An Open Letter To Notch

Dear Notch,

The game that I have played the most this past year is Minecraft. As we hurtle headlong through this holiday season, I’m almost ashamed to say that I now miss spending time in your little project. New games are coming at me from every direction and from multiple countries, each with millions of dollars and thousands of man-years dedicated to their development. With DirectX and everything else up to 11, I dodge splendidly rendered air-to-air missiles and endure exquisite, multi-tracked Foley work, yet I find myself pining for the fjords of Minecraft. And, to be completely honest, I’m hoping that when I come back to the game in November or December you haven’t ruined it.

This is how I play Minecraft: The other day I started on a seed (-8682947286300407116) provided to me here on our very own Minecraft thread by stevenmack. I started on an island that was no more than 12 squares in total area. As far as my eye could see, there was nothing but ocean. I was stranded on few spaces of grass and soil amidst the endless, flickering blue. Not even a tree. It almost immediately began to rain.

With my bare hands, I dug down. Deep into the soil, then the rock, I spiraled my way down in the staircase pattern I had created on a dozen worlds before. Slowly the rain faded into the distance above me. Then it was gone completely. I was enveloped in darkness. Without wood, I couldn’t make torches. Without wood, I couldn’t make a pick. My progress was slow, and I was completely defenseless, a digital grub burrowing into the soil. I was doing it this way because I needed a change of pace, needed to give myself a challenge.

It was then that the zombies began to call out to me through the stone. Instead of avoiding them, I purposefully dug towards them. I knew that they would be in a pocket of open space, that maybe that open space would lead to a lava deposit more quickly than if I were to dig down myself literally by hand. Near the lava and its light I might gather a little time and space for safety, build a little room to hole up in, away from the dark and the cold rain.

The fight was long. I punched three zombies to death. With two hearts left, I did the only thing I could do: I feasted on their rotting flesh. I was sickened, but slowly I regained my health. I had to eat so much of it… so much dead, rotting corpse flesh. But it made me a kind of healthy, and my sickness faded, and my health was full.

Hours later, I broke through into an abandoned mineshaft. At last: wood! I hastily made a workbench and pick, then began to harvest stone, and iron, and coal. Up until that point, the only thing in my inventory had been gravel, dirt, and flint. Quickly I had a breastplate, a sword, an iron pick, dozens of torches, and several stacks of wood. I resolved to return to the surface with my riches, build a boat, and leave this forsaken island for good.

Because the island I started on was so small, digging straight up would have let in the sea and spelled my doom. I had to backtrack, up through the empty, dark spaces where the zombies and skeletons would have re-spawned. The tunnels were thick with them, and after more fights and meals of rotting corpse flesh, I could see the opening back towards my improvised staircase. It was then that a creeper got me. I corpse-ran back half a dozen times, but I had brought out too many monsters. There was no way back, and I deleted the world.

There was no imposed goal to that play session, there was no one but me driving the action toward its inevitable conclusion. There was no one harmed by my deletion of that world, my starting of another one. There was only my overwhelming drive to beat the system that you had created, to carve this random world up and make it bend in ways that made it easier for me to rest, and focus on my next self-created goal. And when I tired of it, spectacularly failed at it, I could wipe it away and start again with something equally as beautiful, equally as special, and equally as blank. And I didn’t owe anyone anything, implicitly or explicitly. I merely swept the world away.

Now you want to add digital people to this world. You want a sort of rudimentary set of quest lines, from my understanding. You want towns, however rare, to be filled with digital inhabitants, with digital wants and needs and desires. In short, you want to pig up this beautiful, blank, and banal world with a new creation that procedurally generates a kind of storyline.

I don’t want it. I don’t want digital denizens to be responsible for, little Java-based mouths to feed.

I know there’s a button in there, one that lets me turn “Generate Structures” on or off. But I like the structures. They add a mystery to the place, a kind of archeology over a completely anonymous society, where nothing but building and mining ever happened. Turning off the structures would be like having cake without icing. The complete absence of any NPCs, the absence (in single player mode at least) of any other players, the absence of any goals or needs other than my own creates the very best kind of play to the solitairy Minecraft player. This is the uniqueness of your game to me, Notch.

