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Adrift! Behind the Scenes

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I’m posting this How-I-Did-It and Spoiler guide on my blog instead of on the main forums to prevent unnecessary spoilers for the general public.  If you found it by following one of my breadcrumbs left on the interwebs, congrats!

How I Made Adrift!

First, the tools and what they do.  All of these are third-party applications which modify game data.  I don’t use game behavior mods, primarily because it’s hard enough to get people to put the downloaded save game in the right spot, let alone install a mod.

Invedit:  A simple inventory editor.  Allows you to place or remove items in your inventory, including things that cannot be natively generated inside Minecraft (like a grass block or a spawner).

Loledit:  I don’t know how long this one will work as the map portion is no longer being developed, but I use it for two things:  changing mob spawner characteristics and setting the game time.  It also can be used as an inventory editor.

MCEdit:  The key interactive game-map tool.  The controls take some time to learn, but it gives you powerful search-and-replace editing of blocks on a map.  Primarily used for changing the map, moving the spawn point, and moving the player location.

Cartograph:  Not a building tool per se, but a nice mapper that may help create interesting images for promotion.

Step One: World Generation

You need a raw map to work with when you’re making a challenge map.  If you want a minimalist map, you can make use of pre-made maps like the flatgrass map.  I wanted naturally-generated caves and landscapes instead of having to make them from scratch.  I started a new game in Minecraft, then did a short circuit around my spawn point to force new chunks to be simulated.

Next, I opened MCedit and placed a stone box about the size of the “play zone” that I wanted in the center of the map, up high enough to not intersect with the terrain in any way.  I did this to give myself a visual reference for the important second step in terrain generation.

Back in Minecraft, I proceeded to do a large circuit around my world with the maximum viewing distance setting.  I kept an eye on the reference box I’d placed in the world, attempting to keep it just on the edge of my viewable distance.  The result is a sufficiently large world that shouldn’t show discontinuities in the terrain, so long as your players stay inside the play zone.

Now that I had established my map, it was time to do…

Step Two: Large Scale Terrain Modifications

All of this is done with MCEdit.  Some of these will take a long time to resolve and re-light so plan on several hours.  Unless I indicate otherwise, each of these edits was applied to all the horizontal dimensions of the map.  To make an ocean map like mine, I made the following changes:

  1. Deleted the reference box I placed to help get the right amount of terrain generation
  2. Deleted all solid blocks located more than five blocks above sea-level.  I used this elevation instead of sea-level to give a bit more variety in elevation.  I still ended up with vast flat zones.
  3. Searched and removed all logs, leaves, pumpkins, sugarcane, etc, that might have still existed from sea level and up.
  4. Searched and replaced all grass and dirt blocks with stone from elevations -20 blocks to +5 blocks above sea-level.  I didn’t want dirt on the ocean-bed or in the shallow 1/3 of the underground environment.
  5. Wanting a bit more clay on the map, I replaced a portion of the top solid layer stone with clay.  Because it wound be underwater, it wasn’t going be obvious that it was mostly a big square.
  6. Last I added water depth.  Approximately 20 vertical blocks of water represents a one-way trip for a Minecraft avatar, preventing people from working on the ocean bottom without danger.  I replaced all air from sealevel to +20 blocks with static water.  In shallowest parts, one can just barely touch bottom and resurface without suffocating.
  7. To make life easier, I placed a small square of solid blocks on the surface and moved the spawn point to it, since the next phase required in-game work.

Step Three:  Moderate-size Map Modifications

The next major phase was the subterranean renovations.  I have four distinct underground areas:

  • The Lava Tube:  A cave filled with lava that stretches from the ocean bed to near the bottom of the map.  First I manually seeded the entire length of the cave with about 2 stacks of diamonds.  Next, I used MCEdit to replace air with lava.  This has to be done in small sections, in order to prevent overlap with other caves in the selection zone.  Last I tinkered with the top of the cave, which was originally open to the water so that it was mostly roofed-over.
  • The Monster Cave:  A long top-to-bottom cave that contains approximately 8 spawners.  Placed the mob spawners manually in game, digging out spots in a few places so that I could have a second spawner located above a visible spawner that would drop additional enemies on the unwary player.  Near the end of the project, used Loleditor to change the placed spawners to their final monster assignments.  Near the bottom I dug the remaining distance down to adminium and installed a nether portal.  Also plugged a few cases of lava bleed-through from the lava tube.  Plugged the top of the cave in with clay.
  • The Mushroom Cave: A medium-to-small cave that starts near the ocean floor.  Clayed-in the entrance and covered every inside surface with mushrooms.  Easy.
  • Benson’s Office:  A very small sandstone structure sticking out of one of the deepest parts of the ocean.  The only underground area cut entirely out of solid rock, I used McEdit to create a working space, then did the rest in-game.

