Sunday, December 18, 2011

Minecraft: Compact cobble generator using RedPower 2

Now that Eloraam has released RedPower 2.0pr4 I've generated a new world in Minecraft 1.0.0 and have been starting to build things.

One of the basic devices that I build early on is a cobblestone generator, to ensure that there's plenty of cobblestone at hand.

Back in 1.8.1 with RedPower 2.0pr3 I'd come up with a vertically-oriented design for a cobble generator on a small footprint and minimal use of parts. The Redstone Tubes added in RedPower 2.0pr4 make the design cleaner and use even fewer parts, since Redstone Tubes carry the redstone signal to the block breakers.

Side view (click to enlarge)

Top view (click to enlarge)

 YouTube video of the cobble generator

Each vertical layer uses two lava and four block breakers, producing four cobble. As is typical for me, I went overboard and opted for four layers, so the cobble generator produces 16 cobble per two second tick.

Here's the layout of each vertical layer of the cobble generator:


The Bill of Materials for each layer:

  • 2 Lava
  • 2 Redstone Tube
  • 4 Block Breaker
  • 8 Glass Covers (for the sides of the lava and cobble)

Additional materials required to complete the cobble generator:

  • Timer (set to default two second interval)
  • Lever
  • Various bits of wiring and tubing
  • Chest(s) to store output

    Just a single water source block is used for the entire generator. Note the water has a 1 block horizontal run before the vertical drops; this is critical to prevent the water from flowing horizontally inside the generator and turning the lava into obsidian. The water columns extend 1 block into the floor below the bottom level of the generator.

    Each layer requires lava source blocks in order for it to flow horizontally and create the cobble. A more compact version could be built with lava source blocks above the cobble columns, but the vertical flow of lava is so slow that the generator couldn't operate on the two second cycle, so output speed would be reduced. This might be something to try in the Nether, since lava flows faster there, I think.

    Each layer generates 4 cobble every 2 seconds, which works out to 120 cobble per minute per layer. This 4 layer generator produces 480 cobble per minute, which is 7.5 stacks.

    An alternate layout is possible using half as much lava in a central column:


    This can be used if lava is at a premium at the expense of a wider footprint and the use of more redstone tubes.

    Update 11 Mar 2012: Ouroborus's comment about tilings is accurate. Here are some tilings I've worked out:

    Cobble generator tilings (click to enlarge).

    I've built the first two designs in the first column—the ones with 4 and 12 block breakers per layer. I don't think I'll go any larger; the 12-breaker design was built with six layers and it's a beast:

    Six layer cobble generator puts 72 block breakers in a 7x7 footprint (click to enlarge).

    It belches out cobble at an incredible rate. However, due to the changes in Equivalent Exchange 2 the amount of EMC is underwhelming.

    This will change once Eloraam releases the Pulverizer for RedPower 2. Using Pulverizers to grind the cobble into gravel will quadruple its EMC value.

    Sunday, December 11, 2011

    Mojang speaks with authority about a mod API, but many questions still unanswered

    Last week Gamasutra published Persson Hands Minecraft Lead To Jens Bergensten, 'Confident' About Move which contains the following:

    Bergensten's next step is to work on the mod API for Minecraft, a feature that players have been yearning for.

    "Until January I will be the only developer on
    Minecraft, so things will have to be slow initially. But my absolute main priority now is to create a mod API, because there is no way in hell I will be able to add as much content as the whole internet can do," he laughed.

    "The game needs an API, so end users can obtain the mods without hassle.... I'm not going to do it all by myself though. We have a new programmer beginning in January, and we are talking to existing mod API teams, such as Bukkit, Minecraft Forge, and Minecraft Coder Pack."

    As for an estimated release date for the API, the new
    Minecraft frontman suggested that we will see a release "no sooner than March." [my emphasis]

    Jens gets it. He gets that it's absolutely critical at this point for Mojang to shift focus from Minecraft the game to Minecraft the platform.

    Because outside of a cultlike reverence for Notch by some Minecraft players, there's nothing tying people to the game, and a significant percentage of the user base will jump ship the moment a viable alternative arrives. Particularly if the successor offers advantages by being technically superior, or is easy to mod, or free, or some combination of the three.

    And alternatives are coming, but that's for another post.

    Reinforcing the technical base of the Minecraft platform will ensure its continuing vitality with users and modders and buttress it against forthcoming competition.

    Additional details became available as a result of a subsequent interview with Jens:

    MFM: You said in another interview you were going to work on the Mod API. I know it’s early to ask for specific details, but a lot of people are wondering do you plan on doing this through a web interface, or directly from Minecraft or the launcher?

    Jeb: My plan is that you are going to find and install mods from ingame in the main menu.

    MFM: How do you plan to handle it for the modders? Does the old plan of making the latest source code always available still apply?

    Jeb: No, we will only release an api that you build your mods upon.

    MFM: Are you going to work on the Mod API exclusively, or alongside developing new features for the coming updates?

    Jeb: I’ll still add some new features, too. Currently I’m looking for a mod api team that can help me out with the modding stuff.

    Will Jens announce the membership of this mod API team helping him? He specifically listed Bukkit, Minecraft Forge, and Minecraft Coder Pack, but did he also talk to the Modloader/ModloaderMP and Spout teams? And there may be additional players interested in the direction of the mod API who'd like to talk to him or be included on the team.

    Changing a mod to use the new mod API may involve a fair amount of work. One can speculate that a certain amount of lobbying must be going on behind the scenes from proponents of the various APIs. If two APIs offer similar hooks implemented in different ways, modders using the technique which is selected for inclusion into the official API won't be required to make changes that are as extensive as those who use the API which implemented the techniques that were passed over.

    Some of the lobbying is overt. I recall seeing on Minecraft Forum a number of messages from a member of the Spout community; the messages addressed Eloraam and touted the advantages of Spout along with exhortations to switch RedPower 2 to Spout instead of using Forge. (I can no longer find these messages; either they've been deleted, Minecraft Forum's search function is flaky, or Google's indexing of Forum messages is incomplete.)

    With the prospect of a new modding system, there are many questions which arise. A sampling:

    • Will the arrival of an official mod API, will Mojang withdraw permission for mods to directly modify Minecraft using decompiling/deobfuscation techniques?
    • What will become of MCP? Will the community still perceive that there is value in the work needed to support it?
    • If a modder needs a hook that hasn't been implemented in the API, will there be a way to request that it be added?
    • Since the new mod system will likely result in more mods being used simultaneously, the demand for the limited number of block IDs will increase.  Will a Block ID-conserving practice such as specifying block types as Block ID/Tile Entity pairs become standard? Will Minecraft itself be modified to use such techniques to reduce the enormous number of Block IDs that it currently consumes?
    • Will there be an option to disable particular installed mods? Currently sophisticated users are able to change their mod configurations to allow different mod combinations on a per-map basis.
    • Will mod combinations/block ID assignments be stored for each map? This would support the easy exchange of maps requiring particular combinations of mods.
    • If mods will be downloaded and installed from the main menu of Minecraft, where will they be hosted? Is Mojang going to offer to host the download files for mods?
    • Many modders rely on and other sites to receive a small amount of revenue when the link is clicked to download a mod. What will happen to this revenue stream?
    • To date, while amassing millions from Minecraft, Mojang has done nothing to share its windfall with the mod community that helped propel the game to success. Will Mojang implement a "mod store" to allow modders to recoup their sometimes considerable time investments?
      I'm sure that many modders will be paying close attention to the answers of these questions as they emerge.

