Tuesday, September 13, 2011

MineCraft 1.8, the Adventure Update

Minecraft is often eventually abandoned by folks who exhaust the limits of what they want to build in-game within their capacity for patience and how much effort they are willing to put into the game. I can't say that I blame them. The ability to build and craft is great, but once you've made your castles, houses, startships or what have you, the few monsters in the game can be fought, but to what real end? Notch and the rest of Mojang knew that what they have on their hands is the basics of a powerful engine, but in terms of "gamelike" content, it is a little bit sparse. Dungeons are exceptionally rare and difficult to find, have a monster generator and maybe a few chests inside. Not a whole lot of unique reward for exploration. The solution: add a lot more content. Update 1.8 is the start of a brave new direction for Minecraft, and one that should attract a broader range of players.

Randomly generated NPC village. Man, I can't wait until these are inhabited.

I've mentioned most of this before, in my profile on Notch himself. The new information I have on Minecraft is from this past weekend up until now. The "adventure update" has a bold list of features. NPC villages, abandoned mines, new monsters, improved biome code, the ability to sprint, the addition of hunger and experience gain, more dungeons to explore and an overall improved lighting system. There was a preview of the new build at Penny Arcade's PAX convention, and speculation that we'd see an early September wide release. September 8th was tossed about as a probable date for 1.8 to go live, and everyone began preparing to explore villages (even if actual NPCs aren't in yet) and avoid Endermen.

The news came down on 9/7 that a full release for the patch wasn't happening. There were too many bugs, features were partially implemented or broken... worse, the game kept crashing. Quietly, on Friday, September 9th, Jens "Jeb" Bergensten put up a file that could be downloaded from the minecraft servers, if one knew where to look. The location of the file was "leaked" to several internet forums, and it was a playable, if extremely buggy build for the long awaited update. Installation requires a little bit of computer knowledge (you have to at least be comfortable with locating and replacing a specific file manually,) and people willing to endure crashes and the occasional glitch could get a look at 1.8. I was one of those people.

Abandoned mining operation, as I found it, placing a single torch for light.

I was immediately impressed by the new biome code, which is the thing that sounds least exciting in the list of features, but has the most dramatic immediate visual impact on the game. A biome, in this context, is a set of rules for random generation of terrain so that features that should naturally occur near each other will. Biomes mean that we don't see a cactus in the middle of the swamp, ice in the desert, etc. I found a deep chasm with a river at the bottom and traces of an abandoned mining operation with wooden supports, broken stretches of minecar track and cobwebs strewn about, the sound of skeletons and spiders lurking within the defunct mine suggesting the reason it is no longer bustling with activity. I noticed that coal and even iron seemed to be much more plentiful in this area, and in caves in general, rewarding exploration.

As exciting as the mining chasm was, I wanted to explore everything the new build had to offer. Sure, there were some major performance hits, lag and poor framerate, but this is a preview "unofficial" build, and I wouldn't hold that, or the occasional memory leak/crash bug against it. I headed out to explore some more. Torches now cast a flickering yellowish light, and if you can manage to actually run the game with the view distance that far out, sunsets look amazing. I wasn't just here to enjoy geography however, I had to explore the land. Before I could find a village or a dungeon to explore, night was falling and I ducked into a cave, putting a door on the entrance to keep monsters out. I dropped a few torches, and realized I wasn't alone. Pale green eyes turned toward me from the darkness, from a pair of tall figures calmly moving blocks of stone around the cave I'd chosen to rest in. I'd found endermen.

Creepy.  Maybe I should have dug my own shelter that night.

The figures were menacing but not hostile, moving toward me not particularly aggressively, as I wasn't looking directly at them. Smoke rose from their coal-black skin, and trapped in the confined space, I got too close and their mouths opened, and they strode toward me with murder in their eyes. I readied my sword and as they got right in front of me, "poof" they both vanished. I could still hear them around me, sounding like zombies, and I ran through the cave planting torches, one reappeared and struck me from behind, only to vanish again once I turned around. I hid in the cave, back to the wall until sunup, and left the hole to find both endermen waiting for me outside in the pre-dawn hours before the sun claimed them. I fought, they fell and dropped curious green pearls that seem to serve no purpose at this time. I crafted a boat, and set off.

After some searching and a few more nights in shelters carved from island rock, I finally spoptted what I'd been looking for in the distance. There was a structure on the coast ahead that clearly wasn't naturally occuring. I got out of my boat and headed toward what looked like a tower of some sort, but turned out to be a well. I found some farmland, several mixed wood and stone buildings, eerily empty but ready for habitation, some even had libraries full of books inside. I wanted to explore a bit more, but crash bugs were becoming more frequent and frustrating, and I knew I'd likely discard this world I'd generated for testing upon official release. Today, 9/13 a second version of the prerelease was uploaded as Jeb worked on the bugs discovered by so many weekend playtesters. The official release should be soon, hopefully. I look forward to playing a lot more minecraft with the bold new direction the game is headed in.
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Alpha said...

Endermen...at least they don't have a ranged attack...like laser eyes, or something.

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