Why is Minecraft so Popular? – In Celebration of the Release of Minecraft 1.3.1.

Over the summer, digital video game distributor Steam started the Summer Sale, in which many video games were discounted by significant amounts. As the Steam Summer Sale drew to a close, many PC gamers rushed to the markets to claim their drastically underpriced games they downloaded for ninety-nine cents from some obscure indie developer. Though many look forward to the influx of new titles to enjoy over the summer, most find that they only purchased the games for the prices, as many start playing the first level but then lose interest immediately and go back to playing games like Team Fortress 2, or in this case, Minecraft.

Living on its 8-bit style graphics, Minecraft is a game that can only be approached by retro gamers and people looking more for gameplay rather than graphics. It’s a game that would make any casual gamer play for days on end yet leave some hardcore gamers scratching their heads and wondering what all the fuss was about (at first).

Minecraft is known for its seemingly infinite replay value. “The more you play it, the more you feel like you should keep playing it,” says one of my classmates, who had downloaded the Xbox 360 edition of the game last year. It truly is quite stunning how a game that looks like it was drawn by a three-year-old could end up with a near-perfect score on MetaCritic and a large fanbase that challenges that of many famous people today.

Minecraft is also similar to games like Diablo III where its popularity would be nearly nonexistent without its Internet fanbase. Jeb, the creator, even treats it as such. He allows gameplay footage to be posted on YouTube where gamers can talk about it, whereas other companies would take down those types of videos for copyright infringement. Advertising isn’t necessary; the fanbase’s discussion itself is enough to convey the message for anyone who’s ever logged on to a website. Fans have been shown to create their own clubs, music videos, playthroughs, and commercials for it. Even the gameplay implies dependency on Internet access. There is no shame in looking up a walkthrough to play this game, since nearly every aspect of it makes average gamers wonder, “Well, how was I supposed to figure that out on my own?” In short, Minecraft doesn’t give you a single hint as to what you’re supposed to do. With its vast array of crafting recipes, one should absolutely start by looking up online guides before playing for the first time.

Jeb released the game in an anomalous fashion. Unlike most console-based games, which are released once in a finished copy, players of Minecraft got to see the development of the game evolve overtime. Ever since the first Alpha version was released to the public years back, Jeb has released update after update, adding on more features until it became the version it is today, version 1.3.1. New features included enchantments, magic potions, new ores, amongst other things.

But one question to pose is whether or not to classify Minecraft as a game. Sure, it has swords, bows, arrows, skeletons, zombies, explosives, portals, a dragon, and a separate dimension that literally looks like hell. Such parameters would naturally imply the term “game”. But most players agree that Minecraft, being an open-based sandbox game, feels more like playing with the Lego bricks you played with as a child. Its main focus is using cubes to build structures from one’s own imagination, an imagination that just so happens to have monsters that one needs to fight every now and again.

At this point, many people still have one question in their heads: “So where’s the fun in all that?” Well, the fun to be found in Minecraft is certainly difficult to define. It’s the aesthetic pleasure of building structures, such as hot air balloons, ships, cities, giant teapots made of dirt, etc. In fact, most of the fun comes from the building and not from the finished product, which is why some miners abandon their structures soon after they finish building them.

So that’s pretty much the story. Building houses, fighting off monsters, going to different dimensions and the sort. Then, right when the player thinks he’s done playing the game, he finds himself amidst his creations feeling quite proud of himself, he goes online and sees what other people have been building as well. As it turns out, some of the structures other people have built, including space shuttles, full-sized cathedrals, and models of the Enterprise, put the player’s to shame. At first the player feels surprise, then determination. “I can do better than that,” he would think. He then proceeds to play for another three days straight. Minecraft runs on dedication, the source of its popularity.