Throughout all of this, I continued to use McEdit to move the player position around.  This prevented me from leaving tell-tale signs of excavation to access the sealed caves.  Used Invedit for all of the placeable items.

Step Five:  The Ship

I’ve written about this elsewhere.  Several players have commented on the nice design of the ship, but I think it merely looks adequate.  I used Google image search to look at cut-away views of galleons.  I observed that the keel is almost exactly shaped like a straight line with a quarter circle on the end.

Just like any good shipbuilder, I made my boat on dry land and then transfered it to water with MCEdit.  I started a second save and flattened a bit of beach before setting down a keel.  After laying the keel, I then put in a single-block width section for the widest berth of the boat, trying to get a proper sense of proportion before committing to the rest of the shape.

From there it was an exercise in eyeballing the curvature from fore to mid-section.  Decks went in next, once I’d decided on the appropriate water level.  Fore-and Aft-castles came next.  Then I had the genius idea of using dispensers to make “cannons” on the cannon deck.  Last I added the masts, opting for three main sail masts and one lateen sale (the aft-most mast).  The foremost mast should probably have been build a block or two further forward.

Made sure I had a way to re-board the boat, so dropped ladders down the outside in the most natural-looking position I could find.  From there it was accessories:  chests and goodies within, stairs, ladders, that single precious square of grass, etc.

At the end I had to go back through and check all my signs to make sure my adventurer’s log links were correct.  Moved the spawn point, cleared the inventory, and then used Loledit to set the time to start of the day.  Finally, I had a testable map.

Step Six:  Play Testing

Probably the most essential part of the process is when you set aside time to test it yourself.  This allows you to avoid the most embarrassing mistakes and identify flawed concepts.

In my case, I found that it’s hard to avoid the monster cave if you mine directly below the ship.  I decided that was okay, the extra challenge was worthwhile.

I also found my sign for the top of the lava tube had caught fire and disappeared.  An easy fix, but one that could have been game-breaking.

Once I convinced myself that there wasn’t anything on the map that would make me ragequit in frustration, it was ready to turn it loose.

Written by Bill

February 2, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Posted in PC Gaming

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Adrift!: A Minecraft Challenge Map

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This post presents the challenge map I’ve made for Minecraft.  I’m looking for a few Minecraft players to test-play it before I unleash it on the official forums.  So, if you like to play structured challenge maps consider giving Adrift! a try this week.

Feedback is always appreciated.  I’m curious if you got stuck anywhere or found something you suspect is a bug.  Leave comments right here on the thread.  I’m planning on about a week of testing.

Download the save file here!

I.  About Adrift!

You start aboard a boat as the sole survivor of a mysterious calamity.  Unable to sail the boat by yourself, you must find a way to survive when there is no land in sight.

Adrift was made from a map generated on Minecraft Beta 1.2, using MCEdit and InvEdit.

II.  How to install the save file [Windows]

The save file is distributed in a zip file.  You must first extract it in a directory of your choosing by right clicking and selecting “Extract Here”.  Next, you must take the “World5” folder and replace your current “World5” folder in the proper folder where Minecraft places its files.  You will lose your current World 5 map if you over-write it.

Also note this file is also located inside the zip file.  Place it somewhere you can find it again.

To find the Minecraft save file folder on your system, refer to this or other existing forum threads on the topic:

III.  Challenge Rules

The goal of this challenge map is what you choose to make of it.  These rules are suggestions only.

Do not:

  • Use modifications which assist you in mapping, modify your inventory, or modify the game map.
  • -Stray from the game area.  The map has been built primarily inside a box of 128 by 128 blocks.  The boundaries of this box are marked by cobblestones floating one unit above the water level.  Exploring the ocean floor beyond the boundary will not reveal special areas that award points.
  • Play on peaceful mode or use peaceful mode in an emergency situation.


