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Callously Grading Freely-Given Labors Of Love

Well, that didn't work out very well; I'm already ready to bail out of my new custom 1.6.4 mod package, and the reason is actually pretty obvious in practice:  Each mod you add to Minecraft will only add the functionality of that mod. 
So the question is, "What functionality does this mod add which actually makes my game more worthwhile to play?"  Being a bit of an armchair game designer, my senses are too acute to ignore that a lot of what those mods add actually seems to make the game a bit worse, in some aspects.  They are, after all, created by Minecraft enthusiasts who are pretty good at JAVA, and not necessarily good game designers.

Lets just go straight down the list of what I've got installed here:
  • Rei's Minimap - Rei's Minimap adds an overhead map and a waypoint system to a game designed to support neither.  A pretty cool mod, it includes other nice features such as the ability to see blips on the map to represent various kinds of entities.

    The main downside of Rei's Minimap is that it is a bit of an immersion breaker.  One of Minecraft's greatest gifts to its players is that you can get lost in it, and there are actual in-game maps that both facilitate the need for a map while presenting them in a lot more immersive fashion.

    On the other hand, for many players, getting lost in Minecraft sucks; they'd rather know where they're going at all times.  (Even in stock Minecraft creative mode, you can read your coordinates off of the F3 status display toggle, so the means to avoid being truly lost are available.)

    Verdict: Take Rei's Minimap if you think knowing where you're going is more important than immersion.
  • Archimedes' Ships - It adds customizable, multi-block vehicles in the forms of ships and airships. 

    There's really nothing not to like about this, as it does not conflict with stock Minecraft in any way, which lacks such capacity in its base system and even the stock boats fit comfortably as a lower-tier version.  The clutter it adds in the form of multicolored balloons isn't so bad, relatively speaking. 

    Verdict: Take it, there's really nothing it adds that makes Minecraft worse, and it provides a cool new means of transport.
  • Atomic Science - I haven't used it much yet, but this is basically a mod that lets you build bigger sources of power to fuel the machines of many industrial-themed mods. 

    Of course, these being nuclear power sources, when something goes wrong, it makes a really big crater, and I like that: it's a balancing factor.  It also adds uranium ore as world clutter, but that's not too bad, as uranium ore is about as rare as diamonds. 

    Verdict: Take it if you like the idea of dangerous, but highly powerful engines.
  • Buildcraft - This is a big, powerful mod.  The idea behind Buildcraft is to basically to automate several tasks. 

    It adds the means to move items from container to container intelligently via pipes, which is needed considering how cluttered Minecraft inventories can become, but isn't that what stock Minecraft minecarts already do, with less fidelity?  I think a more interesting item distribution route to mod would involve extending minecart item distribution fidelity.  Minecarts already move items, pipes are redundant, and minecarts are more challenging to route (a benefit to gameplay that pipes cut out).

    Buildcraft also adds the means to automatically produce big batches of things via automatic crafting tables, which can be a time saver to cut down on monotony of some tasks, but in practice there are not too many things that need to be recreated that often.  The same goes with recreating structures with blueprints: making unique structures is more novel and beneficial, although mechnical assistance to make an exact copy, when needed, is appreciated. 

    Buildcraft also adds the means to mine autonomously with quarries and mining wells, which is very powerful, but I'm beginning to second guess my wanting that now because these devices make big, ugly holes (of course, I could always mine below ground) and provide far too much resources for far too little effort on behalf of the player.  Mining by hand is a somewhat important part of the game or, failing that, at least make mining mechanically more challenging than turning on a machine and feeding an engine (like Railcraft does with its tunnel bores).

    There's a few other things Buildcraft does, but that's the major bases covered, and I really appreciate it does all this and only pollutes world generation with one resource: oil.

    On a wholly cosmetic note, it would be cool if engines transmitted their energy from block to block with gearboxes instead of, "conductive pipes."  C'mon, I wanna see some clockworks!

    Verdict: I think Buildcrafts' implementation needs to be better focused on improving gameplay by being introducing more challenging mechanics for what it delivers.  However, it's still reasonably balanced in that none of the engines produce energy for free.  If powerful means of automation is what you want, Buildcraft delivers extremely efficiently.  Pass on it if you want to do more things by hand.
  • Galacticraft - Build a rocket.  Go to the moon.  See weird moon-versions of monsters and villagers.  Suffocate unless you nail oxygen production.

    It also adds "heavy duty" tools, weapons, and armor that is made out of tougher metal.  They're functionally equivalent to iron items, but more durable.  These fit in well enough with Minecraft's existing item hierarchy.

