You've probably heard of Minecraft. You probably know that it's quite an achievement. It's a tiny, fiercely compacted Java game capable of spewing out procedurally-generated environments that are significantly larger than the Earth, and it's an indie success story that has made its creator, Markus "Notch" Persson, very, very rich.
You may also have heard of Minecraft 4k. It's the core of the main game boiled down into "way less than 4 kilobytes" according to its designer – who is also Markus "Notch" Persson. He's made 4k games before – Left 4k Dead, which we looked at a while back, and a pared-down spin on Mega Man – but in 2009, he squeezed his own best-seller into a tiny file size for fun rather than profit. As Minecraft proper has only recently gone gold, today seemed like as good a day as any to have a look at its younger sibling.
Minecraft 4k lets you do a lot of the classic Minecraft stuff. You can mine and you can craft, for one thing. Well, you can click to remove blocks and then click to spit blocks out into the world, anyway. You can also walk about, jump, and move the camera around. There are only a limited range of materials – and you can only create earth – but everything still looks suitably Minecrafty. You won't confuse the game with anything else.
Where Minecraft 4k deviates from the template, though, is with the all-important matter of the environment. Minecraft's blocky but beautifully organised, its cubes of sand and stone stitched together to create mountains and river valleys, caves, deserts, and strongholds. Minecraft 4k, in comparison, looks like the back room of a thrift store: blocks are stacked up everywhere with no kind of obvious structure, while the sky overhead is gloomy, and the ground beneath you only goes so deep before you hit an impenetrable wall. Where's the void gone?
It doesn't sound much fun, but it's actually kind of brilliant. This is Minecraft: Skirmish Edition, a game for players who don't particularly like to build massive projects or toy with bands of roving mobs, but who just want to tunnel into the ground, get themselves stuck, and then staircase their way back to the surface again. It offers all the streamlined creative satisfaction and playfulness of its older brother, but it doesn't encourage you to lose hours of your time racing for the horizon, or constructing a scale-model of your house, only to accidentally flood it when you try to dig the basement.
If you were coming down off a serious Minecraft addiction, in other words, 4k might be just the thing: a nicotine patch that gives you the blocks, but doesn't draw you back into the crafting grid with its dangerous promises of armour, gardening tools, and train tracks.