  • Manage your resources carefully.  Certain resources cannot be found naturally due to a lack of dry land.  There are single replacement units of the following renewable resources hidden on the map, should you lose your original supply:  saplings, cacti, and sugarcane.
  • Explore beneath the ocean floor.  Occasionally you will find a sign indicating a discovery of one of the secrets of Adrift! and earn points.
  • Use the adventurer’s log when indicated.  The adventurer’s log contains entries which may give clues to help you locate special features.  Not every entry in the adventurer’s log is legitimate, so only rely upon those which are referenced on the game map.
  • Realize that sea level is not at the same position as as a normal Minecraft map.  If you move to a position which forces generation of new chunks, it will look strange.
  • Have fun.

III.  Challenge Scoring

A score is calculated by taking the Points Awarded (Part I) and multiplying by the Difficulty Modifier (Part 2).

Part I:  Points Awarded

  • [1] Make an Island.  Build at least 300 blocks of dry land.  Dry land is defined as a solid surface block which has ocean located neither above nor below.
  • [1] Build a Tower.  You need a high place to watch for rescue boats.  Build a tower with an accessible 8-block or larger platform at max height
  • [1] Raise Some Livestock.  Earn this award the first time you see a pig, sheep, cow, or chicken spawn on your island.
  • [1] Mess with Lava.  Build a structure using at least 64 obsidian blocks.
  • [1] Make a Food Stockpile.  Stash these items in a chest at the same time:  3 loaves of bread, 3 cooked ham, 3 cooked fish, 3 cakes, 64 wheat, 32 eggs, 32 sugar, 3 buckets of milk, and 3 bowls of mushroom stew.
  • [1] Keep a Scoreboard.  Keep track of your points in game by building a room upon the walls of which signs are placed indicating categories for points have been earned.
  • [1] Ride the Train.  Build a minecart system which can travel between the surface of your island and the top layer of adminium.
  • [1] Corner the Diamond Market.  Gather a cache of at least 64 diamonds.  Diamonds converted to tools or armor do not count in the total.
  • [1] Be an Arborist.  Have 10 large trees at the same time on your island.  These are trees that have at least one branches coming from the main trunk.
  • [1] Become a Monster’s Bane.  Devise a device which automatically harms monsters generated by a MOB spawner.
  • [1] Build a Cozy House.  Build a home using at least 64 brick blocks, 9 book cases, 12 blocks of glass, 12 sandstone blocks, and 12 smooth stone.
  • [1] Frolic in Green Fields.  Have at least 40 grass blocks on your island.
  • [1] Be To Dye For.  Collect one of each possible hue of wool (no brown until implemented).
  • [1] Discover Secret #1
  • [1] Discover Secret #2
  • [1] Discover Secret #3
  • [1] Discover Secret #4
  • [1] Discover Secret #5
  • [1] Discover Secret #6
  • [3] Escape!  To end the challenge, build a boat (not the standard boat, but a structure that looks like a boat).  A boat must consist of: at least 32 wood or log blocks, 16 wool blocks (for the sail), and one storage chest filled with: a compass, a watch, one standard boat (a lifeboat), one fishing pole, 3 buckets of water, and the remaining slots filled with food items (food can count double for the food stockpile above).

Part II:  Difficulty Modifier

Your initial multiplier is 1.  Add or subtract the following to your multiplier if you play with these restrictions:

  • [1] Hard Core mode.  Play until you experience your first death, then total your points.
  • [0.5] Memorial mode.  A lighter version of hard core mode.  For each player respawn, you must add a gravesite to a designated graveyard on your island.  A gravesite consists of a single cobblestone, a redstone torch, and a yellow or red flower.
  • [-0.25] Multiplayer penalty for Iron Man or Memorial Mode.  Reduce your modifier for each player beyond the first.
  • [1] Vegetarian mode.  You like animals, thus you may never eat ham or fish.

IV.  Adventurer’s Log

Read the numbered entry when directed to by a sign you find in placed on the game map.  A large proportion of these entries are fake to prevent you from reading ahead.