And don’t think it’s just the same mundane gameplay over and over again. The world of Minecraftia is covered with several different biomes, cycles of day and night, and surprises behind every rock slide. Given the correct proportions, the world of Minecraftia for a single player is eight times larger than the surface of the earth itself. In my case, playing for approximately thirty-six hours, I managed to cover about 0.1% of Minecraft, and that’s just mining the surface.

It’s astonishing how many families and friends were brought closer together by a simple 8-bit computer game. Some college students have organized LAN parties; and miners from all over the country gathered together at MineCon, an annual, official Minecraft convention with literally thousands of attendees ranging from newborns to centenarians. There has even been a special case where a couple decided to have a Minecraft-themed wedding. Look it up. It was on the news a few months ago. But as for me, I’m still having fun blowing holes in the ground with TNT.

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Fending Off Tourist Traps

I’m not exactly the vacationing type, nor am I a hungry tourist looking for souvenirs to buy, but when it comes to street vendors, a lot of fun can be made. Everyone knows street vendors: those annoying guys on the street shining laser pointers at your eyes and blowing bubbles with those bubble machines in hopes of making a sale. I like to call them “trolls”.

Guy: Hmmm… that looks interesting. I might as well buy it.
Troll: *gets out cell phone* Call for backup! We’ve got some suckers over here!

And before you even know it, you’ll be overwhelmed by a great wave of salespeople. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop my friends from falling for it. After all, those laser pointers look neat. They’re strong enough so that you can see the beam, and they come with little attachments to scatter the light in several different patterns. Not to mention that, in the United States, those things cost about $50 a piece, whereas those guys in Italy are offering it at 30 euros.

Wait… did I hear 30 euros? False, my friend. Someone scored a laser pointer for ten euros, and someone else got it for five.

Guy: How much?
Troll: How much do you have?
Guy: How much are you going to sell it?
Troll: Thirty euros.
Guy: But that guy over there is selling them at fifteen euros. I’ll just go over to hi….
Troll: All right, fine. Fifteen Euros.
Guy: I only have a ten euro bill.
Troll: Fine, ten euros.

It’s all about persuasion. Lure the man in with your bargain-hunting skills, and soon enough, you’ll have what you want for minimum price. If there’s one thing I learned about business transactions in Italy, it’s that the more persistent you are with the sellers, the more likely he’ll shorten the price for you.

And that’s what’s so fun about street vendors. They’re not like retail stores with their fixed prices. Most are manipulative. Eventually, we had a contest to see who could get the lowest price. Bring friends, too. The cascade effect works occasionally:

Troll: Laser pointers, twenty euros.
Guy 1: I only have ten euros. How about that much?.
Troll: Sure thing.
Guy 2: Did that guy just get it for ten euros?
Guy 3: Yeah, I want one for ten too.
Troll: Same price? Go ahead.

Additionally, I’ve heard of some very interesting strategies my friends executed pretty well. At a gift shop, my eyes fell upon on a key-bowl. The stamp said 15 euros. The cashier offered it for ten. A member of my group got it for five. Not sure what he did, but it was potent.

Finally, I’d like to commemorate one of my group members for his good-faith effort in truly getting a minimal price.

Troll: Hello, may I interest you in….
Guy: Twenty cents, Twenty cents!
Troll: Excuse m….
Guy: I’ll give you twenty cents for it!
Troll: How about te….
Guy: Twenty cents! Twenty cents!
Troll: You’re a basta….

Needless to say, that was our final attempt. It’s safe to say that after several tourist traps and negotiation, we got some pretty good deals on those laser pointers. I still feel like a jerk, though, for buying one for ten euros. The trolls may be irritating occasionally, but they work hard.

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My Personal Impressions on Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

Courtesy of Google Images

Wow, I really ran out of ideas for post titles. This is just a little something I wrote as a school assignment. Some parts of it are a little rushed (I only had a few days to write it), but it conveys everything I had to say about the film.

