Less a game and more a way of life, Minecraft is all about digging, building, exploring and crafting in a gigantic world.
This world is made up of blocks - soil, sand, stone, and many other materials - and you have complete freedom to build structures using these blocks in an area that's eight times the size of the world's surface.
The game keeps track of every single change you make (which produces massive save game files - 100MB upwards is the norm). By combining items, you can make new things, such as the wool-and-wood combination we tried, which made a bed.
Minecraft has two game modes: Survival - where you have to eat and protect yourself from monsters, and Creative - where you can work safely on huge buildings to your heart's content.
The game is written in Java and runs on Linux, Windows and Mac OS, and has already reached a whopping four million sales. So we decided to spend a week checking it out...
Day 1: Arrival
Our new life began on a hill next to a swamp - or perhaps a jungle. Either way, there was lots of water around and a few trees. And mushrooms, too. We couldn't see any signs of human life, but we kept hearing noises that we suspect were being generated by animals. It's all a bit weird, and to make matters worse, we haven't got any tools with us - just our bare hands.
After a bit of scrabbling around, we discovered we could gather bits of grass and dirt, and keep them with us on our travels. As the day progressed, we began to get hungry, and our only option was to kill a chicken we came across using our hands.
It wasn't pleasant, and eating the raw meat didn't do us much good, but we stayed alive.
Night-time came, and it was utterly horrible: all sorts of vile monsters appeared, hell-bent on killing us. First, there was a strange sort of zombie-like creature going for our throat, and then a skeleton firing arrows, and big black spiders with red eyes. we tried fighting them with our hands and got injured badly in the process.
Out of desperation, we dug a hole in the ground to escape, but some hissing green monster followed us in, exploded and left a huge crater. We barely slept.
Day 2: Acclimatisation
The start of the day went well: we gathered wood from the trees and used it to make some tools - a sword and a pick-axe. They're not very strong, but they'll do for now. They also make it easier to kill animals for food, so at lunchtime we walked into a forest and found some wild pigs. Our hunger level is staying under control.
The big question bothering us all day was: where are we going to sleep? We can't just wait for the monsters to kill us - we need to fashion some kind of shelter that's more substantial than the hole we dug yesterday.
Fortunately, after a bit of walking we found the entrance to a cave, and with our tools we could extract some chunks of stone. Our tools didn't last very long, but we got enough stone to build a small igloo-like shelter.
Just before night-time, we found a sheep, killed it and took its wool. Combined with the remaining bits of wood we had, we hacked together a simple bed and had a tolerable night's sleep. But we kept hearing the monsters outside…
Day 3: Exploration
We decided we couldn't stay there any longer, so we gathered our things together and set off on a journey. After a few hours of trudging through the swamp, we came across a deep forest, which led into a hugely mountainous region.
It was striking, but the rain was horrendous. It took us another few hours before we arrived in a really dry, desert-like area. There was nothing there but the odd cactus.
By the evening, we were back in woodland and found a cave. After knocking down a few trees and combining the wood with some stone, we made some stronger tools. We were feeling pretty confident with our stone sword and stone axe, although they were heavy. After setting up our bed in the cave, we slept well.
Day 4: The village
Seemingly without hope, we kept walking and walking, and then saw something in the distance… a building! A real sign of humanity after three days. It was a small village in the middle of a prairie, and although the inhabitants seemed reluctant to talk to us, we felt much happier being there than in the outside world.
We made a huge mistake in the afternoon, though: there's a well in the village, filled almost to the top, and a man was in it. We tried to free him by breaking open the side of the well, but it just spread water over much of the village. Why weren't we thinking?
In the afternoon, we headed out to gather more wood and stone, and then came back and started building a proper little house for ourselves in the village. It's nothing special, and we have no lighting yet, but it's a good place to store our bed and equipment. We feel as if we're making real progress here.
Day 5: Confidence
Set off early and found some cows near the village. A bit of sword-work later, and we had some good beef and leather. We're not much good at making clothes, but we hacked together a simple leather tunic that should give us protection against any night-time monster attacks.
At lunchtime, we carved up a chunk of wood to make a bowl, and used some of the mushrooms we'd gathered to prepare a stew. Together with the beef, we were feeling healthy and full. With our stone sword, pick-axe, tunic and food supplies, we're building up confidence, so in the afternoon we took a walk out of the village, dropping bits of stone behind us so that we could find our way back.
After going through some swampland, we found the sea, so we swam for a while and saw a huge island with a cavern in the distance. We'll explore that tomorrow.
Day 6: Fire!
What a day. After breakfast, we headed to the cavern, which was even more enormous when we got close to it. After an hour's climbing up the mountain, we reached the entrance to the cavern, which was pitch black; so we crept inside and then… there was a fizz, a huge explosion, and everything went black.
The next thing we remember was being back in our bed in the village, except without all of the bits and bobs that we had been carrying. But the lure of the cavern tempted us back, and once we reached the entrance again, we saw all of our items lying around - our sword, our food, our bits of stone and wood.
It must've been one of those green monsters that attacked us, but don't they just come out at night? Perhaps they live in the darkness of the cave… Anyway, we ventured boldly onwards and found some seams of coal, which we extracted using our pick-axe.
Back in the village, we combined the coal with wood to make some torches. We've placed these inside our house and around the village, and although we're going to bed quite early tonight, it seems that all of this light is stopping the monsters from getting too close to the buildings.
Day 7: Reinforcement
We're really liking it here, but the village needs to be safer. We went out to gather stones to build a wall. This took most of the day, but we now have a barrier around the village, broken up by a few doors we made out of wood, so no monsters can get inside in the night. It feels really safe and will let us do some work when it gets dark, such as planting seeds to grow wheat for bread.
As an experiment, we dug a tunnel inside the village, using our torches to light the way, and deep underground we came across some traces of iron. There's a smelting furnace in the village, so we'll have to see if we can make some better items.
We've been hearing rumours in the village of magic spells and potions, too, so we'll have to investigate that further.
We can barely remember ourselves from the first day - that terrified, helpless guy lost in an alien world. Now this world feels like ours, and we're learning to control it better all the time.