Condensed in the first few minutes of one of the greatest games of all time is the whole essence of a genre. Minecraft first presents you with a lush, almost infinitely large world, and then you can immediately start transforming it.
You cut down trees and dig through dirt and stone, with every extracted block and mined raw material disappearing forever. But you also contribute to the world by reconfiguring it to your needs and desires: a small hiding place to help you through the first night; later, a fort on the mountain top to make a statement. At the same time you are advancing technologically, as the evolution of man is being played forward fast. From stone to iron to something totally new and fantastic.
Since the release of Minecraft, which has an estimated 112 million monthly players, Construction games have risen to unprecedented heights of popularity. Players build tight hiding places of little more than mud and sticks in grim survival games such as The forest and Green Hell. In the online multiplayer Rust and ARK, ragtag clans build huge common forts and bases. Being able to build permanent habitats even helped No Man & # 39; s Sky go past a rocky launch period.
JC Hysteria is a No Man & # 39; s Sky builder who has made optimal use of the complex building tools of the game. Many of his creations are cooperatively built, and just like his Marine Observatory or Space station, they often stretch to what the game is capable of to the extreme. For JC, building is less about setting up a practical basis for operations and more about an artistic starting point. "It's a creative outlet," he says. "I have a wild fantasy … and building let me express that."
But Minecraft and No Man & # 39; s Sky are not just about the freedom and creativity that the construction tools entail. Unlike Lego, there is a whole world and an ecosystem (instead of just a carpet) to ground our actions. Building can be a way to reconnect and develop a closer relationship with the surrounding land and materials. Many of us are already alienated from these things in our daily lives – we may even feel that there is something something is missing – and so the return to the virtual earth can be enormously worthwhile.
These are places where we feel part of the world, where we can work with our hands and see the tangible effects and even the progress of our work. This new wave of construction games brings players closer to this feeling, thanks to a shift in perspective.
For most of the game history, talking about building was the same as strategy titles Sim city, Age of the richor one of the magnate spell. But where we were once strictly built from a zoomed out perspective from the sky, planning and looking down on our creations from the clouds, there is now the option for more embodied first-person experiences. Cities and shelters are still being built, but there is now a strong need for building to feel a bit more hands-on.
Coffee Stain Studio & # 39; s Satisfying is an example that involves the shift we are seeing from top-down strategy games. In the Coffee Stain factory builder, construction is planetary in scale. Buildings are skyscraper-sized, complexes look like metropolises and the winding production lines often make you feel like you are stuck in a labyrinth. It is easy to imagine Satisfying is played from a more strategic perspective. (The construction would be nicer and more manageable to begin with.) “The first person's perspective was chosen because we wanted a more personal experience. From this perspective, it is really emphasized that it is you who do things, and not just an avatar, "explains game director Oscar Jilsén.
Jilsén also believes that playing in the first person “helps to convey and reinforce the idea of verticality … You can play with more than just two dimensions. If you are in the middle of it, you can experience scale in a completely different way. One of the best feelings in the game is to walk down the walkways to go to different production floors and then look up and see the belts and other flyovers criss-cross through the holes. "
With the transition from top-down city planning to boots-on-the-ground construction, there will be a certain loss of control. Jilsén and his team seem to want you to feel lost sometimes, even insignificant when you are overshadowed by all the surrounding machines. But the proximity that first-person brings with it can give strength in its own way. It's about getting your digital hands dirty – buying materials and erecting monuments in a more intimate and grainy way.
In No Man & # 39; s Sky, one of the recent projects of JC Hysteria, Replicant Alley, that he built ER Burroughs and Action Pants Gaming alongside players, shows a similar kind of scale and verticality. JC believes there is a "greater personal bond" with first-person games. "You can be more related to your in-game character and even start asking if you actually live in the place that you built."
André Bengtsson, artist and CEO of Redbeet Interactive, was also willing to give up for a better perspective. For his survival adventure game Smooth, Bengtsson says that "a top-down image is very preferable for a building game that is strongly focused on management," for him and his team, a more attached first or third perspective was "essential" to help the player become immersed in the world.
It's not just about building. There is a real desire to live and live in virtual worlds. In Subnautics, a survival game in which you create an existence in the depths of an alien ocean, feeling at home – even if only temporarily – is important. Game director Charlie Cleveland tells me it's all about the feeling of building a habitat. First person is important to convey the emotion of how it is for you to build that new house. This personal element is important. These are not only buildings that you click on and that are immediately materialized. There is hard work and there is a process behind it. There is also a much stronger connection to building if you can occupy it, or even make it a home.
