MMObility: Introducing Deepworld to Minecraft fanatics

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MMObility: Introducing Deepworld to Minecraft fanatics
Deepworld screenshot
My nephews are visiting this week; they are nine and seven years old. And if there is one truth about these two, it's that they love Minecraft. Oh, they're also creative and smart young kids, but Minecraft is always a ready topic of conversation. Jeff, the younger one, loves to drill me on my knowledge. "Did you know..." is how it starts off, followed by some cool fact about the game. John, the older one, is calmer about the situation, and he has gained the ability, thanks to his elder status, to pull his gaze away from the game (I have it running on three different PCs and three iPads) in order to maintain an air of politeness. When I ask him something, he can give me an answer that has nothing to do with Minecraft!

I thought this week would be a cool time to introduce Deepworld to both of them. Deepworld is a fantastic iOS-based Minecraftian MMO that is free-to-play with optional and fantastic cash-shop items. The last time I looked at it, I bought an entire private server for only 10 bucks! I logged in this week for the first time in ages and found my server still sitting, waiting for my creations.

Then I showed it to my nephews.

Deepworld screenshot
At first things seemed promising. John, my older nephew, held the iPad as he would with any other game and didn't hold it out in front of him with a disgusting look on his face as though I was making him play Spend Your Allowance Wisely Online. I explained some of the basic controls, but I had to remember that children from his generation are seemingly born with an innate ability to operate electronic devices, as children of my generation were born with the power to build a fort out of anything, despite the fact that our fathers told us to leave those damn two-by-fours alone.

I had issues with holding the iPad up for a long time when I played Deepworld the last time. It's especially tricky (and hard on the wrists) when you consider that the game demands a two-stick control scheme. The left stick controls your movements, including the steam backpack that allows you to fly across the screen as long as you have enough steam built up, and the right controls your mining or weapons. During my time away from the game, the developers have added new menus that slide away from the two main buttons. On the left you have your chat bubble, used to communicate with the rest of the world or the players on your private server, and another slide of the button leads you to your emote list and a recording button. The recording button is also a new option, and I used it to record a quick video of my gameplay. It even accesses your iPad's microphone in order to record commentary.

Deepworld screenshot
If you slide the button on the right, you can have access to a hotbar of power-ups like beef jerky. I decided to see how quickly my nephew could figure out the controls.

He immediately started to mine iron and copper ore. "Oh cool, I've got some copper ore," he'd say. My younger nephew, Jeff, looked away from his Minecraft for a moment and glanced at Deepworld. "They're copying Minecraft," is all he said. I agreed a bit, but I knew deep down that all games are copies of other games in some way, and even though Deepworld resembles Minecraft with its digging mechanic, it is definitely its own, unique game. Remind me to never ask him his thoughts on the originality of MMOs or first-person-shooters!

John continued to play Deepworld but started to fade after maybe 15 minutes. I told him that because I owned my own private world, he could join me in it from his iPad -- even from his home away from mine -- as long as he had the game installed on his iPad. He played for a while longer but then looked at me with that "I don't want to hurt your feelings, Uncle Beau" look that polite children learn and said, "No, that's OK; you don't have to install it on my iPad."

Now, I'll chalk up his first experience with the game as mostly positive, but he was distracted by his younger brother playing Minecraft a few feet away on a large monitor. It didn't help that Jeff kept yelling out, "Whoa, look at this! Look at this!" as he used codes to create amazing things in creative-mode Minecraft. I think Deepworld, without the distraction of a younger brother playing Minecraft and a strange uncle who uses you as a lab rat, can stand on its own for sure.

Deepworld screenshot
The in-game cash shop has added on a lot of goodies like costumes and a mad scientist kit ("Make Tesla proud!") and now has a few different types of personal worlds to own like "snow-covered" and "desert." Don't worry; you'll find permanent teleporters in your personal world that will take you out into the non-instanced "real" world so you can hang out with strangers and their creations, but I still do worry that the instanced worlds will mean an empty world for new players who have just started playing. In fact, when I started playing, I found it hard to locate new players and haven't really left my personal world since. I was very happy to see a new (to me, at least) directional indicator that lets me know which block I am chopping away at, and I was even happier to see that the cash shop now sells valuable and useful items and packs to boost gameplay. Deepworld is going for that "We aren't selling power; we're selling fun" type of cash-shop experience.

I am so happy to see that Deepworld has continued to grow, but I am still quite disappointed that the game has not yet come to Android or desktop. Way back when I first interviewed the developers at the last GDC Online in Austin, Texas, they told me that the success of the title on iOS would determine how quickly they could roll out to other platforms. Personally, I see avoiding those other platforms from the beginning as a huge mistake that might ensure that the rollout never happens. But we'll see.

Despite my nephew's lackluster initial response, Deepworld is one of the best iOS MMOs I have found. It's a creative tool, a world with real-time weather effects that can actually harm your character, and a cheap multiplayer option for gamers who want to hang out while they're away from each other. And it looks great.

Download it in the app store and try it out. Just don't let your nephew convince you to play Minecraft instead. As far as my nephew is concerned, I'll try the game on him later on when Minecraft isn't around.

Each week in MMObility, Beau Hindman dives into the murky waters of the most accessible and travel-friendly games around, including browser-based and smartphone MMOs. Join him as he investigates the best, worst, and most daring games to hit the smallest devices! Email him suggestions, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook.
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