An Open Letter To 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.