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Posts Tagged ‘Minecraft’

Not a lot of time around here, but I wanted to comment on this while it is vaguely relevant.

This TESO thing?  Silly.  Absolutely wrong for what Elder Scrolls games bring to the table, at least as far as I’m concerned.  I played Morrowind for many hours, just noodling around, exploring the world and messing with things.  Once I found a few mods, I did more tinkering.  Sure, it could have been fun to have a good friend or family member in on the fun, but having a world full of other players with varied and often conflicting agendas, all screwing around?  No, that’s not even close to the same experience.

Sure, maybe TESO will leverage the interesting setting and lore and such, but that’s not what interests me in the Elder Scrolls games.  No, the gameplay’s the thing, and dealing with random internet people and the static modless world that an MMO generally has to be really isn’t adding anything to the gameplay.  It’s wrecking it.  TESO is a totally different sort of game, by its nature, and that’s not a bad thing, exactly… but when there’s a very clear split between the setting and the gameplay as is necessary in this case, I firmly come down on the side of gameplay.

Of course, EverQuest Next is playing around with terrain deformation a little bit, but again, that’s just griefer bait.  I want to like it, I really do, but I just don’t trust people not to screw it up.  If the solution is “the deformation goes away after a while”, we’re still just back to a weird sort of static world, it’s just a bit more pliable in the short term.  Fun, in its own way, but really just another glaze of squishy paint on the theme park experience.

What I’d have loved to see from both of them is their own spin on Minecraft servers.  As in, let players control their own populations, connect to each other on a whim (even directly via IP address instead of through official channels or *gasp* even a LAN), stop screwing around with subscriptions, and go all in and let the worlds really be modded and molded.  Sell the game via a one-time fee, maybe rent out server space for those who don’t want to run their own, and let players really go nuts, again, like Minecraft.  Contain them to their own, small population worlds where it really doesn’t matter if Leggolass142 makes a Lord of The Rings Mt. Rushmore, because his friends approved of the project.

That’s what I’d like to see as “innovation” in the MMO space.  Not “Massively Multiplayer Online” games, but “Moldable Multiplayer Online” games, with small, private servers and a metric crapton of player agency.

But then, I am a Minecraft fan.

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With a bit of imagination, dice can appear to be something else, say, a Creeper.  For an extra dose of fun, set one of these up in the dark recesses of a computer desk, just barely in view.  See if your Minecraft-loving kids notice.

Creeper

(Oh, and those dark dice around the beastie are the closest approximation I have of what we’re aiming for with colors for the Tinker Dice.)

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I’m doing a new Thing here.  OK, it’s something I’ve already done, but now I’m calling it TEShots.  (For now, anyway.)  I take a LOT of photographs of the world around me, and every once in a while, I feel like sharing.  Today, it’s the Minecraft Edition.

We’re excavating a smallish pit on the back of our house, so we can make the existing window into a proper bedroom window, so we can remodel/finish the basement and squeeze in another bedroom.  It’s actually something that’s bugged me since we bought this house; there’s no proper escape from the basement in the case of fire.  Ah, the building code of the late 70s.  Anyway, to save $2000, we had the concrete cutter people cut a chunk out of our back porch, and I’m digging out the new window well so they can come back and cut out the window space.

It turns out that excavation is way easier in Minecraft than in real life.  Weird, huh?

Big Rock, Small Pit

Yes, that’s a 100-pound rock I pulled out, and the one still in the pit wound up being over 200 pounds.  I had to get help for that one, since it turns out that hitting it with my fist didn’t break it into small blocks.

The crazy thing is that those rocks, though the biggest ones I’ve had to deal with, were hardly the only rocks.  By weight, I’ve pulled probably about a literal ton of rock out of that hole, and I’m not even done yet.  My father-in-law helped with the top layer of busted concrete and the top layer of obvious rocks, and my brother and his friend helped with that biggest beast of a rock, but there has been plenty for me to do in between.  There was a bit of soil and clay in there, too, but the ground here in the Rocky Mountains is, well… rocky.  It’s also fairly compact.  Speaking of volume, I’ll probably have pulled out the equivalent of two of these trailers… which sure seems like a lot more than should be in that hole to a depth of 5 feet.

