Minecon50

Minecraft and Minecon

I had to go and celebrate Minecraft. Of all the games I’ve played that one’s held my interest the longest. Fallout 3 and Final Fantasy 7 may be next in line but that’s by orders of magnitude less than Minecraft. I spent 200 hours in Fallout 3 over a month and that’s roughly 8.33 days of game. I don’t know my tally for hours spent in Minecraft, but since my friend Emmy introduced it to me last September, I’ve logged countless hours, took up running a Minecraft server, created a blog for it, posted timelapse builds on youtube, and made 3D renderings of our multiplayer world. I can sit down for a session and 10 hours will pass. If there was a pie chart of my time spent during the last year, frighteningly, Minecraft would probably be a sizable wedge.

Minecraft

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Minecraft Survival World

A lot of folks who see Minecraft without any context just think it’s dumb. Who wants to play a game where you move cubes from one place to another? Others lament that it looks ugly and who would want that when we have games like Uncharted 3 and Gears of War? I love that the first comment on any Minecraft post begins with “I don’t get this game at all.”

In a way, I have to agree. I think if I was introduced to the game from minecraft.net, I might have given it a cursory look and then forgotten about it. A screenshot won’t do it justice. Instead I was shown a 10 minute tutorial video on how Minecraft worked. It’s a bit long to sell the idea of the game, but I listened as the narrator carefully explained everything he was doing. Gathering resources, crafting tools, and making a house to survive the night. I could see the potential that he was revealing throughout his video and in my mind, I knew I had to grab a copy of this game right away and start playing it.

The game itself is a conduit for your imagination. You’re essentially Robinson Crusoe stranded in the “natural” world. You have your wits (your stubby fists) and the resources residing all around you. Once you get how it works: punch trees for wood, convert logs to wood planks, planks to sticks, sticks to tools, and then use those tools to mine faster and place those resources like virtual legos to construct a house, then the game really begins. You survive your first night against creepers and zombies. Fence an area to farm wheat for bread and trees for wood. Go underground for iron and diamond. Discovered a ravine? Go explore it. What’s down this dark tunnel? It goes on and on revealed one torch at a time. What’s amazing is when you sit back and realize everything you’ve built and done. It’s six am but you’re still lingering around this virtual block world just doing one more thing and it becomes your story. You own every aspect of the world like no other game allows you too. Games like Uncharted 3 have amazing sets, but how often do you linger to enjoy it? All of that content crafted by many talented artists flash by in mere seconds. This block world crafted by algorithms and random seeds gets more eyeball time from the players. Minecraft has a voxel beauty all of its own.

Once you take the Crusoe idea to the next level, a multiplayer server with other people, Minecraft becomes even more compelling. People are building their own things in random parts of the world, they’re sharing resources with one another, or helping each other to achieve monumental structures.

You can play Minecraft creatively and do pixel art or replicate real world structures, but I find it more compelling to play it for keeps. When you play to survive, everything you create in the game serves a purpose. There’s that sense of working together to build certain structures and accomplish little things here and there that make “life” a little easier. It’s a form of progression more akin to the rise of a civilization than beating a game. What’s even more interesting is if that game persists for a year. Newbs that join the server won’t understand why certain things exist as they do, but it becomes this self-contained history that only you and a select number of friends know. In our old multiplayer world there are rings in the landscape where one version of Minecraft started procedurally generating terrain differently. We have screen captures of our world from the days when it was a single farm acting as a safe haven against creepers and zombies and you can see step by step how it blossomed into a modern looking city complete with amusement park, grand central station, and subway lines going out to the furthest reaches of the world.

By playing Minecraft I feel that I can gain an understand for folks that like to study and piece together history. I feel as if I am participating in the creation of history when I play Minecraft with others and those become the funny stories to share with friends. Sometimes I think calling Minecraft a game might be a misnomer. It’s a virtual second world. I realized this when I was standing around with a friend (skody) and surveying a parcel of land to build a train station. We seemed to take on roles of city planners rather than just gamers, but Minecraft lets you don these other hats which makes much more interesting.

Minecon

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Mandalay Bay was where Minecon was held and the hotel that we stayed at. Very nice hotel, BTW.

When Minecon was announced, I toyed with the notion of going. It was my friends who wanted to go too and that solidified my plans. Rodrigo seemed more interested because it was in Vegas. Emmy wanted to go because she’s a die-hard fan. I’m in the middle. Vegas is fun for a weekend and nerding it up at a Minecraft convention seems like the best excuse possible to visit sin city. Even if the con sucked, we could enjoy the strip and all its offerings.

I assumed Minecon would be a big party to celebrate Minecraft and more or less it was just that.

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Minecon opening session. This was before the Mojang crew got on stage.

The opening ceremony of Minecon was around 1:30 PM. They went through the history of Minecraft and Mojang. Mega64 showed off a hilarious video of Notch and Minecraft, and at the end Notch threw the lever and they released Minecraft 1.0 to the world. I missed the developer panel that day, and maybe that was a mistake, but we wanted to walk around Vegas that afternoon. I did go to the Saturday developer panel and Jens talked about stronghold and village placement in Minecraft. The web guys gave us an idea of how the Minecraft login server and downloader works and related some stats. As an engineer and a guy in the games industry, these are the panels that are interesting to me. Of course, it might be a better venue if they were presented at GDC instead of a fan convention. I was hoping that Notch would actually talk about Minecraft and share his story. I know that we all know it all, but I’d love to hear it from him. He needs to overcome his stage fright and be able to give us a keynote (maybe for Minecon 2012). I got to watch John Carmack’s keynote on Gametrailers from Quakecon. They pretty much handed him a microphone, he sat down on stage and for two hours rambled on about getting Rage to work cross-platform, profiling code on the XBox 360, and the issues he faced with megatexturing. It was interesting and entertaining and I wish we could have gotten something similar from Notch. The convention isn’t just a celebration of Minecraft but of the game’s creator too.There’s many aspects of Minecraft he could talk about and I would love to hear about voxel engines and the procedural generation of the game world.