[Entry 1]

I don’t know how long I’ve been out, but now that I’m awake I wonder why I was spared when everyone else was taken.  We were returning from an expedition to the King’s newest colony on board the navy ship Golden Cutlass.  I was sent to study the flora of this alien land and the captain to collect the spoils of the war.

For three weeks we were becalmed, a thousand miles from land if the navigator is to be believed.  Supplies ran short and careful rationing began to take its toll on the crew.  Then, two or three night ago–I cannot reckon the time exactly–an awful tempest swept across the broad sea, tossing our boat and swamping it nearly to sinking.  Being the only civilian on the ship, I was confined to my room during the tumult.  I was all to glad, as I was seasick so bad as to prefer death over the continued sway and sally of the cabin.

I do not know when the crew disappeared.  There was a lifeboat on board.  Perhaps they left, fearing the imminent break up of the craft.  I do not know how long I slept after I passed out from my illness.  I do not know where I am.

The ship, which seemed too small when crowded with rowdy and surly sailors now seems unmanageably large.  The sails are in tatters, but even if they were fit for the sea, I cannot pilot such a large craft by myself.

[Entry 2] I knew there was gold on board, as the door to this chamber was kept guarded day and night.  I’m certain the captain has hidden a small fortune in diamonds elsewhere on the Golden Cutlass.

[Entry 3]

I see the lava pool and my heart sinks.  I cannot risk a serious burn to further explore this place.  I should take what baubles the lava has left me within easy reach and be content.

[Entry 4]

In the old country, many brave heros spent their lives trying to plump such foul darkness so that children may play outside in the early evening without fear of violence.  Even now I can hear the creak and groan of an unnatural horde that awaits below.

[Entry 5]

My terrarium survived the tempest.  Inside are living samples of the grass that provided staple substinence to the natives living in the King’s colony.

[Entry 6]

In the captain’s study, I came across this entry in the log:

“Saw again today the black sails on the horizon.  We cannot make too little haste.”

[Entry 7]

Amazing, I declare!  To find such wealth and have nowhere to spend it.  In my studies at the royal institute I learned geology, and I know that there is likely to be even more of such wealth hidden, where it crytalized within the lava nearby.

[Entry 8]

The sea anchor has caught and it is a two-man job to raise it.  The review of the stockpiles is dire.  At the last dinner I had in his stateroom, the captain said these waters were rarely traveled.  If I am to survive, I must somehow turn my creaking, wooden prison into a farm and shelter.  The ocean bottom is tantalizingly close, but I know I will not find arable soil there.  I must hope that the past geological eras have folded and reworked this submerged land, trapping soil deep within.

[Entry 9]

Like a fool, I had asked a sailor on the trip out why we carried stones in the bottom of the boat.  At least I provided the crew with some small entertainment during the voyage.  The ballast, as it is called, is to keep the ship upright.  Now I can foresee a new use for it.

[Entry 10]

In the captain’s study, I cam across this entry in the log:

“The night watchman saw him again last night on the forecastle.  I cannot commit his name to parchment, but one will never forget his white eyes.”

[Entry 11]

At least I’ve placed myself.  This is what the captain feared.  It would be better if I died so that the world didn’t know the location of Benson’s Tomb, thought safely buried in the deepest of depths.

[Entry 12]

My uncle always said, “You can’t eat gold bars.  Invest in pork.”  Now the King’s ransom can do me little good.

[Entry 13]

My situation isn’t so dire now that I see the light of the sun.  Rescue can only be a few days away.  I might even be able to swim to dry land, if the wind stays calm.

[Entry 14]

The last thing I expected to find beneath the waves was the study of a learned man.  This must be Benson’s Folly.  The fragments of his journal indicate that his investors thought he was opening a portal system through which the spice trade might bypass the expense and uncertainty of seafaring ships.

The journal ends with no sign of foul play, like the man who tells his wife he’s going out for a pint and never returns.  The pathway through must surely be lost by now, and any record of Benson’s end obliterated by the strange forces he courted.

[Entry 15]

I’ve found one of Benson’s artifacts.  Perhaps there is another way to return to civilization?

[Entry 16]

In the captain’s study, I came across this final entry in the log:

“Navigator wants to take the southerlies and avoid Benson’s Folly, adding a month to the voyage.  If we are to meet the king’s deadline, I fear there is no other option.  Halved the navigator’s cake ration.”

