One of the more interesting things to hit the geek scene at the moment is Minecraft. For quite some time now, in just about every Linux or programming medium I use I come across discussion of Minecraft. By most definitions Minecraft is an indie sandbox construction game, although peoples ‘mileage’ does somewhat vary.

The most popular gameplay mode at the moment is survival mode. When you first start you spawn somewhere in the world, and in the time between spawning and the sun setting, you need to do something to ensure survival, because it’s going to be a somewhat scary night if you intend to just sleep underneath the stars.

When you start you are armed with nothing but your fists, which aren’t really very productive in doing very much. The first step is usually to punch some trees until you collect some wood to make basic tools. From this point you’ll want to try and produce something that produces light, and some sort of dwelling which will save you from attack. After this beginning however, people start to play different.

Once you’ve survived your first night, you’ll mostly be safe unless your somewhat silly or run out of time in some huge building project. So the gameplay falls to what you what to produce or how you want to spend your time. Some people will spend their time mining trying to find all sorts of minerals and trying to collect diamonds and produce huge underground tunnel systems, other people will build a castle that soars into the sky, others will play with redstone circuitry and spend time creating all sorts of complicated systems to trigger traps or lock doors.

One of the more interesting dynamics ontop of all of this is that you can do it together. Anyone who cares to can host a minecraft server, which dynamically creates terrain for players to use. You will get all sorts of people playing together on a single server, producing all sorts of things, from a life-size model of a starship, or a working minecart transit system.

I’ve been running a server on my home machine for a little while now for friends and family. We’ve produced all sorts of little projects, all looking completely different, based on whim when building. I have a room at the highest point in the world, a redstone circuit test area and an undersea glass house.

One other interesting area to mention is the server modding community. There exists a server wrapper called ‘bukkit’ which adds extra functionality to the minecraft server, there are tons of mods build on this framework which add all sorts of little functionality. One of the better mods is called ‘essentials’ which adds all sorts of basic commands and useful tricks to the console. I’ve been using it for some time, and it works quite well. The entire platform is still a work in progress, the game itself is still in beta and the mod framework is version 0.0.1. While there are various bugs the game is far from unplayable.

The differences between servers running mods can make the the gameplay very different. My server has mob damage disabled, so mobs cannot damage buildings or the terrain. It enables chest protection so you can prevent other players from stealing your stuff. It also has a few utilities such as warp points, but on the whole its quite close to the original game. Some servers add extra dynamics to the game such as by having defined towns, where each area is designated under someone’s control and no one else can build within your area. Another common mod is that of protection zones which can be placed anywhere in the world, and prevent other players from building within a set area around the protection block. There are some servers which push gameplay in other directions such as mass build tools which just create building materials magically and let you completely re-architect the landscape. With the game still in what can only be described as a state of flux, I’m really interested in which direction the game ends up.

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