        Sunday, December 4, 2011

        Luke Plunkett's great Minecraft review on Kotaku

        I highly recommend Luke Plunkett's Minecraft: The Kotaku Review. He does a great job of capturing the essence of the game and how it rises above its shortcomings.

        I take issue with just a couple of points.

        The first is that I think he's overly negative about solo play. I play solo almost exclusively and don't seem to have the issues he does. Of course, I'm now using mods to eliminate some of the tedium. And I basically ignore the Nether and End dimensions.

        Then he says:

        Tell me that any other game needs such extra-curricular dedication and I'll tell you it's a game not worth playing, but there's just something disarming about the way Minecraft does it that makes it all OK.

        I certainly agree that games should be more self-sufficient when it comes to information, but has he forgotten MMOs such as World of Warcraft? You'll waste much time and play poorly if you don't refer to external sources of information while playing WoW. But maybe he doesn't like WoW, for this reason. It's unclear.

        Plunkett really nails it in his penultimate paragraph:

        It does something that's very important to a lot of people, so important that they're willing to put up with its flaws and quirks. And that something is allow freedom. Expression. Creativity. Minecraft gives you the means to truly play a game, to bend it to your whims, and not just press buttons to advance someone else's story. [my emphasis]

        You make the story. No cutscenes. No voice from Headquarters in your ear explaining your mission. Just complete freedom.

        Overall a terrific review of Minecraft by Luke Plunkett, check it out.

        A statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other

        [Update: See also Notch doesn't really mind direct ripoffs of Minecraft and Jeb's statement at Minecon 2012, Mojang addresses copying and Minecraft modder conduct.]

        In No One Cares About Your Cool Game Idea, Mike Birkhead, Senior Game Designer at Vigil Games, said:

        Ideas are worthless. The only currency that holds any weight is the ability and drive to execute. That awesome game idea you have, the one that’s going to “change everything”, the one that you’re going to sell for a million dollars, the one that no one has come up with yet… frankly, no one gives a shit. Harsh, but then, the truth is not pleasant; it is just that, the truth. [my emphasis]

        Copying ideas and features is okay. (Copying code or textures is not, unless it is open source and the copying is compliant with the license.)

        Notch himself copied the idea of the final boss fight. Years ago, before many Minecraft players were born, someone named Scorpia used to write a column for the magazine Computer Gaming World. So many games ended with a final boss fight that she coined the name Foozle as a generic one for a final boss. Since we hadn't expected it, many of us were surprised when Notch chose to make Minecraft a Kill-the-Foozle game.

        The game industry has been copying itself for years! The software industry, too. Have you ever used a spreadsheet? I bet it wasn't Dan Bricklin's VisiCalc.

        Many of the cases so far of mods implementing each other's features are the result of parallel development, not copying.

        We've been in the early, "wild west" phase of mod development, where it was frequently possible to write the first mod to implement a particular feature. As the Minecraft mod scene matures and it becomes harder to achieve a "first", we will increasingly see mods incorporating each other's features.

        In cases where parallel development isn't involved, when implementing a feature from another mod the polite modder will acknowledge the mod that served as inspiration.

        But above all, no modder should criticize another modder for copying, or imply a lack of creativity. Copying is merely a sign that the "wild west" phase of Minecraft modding is coming to a close. 

        [This post first appeared on the Minecraft Forum.]

        Friday, December 2, 2011

        Inducing motion sickness in your customers is not a good business model

        I saw mention of a juicy-looking rant, but when I got there the page had been taken down, so I stayed for a bit to check out the rest of the site.

        What I found was this:

        A New Zero by Cryptic Sea

        I've played thousands of hours of first and third person 3-D games without experiencing motion sickness, but I always turn head bob off.

        Watching even this short clip was distinctly unpleasant. The camera is bouncing around way too much for comfort. There was nothing subtle about the head movement.

        There's a reason why most FPS games act like stable gun platforms—they don't want to make a large percentage of their customers too ill to play.

        This Siggraph piece on simulator sickness has some very interesting information:

        20% to 40% of fighter pilots suffer from these symptoms when using simulators and the symptoms may last for several hours. It should be noted that fighter pilots are specially selected for resistance to motion sickness and are used to simulators. [my emphasis]

        Fighter pilots, wow!

        And there's this: motion systems, motion at 0.2 hz is particularly nauscogenic.

        I didn't time it, but it appeared that some of the modelled head oscillation wasn't far off from 0.2 hz.

        Finally, under recommendations for preventing sickness in virtual environments:

        don't move your head too much.

        Unless there's an option for a completely stable head, this developer's innovation will amount to suicide as the game will acquire a reputation for inducing motion sickness.

        I left a comment at the blog. Let's hope the developer switches to spending time implementing innovations that everyone can enjoy.

        Wednesday, November 30, 2011

        FlowerChild withdraws from Minecraft Forge

        Update 11/28/2012: The content and comments formerly on this page have been removed in light of Jeb's recent comment that modders should "be nice to one another" when he addressed copying at this year's Minecon. (I'm not a modder but am a member of the mod-using community.)

        Almost a year has passed since I originally wrote this page; Flowerchild's departure is now old news. There is no reason to continue to fan old flames. Mojang is aware of the situation and has addressed it, so de-escalation is the order of the day.

        Much has changed in the interim, and to my surprise Forge hasn't wilted in the face of the impending plugin API. The Forge community is now stronger than ever.

        See Mojang addresses copying and Minecraft modder conduct and A statement on Minecraft mods copying features from each other.

        Tech: Startup script for Minecraft under Linux

        I use a heavily modified script to start Minecraft under Linux (Ubuntu 10.04, Lucid).

        The script incorporates many of the suggestions from [HOWTO] Optimize Minecraft for Linux thread on the official forums.

        It also resizes the Minecraft window on startup to 720p, convenient for recording videos.

        You can get it here: minecraft startup script.

        Friday, November 18, 2011

        Notch exits, hands Minecraft development to Jens Bergensten (@jeb_)

        From Minecraft: Beyond "Final Release" by Anthony Gallegos on IGN:
        Mojang doesn't have a plan for content after Minecraft's "final release." According to Jens Bergensten, who's leading up Minecraft development post-'launch', he hasn't "planned out anything yet." But many "simple things" are swimming around in his head. Only one "big" feature is in the works right now, but he did let us in on a couple of smaller details he's personally out to change in the coming months.