    It also adds cannisters and a portable oil extractor.  This was a wholly cosmetic inclusion, as it's nothing a bucket could not have accomplished.

    Verdict: In terms of gameplay impact, there's not a whole lot to do on the moon or other planets.  However, Galacticraft adds an upper tier activity you can do if you're not content with visiting The Nether and want another realm to walk around in.
  • ICBM - It primarily adds a bunch of interesting new kinds of TNT blocks that have a wide variety of powerful or interesting effects.  It also adds rocket launchers and grenades, for more remote detonation methods.

    Personally, I get all the exploding I could ever want in Minecraft done by frequent encounters with creepers, I don't particularly have any need for bigger and badder bombs.

    However, one thing I do like about ICBM is in the sentry addition, which adds automated turrets for gunning down enemies.  Frankly, I think the constant respawning monster encounters in Minecraft beget a solution of greater finality than just building a stout wall.  Yet, I have to admit, there are more elegant ways to deal with mobs in Minecraft than an automated turret (such as routing a moat in such a way that the currents will drop them directly on a cactus block).

    Verdict: Do you really, really like watching things go, "Boom" and the stock TNT blocks just aren't doing it for you anymore?  If so, then this is the mod for you.  The sentry addition is great if you're looking for a balanced implementation of powered automated defense turrets.
  • Inventory Tweaks - Makes it easy to organize your inventory and chests.  Also reloads your inventory and equipment in ways that you can easily define with a text editor.

    Verdict: Take it.  Notch should sleep on his piles of money with something resembling shame knowing that pickaxes don't replace themselves when broken unless you have this mod installed: that should have been fixed before v1.0.
  • Mekanism - It makes a big damn mess while saving you from the big damn mess your other mods have already inflicted upon you.

    Remember what I wrote above, "What functionality does this mod add which actually makes my game more worthwhile to play?"  Well, looking down a list of Mechanism's parts, I'm going to say that about 90% of any player's interactions with Mekanism are going to be a bunch of additional crafting steps.   It also adds five more kinds of ingots that nobody asked for, that in turn go into creating various armors and weapons of wholly useless tiers versus the stock ones already available.  So most of what Mekanism does is not very worthwhile, in my opinion, quite the opposite.

    But Mekanism does do some useful things.  It allows you to convert ores between various crafting mods with similar ores.  It also allows you to produce energy in additional ways (such as solar power).  The batteries it adds have become the powering method of choice of anyone who just wants to plop down a machine and watch it go.  It also has some cool capacity to interface with other industrial mods, basically cutting corners to make the machines simpler and easier to use.

    The remaining things it does I find borderline cheating.  It adds teleporters, tools that change the time of day, tools that change the weather.  It circumvents the need for multiple tools, and then it circumvents the need to repair tools.  These all take away from the overall immersion and depth to Minecraft, even if they are labor-saving conveniences.

    Verdict: If you think further obfuscation is what you need to have fun in Minecraft, Mekanism gots you covered.  However, that's not my fetish, about half the reason I want to start over right now is to not have to deal with the evils of osmium ore and metallurgic infusers.
  • Modular Force Field System - Pretty much exactly what it says on the tin.

    It makes indestructible walls that are powered off of energy instead of built out of matter.   Great for containing nuclear explosions or keeping other players with diamond pickaxes out of your base.  Plus, having walls made out of energy just plain looks cool.

    Verdict: It adds a new mechanic without taking away anything.  I can't complain.  But, if you're just playing single player and don't expect to set off any nukes by accident, you probably don't need it.
  • Modular Power Suits - It's basically legitimized cheating.

    All the power suits do is make you Superman: run faster, jump higher, fly, shoot projectiles.  What's the cost for this?  Energy.  Where does energy come from?  As far as I can tell, it's free, my suit naturally regenerates energy all on its own, and I haven't even installed the solar power or kinetic generator that's supposed to do that.

    It's the free energy generation that breaks the balance of this mod, essentially giving you something for nothing.  I particularly find the modular hand tool to be a problem, as it rapidly becomes an all-in-one tool of the highest potency and unlimited durability: there went anything resembling balance.

    Verdict: Modular Power Suits only takes away limitations whose purpose is to add a greater context to Minecraft.   Take it if you want to be Superman.
  • Not Enough Items - Everybody's favorite item-summoning and creative mode tweaking interface for Minecraft.

    Like Inventory Tweaks, Not Enough Items is a mod that silently shames Notch for cutting corners in vital areas of the game.  Without this mod, you basically have to look up your item recipes on the Internet, as trial and error recipe discovery is not bloody likely, and that's just bad design.

