challenge.
The map is isometric, so building can get complicated. Figuring out how to design in that perspective is very rewarding, but that’s only if you can get over the overtly tankish feeling of moving around.
Bit Digger isn’t all bad, though. It was the only game I played that lets you spawn in animals. This is only notable because you can create massive towers of sheep and pigs if you want. You can also randomly place fire anywhere you’d like. Just be careful about how you construct your towering sheep inferno. If fire touches the animals, they’ll explode.
Miner Dig Deep
80 Microsoft Points ($1)
This is such a cute game! It shares the two-dimensional style found in Terraria but is much simpler. You are a tiny miner exploring the ground beneath your campsite. As you dig, you stumble across blueprints for new mining tools and lots of ore and goodies that you can cash in for new equipment.
Miner Dig Deep has a tranquil guitar soundtrack that makes it a very relaxing time-killer. Of all the indie games I tried out for this piece, this is the only one I don’t regret spending money on. The adorably styled world and soothing music makes it feel very cozy, and I love the puzzle aspect to mining. As you dig, you have to constantly be on the lookout for falling rocks and how much kerosene is left in your lantern.
Just try it. I bet the soundtrack will hook you.
240 Microsoft Points ($3)
Do you like painfully shiny things and ridiculous frame-rate drops? If you don’t, stay away from Fortress Craft. Everything in this game has that unfiltered shininess that comes through in very low quality computer graphics. My poor 360 also locked up several times during the world-generating phase, which can take more than 10 minutes to load fully.
What Fortress Craft does well is provide tons of options for players to design with. You can find power-boosting relics, control crazy mining machines, and even use lasers to blast away layers of rock and soil with ease. If these elements were in a much more stable game, perhaps I’d enjoy it, but Fortress Craft is just incredibly unpolished, and that is harmful to the experience.
Ad-supported (unlock available)
We’re miners on the moon, we carry a … space … drill. Right, so Lunacraft is Minecraft on a hellish moonscape. Apparently, the moon not only has purple water but also tons of multicolored trees.
With virtually no explanation for its controls and icons that look suspiciously like Mega Man, Lunacraft fails to impress. I don’t like the mining animations, and it is very easy to get trapped on geometry.
Eden — World Builder
This is a funky little creative game. The idea is to run around, build things, and splash the world with color. Eden is fairly intuitive and wants to help you figure out how to play it. Plus, it has a fairly nice draw distance for a mobile game.
Eden also has animals. None of them are hostile, but as you explore you’ll discover tons of weird creatures — some that fly and others that moo like cows but are purple and only have one eye. I really like how stylized the world feels, and that it encourages you to just goof off while your build. You could do a whole lot worse for a dollar, so if Minecraft: Pocket Edition’s $6.99 price point seems a little steep, this is a nice runner-up.
I hate this game. That screenshot? Yeah, that’s pretty much all you can get this thing to do.
Back in 2009, Notch played a mining game influenced by Team Fortress called Infiniminer. It was originally designed as a competitive multiplayer game where teams worked to mine precious metals as fast as possible, but players soon took more interest in creating than competing.
Infiniminer looks a more cell-shaded version of Minecraft. You can definitely see where many design aesthetics for Mojang’s game came from, although Infiniminer is nowhere near as polished.
That’s likely because the developer no longer updates it. After hackers leaked the source code for the game and started modding it, making updates for the project became exponentially harder. So now Infiniminer is open source and primed for anyone to play around with. Just don’t listen to people who tell you it’s a Minecraft clone. This is definitely the most direct influence on Mojang’s initial designs and worth remembering.
I’ve noticed that people who don’t like Minecraft’s vast open-world mining often prefer Terraria. It’s a 2D side-scrolling miner that incorporates building and much more precise physics.
Transitioning to Terraria is a bit difficult, as using torches, mining, and even building requires precision cursor placement. I can’t imagine this ever working well with a controller despite 505 Games’ plan to port this title to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network.
Just like Minecraft, Terraria has a very loyal and creative community. Despite the 2D trappings, players can build some amazing structures.