Trailer o’ Fun

Apologies for not getting more shots of the project in progress.  In the meantime, here’s a photo of where the rocks wound up.  It took that bulldozer two pushes to get our load on the pile.  Less than a minute for weeks of work to be just another part of the crowd.

Assimilated

Yeah, we have rocks here.  Lots of rocks.  I’m just glad my father-in-law is letting us use his trailer.  This would have been even more of a project without it.  Yay for summertime house projects, hm?

Rocky Mountain High

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It’s a simple thing, really.  Just a matter of philosophy.

I play video games with my four year old daughter.  Maybe that makes me a terrible father, but it’s a way to show her what I do for a living and how I have fun.  And, well… she loves Minecraft.  She calls it her “daddy-daughter game”, something that just the two of us play with sometimes.  I believe kids need that, and to be honest, I think parents need it too.

Before Minecraft, though, her favorite was World of Warcraft.  She really just loved my Druid in Travel form and making it jump when I was running around.  Kids love that sense of control; she could make Daddy’s character change into a cheetah and then make it jump.  She also loved to go play in water and change into the Aquatic form, but really, the cheetah is what she loved most.

These days, she still loves to make the character jump, even though the Minecraft avatar is typically first person, not third.  And yet, Minecraft gives her another layer of control over the gaming experience.  She can go anywhere and do almost anything she wants to in the game world.  If there’s a hole in the ground, we can go explore it.  If she gets the itch to find some clay to make some bricks which then can be made into red brick building blocks, she tells me to drive to the beach (she’s still learning how to use the WASD steering and is usually content just telling me where to go).  She can swim upstream and upwaterfall.  She can punch sheep and take their wool.  She can plant flowers or dig up snowballs.  She’s excited by finding coal to harvest, even though sometimes she still asks why we need it.  She can place torches in the dark spaces that she might find scary, or just tell me to wall off the really spooky caves.

I’ve recently started a Dwarven Hunter to share some more time with her, because she loves the pets in WoW.  (A Druid/Hunter hybrid would be perfect for her; shapeshifting and the Pokemon itch, all rolled into one.)

So when I took her for a spin through the newly revamped Stormwind on the way to Bloodmyst Isle to tame yet another blue moth (she loves blue, and those BI moths are just so… blue), she naturally spent a fair bit of time looking around for things to do.  She asked if we could explore a well we rode past.  I had to tell her “no, sweetheart, we can’t do that”.  As children are wont to do, she asked “why not?”, to which I had to fall back on the old copout answer of “the designers don’t let us do that, dear”.  Naturally, she asked “why?” to that, too, and I had to stifle an insult to the designers and just answer with the unsatisfying “that’s just how they do it, I’m sorry”.  She then asked if we could go catch fish in the canals, and when she made my Dwarf jump into the canal, she saw the crabs and naturally wanted to go grab them.  Since we didn’t have the fishing skill or a quest to gather crabs, again, we couldn’t do much more than swim around and wish.

She lost interest in the town until she happened to notice an apple tree.

Ah, to see things come full circle.  She got excited and wanted to pick the apples.  She is truly her father’s daughter, a quirk which is quite heartwarming.  When I told her she couldn’t pick the apples, she got quiet for a while.  She then announced that she wanted to play Minecraft.

Ah, they grow up so fast.

I hugged her, and we went to go work on our spider trap.  We need some more chicken feathers, too, for the arrows she loves to shoot at the spiders.  She’s getting the knack of fishing, too, even though she still wishes she could go underwater and look for fish rather than just fish for them.

So, if WoW is going to be lambasted for being on rails, for me and mine, it has nothing to do with overwrought quests, pacing issues or the race to the endgame (though those can certainly be a concern, they are irrelevant to our playstyle).  It has to do with the complete inability to go out and change the world or explore wherever you feel like.  You can’t dig out a cave and call it home, you can’t just go wherever your whimsy takes you (because the wildlife will eat you).  You can’t really partake of the world of WoW and make your own mark in it, you just play on a stage.  It’s a marvelous, intricate stage, with plenty of things to do, but it’s just not the same as going and remolding the world with your own hands, digging into something just because it looked interesting.

Minecraft scratches the Explorer and Scientist itches in ways that WoW is flatly unequipped  to.  They are both fun in their own ways, but for my daughter, all the glitz and dings of WoW, even her beloved blue moths, can’t compare to the simple joy in making the world of Minecraft her own.  The best part is that she doesn’t get that from me directly, it’s just how she’s wired and how the games appeal to her.  Like daughter, like father, and I couldn’t be happier.

Tomorrow, we’re going to try to make some sound effects.  I showed her the DVD extras for WALL-E, and the bit on sound design really intrigued her.  There’s just something wonderful about seeing a little one learn and experiment.  “Why” and “How” might bug some parents, but they have served us well in our home.  We probably won’t be putting lava in buckets any time soon, though.

Ed: I’m actually still having fun with the new Shattered content in WoW, it just doesn’t scratch the same itch that Minecraft does, and it’s not working for my little one.  Gaming time together is all Minecraft these days.

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Rogue Tauren

I am a Sunwalker.

The Light of the Sun guides my path, and I will be a beacon of protection and guidance to those I am sworn to protect.  The strength of the Sun burns in my veins, and I will stand against all injustice and evil!

The Undead are an abomination on this world, and I am sworn to eradicate them.  Their very existence offends not only my sworn duty but also the lore of my people.  The world mourns their aberration, and their desecration of life wounds the Earth Mother.  I will cleanse the world of their unclean…sed kind.

Except for the Forsaken.  They have this sweet racial mount that I can buy if they like me enough.  Who needs a blinged out Kodo when I can pretend to be a Death Knight?  Rrarr!  Here comes the steel plated cow on a spindle-legged dead horse!  Oh, and Sylvanas is totally hot.  No rot on that girl, just sweet, sweet leather armor in all the right places.

Er, not that I’d know.  Tauren, remember.  Right, Tauren.  Big, furry cowdudes.

Right.

You’re sure I’m not a Tuskarr or something?  Y’know, a neutral sort of guy who can hang with the Human and Dwarf Paladins?  I mean, those twiggy prancing Blood Elves stink of weird arcane magics and didn’t exactly come by the Paladinny ways by, y’know, honorable means.  I could probably break one of ‘em in half anyway.

Can I at least go rogue and join the Argent Crusade?  Go hang with my Paladin brethren and wipe out the Scourge that always seem to come back?  Oh, it’s just an NPC club, right.  I can be Exalted in their eyes, but never a member.  “Exalted” must not mean what I think it means.  It’s probably like “graduating” from the third grade.

Right.

OK, right!  Buck up cowboy!  I’m a champion of justice and tempered responses to evil!  Cairne was a wise leader we should all revere, the Grimtotems are jerks, and the Horde needs our leadership in these times of trial and confusion.  My people are dwindling and staring a racial twilight in the face, do I go out quietly or try to leave the world a better place?

Er, but who’s this Garish Hellscream guy again?  The one who killed Cairne? (Sorta… axes don’t kill people, angry orcs with Grimtotem-poisoned axes kill people… and was the stupid Spirit Healer on a smoke break or something when he went down?  What the heck, etherial angel thing?)  Son of a demon-tainted warmonger?  Fel-flavored sunburned fashion victim?  Racist, er, speciesist?  I mean, he doesn’t let Trolls into Orgrimmer-than-before anymore, and they have always been faithful Hordies, right?  I mean, the ones that aren’t cannibals and psychotic voodoo wonks that attack anyone on sight, anyway.

…Tauren are Hordies still, right?

Why, again?

And why am I playing Horde, again?

Oh, right.  Varian‘s a monumental jerk.  And yet, Garish is pretty thick, too.  Bleh.  Forget these nicompoop leaders.  I wanna be a Tuskarr Paladin.

For the North!

…yeah, that’s got a nice ring to it.  There’s still plenty of Scourge up there, too.

____

Ed:  Yes, this is tongue in cheek.  Sylvanas totally isn’t my type.

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As Mr. Mark Rosewater notes on occasion, “restrictions breed creativity“.  Minecraft has a somewhat restricted visual design thanks to a lower global resolution (almost everything is built from 1 meter cubes), but it’s precisely that restriction that has led to a minor renaissance among gamers with an itch to create rather than consume.  (Also seen here with Azeroth in CivV, tangentially.)