“Enter the main loop Satisfying is expanding, "says Jilsén. "There is this interaction with the world in which you replace nature with your own constructions – you transform the natural world into something that is suitable for your goals." Jilsén describes this transformative process as "turning the unknown into the (useful) known." You drop many of these survival / building games into dangerous and mysterious worlds, and it's up to you to set up safe zones and habitats, places you can then go to launch larger expeditions. “As you do this, you bring in the useful things you find to expand your home and its possibilities. People are very creative and nurturing beings, and we are driven to try to improve the conditions for ourselves and each other. "
Putting our stamp on the world is this very anthropocentric urge, but the power to change what is around us can also become destructive. SubnauticsCleveland tells me it was important for them not to allow players to "exercise their power over the environment." You can survive longer, slowly relieve your fear, but you can never dominate your environment. This was a very conscious desire for us. We did not want to make a typical game where power is acquired and things are taken over. It is one of the reasons that we have removed terraforming of the game. & # 39;
Compare this with Minecraft, where entire ecosystems can be divided and exploited. Dan Olson, in his recent video & # 39;Minecraft, Sandboxes and colonialism, & # 39; Explains the idea that these virtual spaces & # 39; can listen back to the colonial border & # 39 ;, with new regions & # 39; s that simply unfold to allow the player to explore and conquer. "The player arrives in the world, like Robinson Crusoe, in a terra nullius," an empty slate that they are then encouraged to improve and where the indigenous inhabitants are often obstacles in the path of development.
With Smooth, there is much more emphasis on salvation. The oceans and islands are littered with resources, but many of these are scrap or wreck wood. Your creations – whether it is useful technology to help you on your journey or the raft habitat itself – are an extensive form of cleaning up, or at least use useful human waste. With all these games, it is worth considering exactly what your relationship is with the world in which you live and the precise effects that your actions have on the country around you. For example, Eco is a game where your building can cause enormous and permanent damage to the world. Even Satisfying, with which you can ultimately provide the production of nuclear energy, ensures that waste accumulates and becomes a problem that players cannot ignore.
In all urban societies there is a growing desire to escape, return to the land, edit the earth, rebuild and go back to basics. On YouTube there is a surprise among the famous celebrities and popular makeup artists wilderness vloggers, build and survive with what's immediately at hand. The same impulse to reconnect with nature takes place in the new wave of construction games.
While Satisfying is mainly about building large-scale, high-tech structures quickly, Jilsén tells me that while playing tests, it was important for players to start with very little and work manually. "You simply appreciate the automation of article production more if you know what it takes to make everything by hand."
“The idea of returning to nature definitely has to do with what first intrigued us Smooth, ”Says Bengtsson. "There is something tempting about the idea of living in the forest or in the ocean. Sometimes we looked at wilderness vloggers for inspiration. We often try to base our game on reality." As with many of these building games, there is a tangible physicality for both SmoothIs crafting and building. Even in Subnautics, where the sci-fi setting requires much fewer hammers and nails, there is still careful clarity about the phasing of vehicles and modular habitat components. Just as you feel part of the world, the building feels material.
“It sounds as if (wilderness vloggers) tap into the same primary desires as Subnautics& # 39 ;, says Cleveland. "I think that today there are many people who are overwhelmed by (the abundance of) information and task lists … so they love the simple tactile challenge of survival at all costs. I knew a programmer who would go home every night and would do nothing but make birdhouses. For the same reasons I personally spend a lot of time cooking. It is me, the ingredients and the fire. "
Jilsén agrees that there is a genuine & # 39; desire for non-abstract work & # 39; is something that survival fantasies and the concrete construction projects that take place within their worlds try to tackle. JC Hysteria tells me that building is a form of medication for him, his & # 39; own personal liberation from the world & # 39 ;. It's about escaping. At the same time it is about connecting: connecting with the world in closer and more intimate ways, as well as with other people in the case of multiplayer games such as No Man & # 39; s Sky.
"There is a quote from another YouTuber, CobraTV, that has always stayed with me and perfectly summarizes the community aspect: & # 39; we are a constellation & # 39 ;, he explains. "The sense of connection fills a void for many of us."