The 2011 action film, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, is now the fourth installment of its series, and uses a much more lighthearted tone than its predecessors. Reception was mostly positive with Rotten Tomatoes giving the film a 93 out of 100. The film makes efficient use of comic relief, especially when the characters don’t mind cracking a joke now and again while a nuclear warhead heads toward the United States.

Unlike most action movies of the decade, Ghost Protocol relies on suspenseful scenes rather than a volley of explosions to convey the action, and does so better than the 2010 movie A-Team, which relied too heavily on excessive explosions, blood, cursing, and violence. In fact, Mission Impossible didn’t have very many explosions in it at all, yet it still managed to keep the audience on their toes. When Ethan Hunt, the leader of the agents, was forced to climb the Burj Khalifa, a large skyscraper, to access the building’s elevator codes only to find that one of his climbing gadgets malfunctioned while a large sandstorm approached the city, one could just feel one’s hands start to sweat and heart begin to pound with adrenaline.

The average moviegoer could also fall for the wide array of amazing gadgetry used, including a portable mirage projector to hide in hallways, which might as well arguable be the best iPad app on the market. The only noticeable issues in this fast-paced action film are the stereotypical plot (yet another movie about stolen nuclear launch codes) and its overuse of “spy cliches” (“You’re mission, if you choose to accept it…” was used at least twice).

But if you don’t mind a perfunctory plot, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, which combines a plot a 5-year-old could understand with technology that would baffle a computer scientist, makes a great weekend action movie whose astonishing stunts and suspenseful action scenes make it a perfect example of popcorn entertainment.

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6 Songs That Will Play into Your Life

Can you imagine that slice of time? / Rock and roll was young, people stood in line / To hear music that played into their lives / That you could carry till the day you die.

– excerpt from Slice by Five for Fighting

As a teenager, I was never a music enthusiast. Even today, I’m no die-hard music fan that demands the next Justin Timberlake (is he a singer?) album immediately after it’s released: I don’t exactly care what kind of music I listen to because, in my opinion, any music is good for any occasion. Whether it’s WRVR 104.5 The River or 91.1 WKNO Memphis, the radio is a vast library of songs waiting to be heard, regardless of genre or artist.

However, I do have a personal “favorites” list. These aren’t the loud, heavy bass sounds modern American teenagers listen to these days or those cheap show-tunes that are only catchy the first play-through. These are the songs that you tend to hum during your coffee break or in the car, the lyrics that make you want to get out a sheet of paper and write down the first time you hear them.

This list is in no particular order: I just jotted down ideas when they occurred to me. Click on the bold links to hear that song on YouTube.

The Riddle – Five for Fighting
All hail the king of heartland rock! It’s a shame that songs like Running Dirty and Soulja Boy top the charts while songs like this remain unheard by most. Not to say that songs like Running Dirty are absolutely terrible, but the inaccuracy of popular opinion is clear: John Ondrasik, the most underrated artist I’ve ever known, is one of the rare songwriters whose music actually contains substance and expression.

Hold On – Michael Buble
Very rarely do I listen to sappy love songs without feeling like a teenager. However, I find Michael Buble to be a great exception. While most love song writers of the age capture audiences with catchy beats and “sick” rhythms, Buble captures the audience with tunes that spark emotions. Good movies tend to spark emotion–such as happiness, sadness, anger, joy, serenity, fear, and hope–into their viewers. If a movie doesn’t arouse any of these, it probably won’t be very satisfying. The same rule applies to music.

Man in the Mirror – Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson is arguably the most famous singer in the world. As one Youtube comment puts it: “I think it was unfair that he died at so young. He changed music’s life and most importantly our lives.” On of his songs, Man in the Mirror, shows how wonderful it is to change the world, especially when there are child hunger, racism, disease, kidnappings, and other dangers in it. Put simply, the song encourages people to make a meaningful difference. Watch the video; you’ll know what I mean. “He truly cares about the world no matter if your Black, White, Asian, or any other race. All he wanted to do was help others and live the dream he was meant to be in. R.I.P. Michael Jackson.”