Written by Bill

January 21, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Posted in PC Gaming

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Outpost GemSitDasTot: A Dwarf Fortress Journal Part 1

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I’ve been inspired by the fine folks over at Rock Paper Shotgun to try to play Dwarf Fortress.  I’ve tried many times, but I eventually get caught in a mistake or can’t figure out how to accomplish something and lose interest in the game.  I hope that by, keeping a game journal, I can force myself to play through to the bitter end.  As you may know, all DF games have a bitter end.

For the uninitiated, Dwarf Fortress is a “game” in which you lead a group of dwarves through their attempt to colonize the land and prosper until they get eaten by something.  The interface is decidedly old-school and the command structure is particularly perplexing and has led to people creating utility programs like Dwarf Therapist to make the management of your chin-height horde slightly less painful.  Even though the graphics are rudimentary, I’ve found this game can eat up system resources like nobody’s business.

With a steep learning curve and lacking any sort of helpful in-game documentation, it’s a miracle anyone plays Dwarf Fortress.  The Wiki helps, as do several tutorials that can be found there.  If you are inspired to give this game a try, don’t ask me for help.  I only know the rudiments and I’ve never gotten very far in any one game.

So, remembering that Losing Is Fun, here goes.

After generating a new world, a process that takes 20-30 minutes and generates a half gigabyte save file, I begin a search for a embarkation point.  After a bit of fiddling with the search settings and one false start, I’m placed in a reasonably decent spot.  I’ve found it takes experience to find a good spot, as the repercussions of your decision may not be felt for several years in the game.

The game suggests I name the outpost Gemsitdastot.  Gem sit makes sense–dwarves like to encrust their furniture with cut gems so there’s likely to be at least one gem-encrusted throne before too long.  Das tot is a bit frightening, as I know we’re one umlaut short of the word for death.  Thus, the translation I derive for Gemsitdastot is “The Gem Encrusted Throne of Death”.  Here’s what things look like at the start:


The First Day of Gemsitdastot


There you see my seven intrepid pioneers: Cerol U., Doren, CerolK., Obok, Erush, Rith, and Zuntir.  Among them are the animals, two war dogs, two cats to kill the small vermin and breed hellish amounts of spawn, and a donkey who hopes the dwarves don’t run out of food.  At the center is the wagon, containing all their initial supplies and just waiting to be pilfered.

Before I can even contemplate unpausing the game, there are lots of little things to do.  I set a refuse stockpile so the dwarves will dump the bodies of cat and dog kills out of the way.  I use Dwarf Therapist to turn off hauling duties for my three of my dwarves who will be too busy with their primary duties.  I assign war dog to my farmer/herbalist and wood cutter to protect them when they roam on the surface.  I designate downward stairs for my miner to dig and upward stairs on the level below to connect up.  I designate planet gathering and tree cutting zones to start gathering resources.

In a case of perfect foreshadowing, several vultures wing their way through camp as everyone rushes off to their jobs.  Moment later one harasses my miner, mason, and carpenter before Kadol the wardog arrives and rips it to shreds (see combat report below).  Naturally, I haven’t trained anyone as a butcher, and everyone knows dwarves will eat anything nearly related to meat.  All through the spring my dwarves are harassed by the wily vultures, who steal a bit of food before I can get the stockpiles relocated below ground.


Kadol vs. Buzzard Battle Report (click for full view)


By the end of spring, the dwarves have made good progress.  In the picture below you see the workshops and dining hall.  The essential still is up and running, as are the mechanic’s workshop, the craftdwarf’s station, and the carpentry and masonry shops. On the surface I have a Trade Depot up and a surface farm turning out a few small batches of strawberries.  Elsewhere is the dormitory.


Year One, Workshop and Meeting Hall Floor


Summer sees a few smaller improvements, as the population waits for the arrives of migrants who can start filling in specialized labor roles.  The subterranian farm is irrigated, but summer rains prevent it from sufficiently drying to wall back up, leaving a nice ambush route for goblins.  An office is appointed to the expedition leader, who is also working as broker and bookeeper.  Individual bedrooms start arriving just before autumn begins.

