I've been playing Brick-Force, the Minecraft meets Counter-Strike first-person-builder that takes the construction of the former and splices it with the shooting of the latter, because vice-versa just wouldn't make sense. Berlin-based developers Infernum launched the public beta of Brick-Force yesterday, following a short closed beta session that saw them amass almost one million registered users. That's a lot. It's rather good and I think you should try it. It's also free, with some hat-based micro-transactions. Don't pretend you don't love those.
With just the dual inspirations of Minecraft and Counter-Strike in mind, the mechanics of Brick-Force should come tumbling out of your imagination fully formed: you build maps in first-person using a wide range of block types, organically setting map parameters as you go, such as bomb sites and spawn points. You then move to the pure FPS mode to duke it out in your hand-crafted arenas using an oddly realistic armoury of real-world guns.
"There’s a real mix of different game design elements in there," Infernum's community manager Matt Rider tells us. "We have all the classic 90s shooter modes, such as Capture the Flag, Team and Solo Deathmatch and Bomb Defusion, which are heavily inspired by some of the games that we grew up with. The build mode gives players the chance to make key game design decisions, depending on which game mode they are building for. Players can decide where to place their spawn points, flag capture points or bombsites. It’s actually a real challenge to build a fair and balanced map."
"The new game modes, Build and Destroy and Defense, add more interesting elements into the mix," Rider continues. "People will always compare Brick-Force to Minecraft - the building mode is like an easy to learn, simplified version of the game - but it's just one of many sources of inspiration for the Brick-Force."
The game's in-built voting system will auto-bounce the best maps to the tops of their respective categories, ensuring the bum maps never enter your rotation - unless you want to wilfully inflict them upon yourself. Some of the 150,000 maps in the closed beta are genuine works of art on par with the most impressive Minecraft creations you've seen. Others are ugly and complex beyond reason, and some are simply perfect blocky replicas of Call of Duty and Counter-Strike maps that, magically, manage to remain as much fun as they were in their original incarnations. This time-lapse video of UK clan FyreUK constructing a competitive map shows the sort of detail possible. It's like a really big art attack, except once Neil Buchanan is finished he tries to murder you:
It also stops looking so much like Minecraft from this perspective, which is probably a bonus. Infernum regularly highlight their favourite maps on their blog, too.
"We’re constantly being surprised by the creativity of our community," remarks Rider. "We’ve seen remakes of popular FPS classics, which is cool, but the real innovation has taken shape in different forms. Some examples include maps made of Avatar-style floating islands, maps designed to be played like 2D platformers and maps based on classic landmarks and real-world places."
Where Brick-Force connects its building and shooting halves most directly is in its Build and Destroy mode, which sees two teams of players enter a blank arena separated by a shimmering curtain. Behind this curtain, each team has a limited amount of time to construct their defences before the curtain is raised and the block-dropping builders become heavily armed combatants. Some outright bizarre tactics stem from this panicked build mode, such as arena-wide trenches, dizzyingly tall sniper towers and personal impenetrable vaults. But are more players attracted to the placid joys of construction, rather than the brashness of competitive shooting?
Rider explains the split: "We’ve seen more popularity with the FPS mode because it’s really accessible and easy to jump into. Build mode definitely has the potential to be bigger, so we’ve been discussing more incentives for map builders. The introduction of scoreboards and league tables for the most popular maps should give builders a boost, and perhaps the new Build and Destroy mode will encourage the more FPS-oriented players to give the build mode a try."
Infernum also have plans to bring the Unity-powered build mode to iTelephones, Androids and tablets, so you can craft new maps on the toilet. Reading the backs of shampoo bottles has never felt so sadly distant. Rider says their focus is currently on polishing and improving, though there are long term goals to move Brick-Force into eSport territory should the community demand it. "Our main focus right now is polishing the game and making it as good as it possibly can be," explains Rider. "In the future, when our clan system has developed, we hope to have leagues and tournaments for the various different game modes. Currently players can jump into the ESL and compete on one of their leaderboards. We may see this develop in the future, depending on the feedback on the community. Brick-Force definitely has competitive potential."
The shooting portion of Brick-Force is surgically honed to match that classic twitchy, glidey, recoily 90s FPS feel. Just days before the public beta unfolded, Infernum were still fiddling with movement speeds - they're also still toying with the idea of adding an oddly absent crouch button - to draw their game closer to that old-school formula. It's a fast FPS, immediately shedding the impression of clunkiness you might gather from the game's naturally more sedentary build mode.
New weapons, clothing, powers and items can be bought using the currency you gather in-game, or for real world cash. It's a model that has the potential to rankle should the balance of paid-for and earned currency not be perfect, though with almost a million registered players already road-testing the Brick-Force economy, I'd hope that the balance is somewhere approaching inoffensive, at least.
"Many of the Infernum team were working in free-to-play at the very start, before it began to get big," Rider responds. "It’s definitely a core part of Infernum’s philosophy, but it doesn’t define it. The success of any title is dependent on many different factors and simply being free isn’t enough when there’s so much quality and innovation out there. Although we believe strongly in the free-to-play model, our underlining goal is to create the most fun and engaging gaming experiences."
Hear, hear. Head over to the Brick-Force site if you want to put that man's words to the test. There's also a launch trailer, featuring many bees: