So, I love Minecraft. There is no disputing this. Notch made an awesome game.
He’s focusing on the adventuring aspect of the game now. This could become the most important part of the game so it deserves his full attention as the “week after 11/11/11” launch date creeps ever closer. The trouble is he has said this will take him an increasingly long period of time which means the once brief period between feature additions is becoming a yawning chasm. At the behest of his community of rabid followers Notch released the piston update a couple of weeks ago.
This update made official two mods that had been available for sometime. This was the most feature rich update in several months and as I mentioned it is merely an official port of already available mods. Sure, I was very glad to have a higher drop rate for wool at the expense of two bars of iron, if you’ve seen any of my recent creations you know I’ve fleeced more than my share of sheep since March. But let’s face it. Feature additions have been sparse at best since the Halloween update. I took the liberty of going back in time to review a number of e-mails Tophat and I swapped in the early days of his first server. We were so excited about this game. So full of hope for the future.
In November my addiction was just cracking out of its shell. We were discussing the impending additions of hostile mobs and the nether to our SMP server and the possibility of torches eventually burning out. November was the first time I really started lamenting the lack of real and useful furniture. Something that is still lacking less than four months before launch. It was those pre-beta dates when I first noticed the healing items glitch. Q became my favorite letter that day. That was just days before I was granted op privileges on Tophat’s server and realized I could spawn items at will.
Tophat started a new server for that very purpose just to get this desire to conjure out of system. We quickly grew bored with our obsidian fortress and the glass disco hall tediously constructed beneath the waves before the day when drowning became a possibility. We started over on a new server with new aspirations and a dedication to building only with the materials we mined. It was then that I developed my hatred for sheep and their spawn rates.
But Minecraft’s original luster was dulling. Tophat’s server began to bog down and with the 1.3 patch the game became very nearly unplayable. I found often the last 12 blocks I had laid would suddenly vanish beneath my feet, which would have been a mild annoyance had I not been building a zeppelin 100 meters in the air. Mining became a nightmare as blocks would be destroyed and suddenly not destroyed, often dealing me suffocation damage in the process. Notch and his newly formed company Mojang created a forum for bug reporting on Get Satisfaction! but it eventually became clear that the site was abandoned without notification in favor of the reddit community and the wiki editors.
Then I got my own computer and started my own server. It seemed Tophat and I were given a new lease on Minecraft life. Soon we were hard at work on our latest project: Columbia. Tophat’s desire to recreate the floating city from Bioshock Infinite. This time we would do it right. This time we would have a coherent plan. Again we found ourselves attacking a daunting task full of vim and vigor. But as the update frequency dwindled and bugs that plagued us constantly seemed to go unnoticed or undiscussed by the community, and more importantly Mojang. Notch and his band of merry men began a world tour to accept awards and take a vacation. That’s fine. He’s worked hard in the last year.
But then, as I delved deeper and deeper into the Reddit and YouTube communities I began to take an interest in mods. Finally I found it. The Better Than Wolves mod. It was beautiful. It was elegant. It was just the sort of thing I’d been looking for. I began reading up on all of the mechanical aspects of the server, from the windmills to the service elevators I was sold. But wait. Like so many mods it couldn’t be installed on a server. There was little direct documentation of this, so I read more and more about mods. Notch has been promising mod support since the beginning of the year and now I knew why. The vast array of beautiful singleplayer mods were amazing. The server mods were generally lacking in actual game features but the control over players actually made a public server playable instead of a cesspool of anarchy. Many of these things seem to be features I would require in a complete game, and maybe we will get them come November, but right now it doesn’t look like it.
Better Than Wolves worked well until I accidentally updated my client with the 1.7 release and lost my glow light hemp farm. Hemp dropped too infrequently to renew my desire to fix the mod, but the excitement was back. I was ready to tackle phase 2 of Columbia. Currently I’m fighting with a recreation of an angel statue for the bridge to a new island while contemplating a more refined and robust minecart station. Right now I’m the only one that uses it because minecarts are still too laggy for Tophat. But someday I intend to have a very busy subway system.
But this brings me to the most important problem. I would still play Minecraft if the final release lacked many of the exciting features I’ve seen in the mods. But I will have a hard time justifying the game if I cannot open my server to more people. Currently I run my server in Linux and I got so fed up with lag I gave the thing 5 gb of RAM to work with. Despite this insane amount, one of Tophat’s friends tried to login the other night only to experience lag at levels not seen since my struggles with 1.3. Tophat was also lagging at the same time, but I was running along with no problems. I can only conclude that my internet connection is not as good as I was led to believe and I will be consulting ATT soon. Regardless, minecraft still uses way too much resources for a silly little 16-bit game. I realize this is one of the issues you face when working with java, but I’m sure giving the code a good going over would help.
I must have mentioned my initial experiences with the game. Playing on my wife’s laptop the poor little Intel dual core would overheat within 10 minutes. It got to the point that I would dress up in arctic gear and sit out on our balcony in the middle of winter while checking the temps every few minutes. I was so frustrating and should have been unnecessary.
What worries me about all this is through Notch’s unique development method he has already made millions and secured future jobs before even finishing the game and therefore has surely lost all motivation to maintain focus and work on content and bus that will better the game. I don’t think there is any problem with the current lighting system, and yet Notch said he was playing around with fancy lighting code that would work different under sunlight than it would under torch light. Why? If I want to change the look of the game I’ll install a texture pack.
But this too is a product of a the unique method Notch has used to develop the game. For all I know Bioware could have spent the last three months designing a new Mass Effect 3 character whose armor looks like it was ripped off a dead Cog, but I wouldn’t know about it because their programmers don’t talk to me on Reddit or send me tweets about their progress or their trips to the Playboy Mansion.
In the end Minecraft will be done when it’s done and will include the features it will include. I have no doubt that code tweaks will continue after the release date and bugs will be fixed. Hopefully anything Notch doesn’t deem worthy can be modded into an SMP server just as easily as it can in singleplayer by then.