Doom was a significant First Person Shooter game some years ago, but for all its impact on the genre and gaming industry, it had some constraints due to then-modern technology and game design.  As this interesting article notes, those constraints made for a very different game from modern FPS games.  Doom effectively played in two dimensions; there were bits of the level that had different elevations, but weapons autoaimed to compensate, and you couldn’t ever have a level where you could traverse the same X/Y Cartesian space at two different Z elevations.  (So no bridges you could both go over and under, no spiral staircases, no multilevel buildings.)  That’s a huge limitation for a game that gives an impression of 3D, but the Doom guys managed to work wonders within that canvas.

Also importantly, the lower “resolution” of the game tools helped the modding community take off, and there were a TON of player-generated additions to the game.  Modders didn’t need to work in true 3D and have hugely expensive tools like Maya or 3DSMax that took years to master.  They could get by with some simpler tricks and more streamlined level design, leading to faster development with quicker iteration that could lead to better design in shorter order.

Minecraft is a modern iteration of this pared-down design ethos.  The game world is actually 3D this time, but the lower resolution, both geometric (the world of cubes) and textural (16×16 textures for said cubes) means that potential modders can focus more on the bigger picture rather than burning their time on normal mapping and pixel shaders.  They might make a few relatively simple changes (to the textures or peaceful/monster mode) that affect the whole game world.

Of course, players don’t have the ability to tweak values as easily as Notch might, as the programmer of the game.  Even thinking of his tools, though, depending on how he has the simulation code set up, he could theoretically tweak a few variables and quickly have some very different worlds.  We see a little of this with his biome design, where segments of the world take on different climate properties and block generation ratios (a desert area with dunes and cacti neighboring an alpine mountainous snowy area, for example).  Imagine if players could tweak those variables and make their own biomes.  (This isn’t to say that said biomes were just a few lines of code, but rather that they could be controlled by a few variables that could provide significant changes with little input, one of the beauties of procedural content generation.)

Perhaps more importantly, though, players can do a ton within the game itself.  You can tear apart the world with your bare hands and rebuild it almost any way you want to.  Maybe you prefer big buildings or maybe you’re a Star Trek devotee or Lord of the Rings fan.  Maybe you love BioShock, its sequelsimple computers or just want to go see the sights that the terrain generator churns out, always providing “just another mountain” to see.  In the highly malleable Minecraft world, you can scratch a lot of different itches.  Play it multiplayer, and you can even show off.  (It scratches an itch that MMOs haven’t bothered with, despite having firm footholds on the tactical terrain.)

In a way, it’s like a piano.  The instrument only has 88 keys, but the music that has been made over the centuries with it is incredibly varied.  Or better, a guitar or violin; six or four strings can do miracles in the right hands.

Of course Minecraft won’t appeal to everyone, and it won’t win a beauty competition with Source and better out there in the wild.  Still, coloring with crayons sometimes can bring out a lot more creativity than working in Painter, simply because it’s easier to work with the tools.  Like building with LEGOs, there’s a fairly simple learning curve that allows for more time creating, less time gearing up to be creative.  Even though I work all day with high high end art tools, I still love just whipping out my sketchbook and a ballpoint pen to do my own work and see what crazy ideas pique my interest.

When all you have is an ore pick, the whole world looks like a mine to be dug.  When you can build with the stuff you dig up and put your own stamp on the world, crazy, wonderful things can happen.

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No, not that Anvilania, my Anvilania in Minecraft.

I bought the game a couple of weeks ago, but still haven’t done much with it.  Since I don’t have time for grand, sweeping construction/carving projects, I settled for wandering around to see if I could find a bit of scenery to call home.  Imposing at a distance, the impossible peak I’ve come to call Anvilania was my first and only real contender for my point of residence.

 

Moonset on Anvilania

 

Of course, it wasn’t just something I could mosey over to and scale.  Conveniently, there is a cresting wave of a mountain nearby, so I planned to create a bridge across to my new home.  Of course, I had to find a way up the mountain first.  I carved a meandering path up the back face of the peak, only to find a chicken had beat me to the top.  It mocked me.  I briefly considered kicking it off the cliff, but I had better things to do at the moment.  Perhaps, if luck was with me, it would wander off into the clouds and fall on its own.  (Anvilania’s top surface is above the clouds, but the top of the chute here was within the clouds.)

