The Raven's Mutterings Wherein Carl Cravens talks about geeky stuff

2Feb/11

Man vs Minecraft, achievements and goals

One of the Minecraft vidcasters, Paul Soares, Jr  on YouTube, recently started a new series called "Man vs Minecraft," in the style of a television show.  It's rather interesting, in that he has created a set of "hard core" rules by which he has to play... basically, he has to survive 14 Minecraft days travelling across the countryside, staying in a new shelter every night, unable to dig a shelter or place blocks into the world, only able to make tools and armor no better than stone and leather, and unable to carry any blocks, including the workbench and furnace.  If he wants a workbench and furnace at his shelter, he must build new ones every night.  And food can't be treated like a "med-pack"... he must eat twice a day, whether he needs to heal or not, and he can't eat more than one food item at a meal.

The only awkward thing about the rules is that it doesn't seem very much like Minecraft when you cannot mine or build.  You can't even explore a deep cave, because you are required to travel far enough to find a new biome every day.  But having seen his first two episodes, I decided to give it a try and have found it to be rather fun.  One night, when I realized that the sun had nearly set and I hadn't found a defensible cave to shelter in, I found myself on staking out a hilltop and defending it on all sides.  It brings a whole new dimension to the game when night no longer means shutting yourself up in a fortress and mining for diamonds while you wait for dawn.  Now you're holed up in a cave, and it turns out the cave has a back-door...  you're not allowed to place blocks, so you can't just wall up the entrances... you have to stay alert and keep an eye on both of them.  I did find that I used Paul's rules about digging to the best effect a couple of times... you can mine stone one layer deep, dirt two layers, and sand/gravel three layers.  So more than once I have dug trenches across cave openings, figuring that's nearly as effective as building a wall.  And things get tricky when you need wood, can't carry it with you, and discover that you need to shelter in a desert, where there are no trees.  Or you want to make a new sword before your current one breaks, but you can't find stone anywhere near your chosen shelter.

I have also decided that TNT is not a "block" so long as I don't use it as an obstacle...  if I've gone to the trouble of collecting (and carrying around in my very limited inventory) that much sulfur, then I should reap the rewards, whether it be blast-mining or blowing up skeletons.

I think the hardest part about this mode of play is seeing really neat mountains or cave openings and being unable to stop and explore them.  I've taken to marking these sites with torches on the ground in an "X" pattern so I can see them with my map viewer later and go back to explore them later.

But all this has me thinking...  the goal is an arbitrary 14 days.  The distance to cover each day is "reach a new biome" which really isn't difficult. If I just set off running in the morning, I can usually reach a new biome well before noon and have plenty of time to search for shelter.  In fact, when I encounter a desert biome, I usually keep running for the next biome to find better shelter.  And "take off running" is good advice when you want to get an early start... it seems the best defense against creepers is a good sprint.  Even if they're hiding up ahead, they like to hide just off your path... if I'm already running, I can usually pass them fast enough they don't even explode, or they explode so far behind me I don't get hurt.

But that's all I'm doing... sprinting from biome to biome, with no ultimate goal but to survive an arbitrary number of days.  I find myself thinking I need more of a goal, and it would be great if I was trying to reach a specific destination, say, the King's castle, to warn him of an invading army.  The faster I get there the better, so when I reach a new biome in early morning, I can't decide to use the rest of the day to explore and find a good shelter.  A deadline would mean I'd be pushing as far as I could before sundown forced me to ground.  I might even decide to keep travelling through the night to make better time.  I would take more risks, and meaningful conflict makes for a more interesting game.

That has me imagining a pre-built map...  someone would have to intelligently lay out the destinations and goals.  But that would add the opportunity to add way-stations... wouldn't it be great if I knew that, if I can just make it a little farther before sundown, there's supposed to be a pre-built shelter stocked with supplies?  And it would give me an opportunity to acquire weapons and armor I'm not able to build on my own while travelling?  It would be fun just to discover unexpected man-made structures along the journey.