All I’m asking is that I get another button, one that says “goals off” or “NPCs off”. Don’t make me endure the oddities of procedurally generated Butcher Bill, or Mayor Sally, and their need for eleven lengths of thread. Don’t make me the savior of the Town of Oaken Plains against my will. Don’t make me feel like I owe them something when I scrub their civilization off my hard drive.

Just let me take them out, and leave me alone with your system, to make the fun I want to make. Save this truly unique, solitary aspect of your game from yourself, Notch. You’ve gone so far in making Minecraft build itself, don’t mess it up now.

Kisses,

Charlie

Comments

Hear, hear!

I was hoping you'd make it back out to your island, but sometimes killing a world is the best option. I shall apply that philosophy to my real life starting tomorrow.

Yes, please. I don't want NPCs in my Minecraft, either.

I think it's funny that you are so concerned that the game will be ruined. I know they're adding any number of RPG tropes (I actually get to say that word in public!), but just ignore the stuff you don't like. I'd bet a zillion diamond blocks that he won't plop minecraft on rails and guide you through a story/plot. It won't be Final Fantasy 13. It's still going to come down to punching trees and and digging holes the way it's always been.

I completely agree that recently, Minecraft is going in a direction I'm not happy with. But I've already put so many hours into the game, I'm ok with letting it go on its own way.

Nevertheless, don't be evil, Notch.

I'm actually kind of hoping the NPCs will be silent little guys that just wander around doing their own thing. Just a little alien culture that had no interaction with you besides bemusement when you run through or take shelter in their village. Prettier than the zombiepigmen, but no more capable of interacting with you.

That I would like, but I could also handle the Terraria way of doing things, giving them some basic services to offer you, but without any explicit quest givers or exposition deliverers.

Either of these things will suit me fine, and I think Notch knows his audience well enough to deliver something that'll feel right, even if it isn't exactly what I've detailed above.

Fellow protazoan, I don't think the worry is in the game becoming linear so much as it may be the worry that injecting character npc's would take away from the Mincraft being a charmingly solitary experience. Part of what makes Minecraft lovely is that you don't see the hand of the originator (Notch & team), you only see the work of the self or other builders. Npc's would kind of break from that.

Amoebic wrote:

Part of what makes Minecraft lovely is that you don't see the hand of the originator (Notch & team), you only see the work of the self or other builders.

Precisely my point, and poetically put. Thank you. You just exfoliated my idea.

I agree that there's something really mesmerizing about the emptiness of the world in a single-player game of Minecraft. Even glitches, like a thin layer of snow floating in midair, take on the weight of Zen imagery.

But at the same time, NPCs and directed challenge could add a lot of value to a game of Minecraft, especially in single-player, which can feel kind of useless when you reflect on it. It seems to me that being able to toggle game features on the same page where you seed the world would make the game a little more pliable to various players' tastes. Toggle villages, NPCs, dungeons, dragons, endermen, what have you, like tweaking a Super Smash Brothers match.

Part of what makes Minecraft lovely is that you don't see the hand of the originator (Notch & team), you only see the work of the self or other builders. Npc's would kind of break from that.

I think this is an excellent point, though. Part of the beauty of Minecraft is that an algorithm produces such a vast, varied, and beautiful cubey world, and then players build within it. Having NPCs muck it up seems kind of funky when you view it from that perspective.

Part of Minecraft's charm is that it can be viewed from a variety of perspectives, however. I vote for toggle options!

I played the very first version of Minecraft and my attitude is still the same: I don't get it. I tried various things, in ten minutes it got dark and I was eaten by... a grue?

I've watched videos of people just hanging out in stuff they built, chatting over vent... it's WoW all over again.

Being a developer, the Java client intrigues me, but other than that... meh.

I've always found minecraft to be incredibly sterile, and am hoping that NPCs add some life to the game. I think that the worlds and creations therein will be much more interesting with more dynamic systems in place.

I'm a hardcore Minecraft fan, and in all honesty I feel as though 1.7.3 (pre-Adventure Update) is going to become a version of Minecraft cherished by many players who don't like the slow-to-recharge health, planted RPG elements and half-finished-but-in-the-release-version features that have turned Minecraft into a different beast, to some degree.

The problem is this: Notch set out to build a game with RPG elements eventually included, and while he did indeed succeed (or at least, he's trying to at the moment), there was an in-between period before those features came in where the game became what most people wanted it to be - the ultimate sandbox experience. But adding RPG elements, while motivating people to accomplish certain goals set by Mojang, neglects the fact that Minecraft is, at its heart, about setting its own goals.