        The big feature Mojang's tackling after the final release is NPC A.I. In the final game NPCs exist, but don't really do much more than meander. With a new A.I. programmer on board in December, Bergensten says the goal is to "give the NPCs in village some kind of purpose" or "predictable behavior that's more interesting than just wandering around."
        So Notch has reached the abandonment stage of Minecraft. I'm sure that after two years he'd like to move on to something new. It's not in the nature of highly creative types to add the finishing touches to their game systems, or to do the hard design work required to make a good mod API.

        I'm very much in favor of this turn of events. Notch's Minecraft fatigue has become somewhat evident, so it's great he's handing the lead over to Jens, who actually wants to work on it. Jens was originally hired for the Scrolls team, but talked his way onto his preferred project, Minecraft.

        No mention of APIs or new mod-enabled launchers in IGN's article, and no mention of Jens' ascension after Notch's abdication during Notch's "keynote"/Minecraft launch session. Perhaps these will get mentioned during the Q&A later today.

        Update 11/28: A number of diehard Minecraft fans on the official forums didn't think the articles by IGN and gamespy were credible enough to be believed (yeah, I know). They could only accept the news directly from Notch himself, or from Jens.

        That news has finally arrived:

        Jens Bergensten tweeted "@MinerFlat64 I will still be fulltime Minecraft, but Notch will be working on new projects"
        I find it interesting that Mojang chose to downplay this bit of news until well after Minecon.

        Notch's Keynote and Minecraft Launch

        Here's a compliation of my tweets during the live stream, which summarize what took place:
        • IGN's livestream covering ONLY the five Mandalay Bay Ballroom events. ALL of the panels will get missed.
        • Livestream up, cheesey opening video ends and @MinecraftChick takes the stage!
        • She introduces CaptainSparklez, who introduces his video "Revenge" - A Minecraft Parody of Usher's DJ Got Us Fallin' in Love - Crafted Using Noteblocks. The video appears to use Minecraft textures in another engine.
        • Now she's talking about the panels, none of which will be livestreamed. Apparently the terse agenda was all anyone got describing the panels.
        • Microsoft Games producer Stuart Platt now onstage. Showing trailer. Minecraft for Xbox 360 demos will be playable in the MS booth.
        • Mojang's Daniel Kaplan introducing Minecraft Pocket Edition on iOS.
        • @MinecraftChick now introduces Mojang staff members who walk across the stage while she pauses her patter to allow for applause.
        • @notch finally takes the stage after @MinecraftChick gets the crowd rhythmically chanting "Notch, notch, notch."
        • Mega64 folks now showing their video about Minecraft, featuring a Notch impersonator.
        • Mojang team gathers on stage while notch throws big mock-up Minecraft lever to release 1.0.
        • After dancing and high-fiving each other while loud music plays, the Mojang team leaves the stage.
        • Session over, live stream returns to still image. On audio we hear someone exhorting people to "please walk" leaving the ballroom.
        For another summary of the event, see Danny Sullivan's liveblog, Move Over Angry Birds, It’s The Minecraft Coming Out Party.

        It was remarkably content-free. Notch's "keynote?" Blink and you missed it. He spoke for a couple of minutes and said nothing of import. Mostly it was an opportunity for him to bask in the audience's adulation. None of the announcements that Notch alluded to in his blog were made.

        Besides the celebration, time was spent marketing two other versions of the game, Minecraft for Xbox 360 and Minecraft Pocket Edition on iOS. Of course it was mentioned that even with a secret advance release, the iOS edition made top grossing app (different from top selling). This was despite lackluster reviews and was mostly due to its inflated price ($6.99) compared to other apps.

        Minecon: The event schedule

        Minecon is upon us, and for those of us that can't attend, IGN is streaming all a few of the panels live.

        The bulk of this post consists of the Minecon event schedule reproduced from Mojang's website, along with my speculation about some of the sessions. I'll be using this as a guide to help decide which stream to view.

        One thing I'm particularly interested to see is @jeb_'s (Jens Bergensten's) talk about generating map structures, which I'm guessing will be during the Mojang Developers' Panel on Saturday.

        Mojang in October issued an open call for speakers, so its likely that most of the panels will consist of people from the community, as opposed to Mojang employees. Since the schedule (which Mojang called an 'agenda') doesn't list panel members or describe the nature of each session, it's difficult to determine the value of some of the panels. I hope conferees at least get a handout with that information to aid in choosing which panels to attend.

        For example, on Friday there's a panel API for Game Developers while Saturday has one called Creating Mods. It would be nice to know more about these panels in advance.

        Also missing is any mention of the 'lightning talks' discussed in the open call for speakers.

        A distressing number of the panels are about YouTube, either making videos or featuring particular channels. With 1.1 million Minecraft videos, do we really need more?

        Friday, November 18th

        10 a.m. Game Room and Exhibit Hall Open
        1 - 2:30 p.m. Keynote Address and Minecraft Launch with Notch (Mandalay Bay Ballroom A-G) [Notch releases Minecraft! He hinted at surprise announcements—if they happen at Minecon this is the likely venue. Let's hope his fanbois don't overdo it; some of us have weak stomachs.]
        2:45 - 3:45 p.m. Panels
        • YouTube 101 (Jasmine ABEF)
        • Composing Game Music (Banyan ABCD)
        • API for Game Developers (Palm A) [Which API? Is this for modding? ]
        • Minecraft as a Tool for Education (Palm B) [Probably presenting material available on The Minecraft Teacher blog.]
        • Creating Custom Maps (Palm C) [Sounds mildly interesting.]
        • Running a Server (Palm D) [Also could be interesting.]
        4 - 5 p.m. Mojang Panel with Q&A – Live Demos of Scrolls and Cobalt (Mandalay Bay Ballroom A-G) [Q&A might bring worthwhile questions, but time will be taken up by the off-topic demos. Bah, marketing.]
        5:15 - 6:15 p.m. Panels
        • The Art of Games (Jasmine ABEF)
        • Machinima Channel Panel (Banyan ABCD)
        • Bukkit for Multiplayer Servers (Palm A) [The clear choice in this time slot.]
        • Video Editing (Palm B)
        • YouTube 101 (Palm C) [Again? Two presentations of this off-topic panel?]
        • The Family that Plays Together (Palm D)
        7 - 10 p.m. Kickoff Party – Open to all Ages (South Seas Ballroom)

        Saturday, November 19th

        10 a.m. Game Room and Exhibit Hall Open
        10:00 - 11:00 p.m. Panels
        • Making a Difference – Minecraft (Jasmine ABEF)
        • YouTube Partners (Banyan ABCD)
        • Amazing Builds (Palm A)
        • Minecraft Community Ideas with Curse (Palm B) [Might yield insight into Curse's intentions regarding Minecraft, or it could turn out to be as lame as it sounds.]
        • Creativity with Redstone (Palm C) [Pointless considering that Eloraam's Redpower 2 mod far surpasses Minecraft's built-in redstone logic.]
        • Modder Concepts & Ideas (Palm D) [Really need to see a description of this. It almost sounds like it's describing the ridiculously ambitious pipe dream mods announced weekly by middle schoolers on the forums.]
        11:15 - 12:15 p.m. Mojang Developers' Panel (Mandalay Bay Ballroom A-G) [A must-see. Perhaps the most important event of the conference. Likely venue for @jeb_'s generating map structures presentation.]
        1:30 - 2:30 p.m. Yogscast Panel (Mandalay Bay Ballroom A-G)
        2:45 - 3:45 p.m. Panels