Even if there was no story behind it, just having a series of concrete goal posts to strive for would make this set of "Iron Man" rules even more fun.  I might have to start making that map.

1Feb/11

What needs “fixed” in Minecraft: Day/Night, Water

Continuing to discuss "broken" bits of Minecraft and what might be done about it.

Day/Night cycle

My first inclination is to say that the day/night cycle is too short. Ten minutes is not a lot of time to rush outside, scan for creepers, then run to your building location. I'm building an arched bridge across a bay channel (between the spawn point and my fortress; the closest mountain was across the bay, darn it), and I spend nearly 10% of my day avoiding creepers and swimming out to the work site before I even get to work. (Creepers swim, darn it again!) I could have built a shelter closer to the build site, but then all the monsters would congregate around the build site, making it harder to get started. As it is now, at least I can dash across the courtyard and jump into the bay and no more than one or two creepers follow me. But then I have to take time to repair the fortress where I missed a creeper hiding around the corner and it blew up part of the wall. Sometimes, I think I get maybe five minutes to build out of a 20-minute day cycle.

Now, here's why I think maybe the cycle isn't too short. It creates pressure, and causes me to think about things other than "how does my bridge look?" Maybe what I need to do is mine a tunnel under the bay to the work site. Yet, if I had a tunnel from the fortress to the spawn point, I wouldn't be building a bridge across the bay! But that's an example of the kind of thinking the pressure creates. And conflict is what makes Survival mode work... it just has to be the right balance of conflict.

I would at least like the day/night duration be an adjustable setting. I don't want to use Peaceful mode... I want the challenge of working around the monsters and the dark. I just don't want to spend more time dealing with the challenges than I get actually building my bridge.

Water, water everywhere?

While I think water behavior is improved from Classic (a single block of water is an infinite source that will fill every open space it can reach up to sea level), it's gone too far the other way. If I'm digging a shaft under a massive body of water (the "ocean") and accidentally breach the ocean floor, the water only flows in for seven blocks, petering out and apparently soaking into the ground. My entire tunnel isn't flooded… it isn't sudden death or a mad swim for the surface for our adventurer. It's just a short struggle against the current to drop a block into the flow, then carry on as before.

If I dig a level trench below sea level from the bay to my moat, I expect it to fill my moat. But it won't even fill the trench. I see that this is a difficult problem programmatically. A clearly finite source of water should not increase in volume. But it's not possible to calculate the volume of the "infinite ocean"... how do you efficiently determine if the water in question is attached to the infinite ocean or not?

I really miss Classic's water mechanic when it comes to intentionally flooding an area. It's just so cool to open a dam and watch the water flow and fill everything. To fill a cave with water in the current game takes a lot of deliberate and difficult work. (You basically can't... my swimming pool looks still on top, but below the top layer, water is continuously falling down to the bottom of the pool. Jump in and you have to swim up a waterfall to get out.)

I wonder if there is a compromise to be found, but I can't figure out how it ought to work. And I do like finding waterfalls and small streams in caves that haven't filled up the entire cave. Maybe if flowing water found no place to go after three or so blocks it would start filling the space. This would still create new water blocks, but it wouldn't create an unlimited amount of water if you poured it down the side of a mountain.

31Jan/11

What needs “fixed” in Minecraft: Mob drops

Still playing a lot of Minecraft (though I've been distracted by Katamari Damacy on the PS2 recently... very addictive game).

Over the next few posts, I'm going talk about things I'd like to see "fixed"... not new things I'd like to see in the game, but existing game mechanics that affect game play as a whole. Having played the game for awhile, I'm looking at what keeps my interest, what starts to be boring, and what I think would make the existing elements create a more compelling game.

Mob drops

There has to be more of a reason to fight monsters (hostile mobs, apparently "mob" is short for "mobile") other than "they're in the way". The peaceful mobs (cows, pigs and chickens) drop more useful items than the monsters do. Cows give me leather for armor, pigs give me pork-chops for healing, and chickens give me feathers to make more precious, precious arrows.

