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Hooked On Minecrack

Minecraft has certainly made quite the splash in the PC world.  Who can say why?  It's a crude, remarkably slow-to-develop game whose main vanilla-version appeal is that it can pull an impressive simulation of randomly generated terrain from simple blocks.  Then you can go out and do things with those blocks, and that's the whole game.  Personally I'd attribute Minecraft's success to a combination of a Valve mention and that there's a child within many of us who still loves playing in the sandbox.  Minecraft's block-like structure, as crude as it looks, makes such constructive play easy, and the 3D nature gives it that much more impact to our brains.

The weekend before last (about 10 days ago) the younger brother stopped by and talked gaming.  I mentioned to him I was playing The Sims 3 wholly to justify having spent so much money on it.  He mentioned he was playing the Yogbox, a compilation of Minecraft mods, and apologized in advance because he knew I would be hooked on Minecraft the minute I tried it.

Sure enough.

Of the mods included in the Yogbox, there's many that I'd now hate to play the game without:
  • Rei's Minimap is one I'll often take the time to patch into the vanilla client, as it provides a rather nice interface for map and coordinate tracking.
  • Treecapacitor eliminates the silly idea of needing to cut down trees brick by brick. 
  • Keep Inventory On Death eliminates a mandatory scramble to recover your materials and then sort them (a chore so bothersome I would often opt to simply rebuild my tools).  
  • Inventory Tweaks allows sorting of your personal inventory and chests - very handy considering how things don't auto-stack in most situations.
  • Better Enchanting gives you complete control of what you're exchanging your levels for in enchanting things.  
  • The Craft Guide includes in-game help on how to craft everything so I don't need to bother to look them up, and the Crafting Table 2 makes things even easier than that by simply letting you pick the products out of a list based off of your available resources.  
  • Mo' Creatures makes the overworld considerably more interesting by adding a slew of creatures, while Balkon's Weapon Mod adds a number of rather cool weapons ranging from spears to bayonet-packing muskets. 
Fun With Allocators

And then there's my favorite of the simpler mods included, Pfaff's Mods.  It adds, among other things, the "allocator," which is my nomination for the one block out of any fan-made block there is which should be included with the official Minecraft.  It basically allows you to move objects from container to container, or simply spit them out the back.  This makes creations such as the below screenshots of an "automated furnace" possible.  

The allocator blocks actually move blocks from a chest-carrying mine cart moving along the track into the smelter, and that same mine cart returns to various chests in order to drop off the finished products and pick up more materials  It did have an unfortunate fault where sometimes the forge output allocator would shoot a smelted item out and miss the cart, leaving the items on the tracks to stop the cart and ending the process.

After a sleepless night, I came up with a second version that uses two mine carts (one for fuel, and another for materials to smelt) and a three-tiered procession of furnaces which fire the finished products out of the back whereupon they impact fans (another pfaff mod block) which blow them down into the next level, where they are sorted.  It had three flaws.  First, it seems two mine carts create an error similar to what you would encounter in multithreading computing in that they would occasionally put fuel or materials in the wrong slot of the furnace based off of the timing of the two carts hitting the triggers.  The second was that the fans would sometimes stop working due to a bug, although they could be restored to functionality by placing and removing a block in front of the fan.  The third was that items blown downstairs would hit a wooden pressure plate attached to an allocator and sometimes the items would fall in such a way as to hold down the plate without being gathered by the allocator - this could be solved by simply attaching a fan to one side of the plate to blow any residual blocks off of it.  (I would submit screenshots of all this, but I lost them and that world to an attempt to update Milleniare after foolishly not backing up my world.)

A third version of my automated smelter, which I have yet to create, should be much simpler and considerably more powerful.  The multithreading problem is eliminated by simply loading the fuel into the furnaces manually - it takes a long time for 64 coal to be burnt through, anyway.  Once that is done, it's one less input to worry about, and I should be able to create a long chain of as many furnaces I want, probably taking materials into the front of the furnace and ejecting the smelted materials out the back where it may be sorted by minecart and/or fan and pressure plates.

Actual NPC Colonies!

Two very cool mods of vaguely similar function are Minecolony and Millenaire.  Both mods are excellent additions in that they introduce NPCs that build their own settlements and something resembling an economy, finally giving you a good use for all those blocks of resources you tend to accumulate by enabling you to exchange them for things you actually need while simultaneous allowing the villagers to expand their villages with what you traded to them.

Minecolony gives you more control, casting you as the leader of a founding colony by placing special boxes that represent various huts in a settlement of your creation.  Settlers can then go about building actual blueprints in those positions, and eventually you'll have a functioning economy that produces lots of metal, bread, and coinage.  It does have a greater micro (as opposed to macro) focus than Millenaire, but also produces a lot more CPU lag as your busy villagers are constantly doing things such as trying to path their way up mountains to gather the piece of cobblestone you just knocked loose.

Millenaire is a bit more extravagant in that the settlements are naturally occurring colonies of various cultures that are (at least initially) outside of your control, so you work as an independent trader improving your reputation.  It includes some rather cool features such as more items (e.g. nordic forged weapons and tools), a map of the villages, reputation, diplomacy, raids, and so on.  Compared to Minecolony, Millenaire has a much better feeling of cultural differences, but it does skimp a bit on the pathing (often resorting to teleporting villagers)... however, this is actually a bit of a relief to your CPU.  About the main feature I'd like to see is for villagers to repair their damaged buildings (something they can be instructed to do in Minecolony).

While Millenaire and Minecolony can load an function at the same time, they're not really coded to interact properly, so  I advise keeping a good 200m distance between the two types of villages, lest you run into unfortunate interactions such as Minecolony villagers killing Millenaire livestock or (possibly?) stealing from their chests, as they certainly have no reservations about going through yours.

And Most Of The Rest Of The Yogbox

There are a few Yogbox mods I can do without.  While Better Dungeons is good, the included Adventure Items includes a horribly over-exploitative "soul sword" that quickly becomes better than any other melee weapon (by dumping levels into increasing its potency) and is completely immune to use-based damage, rendering using ay other weapon pointless.   Similarly, Minecraft Minions rubs my game-designer aspiration heart the wrong way by being a glorified cheat which allows you to offload all your work for a pittance of evil-doing.  Thankfully, these can be avoided by simply not using their features in game.

There's still quite a bit I've yet to even play with.  Thaumcraft 2 drastically increases the amount of crafting you can do with a whole new system that plays with extra-dimensional energies to create very cool items at the potential cost of introducing "taint" that may very well corrupt the world if left unchecked.  I've also yet to build an airship or thoroughly take advantage of the Better Dungeons.  This is far from a complete list.

Of course, one could always want more.  While I enjoy Millenaire for its adding fairly compelling cultures to the game, I'm desperate to update it in order to see recent fixes to a number of bothersome bugs related to villager pathing and building.  On my first session, I took several days (real life, yet) on and off working at lowering an entire mountain range so that the Nordic village I was assisting would finally build a sheep farm.  It was a wasted gesture: they never did find the "space," even surrounded by ample flat terrain.  Yet, playing just Vanilla Minecraft with a few choice mods and Millenaire is not nearly as interesting, so I suppose I'll be waiting with baited breath for the next big YogBox release.

Overall, Minecraft is a hell of a value for $26, and the community support is astounding considering there's not yet even a creator-supported API to use them.  With mention of upcoming API mod support, it seems likely the future of this humble java-based game will be even more outstanding.
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