        • Creating Compelling Videos (Jasmine ABEF)
        • Creating Stories and Comics Using Minecraft (Banyan ABCD)
        • Minecraft Architecture (Palm A) [Is this in-game building architecture? If so, that's nice, but hardly critical.]
        • The Shaft Podcast Live Recording (Palm B)
        • Family Game Night: Bonding through Minecraft (Palm C)
        • Creating Mods (Palm D) [Which mod API will be recommended?]
        4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Closing Session (Mandalay Bay Ballroom A-G)
        10 p.m. Into the Nether party – 21 and over (XS Nightclub, Wynn Hotel)

        Thursday, November 17, 2011

        Notch acknowledges Minecraft's modding mess

        Last week I wrote about the horrendous situation with Minecraft mods that resulted from Mojang's lack of leadership: Minecraft itself has some inconvenient limitations, incompatibilities between mods are common, there are multiple incompatible and competing mod APIs, and the difficulty involved with creating and installing mods has led to much frustration among mod developers and users.

        I've been hoping that Mojang would take the opportunity offered by Minecon to address the mod situation and announce a solution, or at least a roadmap, and apparently that is a possibility. In his blog entry Soon., on Tuesday Notch said:
        we have many exciting plans for the next year.. some of these will be announced fairly soon.

        One thing that kind of fell between chairs is the mod support.. Sorry about that, I take full responsibility for letting that get forgotten about. But when it comes to the new launcher, it got folded into a new exciting project I won’t talk about yet.
        It's unclear if the new exciting project involving the launcher is something we'll learn about at Minecon, or if "yet" is further in the future. Since he discusses them in practically the same breath, apparently the new launcher will include support for installing mods. One can only hope.

        Unfortunately for Mojang, this delay by Notch in addressing the mod situation could end up proving to be costly. When you have an energetic user community numbering in the millions, many of whom are technically capable, they don't stand around waiting.

        Last spring the Bukkit project was established as an admin and plugin API for Minecraft servers, and its use has become widespread. On its About Us page, Bukkit has made a clear statement of its independence:
        ...our design choice to keep in the mind the possibility of 3rd party Minecraft servers needing a modding and plugin interface. That being said, when any 3rd party developed Minecraft server becomes stable, Bukkit will be there to allow our collection of plugins to work with them too through a new interface, without any work required for the plugin author to make it compatible. [Emphasis not in original text.]
        I've previously linked to Tim Edwards's PC Gamer article The game’s industry’s massive fail: where are all the Minecraft clones?, but one of the points he made bears repeating:
        I honestly think the market for games like Minecraft is far, far larger than even Mojang have been able to exploit.
        2012 will be the year that Minecraft begins to move beyond Mojang, and a viable third-party server could prove to be a significant factor in Minecraft becoming independent. This week at Minecon we may get an indication from Mojang's announcements regarding mod installation and APIs just how firmly Mojang will remain in the driver's seat.

        Tuesday, November 15, 2011

        Did Notch invent a new category of game that he doesn't intend to pursue?

        There are a number of Minecraft players unhappy with the RPG elements recently added to the game, in the form of potion brewing, enchanting, and a dragon boss to fight.

        The RPG stuff didn't make Notch rich and famous, since it wasn't in the game yet when it went viral.

        Had he started with brewing, enchanting, and the dragon fight, he'd still be toiling in obscurity.

        Exploring the procedurally-generated world to find a good site for a base, then building it up and staying safe from the bad guys is what made the game compelling for many of us. For a long time Minecraft was about this, as it was what had been implemented before the RPG stuff was tacked on. It doesn't matter to us that Notch ultimately intended to make an RPG when for months what he'd delivered was a survival builder.

        With Railroad Tycoon, Sid Meier inspired the creation of many other business simulation games (often with the name "Tycoon" in them), but besides a single sequel many years later (Sid Meier's Railroads), he only did the one. I think Notch is a game designer in the mold of Sid Meier, the pioneering trailblazer who never stays too long in any one place. You can kind of see this from his recent blog Inspiration, motivation, stress, and abandonment.

        So on the way to completing his RPG, Notch invented a new category of game that he doesn't intend to pursue. Survival builder set in a procedurally-generated fully editable voxel-based world is a mouthful, so maybe the category will become known as voxel-based survival builders. In the same way that Railroad Tycoon is seen as the original Tycoon game with the railroad theme being incidental, years from now Minecraft may be known as the first survival builder, with oh yeah, some RPG elements.

        Since gross revenues from Mindcraft are approaching 100 million dollars, Mojang will have competition, even if it's not from the big companies (see The game’s industry’s massive fail: where are all the Minecraft clones?). It's a perfect opportunity for other independent developers.

        While it stinks that we can't have them now, in a year or two I think that several voxel-based survival builders will be available.

        [Most of the text of this article originally appeared in a comment on the Minecraft Forums.]

        Tuesday, November 8, 2011

        Minecraft has grossed $77 million to date

        Minecraft's numbers:

        VersionUnits soldPriceTotal
        Alpha800,0009.95 €$11,014,252
        Beta3,200,00014.95 €$66,196,208

        Sources: Minecraft Draws Over $33 Million In Revenue From 1.8M Paying Customers and Minecraft Reaches 4M Sales.

        Will the Minecraft Forge API help resolve the current modding mess?

        I thought of a small useful mod I want to implement, so I've been investigating current best practices when modding Minecraft.

        Boy, what a mess.

        The modding situation in Minecraft is quite chaotic at the moment.

        In a January, 2011 interview with Gamasutra, Notch said:
        High up on priority is a proper modding API that lets people who make mods plug into the game in a way that doesn't break when we update the game.
        That never happened. Instead, in a series of three blog posts (post 1, post 2, post3) in April, Notch renounced the idea of an API, instead opting to someday require people to pay to become licensed Minecraft mod developers and download the full source code. In the meantime, Mojang would do nothing.

        Due to a storm of protests, Notch quickly backed down on charging fees for mod development. But as promised, Mojang has announced nothing since then about modding. Thus the chaos.

        The Wiki page on data values shows just one of the problems: block IDs are restricted to being 255 or below. That's right, it's 2011, RAM hasn't been an issue for years and yet something as important as the Block ID is restricted to a single byte!

        Mods that implement new block types have to find an unused ID in this tiny space and hope that another mod or the next update of Minecraft doesn't claim it too. Indeed, the wiki's own pages provide an example of the problem; Minecraft block IDs end at 121 (End Stone), but IDs used by mods start at 98, probably because the wiki page is out of date and doesn't reflect the changed mod block IDs.

        There are other IDs for items and sprites that can clash as well. But IDs are just the tip of the iceberg: in order to function, mods need to modify Minecraft's code, and these changes to the java classes can clash with other mods or Minecraft itself due to an update.