Run Around – Blues Traveler

I don’t completely share his opinion, but one of my Internet friends complained to me how music has had a major decline in quality since the 1990s. Sure, there’s been a trend in music businesses who start to believe that songs are meant to generate large revenues rather than be an art form for people to express themselves. Run Around literally came from the last millennium, and I do find it better than some songs from this decade. It’s fast rhythm makes it an excellent choice for parties and for singing in the car.

Biggest Part of Me – Ambrosia
Ambrosia is all about first impressions. When one first listens to this song, one may notice how it starts with a killer bass introduction followed by the band’s remarkable vocals. Very few bands have that kind of focus now. I heard this song almost all the time on the car ride to school back in seventh grade. Most of my days started with it.

Oh What a Night (December ’63) – Jersey Boys
The musical Jersey Boys, the story of the Four Seasons, is well-known for its remarkable tunes. I haven’t seen it yet, but the next time it comes to Tennessee or Mississippi, I’ll be sure to get front row tickets.

I’m sick of American Idol for one reason: they promote the idea that music should be assembled for the sole purpose of having millions of people like it instead of an art form where people actually can express their thoughts and emotions.

– transcribed from Levni Yilmaz, independent film producer

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Halloween Already?

Spongebob and Patrick in their Halloween Costumes

Ah, October. It’s a time too early to be excited about the New Year yet too late to celebrate Thanksgiving. When most people think about October, however, they think about the last day in October: Halloween. The classic childhood practice of collecting candies from strangers while wearing costumes originates from the Celtic festival of Samhain, where Indians danced around the bonfire scaring away the spirits of the night (source: http://www.history.com/topics/halloween). But not to bore you with lengthy, comprehensive summaries of its history. The experience of Halloween changes drastically as the years go on.

I believe I was six years old the first, and probably the last, time I went trick-or-treating. I never went too far with the costume: just a simple hat and toy revolver was enough to emulate a cowboy. Neither was I too interested in the candy either. It was just the simple enjoyment of walking around the neighborhood with my friends at night that made the experience worthwhile.

I wouldn’t, however, say that there is an age when kids should stop going trick-or-treating. In fact, just recently, I saw one of my classmates one grade ahead of me walking around in a Darth Vader costume (I’m nearly halfway done with high-school). My next door neighbor, a live-alone, at-least-thirty-year-old doctor, has already put up cobwebs and orange lights in preparation for the candy rush.

What I don’t understand, though, is the fact that people tend not to put as much effort into Halloween as Christmas. Sure, there’s Christmas break and getting presents on Christmas morning, but aren’t both holidays? Doesn’t Google change its homepage logo for both days? The radio stations are playing Christmas music, but no one has written an official Halloween song?

The best Halloween spirit I’ve seen by far in my town is the Haunted Cornmaze (apparently popular with my Facebook friends) and Paranormal Activity 3 (also flooding the news feed). You probably won’t see very many people in my neighborhood trick-or-treating anymore, but decorations are still up and the horror movies are still being watched, not to mention my high-school friend’s My Little Pony outfit he’ll be wearing this year. Yeah, I was just kidding, but wouldn’t that be something?

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Google+: Welcome to the New Facebook

The Google Plus Logo

Things change. Leaves on the trees change to brown and orange in the fall. Flowers sprout leaves and flowers in the spring. The United States has changed in many ways from the Clovis people’s first inhabitation. Transportation methods changed from animals to automobiles. It just seems that every day, the world changes in its atmosphere, environment, customs, traditions, and Internet web browsing.

Remember a few years back when MySpace was the champion of social networking sites? MySpace kept its title before the introduction of Facebook, an event which swept away Internet users like a wave on a sandy beach. Despite MySpace’s many features, Facebook had a cleaner layout, better privacy settings, larger popularity, fewer advertisements, and online games.

But as the sand goes down the hourglass, Facebook could be nearing the end of its line. Instead of just mundanely adding people as friends, Google allows users to organize them into circles, so you can distinguish your ski-trip buddies from your coworkers or your classmates from your friends from summer camp.

Say you’re bored on a Saturday morning and want to read something about your favorite football team. Google Plus has something called “Sparks”. Just type in “football” into the search box, press enter, and viola! As Google says in its pre-release demo, “…it will send you stuff it thinks you’ll like, so when you’re free, there’s always something cool to watch, read, or share.”

Online sharing has never been easier thanks to Google Plus. As if photo and video upload directly from a mobile device wasn’t impressive enough, two features from Plus are the best ways to communicate in groups across the web. Huddles resemble text messaging with multiple people, and Hangouts are group video chats with all the members of a circle conversing together. Until hologram-based communication arrives, this is the next best thing.

And as one of my friends puts it in his Google Plus account, “…I think that G+ [Google Plus] has a much better architecture [than Facebook] and would dominate if there were more people on it.” After all, Facebook already has seven years under its belt, while Google Plus was introduced just a couple weeks ago, and Google already looks better.

Maybe Google Plus will just be a rip-off of Facebook, or maybe Google was telling the truth when they said “this is just the beginning.” Will they make it better? Who knows? Someday, instead of “can I add you on Facebook,” we’ll probably be saying “can I circle you on Google Plus?”

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Business Strategies: What We Can Learn From Nintendo

The big problem with business success is that it doesn’t last long, and no better example can be given besides Nintendo, the gaming company that brought us Mario, Zelda, the Wii, and the Nintendo DS amongst others. 2011 has been a bleak year for Nintendo, where profits plummeted up to 66%. High production costs for the Wii U, the Wii’s successor, and the low number of sales for the Nintendo 3DS, a 3-D-based portable console, are blamed for the drop in profits.

But if we go back a few decades, Nintendo was originally the best gaming company around. Its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and Nintendo 64 were major icons of the 1980’s and 90’s, years before Sony’s original Playstation and Microsoft’s Xbox. Despite the lackluster graphics of the NES, at least in today’s standards, the NES sold about 61.91 million units. The console started Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, all of which inspired many sequels, some of which are still in production today.

But history is all about learning from mistakes, right? So here’s some lessons future business leaders can learn from Nintendo.

1. Keep your company up to date.

Nintendo never completely understood consumer feedback: it mainly manufactured only kids’ games during the 80’s, a flaw which didn’t harm because almost anything was impressive during that decade. The fact that interactive content could be placed on screen at all was amazing enough to sell, but today, many gamers demand more than just family-friendly fun. Action, adventure, and thrills are the popular genres of our decade. Nintendo’s mistake was their inability to adapt to the change in demand. That’s why the Playstation and Xbox are selling out the Wii: the Wii relies too much on childish video games, while other consoles are focused on more popular genres.

2. Get something to fall back on.

Microsoft started its success with computer software. Windows was the first operating system to be manufactured as “user-friendly” with a graphical user interface. It replaced the complicated computers that relied on text-only commands. But even with the huge success of computer software, Bill Gates didn’t stop there. Microsoft eventually went on to produce consumer gadgets, such as Windows Phone; automotive software; computer hardware; retail stores; and video games. That way, if one of those departments failed, such as if a software crash occurred, the other departments would make up for it. Building several departments is important in not only business, but in a typical American life. Building up several skills in school is a safer path than just practicing one alone. What if your dream of being a professional football player suddenly goes awry? You need something to fall back on. Nintendo unfortunately did not take that fact into consideration when they decided to be a specialized company.

3. Keep working and never give up.

Despite these frustrations, Nintendo is still going for it. In the 2012 release of the Wii U, Nintendo aims at better processing power and a more “hardcore” library of games. Hopefully, it will be a worthy competitor to the 360 and PS3. No matter how bad a situation may be, the best decision is to keep working for it.

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