Want to build a fort? Fight monsters? Construct an 8-bit computer using redstone? You can do all of this, and I think his merging of the RPG and Survival aspects was a serious mistake that will drive people away from newer versions of the game. Not to mention his odd habit of adding things like the TESTIFICATE NPCs, despite easily being able to chat to the modders making Millenaire and paying them for the rights to incorporate their code (Valve do something similar, I don't see why not).

Someone recently said to me that the sign of a truly passionate Minecraft fan is their frustration with the game's direction, and I couldn't agree more. Although you can indeed turn off the NPCs, I have a feeling that the levelling, forced HP-regen via complex potion mechanics and other elements will swiftly prove that those removeable NPCs are the least of your problems when it comes to avoiding RPG mechanics in The New Minecraft.

I'd love to read more of these articles - I can never get enough of people telling Minecraft stories. Definitely the game with the most "and then this happened" moments.

Haven't played Minecraft for a while, is there a feature (like a central server or something) that forces you to play the latest version or are you free to play whichever update you like?

You can elect not to accept any new updates, and you can in fact save multiple versions of the .jar file in your bin folder - I've got several different versions, all I do is name the one I want to use "minecraft.jar" and alter the names of the ones I don't.

There are uploads of earlier versions floating around the web, but if you're looking to play something pre-adventure update, the most stable and recent one before 1.8 hit was 1.7.3 (piston update era).

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

When Terraria came out, quite a few people were like OMG *this* is want I wanted minecraft to be! And you slowly see minecraft adopting more features like that.

And now there are lots of people saying no don't clutter it up, keep it minimalist.

Everybody is right, lets just hug.

I think this will eventually help make Minecraft a better game if Notch can handle this correctly. There will always be the call to an older setup in a game that progresses over time, especially as fast as this one is. If there is the option for the more RPG-ish elements to be removed or a pure explore/build/sandbox mode that would draw in a bigger crowd for sure if it could be implemented. But it would also effectively split up his player base into 2 or more subsections and that is generally considered bad (but not always).

As far as what I would personally want in Minecraft? Bring it on! All of it! NPCs, steam punk, machines, more methods for travel (build-able boats/planes/cars/hamsters), more blocks, more crafting, and generally more of everything. The more complex a game the more there is to do and the more I can play before I get bored with doing something over and over again. If I can play a game for a year and still not know everything about it and am still compelled to explore and play (beyond just another skinner box) that is a game that will get me to look into a sequel or perhaps another game that the developer may be making.

Just exploring what other people have made in the many worlds we have had on the GWJ servers (thank you guys) I will run across random stuff that somebody made that makes me go "HUH?" until I can figure out what sort of thing that particular genius came up with, I'm busy trying to see it's use and construction. Then when I get done with that I get to try and copy and improve upon their design. Make it bigger! More colorful! More complicated for no reason at all! But we do need the tools to accomplish such things. Who knows what people will come up with once NPCs and the other elements make it into the game world. But I can't wait to find out.

quamper wrote:

Damned if he does, damned if he doesn't.

When Terraria came out, quite a few people were like OMG *this* is want I wanted minecraft to be! And you slowly see minecraft adopting more features like that.

And now there are lots of people saying no don't clutter it up, keep it minimalist.

Everybody is right, lets just hug.

I think this is why Charlie only asks for the ability to turn things off.

@quamper: I agree, people do lump a lot of their expectations on him and it is unreasonable. But I think it is frustrating for a developer to promise a wide, wide range of features and then include almost none of them, or half-finished versions of them, in what the developer classes as their "gold" version.

It's been a long road through alpha and beta, I just feel that had it been any other title, there would have been more of an outcry. As it is, it's difficult to complain without being assaulted by Notch obsessives.

I think this is why Charlie only asks for the ability to turn things off.

I think its more the complaints I've seen in other forums/places. What Charlie said was great.

But I think it is frustrating for a developer to promise a wide, wide range of features and then include almost none of them, or half-finished versions of them, in what the developer classes as their "gold" version.

There is probably some sort of lesson in that for both game developers and game consumers in these type of scenarios.

I think people on all sides of the fence get overly defensive/offensive about Minecraft. I guess since so many people see it as a creative outlet I think changes are felt like a personal attack on their creativity. I dunno.

