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.

      1 comment:

      1. Well, block IDs have already been raised to 4096, so I think it's safe to say that Jeb "gets it".
        I sincerely doubt any of the modders "rely" on, it's not possible to even remotely live off the revenue from it, except MAYBE if you are one of the top mods and are abusing the system by splitting your mod into 10 parts and putting each part behind an link like buildcraft... whoops starting to rant here.
        I really hope there is no "mod store"; good mods will get donations and bad mods will fade away.