What I really liked is that as you mine and explore the map, you stumble across a lot of ready-made items like torches, picks, and healing potions. It certainly feels much more gamey, and I think that is the key for players who prefer it to Minecraft. It’s also $17 cheaper, but I bought my copy during a Steam sale for $5.
This is the most complicated video game you will ever see. Bay 12 Games started developing Dwarf Fortress in 2002, but you probably wouldn’t have guessed it’s that new judging by the screenshot.
Dwarf Fortress’ graphics are entirely ASCII-based, and that’s not even the most complex part of the game. Dedicated player Peter Tyson actually wrote a book on how to start playing Dwarf Fortress, and even then he asks readers to accept and appreciate failure.
The game is so blisteringly difficult because it is a living, breathing world. You can set out in a few different game modes — one of which is a more Minecraft-like ruin exploration game, and others focus on the day-to-day lives in your ASCII universe. Every moving character onscreen has hopes, dreams, and bad days. Some NPCs can even go mad and turn on other characters or start making crazy, enchanted items.
Dwarf Fortress’ endless complexities terrify me. I know if I allowed myself to spend more time with this game, I would never leave, and after a while, you stop caring about the graphics. They play second fiddle to the epic adventures hidden within. Even if you fail (which you will), you can revisit old maps and fortresses in a new game, and NPCs will explore all your ruined creations.
If you consider playing this game, I highly recommend Tyson’s book Getting Started with Dwarf Fortress. The Kindle version is $10, and it is a very useful tool when you’re figuring out what you can do.
Free (Minecraft mod)
If you don’t find Minecraft challenging or want to go mad trying to make various conductive wires and oil pipelines, might I suggest the Technic pack? It’s a free mod that actually has its own launcher. It is extremely complex, but if you see it through, you can make amazing things — including quarries, beer breweries, and rings that make you fly.
But don’t go into Technic thinking you’ll master it in an afternoon. I’ve fooled around with it for well over three months and still haven’t successfully converted oil into fuel without a catastrophic failure. But all those elements that I thought were neat in Fortress Craft are actually implemented well in Technic — even if they’re difficult to execute.
Future games to keep an eye on
Epic Games’ upcoming Unreal Engine 4 game Fortnite combines post-apocalyptic survival with Minecraft while sprinkling in some of that team-based mulitplayer Infiniminer pioneered. While this is an unusual project to debut a new engine with, creative games are actually very resource-taxing, which is why the terrain in Minecraft is extensive but the textures and shapes are all blocky.
From what Epic’s shown of the game, the monsters in Fortnite are much craftier and dangerous than those in Minecraft. They can break through your defenses and even pop up under foot. It’s undoubtedly more combat-heavy, but I would expect Epic’s spin on this format to have much better fighting mechanics.
Fortnite looks gorgeous. I simply cannot wait to try it for myself.
The Yogscast is a team of gamers who gained a bit of attention for their hilarious Minecraft how-to videos. What started as a simple guide for beginners soon turned into an epic quest full of ghoulish baddies and tons of adventure-map mods.
Somewhere down the line, the Yogscast crew got the urge to design their own building game, but in Yogventures, the plan is to not only design a world full of amazing structures, but also to develop your own playable adventure. Players and map designers already do this in Minecraft, but the creators hope to simplify the process. Whatever the end product, the team’s irreverent humor will undoubtedly find its way into the game.
Yogventures is still in production but worth keeping an eye on if you like Minecraft adventure maps.
A Game of Dwarves
I imagine A Game of Dwarves is what Dwarf Fortress would look like if the developers abandoned those confusing ASCII graphics. This game actually follows a very similar pattern as DF, though it is nowhere near as complex. It’s a Paradox Interactive game, but it looks nothing like Mount and Blade or Magicka.
You play as a dwarven prince who wants to reclaim old territory. To do that, you must instruct your followers to dig, research, and build all while fending off all the monsters that lurk underground.
A Game of Dwarves is in closed beta but will hopefully launch soon.
GamesBeat 2014 — VentureBeat’s sixth annual event on disruption in the video game market — is coming up on Sept 15-16 in San Francisco. Purchase one of the first 50 tickets and save $400!