TheWanderer wrote:
Amoebic wrote:

Part of what makes Minecraft lovely is that you don't see the hand of the originator (Notch & team), you only see the work of the self or other builders.

Precisely my point, and poetically put. Thank you. You just exfoliated my idea.

I concur.

Part of the issue here is the very protean nature of the game. The game is about something different for each player. Some are inveterate explorers, others embroiled in combat, we have our farmers and diggers and builders and all manner of tinkerers. Each of them plays the game differently, for different goals.

When new stuff is added that doesn't detract from what you like it's all good. But when the new stuff gets in the way of whatever individual reasons a person plays the game, they perceive it as bad. I don't see any way to negotiate a compromise to this, though. The number of variables in the equation are innumerable, and shift along with the mood of each individual player.

I'm with Charlie on the solution to this - make this stuff optional. Then the player can choose where to play and with what. But that agreement comes with a dim sense of what it costs. Adding that sort of functionality for each of these features adds an order of magnitude to the complexity of the code. It's going to take some great care and planning to decide what things are important enough to the game experience to be worth the risk. These guys are a small team. We've seen in the recent pre- and re- releases some of the problems here. The XP system still has signifigant, server-killing warts.

We'll see as it goes, but I'm worried. It seems a shame to lose that sense of freedom and possibility that lets all of us come together now.

I'm a long time listener to the podcast for GWJ, but I finally had to register an account to say that this is one of the best paragraphs to ever grace the Internet:

With my bare hands, I dug down. Deep into the soil, then the rock, I spiraled my way down in the staircase pattern I had created on a dozen worlds before. Slowly the rain faded into the distance above me. Then it was gone completely. I was enveloped in darkness. Without wood, I couldn’t make torches. Without wood, I couldn’t make a pick. My progress was slow, and I was completely defenseless, a digital grub burrowing into the soil. I was doing it this way because I needed a change of pace, needed to give myself a challenge.

It was so good in fact, I had to read it to my wife who could care less about the subject matter. She thought it excellent too.

That said, I'm looking forward to the full adventure update drawing me back into another week or two of Minecraft immersion. I think an in-game option for those who don't want it potentially tarnishing what they already love about Minecraft is a reasonable request though.

Dad, I told you to stop posting here. It's embarassing.

Seriously... Thanks.

You have hunted animals.
You have hunted monsters.
Have you hunted man?
If you look at it like that you should be ok.

The families of the zombies you killed are still grieving.

the game became what most people wanted it to be

I don't think so. Maybe "most of the people that already paid for it". Maybe.
But I don't think it matters to Notch. He is implementing his vision. If (some vocal) people dislike his vision, I don't think he will be very upset.

Very nice post, I agree, adding 'goals' and exp and I'm just guessing- a monetary system- well that is not minecraft to me. Minecraft to me is exactly as Charlie described it- a blank slate- an etchasketch that you are going to shake up again and again. Great post.

Great story, but I don't understand this hatred towards NPCs and towns. The world of Minecraft is so large... just ignore them if you don't like them. The endermen are more "in your face" than the NPCs confined to the village. If anything, it's the endermen who remove the isolation and "cast away" feeling of the game to me.

You know, between the new stuff and achievements, it feels a bit like gamification.

wordsmythe wrote:

You know, between the new stuff and achievements, it feels a bit like gamification.

In a game?

Hot dang!

/Yes I understand what your saying I just wanted to talk smack.

Draco wrote:

Great story, but I don't understand this hatred towards NPCs and towns. The world of Minecraft is so large... just ignore them if you don't like them. The endermen are more "in your face" than the NPCs confined to the village. If anything, it's the endermen who remove the isolation and "cast away" feeling of the game to me.

I think hate's too strong a word. I think there may be a grey area in regards to what people's expectations are regarding npc characters. Are they autonomous friendlymobs that don't really serve a purpose other than to serve as humanoid environment detail, or do they have personalities, quests, storylines or do they spout repetitive one-liners?

Some of these things break away from the immersion for some folks, some do not. I think having the ability to switch it on or off would be a nice option that would allow for adjustment for variable outcomes of what npc's and their constructs might be.

This article was discussed at some length in the latest episode of The Shaft.

No friggin way! Nice to be part of the conversation. They were more loaded than normal, sounds like. Love their show.