        Providing an API to allow mods to hook into Minecraft game functions to prevent these clashes is the task that Notch and Mojang walked away from, and the proposed solution of allowing full source access to developers doesn't resolve it. Even with full source access it will still be possible for mods to step on each other's changes.

        Full source access may even make the problem worse!

        Currently, modders must process Minecraft's .jar file using something called Minecraft Coder Pack. MCP decompiles the java and replaces obfuscated class and variable names with sensible ones chosen by MCP staff members who reverse engineered the meaning of the code. But despite the heroic efforts of the MCP crew, source code that's been reconstituted through decompilation and deobfuscation is never as clear as the original.

        Once Mojang allows access to the full source code, mod development will become easier since the actual source code is clearer and easier to work with, plus the tricky steps to invoke MCP's wizardry won't be needed. With this barrier to entry removed, the number of Minecraft mod developers should increase, and as it does the issue of them stepping on each other's toes will get worse.

        Members of the Minecraft mod community have attempted to solve this problem themselves by writing their own APIs, but the efforts have been uncoordinated and several competing APIs exist.

        In the midst of trying to figure out which community-sourced API had the most support and complete implementation, I came across an audio interview with FlowerChild of the impressive Better Than Wolves mod. I don't usually go for audio presentations such as lectures or podcasts due to the low rate of information transfer, but FlowerChild is a compelling speaker.

        The interview is available both as a single long audio file and split up into several YouTube videos. While they all should be listened to by anyone interested in Minecraft modding, his explanation of the need for and merits of the open source Minecraft Forge API project directly answered my questions about the community-based APIs:

        I must say that this is the best minecraft related interview I've seen for a long time. As a person who tracks minecraft moding community for a while, that was damn interesting. -miki537, commenting on the YouTube video.

        I'm extremely grateful to FlowerChild for taking the time away from other things to be interviewed. He provides valuable insight into Minecraft modding—not just how to do it, but why things work that way. The metadata, as it were.

        I had a chuckle when just after listening to FlowerChild's explanation of the monetary motives of some of the competing API developers to profit from downloads or donation buttons, I came across an API whose developer explained its existence by saying that it provided hooks unavailable when using Minecraft Forge. Rather than contribute to the Minecraft Forge project, this developer chose to remain solo. Sure enough, a donation button appears prominently on his download page, and he invokes his API in his plea for monetary support.

        As FlowerChild said during the interview, each additional API to download increases the burden on users of Minecraft mods, as well as complicating the support issues for mod developers. Since naive users of mods have trouble installing mod files, the less they need to do it the better. By keeping his functionality out of Minecraft Forge, this API developer seeks to profit by increasing the burden on everyone else.

        Back to the main topic: anyone modding Minecraft should use and contribute to Minecraft Forge. It represents the way forward to a future of Minecraft modding that best serves both users and mod developers. Nondevelopers can help too—mod users can preferentially choose mods that use Minecraft Forge, and request Forge support by mods that don't.

        My hope is that Minecraft Forge can achieve the same level of success that the developer community for the WowAce library has done with addons for WoW.

        Wednesday, October 26, 2011

        Minecraft: Did Mojang Unethically Starve its Cash Cow?

        Hehe no I don't think so... We're still only two developers on the PC version of Minecraft [link]
        Notch recently blogged that "we’re 12 people in the office", so the two people working on the PC version of Minecraft represent just 16 percent of Mojang's staff that is advancing Minecraft.

        As I wrote in Minecraft: Is Notch crazy? Mojang should hire more developers for Minecraft, and particularly, QA staff.

        At what point does the lack of resources that Mojang has devoted to Minecraft become an indication of mismanagement? If purchasers of alpha and beta versions were willing to help fund the development of Minecraft, how much cash must roll in before it becomes unethical and immoral to have hired only a single addition developer to work on the game?

        Monday, October 24, 2011

        Minecraft: Is Notch crazy?

        Obviously he's not completely crazy, but lately Notch has made a number of strategic decisions that call his judgment into question.

        1. Lawyers. Really?

        In his blog Update on the “Scrolls” lawsuit, Notch says that:
        Lawyers have been sending papers back and forth, threatening each other with deadlines and court dates.

        He's pissing money away and wasting his time fighting with Bethesda over the name of a game that's a long way from release? Spending money on this is a horrendous waste, just change the name of the game and be done with it.

        Below I'll argue that Mojang shouldn't even be making the game, never mind getting embroiled in a legal dispute over its name.

        2. Selling out with an Xbox 360 exclusive.

        As I said in Mojang is no longer an indie developer, in selling out by entering into an agreement with Microsoft for Minecraft to appear exclusively on Xbox 360, Notch gave up his freedom and accepted PR guidelines that control what he is "allowed to say."

        What I didn't discuss is the effect of Notch's decision on gamers. Microsoft paid a lot of money to Mojang so that PS3 and Wii owners won't be able to play Minecraft on their consoles.

        Prior to this deal, Mojang had been very responsive to gamers. But when faced with choosing between Microsoft's money and gamers owning PS3s or Wiis, Notch chose to take the money and thus disempower owners of the other consoles.

        (I play Minecraft on PC under Linux. I'm not a console owner and don't care for them, but I don't like exclusive deals since they enrich the partners by disempowering certain groups of potential customers.)

        3. MineCon: The Stake in the ground.

        MineCon was set up to celebrate the official release of Minecraft on November 18, 2011. The date of release was a completely arbitrary choice on Notch's part. Given that Mojang already has great cash flow without having "officially" released the game, I don't see the advantage to declaring an official release date and putting artificially created deadline pressure on Minecraft's development.

        4. Dance with the one that brung you.

        Why do another game (Scrolls) at all when Minecraft still isn't finished, and is a now infamous cash cow? Scrolls dilutes Mojang's resources and takes attention away from Minecraft, which could use developer resources beyond what Mojang has assigned.

        The Minecraft project would benefit from a few more developers, and particularly, dedicated QA staff.

        Minecraft got Notch and Mojang to this point, and it's not yet in the kind of shape that it's appropriate to shift focus away to another project.

        Sunday, July 24, 2011

        Dwarf Fortress in the NY Times

        There's an interesting profile of the creators of Dwarf Fortress in the NY Times magazine. It's a long piece but well worth reading. In it there are a few particularly interesting bits. First this:
        “The processing power that Dwarf Fortress uses is on the same scale as modern engineering software for designing aerospace hardware,” says Ames, the engineer. “You have more complicated simulations in Dwarf Fortress than when you model the aerodynamics of a wing.”
        Towards the end is an interesting statement echoing my earlier post about games on rails:
        At bottom, Dwarf Fortress mounts an argument about play. Many video games mimic the look and structure of films: there’s a story line, more or less fixed, that progresses­ only when you complete required tasks. This can make for gripping fun, but also the constrictive sense that you are a mouse in a tricked-out maze, chasing chunks of cheese. Tarn envisions Dwarf Fortress, by contrast, as an open-ended “story generator.” He and Zach grew up playing computer games with notebooks in hand, drawing their own renditions of the randomly generated creatures they encountered and logging their journeys in detail. Dwarf Fortress, which never unfolds the same way twice, takes that spirit of supple, fully engaged play to the extreme.
         As I said, it's long but highly recommended.

