The Trouble With Minecraft

Not too long ago, I was complaining about how Thaumcraft 3 does not (yet) do anything I particularly care to do, but yesterday I discovered that Redpower2 had come to Minecraft 1.4.6.


My face when.



Despite being empowered to automate building exactly how I wanted to be by Redpower2, I feel hollow.  This is the trouble I have with Minecraft: there's no point.  Many games will give you a civilization to save, or wealth/power to accrue, a scenario to complete, or some kind of reason to exist.  Minecraft just spawns you a gloriously-intricate map of voxels and tells you to invent your own reason to exist.  I suppose you could count killing the Ender Dragon, but I'm not entirely sure why you would, that fellow doesn't seem to be harming anyone from two dimensions away.

Notch and Company are making a ton of money, and maybe they deserve it because they've successfully harnessed making the entire Internet work for them.  Think about it: every newbie is plopped down in survival mode and directed to either learn how to produce player-made content for the glory of future Minecraft screenshots or die before the next sunrise.  A habit of channeling effort into Minecraft forms in the players' minds and, at the very furthest end of the spectrum, they're learning JAVA to slam out another mod for Notch.  Little wonder Minecraft received such a hearty recommendation from the Team Fortress 2 team, it's something Valve does as well.
However, the fact that we've collectively invested so much time into this game which has no point other than what we bring to it is nothing short of remarkable since the game is unfinished by many definitions of a game.  Had Notch stuck with making it like Dwarf Fortress, at least that game has adequate trappings of purpose: help a new outpost of Dwarves flourish and theoretically survive.  As Minecraft stands today, you're just endlessly collecting blocks, your chests get full over time, and the best you can do is try to invent something to do with them.

I wanted more than that, so I installed Millenaire, which is all about finding these lovely civilizations of NPCs and helping them survive.  All those pesky cobblestone rocks and sand and dirt and bread and whatnot can actually form a purpose here, trading them with the locals also helps the civilizations grow in the process, which goes far to making me feeling like I'm part of something bigger than myself.

I like that, it's a good start, but something still seems to be missing.  Maybe it's the fact that nothing particularly significant happens to Millenaire cities?  They just grow and offer more services.  Eventually, they reach a limit and grow no more.  Once in awhile, a city or group of bandits will invade, and that's sort of interesting, but none of the NPCs stay perma-dead so it doesn't make a lot of difference if you bother to defend them or not.  Actually, Millenaire NPCs do stay perma-dead if it was the player that killed them, but there's not much incentive for the player to do so since dead cities aren't terribly interesting.  So, as far as where the incentives are set is concerned, you play Millenaire to help towns grow.
It took me three Lets Play videos to actually find someone who knew what
they were doing in Millenaire.  Maybe I'm ahead of the curve here.

Millenaire is an improvement over stock Minecraft, but there still seems to be a certain level of lacking detail that brings about a flow and narrative of a story.  Dwarf Fortress has adequate enough of detail to somewhat do this.  I've witnessed a similar phenomenon in some 4X games, such as Age Of Wonders: Shadow Magic.  The difference between a game that has this and game that does not seems to come down to a vetting what goes into the random generation routines and a fine attention paid to the presentation of the each.  A compelling storyteller is one thing, but a compelling storyteller that knows how to arrange everything onto tables that a random number generator can pull from, without killing the sense of a compelling story, is a wonder.

While we're armpit-deep in upgrading the guts of the game, we should probably also add a difficulty that ramps up the larger your settlement gets, so it's a perpetual battle to redouble your building skills and see how large you can make your settlement.  Currently, the NPC opposition is as tough at the beginning as they are at the end, so they start off terrifying and end up nothing more than an annoyance.

So basically, take Minecraft, add a compelling narrative and difficulty curve.  Now that would be a game.  Maybe that's the one I've been looking to make all this time?

Oh well... out of sheer stir-craziness, I think I have invented a Minecraft project of a sort right now, which goes something like this: "Find all four kinds of Millenaire civilizations in the same map, build a railroad between them (I'll probably use Railcraft), help all settlements grow to full size, and feel free to use Redpower2 devices along the way."   All without the benefit of a compelling narrative or ramping up difficulty.  Whee?  As I said, it does feel somewhat hallow.


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