 

Cliff Climbing

 

 

Cliff Chicken

 

I’ve tinkered a bit with the free version of Minecraft, and there found that I could build a bridge out into space thanks to the conveniently selective laws of physics.  I could just sort of leeeean over the edge of oblivion and place a block, and with enough of this vertigo-inducing cartoon-physics construction, I could have my very own bridge that would have made Frank Lloyd Wright dizzy.

 

Span1

 

 

Basic Lit Bridge

 

A couple of spans later and I had access to Anvilania.  I lit the way with torches and built small walls for the bridge, and took stock of my new home in the sky.  Except… it almost really felt more like a shrine.  It was livestock-free, and fairly flat on top.  There was a single tree in the center of the peak, and a trio of geographical features I’ve found to be great meditation points.  There’s the Diving Board, where I can get clear screenshots of a large swath of neighboring terrain:

 

Diving Board

 

The Zen Shelf, a natural porch that lets me view the other half of the world , dangle my legs off the abyss and dream of dropping anvils on the barbarians below (Anvil Zen, anyway):

 

Zen Shelf

 

And finally, the Pouting Porch, a curious little spot on the island where the only way to safety is back the way you came (without building a new skyrail, anyway).  It’s that little corner under the crosshairs, under the torch.  It’s a nice place to find perspective, since so many deadly accidents in Minecraft seem to be self-inflicted.  This is especially true when playing on Peaceful mode like I am.  No monsters, but you can still drown, burn or fall to your death.  Anyway, this will likely be where I start to carve my home into the interior of Anvilania.  Not much of a front porch, but it should be easy to take care of door to door salesmen.

 

Pouting Porch

 

Speaking of dying, though, I just had to test out my high diving skills, since it turned out that there was a nice little pond below Anvilania.

…yeah, water needs to be at least two blocks deep to save divers from bodily injury.  Once I found my way back to Anvilania from the spawn point, that was my first project; carving out the pool to make it deeper.  After that, I carved a locker room out of the wall nearby (which is really just storage, but since it almost looks like a rec center locker room, I figured it was for pool visitors) and cleaned out some of the nearby sand.  This, so I could make glass, of course.

 

Locker Room

 

In the meantime, the chicken had found me again, and brought reinforcements.  By the time I had enough sand for the glass I wanted, there were three chickens, a cow, a sheep, and two pigs lounging in the pool.  I considered keeping them there (since clearing out the pool area had left it impossible to escape), but eventually built a ramp out.  I want clean water for my visitors.  (The nearby waterfall comes in on the left and flushes water out on the right.)

 

Critter Pool

 

I decided I wanted a new path up the mountain to Anvilania, so I set about scouting a path.  My first path got too steep too soon, so I abandoned it.  I considered carving a spiral tunnel up through the mountain near the waterfall, but decided that would take too long and would be pretty boring.  I tried another path up the mountain, and with minimal carving and building, managed to make a nice sweeping path back up to my skypath.

 

Path Night

 

Then I destroyed the skypath and remade it in glass.

 

Glass Bridge

 

It’s much easier now to see where you can dive from, and now that the water is deep enough, it’s possible to actually enjoy the trip.

 

Diving Corner, with the pool WAY down there

 

With that, I jumped once more into the pool, then visited the locker room and emptied my pockets.  I wandered off to see what that other big mountain was just across the bay.  The swim was refreshing, but it’s alarming how quickly I sink if I let myself.  Most disturbing, though… the chicken beat me to the other side.

 

Foreign Chicken

 

It was guarding a grave of some sort.  (Yes, it came like that out of the random terrain generator.  Halloweeny.)

 

Gravesite

 

Waterfalls notwithstanding, I’m not sure I like this place.

Looking back in the evening after a nice fried chicken dinner, it’s nice to see my path on the mountain and the torches I lit for the Anvilania shrine.

 

Path Dusk

 

I’ll be going back in the morning.  I suspect there’s ore to be mined under the mountain.  There shouldn’t be any chickens there.  Who knows what I might find?

…and that makes all the difference.  Exploring and experimenting make me happy.

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