    Not Enough Items does have a significant downside in that you can use it to cheat outside of creative mode.  That's not right: if the game is in survival mode, Not Enough Items should be locked in recipe mode.

    Verdict: For good or for ill, Not Enough Items is virtually mandatory.  Recipe Book is a great higher-immersion alternative, but it lacks all the cool plugins support that Not Enough Items has.
  • Optifine - A powerful rendering engine revamp for Minecraft.

    Honestly, Optifine is a bit of an odd duck.  A mod that completely revamps the way Minecraft is rendered?!  Really?!  I don't know if there's any mod for any other game that does that.  But Optifine is nonetheless somewhat a necessity due to JAVA limitations meaning that the hardware is pushed all that much harder.

    To his credit, Notch and company have been revamping Minecraft's engine in recent revisions, making Optifine less and less necessary.  But Optifine still has a few small features and a performance edge over the stock engine.

    Verdict: Take it unless you encounter some kind of issue with it.  If so, you can just remove it from your installation again with no particular consequence, as it doesn't change anything about the game world, just the way it's rendered.
  • Railcraft - Though conceived as a mod to make stock minecraft minecarts a lot more capable, Railcraft is a whole lot more than that.

    Railcraft adds a bunch of fancy new minecart track types and switchers.  It enhances the physics of multiple minecarts working together in such a way that they are less likely to do strange things like derail eachother.  It adds carts that can keep chunks of the world loaded, explode, bore through tunnels, lay tracks, and more.  It adds factories and steam engines.  It adds automatic feeders for cows, and other cool things like that.  Railcraft works very well with buildcraft, too.

    About the only downside of Railcraft for me is that it adds some new ore types and ingots.  However, that's okay if the mod gets a lot of use out of them, and it seems to me that Railcraft really does.

    Verdict: With or without Buildcraft, Railcraft offers some great features for building-focused players.  I think the choice of additional features offered by Buildcraft is a little more relevant in terms of gameplay mechanic, because it requires more effort on behalf of the players to build a good Railcraft mechanism.
  • Tinker's Construct - Do you like the weapons and tools in Minecraft?   Well, Tinker's Construct is about to make them all obsolete.

    Tinker's Construct basically adds a whole different way to craft tools and weapons, as well as a few new tools and weapons of its own.  The items created in Tinker's Construct are unique in that they can never be destroyed, when they reach "broken" status from wear and tear they just operate in a drastically reduced state.  This is great if you're annoyed at having to rebuild tools all the time.  It also allows you to form personal attachments to your items (which rankles all the more if you lose them somehow).

    It also adds a new way to smelt ores into new and somewhat magical forms of new ores, and to tweak your constructed tools with a whole different kind of enchantment that does not take levels from the player but instead lets you invest various valuable resources you find into getting the enhancements you want.  Both of these mechanics are pretty cool!

    However, I think this mod goes a little too far in empowering the player.  You can essentially remove any need you have to repair your tools and weapons by slapping some moss on it.  (Basically, whenever I can get something for nothing, it makes me consider the balance might be broken... at least moss takes time to repair the tools.)  The modifier system essentially removes any and all need for the stock Minecraft enchantment system, and the resulting redundancy feels like this mod simply doesn't play nice with stock Minecraft.  Similarly, the weapons and tools you make in Tinker's Construct can easily make all stock Minecraft tools and weapons completely obsolete.

    The natura sister-mod is largely an improvement.  I initially found the gravel ores and oreberry bushes to be a bit of unneeded clutter, but they grew on me.  I also like what it adds to the skyfloating islands.

    Verdict: If you dislike Minecraft's existing weapon, tool, and enchantment balance enough to want an alternative, Tinker's Construct is a great replacement.  Otherwise, it mixes with the stock game about as well as oil mixes with water.
That's all I've currently got loaded in my custom package of Minecraft, with the exception of Steve's Carts.  I haven't really used Steve's Carts enough to render much opinion on it, but I think I might prefer it more than MineFactory Reloaded to perform the same tasks because there's quite a bit more gameplay that goes into having to assemble those solutions.

One thing is for certain: most of these mods are made by people who are not particularly concerned with maintaining Minecraft's balance.  (Either that, or they have radically different ideas of balance than I do!)   I really shouldn't be surprised, because haven't mods always been that way, breaking down the barriers that the modders find inconvenient?  This nonetheless introduces a problem for me because I'm trying to get a good gameplay experience here, and a broken balance is counter-intuitive to these aims.

I think I should start at the drawing board for my mod mix again.  I should probably go sparingly on any balance-affecting mod, and stick to ones that add things without breaking anything important.


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