If you’re the guy who made Minecraft, you’ve got it good. Your game’s a hit. You’re getting lots of money for it and winning lots of awards. But what’s it like to be Notch?
When you go from being some random game-maker in Sweden to the guy who created Minecraft, you wind up attending your first Game Developers Conference, where you meet Cliff Bleszinski, creator of Gears of War (Notch says: “he’s stupidly handsome”) and Peter Molyneux, creator of Populous (Notch: “He told me he loves the game”). You also have lunch with reporters like me, one of the many people who suddenly want to chat with you. Just add them to the line of calls, e-mails and whatnot, including those from old bosses, who say, hey, maybe we should have lunch (Notch chuckles at that).
If you’re Notch and you’re at GDC in San Francisco, you keep getting recognized because of your hat. It’s a signature item but also something that just costs, what, $300? $400? Not a big deal. At industry parties, people who are wearing a similar hat get mistaken for you. They become known as Fake Notch, a plight they bear, amused. Notch has hat tips for us all, thankfully, shared while having breakfast with me, his fiancee, a fellow game developer, oh and a documentary crew filming every last bite.
“We’re nerds,” you, Notch, may say, when talking excitedly about the next game you’re making. No problem with that. You’re a nerd living a dream. You’ve got a hit game, supportive friends, cash. Speaking of dreams, Notch has long had some great nerd dreams. For example: “Before I got to the the point where I could make a Doom engine — because that was my big thing, I wanted to make one like [Doom co-creator John] Carmack made — I used to obsess about how to do it. I would dream about doing engines like that, 2.5D engines, how to project the textures and how to get everything to run smoothly with sprites that didn’t clip through. … I kept on dreaming about doing it on older and older hardware. I dreamt about doing it on a green-on-green display.” He dreamed of making better versions of his old games and then would wake up disappointed that they weren’t real. Here’s the odd thing about the Doom engine dream: “It was on an airship. And then the airship got shot down. Wow, yeah! That was a brilliant dream.”
(The reporter who has breakfast with Notch might suggest that a nice way to spend a lot of the Minecraft earnings could be on a development studio set in an airship. Just fly it to the next GDC, man. Notch’s game developer friend Jakob Porser would chime in: “Save that for E3.”)
There is work to be done when you’re Notch. There’s that big, big Minecraft game that became a hit while it was in alpha, became a paid beta late last year. It may never be finished, but at some point, it’s going to be officially released. Notch would love to bring it out November 11, 2011, the same release date as Skyrim. “I wanted to go with the tag line, ‘Us too,’” he joked at GDC with me. But he realized that his game doesn’t need a big release. It does need some changes, though. Notch hears two main complaints: it’s hard to get into and then it becomes too open-ended. He wants to help players to get started and wants to add some long-term conflict, something that gives veteran players “some sense of purpose” to continue playing.
Minecraft isn’t enough. “I want to make the games I want to play,” Notch says, Jakob agreeing. They’ve been percolating a idea called Scrolls for half a decade, a hex-based strategy game that will use virtual collectible cards that will somehow age and become special — feel lucky and loved — the way physical cards do. Notch hears that someone big might be working on a similar idea, EA possibly, but he and Jakob aren’t worried. They say they don’t even care if it is a mere modest success. “Our goal is not to convert the Minecraft hardcore fan,” Jakob says, though that’d be nice. The guys had these great prototypes made of physical cards. Whoops, Notch laughs, we should have packed those for GDC.
With success come so many opportunities to splurge. But Notch can only point to his fancy watch as something he’s plunked a lot of money on. He’s keeping it frugal. Well, except for Las Vegas. He would go to Vegas with his fiancee and his pal Jakob at GDC. They’d check into a suite twice the size of his apartment in Sweden and….? Get beer, chips, dip, wake up in the morning to watch the Swedish hockey finals. “Instead of trashing the place, we’ll just straighten it out,” Notch laughs, joyful in his nerviness. He doesn’t have to be a rockstar. He can be himself. He’s the guy in the hat.