Today I decided to write something a little bit different because the blog was in desperate need of a post and I thought “why not”.
A few days ago I decided to check out the computer game Minecraft. I had heard a lot about it on the web through technology sites like Wired so I thought I would give it a go. I downloaded it and started a new survival world. Don’t know what minecraft is? Watch this video:
And then visit this site to get a slightly less compressed description. http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Minecraft_Wiki . It’s the Minecraft wiki and will swamp you with too much information. But it’s good anyway.
Like every new minecraft player I was completely lost at first. What the hell do I do? I turned to the trusty web and found an awesome little comic strip style guide to surviving your first night in minecraft. Check it out at: http://www.minecraftopia.com/how_to_play_minecraft .
I followed the instructions and sure enough, after about 10 minutes I was fully kitted out with the bare essentials like a home and bed. Cool. Now to go explore. I dug a bad mine and found some stone and made some better tools. I found some majestic ravines and caves. This was clearly not your average game. Then again, I wouldn’t really know what your average game is as I haven’t really ever played games. I had gotten off to a good start. Over the course of the next few minecraft days (20 minutes each) I dug my mine deeper and improved my home. I also ran into my first creeper which suicide bombed my house. Sigh. Let’s try building the house with stone this time. I soon started a new world as I realised my original one was deeply flawed because it was in a bad location in the middle of a forest. So I made a new home in a mountain. I dug a huge mine down to bedrock and fitted it out with a railway line and a small redstone electronics testing area (more on redstone later). This was pretty cool. Though the railway line was only one way so I still had to walk all the way up and out of the mine. So it wasn’t perfect.
I was rapidly getting frustrated. After a day of playing minecraft in survival mode I was realising it was a bit silly. The usual questions that I ask about computer games started creeping into my head. What is the point? Why are you wasting all this time? Finding the rare ores you need to create intricate circuits and creations is hard. It requires digging miles of mines through treacherous lava and monsters. This was rewarding as you felt that you had worked for what you had built but I soon realised how much time I was wasting looking for the next vein of iron. I started playing minecraft because I was curious about what you could build. I had seen grand creations posted on other blogs. I didn’t start playing minecraft because I wanted to dig for miles through boring rock to find some iron to build the next few metres of rail. I understand that for some (probably most) people that is the appeal of playing minecraft. They feel they have worked to build whatever it is they have built as they have made or mined the materials themselves. This isn’t how I look at minecraft. I like to build stuff. Fast.
So I made my first world in creative mode. Creative mode gives you a limitless supply of all the bricks in the game. You still need to build a shelter and bed for nightime but apart from that it’s up to you. There’s no need to build mines or grow crops. You are free to create whatever you want. I felt like I had finally found what I was looking for in minecraft. If I want to design a new computer chip (something that is pretty much off limits in real life) I can. This was cool. I fitted out my new world with a long railway and a station. This is something I could have never done in survival. I would have had to mine for weeks to find the materials. Here’s a pic of the world as it stands.
You can see the station, incoming and outgoing railway lines, hillside house, railway line up the hill to the mountain top house and many other things. These are all things that I’ve thought up in my head and after a few minutes in minecraft made real. This is the appeal of minecraft for me. Often I think about how cool it would be to make some machine or building. If you are a creative person you’ll know what I mean. And now I can make those thoughts real.
This is similar to the appeal of model making and hobby electronics. Once you have the basic skills you can make pretty much anything. But this requires money and space if you want to build really cool things. I don’t really have the money or space to build a model train network with a station in my house. But I’ve always wanted to make a network. So I built one in Minecraft. And I can ride in it and expand it to my heart’s content. Maybe I could make a minecart control system…. hmmmm.
This is an electronics blog and I am an electronics enthusiast so it is a fair guess to say that I am interested in the element called redstone in Minecraft. It is a bit tricky to explain the basic characteristics so I’ll leave that to someone more experienced. The minecraft wiki does a good job of this: http://www.minecraftwiki.net/wiki/Redstone_Circuits . Redstone allows you to create or recreate almost any digital electronics circuit in minecraft. Things that have been made include internet routers, 3D printers and of course small computers. The computers being built out of simple logic gates in the game are now approaching the point where they have enough power to play minecraft itself. There is an almost infinite amount of different digital circuits and machines you can create with this material. So far all I have built is a few repeater flashers (think LED scrolling bar) and some adjustable minecart clocks. I plan to expand my knowledge of digital electronics by using redstone as a learning tool. All the fundamentals of our modern digital world can be recreated in minecraft like clocks, NOT, OR, NOR and XOR gates to name a few. Also, if you want to make something but it’s not suppourted with the standard blocks in the game there’s plenty of mods around. There’s even one that allows you to use lasers. Some of the computing creations in minecraft span hundreds of square metres ( one minecraft block = 1 metre cubed) with thousands of sub parts. Here’s one of my favourite examples showing a cool internet router that was built. This shows the complexity of the circuits that can be made.
And here’s a pic for those who can’t view youtube:
If you want to see some more impressive redstone creations you’ll probably want to wander over to the Redstone Development Foundation’s home on the Minecraft forums. It will blow your mind. It’s basically the result of what happens when you let electrical engineers touch a computer with Minecraft on it. They have an amazing server that I might try and join some day. http://www.minecraftforum.net/topic/290712-redstone-development-foundation-rdf-projects/
This is the exciting bit of minecraft for me. I can learn about how computer chips and other digital logic parts are constructed without needing to buy an expensive FPGA or owning a chipfab. I can build a custom logic chip if I want to. Nobody can stop me. Because it’s minecraft and I can do what I like. That’s why I play minecraft in creative instead of survival. Call me a noob but I like to build without limits and playing in survival imposes the limits of hard to find resources.
EDIT: Survival’s still fun as hell though.
Don’t worry ye hardcore electronics enthusiasts I’m not going to ditch real world electronics for minecraft. I still thoroughly enjoy doing real world stuff because it is a fun and enjoyable hobby. Plus it’s you know, real not a collection of digital signals. I’m just a bit stuck for ideas as to what to make at the moment. So for now I’m learning about digital logic through minecraft.
And I couldn’t leave you without showing you the most awesome Minecraft vid ever. If you don’t play Minecraft and don’t know what a creeper is just enjoy the epic animation.
One last thing….. I’m a big fan of deadmau5’s music so when I found this video of a guy doing techno with just his mouth I couldn’t resist sharing. It’s not my favourite song but it’s amazing nonetheless: