One of the first voxel or block based games to hit the mainstream was Minecraft created by Markus Persson AKA Notch. It was an evolution of his original game aptly named “Cave Game”, where the player was able to run around a chunk of landscape which consisted of grass and caves to explore. But things kicked off for Notch in 2010, when Brandon Reinhart from the official Team Fortress 2 forums blogged about Minecraft. From here the Minecraft ball was rolling, fast forward one year and Minecraft was officially released on 18th November 2011, alongside holding a 2 day convention (Minecon) in Las Vegas which sold out all of its 4800 tickets. According to the official Minecraft website, on PC and MAC alone 20,997,578 people have bought the game, with 7,086 people buying the game in the last 24 hours. Add to this the console and mobile versions of the game and more than 70 million copies in total have been sold. Notch cashed in when Microsoft announced a deal to buy Mojang AB and the ownership of the Minecraft intellectual property for $2.5 billion.
But the question remains, what do people find so attractive with voxel games? I’m not even just limiting this question to Minecraft, as since its success there have been numerous similar games popping up and doing successfully. Starmade, From the Depths and Empyrion – Galactic Survival to just a few, but the list could go on and on. But these are the three games that I am going to look into in a little more depth. All of the named games are available on the Steam platform as Early Access Games, with over 1000 reviews and have at least a mostly positive rating (79% of the rating received are positive at time of writing).
Starmade is the cheapest of the 3 games at £6.99 (at time of writing); it also has included a free demo of the game, which at present is the exact same content as the paid version. The developers believe that as the game is in early access then people should not have to pay to play the game as it is not representative of the finished product. However if you do choose to support the developers now and buy the game then you do so at a reduced price, as the price of the game will increase alongside the features being added. Starmade is a 3D sandbox space shooter, where the objective is to create your own spaceship using the voxels to piece together anything that you can think possible. With different blocks having their own function and depending on placement they may also alter the effects that they generate. Once you have your spaceship finished you can fly around a never ending universe, visit planets to harvest resources, or go and hunt space pirates in this sandbox adventure.
Empyrion – Galactic Survival (£13.59 at time of writing) follows in the same shoes as Starmade in being a sandbox space game, only this time you are stranded on a planet after your ship has crash landed. With your limited supplies you are to create a base to survive the harsh environment, once you have established yourself the objective is to build a spacecraft and then take flight to explore the other planets in the universe. Empyrion, contains a lot of the similar characteristics of Starmade, however is more visually refined, with the Voxels not only consisting of cubes, this gives the ability to be yet even more creative with the design of your spaceship.
From the Depths (£14.99 at time of writing) is probably the most in depth builder of all of the games discussed today. The objective of this game is to use the 250 unique components to build and command voxel vehicles including battleships, planes, submarines and space ships and use them in the various story missions or campaign mode. Each of the components are split into their relevant section, be it cannon barrels, missile launch pads or engine parts, you have to piece them together in such a way that they modify the output item. Want a small rocket that shoots in a line, piece of cake; want a more advanced missile that tracks and predicts target location with multiple warheads, you got it. This is probably one of the most in depth voxel game that I have had the opportunity to play, and after several hours gameplay I am still learning new things about the game.
I think after looking briefly at the three games mentioned the answer behind the success of the voxel based game is creativity. They all allow the player to express their individuality, to build, create, morph and grow something from nothing. To explore a world, or to conquer a nation using something that you have put thought into, designed and built (all be it virtually). I believe that this is the reason that a game which started the trend over 5 years ago went from something that people didn’t give a chance with its outdated graphics and simple yet highly addictive gameplay. To a game that sold for $2.5billion, that people actually make a very good living playing, and possibly a game that the majority of the planet has come into contact with in some shape or form.