        Branching storylines: Still on rails, but with switches in the track

        Some people love the Bioware games, but I find it hard to be immersed in a branching storyline.

        That's because I know that under the hood the game is still on rails. The difference is that every now and then there will be a switch in the track where one must choose, and the choice is irreversible. I'll be travelling along nicely towards Chicago, and then a switch comes along where if I make the wrong choice I'll end up in Cleveland—or even worse, Akron. Then I'll have to restore from an old save point, because once you've chosen the wrong branch (as they say in Maine), "You can't get there from here."

        Then there's the issue of replay value—games that are on rails have limited replay value. Branching simply hides that a bit, but it doesn't fundamentally increase the replay value.

        There's also a cost issue which effects the amount of content in the game: each branch adds to the cost to produce the game, so naturally companies seek to minimize the amount of branching in the plot.

        Branching storylines are familiar to the Hollywood types who have infiltrated game companies, and many of these people think of games as movies that you can play, with all the inflexibility that's implied.

        As an alternative, I'd like to see more effort spent on dynamic, mutable storylines that change in response to the player. To fully realize this vision would require an AI breakthrough that's a long way off, but I think a lot could be done with today's technology. A move towards algorithmically-controlled plots would buck the trend of static stories that's preoccupied the industry for many years now.

        In some ways Bioware's upcoming MMO, Star Wars: The Old Republic, represents the culmination of the on-rails branching storyline genre because every NPC is fully voiced. Not only will it be on rails, but the track will be cast in concrete since changing any dialog will require a return to the recording studio instead of just a text edit. This portends the most rigid and unchanging theme park MMO to date.

        This is a big reason why I have no interest in Star Wars: The Old Republic—it's just another theme park.

        Monday, June 20, 2011

        The End is in Sight

        Perfectly timed for my last post on rat pellets is an extensive interview with legendary developer John Carmack in Eurogamer where he says:
        ...the better games get the harder you have to go to give a delta people care about. That's going to be a challenge for the next-generation of consoles, to show that the pack-in title is going to look more awesome than what you get on the current ones that people will want to go spend $300 on a new console.

        They'll be able to do it on the next generation, but it's going to be much harder. And whether it's even possible another generation after that is an open question.
        And in an interview with CNET, Carmack says:
        I can recognize the knee in the curve where I can do things that make the graphics better than what they are right now, but not as much better as if we put all that engineering effort into things that make it more fun.
        This is huge.

        Of course he's likely known this forever but it's nice to hear someone like John Carmack say that better graphics don't make games more fun, echoing what Chris Crawford said twenty years ago.

        But more importantly, Carmack sees the end of the line for the improved graphics train that the industry has been riding all these years. He's saying the next generation of consoles will probably be the last to show obviously better graphics. For years improved graphics have been a major driver of sales for consoles and PC graphics cards, so this has huge implications for hardware vendors such as nVidia, AMD, Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft.

        It's been awhile now that I've been unable to see much (if any) difference in the side-by-side comparison images that purport to show the graphic improvements offered by the new offerings from nVidia and AMD. Since frame rates are decent, my main focus has been on power consumption as high-end graphics cards tend to be undesirably hot and noisy.

        One of my pet peeves is draw distance. I always want to see further away, and for performance reasons most FPS and small scale tactical games have very short draw distances. So while improved hardware could offer longer draw distances, seeing tiny objects better in the far distance isn't going to offer a compelling reason for people to upgrade.

        It's not just hardware -- as Carmack notes, the end of the improved graphics cycle will have a big effect on marketing games, too. Since so many games now are just old games redone with better graphics, publishers will have to find other reasons for people to buy new games.

        The era of good enough graphics is almost upon us.

        Thursday, June 16, 2011

        Don't get all excited by the rat pellets

        Many years ago, while it was still known as the CGDC, Chris Crawford gave a talk (no, not the The Dragon Speech) in which he brought up the concept of rat pellets.

        Crawford has long maintained that a game's interactivity as expressed by its algorithms, systems, and play mechanics are what's important. I'm paraphrasing from an ancient memory here, but I recall Crawford saying that he'd work on a game to the point where it was fun to play, and at that point he considered it to be done. But then he'd have to add the rat pellets: the graphics and cutscenes and eye candy that the publisher required for a shippable game.

        Subsequently the industry ignored Crawford and went on a twenty-year binge of emphasizing graphics over everything else. Well, most of the industry, anyway. Blizzard emphasizes gameplay, and Chris Hecker is taking that approach as well:
        Make the deep and hardcore game first, and make it accessible later in development. I’m ripping this off directly from a 2006 speech by Rob Pardo, the Vice President of Game Design at Blizzard, about how they design games for the long term.  Here’s a great quote from the Gamasutra writeup:  “First we try to come up with what are really cool things, things that will get people to play for two to three years. Then we actually start talking about accessibility, how to make the content approachable and easy to learn. But it starts with depth first.”
        One of the greatest achievements of Minecraft has been to allow gamers to see that graphics don't make a great game. It's always entertaining to read another admission by someone saying that after initially being turned off by Minecraft's simple graphics, they found the gameplay to be compelling.

        I'd been thinking about bringing up this recollection of rat pellets and was moved to action by a recent posting over at Bio Break, where Syp posted 8 thoughts on the new Old Republic cinematic. Take it easy there Syp, I know there's not much else to go on at this point, but it's just a cinematic that nobody will care about once the game launches and folks can actually play it. Don't get all excited by the rat pellets!

        Monday, June 13, 2011

        Core gamers: You guys are so over

        Core gamers had it great for years. During their reign at the top of the game consuming pyramid core gamers were the prime target of game companies. AAA games were mostly shooters or about topics appealing to 14-34 year old males, and many companies developed expensive hardware aimed at gamers. Life was good; it's good to be the king.

        But with the Wii, Facebook, the iPhone, and iPad things have changed. From a piece by zebulum:
        Angry Birds, by Rovio, has sales figures that would make an Assassin's Creed fan weep.

        I had been working on a hardcore game targeted to the core gamer demographic of males, eternally trapped in a long adolescence. When our gameplay lead pulled out the Kinect, and began to dance with his avatar on the screen, I thought that our hardcore console project was going to get shrunk, maybe canceled, to reallocate company resources to this new device. After that, I believed the flood of out-of-work game design talent was going to flow away from hardcore games, towards the iPad and Google Android.

        My prophecy was correct. The project is gone, swallowed up in pre-production hell, and the team shrank with two waves of lay-offs. I went with it. Most of my fellow designers have moved on to designing games for the Google Android, Apple iPhone, and the iPad.
        The other day I published a piece about booth babes at E3 and Zygna's absence from the trade show. In a response that perfectly embodies zebulum's characterization of core gamers as "males eternally trapped in a long adolescence", an anonymous commenter said:
        This is funny and a bit misleading.