Spiders drop "string", and while string is extremely important to us bow-toting, shoot-monsters-from-a-safe-distance rangers, once I have a bow (and a backup bow) and a fishing pole, I don't need more string. (The new "Dispenser", which can fire arrows as part of a trap, requires a bow, so string's long-term demand just went up some, if the dispenser proves useful as a "survival mode" tool... though I suspect the dispenser is more of a novelty item for pure "survival".)

Creepers drop sulfur, which I can use to make my own explosives (TNT). Dropping sulfur is logical, but TNT isn't all that useful to me. (Maybe I just haven't found the right use. It can be used to make clever traps, but enough TNT to kill a mob destroys the landscape, which lowers its value for me a lot. It's not often I want to make huge gaping craters just to injure a few monsters.) Again, coming up with a more useful recipe for sulfur would make it more valuable. Something like a grenade, though don't call it that; a small, explosive "fire bomb" made of sulfur and coal that you can throw at monsters would be useful and not replicate an existing weapon.

Skeletons drop arrows and bones... that's nice, but I can kill a chicken and get two feathers from which I make eight arrows, which beats the two arrows a skeleton might drop. Bone is logical, and useful for survival, since it can be converted to bone meal and used as an instant-grow fertilizer on wheat (used to make bread, which heals).

And zombies drop... feathers!? Yeah, chickens may be harder to hit, but they don't hit back. It costs more arrows to kill a zombie than the feathers it will drop, and if I want to fight zombies with a sword, I wouldn't be looking for feathers. (I know others don't play this way, but I look at my sword as a last-resort weapon, for those rare times I run out of arrows and I am forced to fight hand-to-hand.)

For the most part, I don't find any reason to fight most of the monsters in the game. Only spider works well in that regard... early in the game, I realized that I was going to have to go out with my wooden sword and hunt down some spiders if I wanted to make a bow to better defend my home with. (At the time, I didn't know how to make leather armor, didn't know I could make a stone sword, and didn't know I could eat raw pork for healing and didn't know how to cook it, so some of that was the thrill of playing the game for the first time and not knowing how to play "right".  Now days, by the time I attack a spider, I've got leather armor, a stone sword, and cooked pork in my pocket.)

Maybe if the bow wore out like all the other tools and weapons, then I'd have a reason to gather more string.  But zombies and skeletons not only drop resources I can get elsewhere, there are safer ways to get those resources. (Killing a pig is much simpler than killing a skeleton for fertilizer, and provides more healing for less effort than bread does anyway.) The creeper is the only source of sulfur, but I really don't find TNT to be in great demand. And it's not like I have to hunt creepers to get sulfur... they willingly run up and explode next to me nearly every time I set foot out my front door, in order that I might have a plentiful supply of sulfur. And holes in the ground.

I think this is the key.  Monster drops that are both useful and not duplicated by another item or source in the game. If zombies were the only source of feathers, that would change things a lot.  (Not that they should drop feathers in the first place, and that would probably make arrows much scarcer.)  I keep coming back to the spider/string example in my head... it made the game really fun, knowing that I was going to have to meet two or more spiders face-to-face in order to make a bow.

One thing complicating the monster drops is that skeletons and zombies drop stuff when they die from exposure to the sun. Wait in your house for the monsters to burn up, then run out and collect arrows and feathers for free. Just watch out for the creepers. If the monsters are going to drop more valuable stuff, this automatic drop may need to be eliminated.  Make the mobs a little smarter so they avoid the more obvious "mob grinders"… they shouldn't be stupid enough to keep running into cactus that damages them until they die, and maybe they should be smart enough to get out of running water.

So the monsters need to drop more valuable stuff. I shouldn't spend, on the average, more resources killing monsters than what the monsters drop, or the monsters should be dropping something I can't get any other way. The risk-versus-reward needs to have a much higher potential payoff.