I wrote an email. Wouldn’t you like to read it? It’s about Minecraft.
I’m a long-time player of Minecraft – since 1.1.0 alpha. The single player mode consumed about 20 hours of my time, but I put it down when I realized that no one else would ever be able to enjoy the fortress I’d created. A few weeks later, I got together with a group of my friends and we started a server. It’s tough to say how much time I’ve put into the projects on that server (see here) – a thousand hours would be a low estimate. I mention this solely to support the statement that I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about where Minecraft has been, where it’s going, and what its potential is. Right now, that potential is being squandered. You created a wonderful game, the first viable entry into what could be a totally new genre of video games. However, I feel strongly that the direction you’ve taken the game is one of very, very limited potential.
I share your affinity for dungeon crawlers. I see the influence RPGs have brought to bear on the game, and I respect the intention. I think it’s shooting too low. I love RPGs of all shapes and sizes, but they are nothing if not arbitrary. Experience, enchantments, achievements, tools, armor – all of these things are fine, but they are not ends that encourage a truly dynamic or novel experience. They do not enhance the creative potential of the player because they insert static incentive structures. This, of course, is the core of every RPG. The game for players then becomes developing behavior that most efficiently garnishes rewards from those incentive structures, which is why grinding/farming occurs. Vying for efficiency is much of what makes RPGs so delightful, but it is a wretched outcome in Minecraft. With the right mechanics, Minecraft could be a game with unlimited possibilities.
I’ve read most of your blog entries over the last year and a half, and you seem to have an interest in procedural mechanics and emergent interaction. I notice you’ve done side projects related to cellular automata. Certainly, the work you did with the terrain generation in Minecraft is fantastic, and the quality and diversity of environments you’re able to produce with the biome system is unmatched by anything else today. Combined with dynamic light, water, and lava, environments become truly natural. Their qualities are no longer arbitrary, but emergent – and on top of that, they are fully subject to modification. This principle could apply to much, much more than just the environment, but the direction of Minecraft’s development does not seem to recognize this potential.
Pistons, redstone, water, and lava are the only true block-block interactions.
You built a foundation for extremely complex interactions by including redstone. With logic gates, it is suddenly possible to create complex interaction scenarios. Yet, aside from pistons, the only blocks the redstone can influence are superfluous (lights, minecarts, doors), but pistons have enabled some of the coolest creations in Minecraft (did you see that mountain builder where they alternated flows of water and lava suspended in the air?). They’re the first real step of enabling true interactivity in Minecraft. Nothing since, and pistons are hampered by the game’s engine anyways. The netcode isn’t accurate enough to enable rigorously timed operations on a server. Redstone is absurdly bulky to work with, and planning anything beyond simple functionality requires significant planning. On top of that, pistons can’t be customized in any way. Making something as simple as a secret staircase is extremely cumbersome. Here’s a short list of blocks and block modifiers that would go a long way:
Note: At this point, I managed to send the email half-completed, before I was able to proofread the above paragraph. Which is why it sucks.
– Moving (floating) platforms (think Zelda or Mario), blocks to modify another block’s position from a distance
– Blocks that modify block color, blocks that emit a given color of light
– Blocks that change state based on environmental details – weather, light, time, elevation, proximity to water, lava, or air
– Blocks that generate new blocks, blocks that consume blocks (more sponge!)
The possibilities for block-block interaction are endless. An entire RPG could be made within Minecraft, if these types of blocks were available. We’ve seen Minecraft servers develop into massive community projects, accomplishing feats of immense collaborative nerdiness. Imagine if these people had the tools to take their creations from glorified dollhouses to living, breathing dungeons filled with stories, battles, platforming sequences, and puzzles. It’s entirely possible – the communities that exist out there would most certain make use of the capability. But…
Limited mod support hinders the greatest avenues of growth.
With a good mod API, all of these features could be modded in without trouble. If this isn’t a direction you’re interested in taking the game, then I implore you to make it feasible for the modding community to do so. Some of my friends believe that another company will eventually pick up the torch and release the game that we wish for Minecraft to be – but I am doubtful. Competitors may mimic your focus, and embrace the block world as a format for adventuring. Terraria certainly didn’t build on it. Ace of spades shows its viability with the FPS genre, but the updates I see are primarily focused on the shooting, rather than the world. But here’s what I think the modding community would be able to bring to the game:
– Ability to dynamically alter/script player stats (speed, size, vision) and interface (status effects, menus, maps, dialogue)
– Dynamically alter/script mob behavior (shopkeeper NPCs! dungeon bosses! questgivers!)
– Simple physics, simple machines (it’s been demonstrated that cellular automata can approximate simple physics!)
– Creating new block properties – temperature, mass, density, pressure, permeability – the list goes on
– Custom block textures
These kinds of features barely scratch the surface of what is possible with a world simulator like Minecraft. Some of these ideas are much, much more complicated than others, but I believe every one of them would establish Minecraft as a pioneer of a new way of playing video games – through the act of active creation, rather than following the path that someone else made. Perhaps I sound outside the bounds of rationality, but I genuinely believe you have a golden opportunity in your hands. My talents do not lie in programming – so I’m left at the mercy of such venerable programmers as yourself.
Thanks for all your work – I appreciate what you’ve created and enjoyed Minecraft immensely. I’m sure you’re busy, but if you have feedback or comments on this I would tell everyone you’re a cool guy with awesome hair. I promise.
P.S. Sorry for sending this in two emails. As you may have guessed, the first part was sent prematurely. Story of my life.