        42% of all game players are women.

        But does playing social flash games on your handheld smart phone on a casual Wednesday make you a gamer?

        The bottom link is the funniest of all. Zynga calling FarmVille players Hardcore Gamers.

        HAHahahaha, what a joke. And then feminists complain that women aren't being catered to properly in the mainstream video game (not flash game) market. Too funny.
        Note the denial of the changing world. He's a gamer, and those casual FarmVille players aren't. He thinks he's still the king.

        But when Zynga’s annual revenues exceed $250 million or more, even Activision notices:
        You have said you are hoping to reach a broader audience than your typical hardcore Call of Duty player. Why is it so important to encompass a wider audience with Elite?

        Sonny: I think the idea that most Call of Duty players are 16 to 35-year-old males might have been true a few years ago, but when you think that we have 30m players worldwide, the reality of the diversity within the Call of Duty community is astounding. We have, on average, people playing 170 hours a year, but there is still a tremendous number of people who play a smaller amount and they’re not just the 16 to 35-year-old male. They’re students, they’re male and female.

        Berger: ...everyone should have an opportunity to compete and join clans – not just the core gamers. We already have a mass audience, so all we need to do is build something that’s right for the full spectrum.
        Just because they've been catered to for years doesn't mean core gamers will remain supreme. It's a new world out there, and core gamers should be ready for it.

        Thursday, June 9, 2011

        It's 2011. Why is E3 still full of booth babes?

        I'm not at E3, but apparently there are plenty of booth babes, as usual.

        It's 2011. Why are game companies still doing this?
        Forty-two percent of all game players are women. In fact, women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).
        I've been disappointed to see companies that have gotten my money turn around and spend it on booth babes. Don't get me wrong, I love women. But to me it's a misallocation of resources since booth babes don't make games better. Designing for the male gaze doesn't make games better either.

        It's disappointing to see the perpetuation of sexism through the presence of booth babes at E3 and the exploitation of booth babe photos by so many gaming sites.

        Meanwhile, in a smart money-saving move, Zynga stayed away from E3. Check Zynga's demographics:
        Figures from Anekal suggest that 55 percent of all social gamers in the US are female while, 53 percent of Zynga players are females between 25 and 44.
        While I've yet to play any of its games, I appreciate Zynga's decision to avoid E3 and the whole booth babe issue which might turn off some of its female customers. While the rest of the industry continues to stock up with booth babes at E3 in order to chase the same old pool of 14-34 year old males, Zynga's laughing all the way to the bank.

        Tuesday, June 7, 2011

        World of Tanks price list in dollars

        World of Tanks is free to play with the option of spending money to buy gold coins. Since the store prices are listed in gold coins, it's not immediately obvious how much things really cost.

        Below is a list of items purchasable in World of Tanks with prices converted to dollars.

        First, the price of gold coins:


        Premium subscription prices (five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold above):


        Premium tanks (again, five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold in the first table):

        2USLT2 Light Tank3751.501.561.731.872.08
        2Ger.LPzKpfw 38H735 (f)7503.003.123.463.744.17
        3Ger.MPzKpfw S35 739 (f)10004.004.164.614.985.56
        4Ger.HPzKpfw B2 740 (f)12505.005.205.766.236.95

        Other items sold in the store (again, five prices given, corresponding to the price of gold in the first table):

        Demount a locked item100.
        Consumable (Chocolate, etc.)500.
        100% training for 1 crew2000.800.830.921.001.11
        Exchange Gold for 100,000 credits2501.
        Convert 10,000 XP4001.601.671.841.992.22

        Finally, let's say someone wanted get from tier 9 to 10 as quickly as possible. Assuming they had experience available, how much would it cost to convert the XP needed to reach tier 10 and buy the credits needed to purchase a tier 10 tank?

        Convert 250,000 XP10,00039.9841.6346.0849.8355.60
        Exchange Gold for 6,100,000 credits15,25060.9763.4870.2776.0084.79

        Note that the 250,000 XP used above is an approximation; the actual amount of XP needed to reach tier 10 from tier 9 varies: 236,100 for US, 279,870 for German, and 311,415 for the Russian tech tree.

        Monday, June 6, 2011

        Mojang is no longer an indie developer

        By entering into an agreement with Microsoft to put Minecraft on XBox 360 exclusively among consoles, Mojang has given up its independence and has chosen to be bound by contracts and PR guidelines that control what Notch is "allowed to say".

        PR guidelines are what happens when you sell out.

        There's nothing wrong with selling out, it's a stage that many people and organizations pass through. But once you've sold out, the "indie" label no longer applies.

        Saturday, March 19, 2011

        RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman addresses login validation bug

        In the wake of Friday's update to fix the player-discovered bug with login validation between the Rift client and server, Executive Producer Scott Hartsman posted the following statement:
        Weekend Security Update

        Hi, everyone -- I wanted to get an update out for the weekend after the last day of excitement around here.

        On last night's fix -- I'm very happy to confirm that we did fix a login vulnerability, with significant assistance from an extremely clever user.

        The root cause was a very subtle bug in error checking of our login validations deep in the server code. No personal information or any such was leaked out, and no outside attacker penetrated our servers, networks, or databases.

        We'd definitely like to thank Mr. ManWitDaPlan for the well-timed assist. Sir, we salute you and offer our most heartfelt thanks.

        The rest of what I'd like to add isn't to detract from the above well-deserved compliment, but it's important to include in the comprehensive picture.

        The sobering fact is that account security remains a multifaceted issue, as attacks from other sources continue.

        It's important to remember is that while a hole was identified and fixed as rapidly as we possibly could, there are still hackers and botnets trying account/password combinations from compromised web sites and past MMOs.

        They are doing this right now. Those attacks have been coming constantly since we launched the game. The only thing that changes are how many hundreds of computers are trying to get into your account at any given moment, where they're coming from, and how many are succeeding.

        We do block them as they are detected, but the fact that they are using distributed botnets (compromised computers from across the globe) means that this will remain something that we will continue keeping an eye on, forever.

        For users getting hacked this way, Coin Lock is currently doing its job protecting people's belongings, provided that your RIFT password and EMail password are both complex and entirely different.

        Both the login fix and the Coin Lock addition have been doing their part in signficantly reducing overall incidents over the last 18 hours.

        Neither one is a silver bullet, but so far it is looking to be a solid one-two punch for the weekend.

        Then, with two-factor authentication coming very soon, we expect security to be improved even further.

        All totalled up, under 1% of accounts with characters have had characters impacted. However, 1% of a surprisingly large number is still very noticeable.

        Our staff has been, and will continue to be, working around the clock to get those impacted back in shape. We'll continue hiring on even more people to help people with issues of all kinds, as quickly as we can. (Another round of hires begin on Monday, and there will be even more to follow.)

        As always, thanks very much for your time, your attention, your assistance, and your patience!