The exhibition hall seemed to only be a storefront for Jinx — and I bought my fair share just like everyone else. There was a section for the XBLA version of Minecraft, but I’m not sold on the game. It’s clunky with a game pad. Minecraft’s still played best on a PC and you don’t need a bleeding-edge one either. There were computers setup for playing Minecraft and doing build competitions but we didn’t sit down for that. Mojang showed off Cobalt and Scrolls but we couldn’t get hands on with either and we’re still waiting for the alpha codes.

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This giant unhappy creeper was all the security they needed at Minecon.

Cobalt seemed fun. There were other indie game developers there and I suppose it’s tangentially related to Minecraft in that they’re all indies and that’s where Notch started from. People played their games; I only glanced at them. I’m here for Minecraft after all, but I understand that any means to get your game in front of eyes isn’t a bad thing. I wonder if Mojang will continue to do this in the future now that they are an indie gone big (bigger than say, other indie devs). Maybe Minecon might mutate into an indepdent games faire or include more indies in future exhibition halls which might be a cool venue.

The smaller panels were picked last minute and it showed. I only went to the Bukkit panel. Bukkit is a third-party Minecraft server that allows you to easily add mods and do other cool things that the stock Mojang server doesn’t. It also crashes my Internet everytime I try it. Yes, my Internet connection dies when I try to use it so I haven’t bothered to try it again. A panel on Bukkit at Minecon? Why surely they’ll discuss how to set it up, the best plugins to use, and give us tips on how we could configure Bukkit. That would be a fantastic panel to go too.

It’s too bad that wasn’t the Bukkit panel at Minecon, but I don’t think I could have expected much since they were literally asking for panelists a week before the con. The only thing I gathered from the panel was that “Bukkit was awesome,” which I knew. After ten minutes they were ready for a Q&A session so we bailed. One thing I did learn about Bukkit: they haven’t really been in contact with Mojang. If Mojang decides to change anything they’ll always be playing catch up. It seems like it would make more sense of Notch just hired these guys and made Bukkit the official Minecraft server. I shouldn’t have to choose what Minecraft server to use. Just have one. A good one and be done with it.

We didn’t bother with the other little sessions at Minecon after that.

Yogscast. Emmy’s a big fan of these guys, and every now and then she feeds me a video from their Youtube channel. Yogscast is a video podcast of Minecraft mods and it’s run by two British guys: Simon and Lewis. We went to their panel and they showed videos that were on their Youtube channel (I assume) and talked about the Yogbox (a collection of mods), and then showed a video of a story they’re telling via Minecraft.

In the end, now that Minecon is done, the big news with Yogscast is the fallout with Notch. There are rumors and gossip flying about. They’ve been called divas. They’ve been said to demand their airfare paid by Mojang and they dropped the f-bomb on a six year old — I don’t know how true any of this is. But, if you’ve watched an episode of their podcast, they seem to say and do as they please, and for a live show, what do you expect to change? They wouldn’t be Yogscast if they didn’t act like themselves. If you fire up one of their videos and listen to them for a few seconds, they’ll disarm whatever negative notions you have about them. Hopefully Yogscast and Notch can make amends because that could only be good for the game and community. We all want a Minecon 2012,right? Looks like they’ve responded to Notch’s tweets on Reddit.

The convention ended at the Wynn’s club XS for us. All the 21+ Minecon attendees were invited to hang out and at midnight Deadmau5 gave us a concert starting with a remixed version of C418′s Haggstrom — which I really liked. I don’t think everyone at the shindig were Minecon attendees. There was plenty of eye-candy (for us guys, duh) and the music was great. When we entered they were even playing a remix of Angry Birds. How awesome is that?

I don’t listen to Deadmau5 and I didn’t actually know who he was until Minecon, but apparently he’s a very big celeb in the likes of <name your favorite big name celebrity here>. I started to read up on him. He has a public Minecraft server and he’s Youtube’d about the game. It’s nerdy, awesome, and I respect him for that. The video above was taken with my iPhone 4 and I certainly wasn’t the only one filming. There were plenty of people with their smartphones out capturing the moment.

Do I think they could hold another Minecon? It all depends on how Minecraft develops over the next year. Notch says he’s back to work on it after his vacation. If there is another con, I hope that Notch makes an actual keynote presentation and that they’ve learned their lessons from this con about how to vet panels and create convention content.

Now that I’m home, Minecraft has shifted back as the main game to play. I watched/played the 9 hour epic of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and I’ll probably play a lot more of the co-op in the coming months, but I rebooted the Minecraft server and opted to start a new world so we could play Minecraft the way it was meant to be played: survival mode and hopefully that will carry me (and the rest of the guys on the server) through the chilly winter months.

Gallery of my Minecon images below.