Not too long ago, a relatively unknown indie programmer called Notch posted a work-in-progress version of a sandbox building game on the TIGSource forums. It was called Minecraft, and at the time, people thought it was really very cool. Fast forward to the present and Minecraft has sold over four million copies, been through extended alpha and beta phases, spawned the Mojang indie studio, and gained so much popularity, the launch of its official version took place at a Las Vegas convention dubbed MineCon. That's an impressive feat for any game, let alone one started by a single person. But now, Minecraft 1.0.0 is officially out. No more beta, no more alpha, it's here. And there are plenty of reasons to get hooked all over again!
Minecraft has technically been available for quite some time. Anyone could swing in and purchase the game during its development phases, getting a bit of a discount in favor of access to earlier builds. Minecraft has grown from a very simple "run around, destroy blocks, place blocks" game of exploration to a full-blown survival experience, allowing you to gather items, craft dozens of tools and objects, and deal with various enemies that inhabit the world. You can make working circuits, craft movable pillars, minecarts that run on tracks, cook food, create weapons and armor, and even bake a delicious cake. It's your world to sculpt and mine as you wish, and it's the best way to lose days of your life without even realizing that time has passed!
With the release of Minecraft 1.0.0, something very important has been added to the game: a purpose. Before, the only quests you had were the ones you made up yourself. Now, you can actually beat the game, something that might seem entirely pointless for the game that practically invented the modern sandbox genre. Beating the game and seeing the ending requires you to build a portal that leads to another dimension and defeat the final boss, an Enderdragon. Naturally, that's not going to happen right after you fire up the game, so it gives you something to work for, even if it's just another goal in your grand schemes to build a scale model of the galaxy out of wool blocks you dyed yourself.
The official Minecraft release also brings with it loads of other changes and adjustments, including new mobs, new terrain (mushroom biomes, anyone?), new blocks, animal breeding, potions, adjustments to armor and combat, non-player characters inhabiting villages, as well as the ability to enchant objects. The full list is even more impressive and shows that Minecraft 1.0.0 really is a different experience than the alpha or beta versions.
Analysis: Reviewing Minecraft is a lot like writing a review for sliced bread. It's there, it feels like it's always been there, so you never really think about it as a minor miracle. There's really no need to gush on and on about how great Minecraft is. We've reviewed two versions of it before, from the early original Minecraft release to Minecraft Alpha, so you know exactly what to expect.
Minecraft is still available as both a single player and multi-player experience. You can host your own game on your computer or even sign up for a hosted service that runs the game for you. The Minecraft modding community is one of the most active on the web, and they have created some phenomenal alterations to the game that include cosmetic alterations as well as serious gameplay changes. There are hundreds if not thousands of mods available, and it's well worth your time to browse Planet Minecraft and MinecraftForum.net to see what you can see.
Minecraft has official versions for iPhone/iPad, Android phones, and soon, Xbox 360. The mobile versions are far from complete, but you can place and remove blocks, which is the core experience no matter how you cut it.
In the future, Mojang plans to continue updating and adding to Minecraft, refining the experience and giving us players more thing to craft, build, and, well, run from in screaming terror. It's been a phenomenal development period, and things certainly won't slow down now that the real product has been released. Here's to more mining and more crafting!