        - Scott Hartsman
        Exec Producer, RIFT
        Hartsman's statement makes clear the magnitude of the support issue created by the bug. He indicated that there is a backlog of people waiting on Customer Support to repair the damage to their characters inflicted by the hijackers. The total number of people affected could number in the low thousands, but the exact figure is unknown as Trion has not released numbers for its player base.

        ZAM followed up with an extensive interview of the player who discovered and reported the security bug: Ex-Hacker Finds RIFT Account Flaw, Talks to ZAM

        Trion Worlds patches security hole in Rift

        On Friday a member of the Rift player community with the handle ManWitDaPlan discovered an exploit in the login protocol for Rift which allowed the Rift client to access accounts without authentication. He promptly communicated directly with Trion's technical staff to convey the details about the exploit. An update to the game was released Friday evening which closed the hole.

        Shortly after Trion learned of the exploit, James "Elrar" Nichols, Assistant Community Manager, posted this statement:
        We have some things in the works right now and have been passing on your feedback, concerns, and thoughts throughout the day (no matter how radical or unlikely).

        Sharing sensitive information about our actions (no matter how broad) naturally also informs those carrying out these attacks. This puts us in a tight spot with how much information we can provide, and the questions we can answer.

        Apologies we can't be more forthcoming at this time, but we appreciate your understanding - its always our goal to ensure you can play and enjoy the game securely, and unfettered.
        Later in the evening ManWitDaPlan posted:
        Got word back from Steve Chamberlin, the development lead for Rift. This hole is sealed...the issue I found is no more.
        In recent days the official forums had seen a marked increase in the number of complaints of hijacked accounts—players wrote of logging in to find their characters broke, or naked, or missing. Some players wrote of struggling with the hijackers over control of their accounts.

        The closing of this security hole and the recent implementation of the Coin Lock feature should sharply reduce the number of hijacked accounts.

        The login exploit and resulting hijacked accounts is the first blemish on what had until now been a very smooth and successful launch by Trion.

        The response by Trion to the report of the exploit was very quick; just a few hours elapsed on Friday between when Trion first learned the details of the exploit and the restart for the update which closed the hole.

        Update:  On Saturday, RIFT Executive Producer Scott Hartsman posted a statement addressing the situation.

        Thursday, February 24, 2011

        Rift opens with full servers, queues

        This was the situation just minutes after launch:

        Almost all servers were full

        Long queues to join

        Shortly after the above screenshots were captured, the last servers filled leaving none available for waiting players to join. More servers were brought online fairly quickly which absorbed many of the waiting players, but queues on the original group of servers remained lengthy due to the number of guilds which had prearranged to play on them.

        Performance on the servers I was able to join seemed decent and they remained stable for several hours, with 15 minutes of downtime for a performance adjustment.

        Rift's in-game Twitter integration and automatic tweets

        Rift has built Twitter capability into its client so one can tweet messages (via /tweet) and screenshots (via /tweetpic) while in-game.

        Of course Trion Worlds has done this to leverage the social web in an effort to drive adoption of the game.

        In addition to user-initiated tweets, there is also the option to allow the client to tweet automatically. When this feature was first added during the open beta it immediately flooded the #rift hashtag with automatically-generated achievement spam. Trion quickly patched it to default to using a different hashtag, #riftfeed.

        I'm interested to see what gets tweeted automatically and how spammy it is, but in order to avoid disturbing my tiny handful of followers with game activity, I've set up another account just for in-game tweets from the Rift client.

        To see those tweets, check out the Twitter stream for Strat_in_game.

        The capability for players to easily tweet while in-game, particularly to include screenshots, is quite cool. But the automatic tweets seem like useless spam if they can't be filtered by the player. I don't see how automatically-generated tweets are useful at all to players. Once Trion implements an Armory-like interface to character data over the web, it's likely to include achievements and anything else likely to be auto-tweeted.

        Update: Shortly after launch, #riftfeed was flooded with auto-tweets, many for server-first acquisition of green and white items!

        Tuesday, February 22, 2011

        Rift starts with about 1/3 the zones of original WoW

        [Update:  The purpose of this post is to point out the difference in zone count at launch and get reaction. Once I compiled the two lists I was struck by the magnitude of the difference, and thought it would be a good discussion starter. See the ensuing reactions on Bio Break and this GameFAQs thread.]

        Rift has generated much enthusiasm as a result of its recent open beta. People have been wondering how the Rift game world compares to World of Warcraft. A comparison of the number of zones in Rift versus WoW at release is illuminating:

        Zones at Launch
        1. Mathosia (1-6)
        2. Terminus (1-6)
        3. Freemarch (6-20)
        4. Silverwood (6-20)
        5. Gloamwood (20-27)
        6. Stonefield (20-27)
        7. Scarlet Gorge (26-30)
        8. Scarwood Reach (30-35)
        9. Droughtlands (?)
        10. Iron Pine Peak (?)
        11. Lake of Solace (?)
        12. Moonshade Highlands (?)
        13. Shimmersand (?)
        14. Stillmoor (?)
        1. Dun Morogh (1-10)
        2. Durotar (1-10)
        3. Elwynn Forest (1-10)
        4. Mulgore (1-10)
        5. Teldrassil (1-10)
        6. Tirisfal Glades (1-10)
        7. Darkshore (10-20)
        8. Loch Modan (10-20)
        9. Silverpine Forest (10-20)
        10. Westfall (10-20)
        11. Barrens (10-25)
        12. Redridge Mountains (15-25)
        13. Stonetalon Mountains (15-27)
        14. Ashenvale (18-30)
        15. Duskwood (18-30)
        16. Hillsbrad Foothills (20-30)
        17. Wetlands (20-30)
        18. Thousand Needles (25-35)
        19. Alterac Mountains (30-40)
        20. Arathi Highlands (30-40)
        21. Desolace (30-40)
        22. Stranglethorn Vale (30-45)
        23. Dustwallow Marsh (35-45)
        24. Badlands (35-45)
        25. Swamp of Sorrows (35-45)
        26. Feralas (40-50)
        27. Hinterlands (40-50)
        28. Tanaris (40-50)
        29. Searing Gorge (45-50)
        30. Azshara (45-55)
        31. Blasted Lands (45-55)
        32. Un'goro Crater (48-55)
        33. Felwood (48-55)
        34. Burning Steppes (50-58)
        35. Western Plaguelands (51-58)
        36. Deadwind Pass (55-60)
        37. Eastern Plaguelands (53-60)
        38. Winterspring (53-60)
        39. Moonglade (55-60)
        40. Silithus (55-60)
        (Source Telarapedia)(Source WoWWiki)

        The score for zone count at release is 40-14 WoW over Rift.

        A couple of caveats about the zone counts. Mathosia and Terminus, Rift's two initial zones, can only be revisited by starting a new character. WoW had three zones without much content at launch—Moonglade, Deadwind Pass, and Silithus.

        WoW currently has 75 zones;  12 were added with The Burning Crusade, Wrath of the Lich King added another 12, and Cataclysm added 11 zones, nine new ones and two created by splitting existing ones.

        It will be interesting to see if Trion Worlds is able to sustain the interest of players in Rift with such a low number of zones available to max level players.