With Autumn comes the dwarven trader with his caravan.  I haul my fine crafts up to the depot and put out a call for my broker/expedition leader, who eventually shows up after basting himself liberally with dwarven wine.  Luckily the trader is quite willing to buy the dozens of authentic rock mugs my craftsdwarf had produced.  In exchange the expedition leader pounces on the available meat, a few interesting weapons, and a caged cow.  The dwarven diplomat also arrived with carrvan and I count it a minor success that I didn’t kill him by accident.

Winter allows for more construction, as I start to wall in the surface structures and a nearby lake in preparation for the inevitable goblin hordes that will find me once the fortress starts looking prosperous.  My mason hops to it, making good progress until he manages to wall himself in.  There are two types of masons–those who have walled themselves in and those who will.  This makes for an elaborate bit of tunneling beneath the lake for my miner to free him.  I’ll have to have a look at the east wall and possibly reposition it so there’s a margin around the lake for the miner to navigate.


Cerol the Mason traps himself


So a year has passed for the dwarves of GemSitDasTot.  They’ve been fortunate that the terrain they have claimed is reasonably friendly–there are plenty of trees and local plants to gather, water is easily acquired, allowing for a massive underground farming area.  The alligators prowling the map haven’t taken issue with their new neighbors yet.  There still aren’t any new migrants, but I know I’ll soon have more than I desire.  What can possibly go wrong?

Written by Bill

October 9, 2010 at 4:20 pm

Posted in PC Gaming

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Minecraft Challenges (v. 1.1.2_01)

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Looking for a challenge map?  Try my Adrift! challenge map.

The fine folks over at Carl’s Sims 3 Guide have made a habit of creating interesting challenges for Sims 3.  Challenges have a long history in the Sims franchise, since the game is far from linear and allows for all sorts of play styles.  Minecraft also doesn’t have a clear progression at this time, and it makes sense that a nice way to mix up one’s gaming style is to play under a set of challenge rules.

Some of what follows is obvious, but I am hoping to create a list of interesting challenge concepts for Minecraft.  I haven’t spent a billion hours on Minecraft forums trying to find challenges, so everything in this post are my ideas, even if they’re not unique. In fact,  I wouldn’t be surprised if there I have duplicated challenges found elsewhere on the web.  My apologies if I step on some toes.

Challenges below may be mixed or matched however you choose, although some combinations may create rule sets that make the game completely unplayable.


There are many parts to this one, so bear with me.

  1. On start you are given a 24-hour grace period.  This means you are free to do whatever you want for the first day and night cycle in game.  After that, the following restrictions apply.
  2. Movement on the surface is limited to the space occupied by your anthill.  An anthill is a pyramid shaped structure centered on and built up from your spawn point.  For added challenge, you may restrict the allowed materials that can be added to the anthill.
  3. Movement below the surface is allowed, but if you breach into or follow a natural cavern to the surface (a place exposed to daylight), you must seal it off ASAP.

This challenge really puts stress on your actions during the start of the game.  Do you choose to put more time into resource collection instead of sheltering for the first night?  I like to build an anthill with a cobblestone base layer (so I can dig beneath without damaging the anthill) and a cobblestone spawn hut, over which I build the pyramid with sand.


The claustrophobic dislikes enclosed places.  Any shelter you build for nighttime cannot be more than 1/3 enclosed (for example, 2 of 6 sides of a cube).  You may not remove common blocks (sand, dirt, stone, and gravel) from positions which are not in sunlight.  This does allow you to enter natural caves and remove coal, steel, etc.

Dry Land

You are not allowed to enter or jump over running water.  Stricter interpretation of this rule would also prohibit counteracting water by cofferdams or plugging underground streams.

King of the Hill

The reverse of Anthill.  Rules:

  1. Like Anthill, you are given a 24 hour grace period.  At the end of the grace period, you must be located at the minimum altitude.  After the grace period ends, the following rules are in effect.
  2. Minimum altitude means you can jump straight up from your position and touch passing clouds (i.e. the camera is inside the cloud).  This should give you approximately 14 units of vertical space to work in.
  3. You are only allowed surface construction on or above the minimum altitude described in step 2.
  4. You are allowed to build subterranean structures below the minimum altitude so long as they open to the surface above minimum altitude.  Should you breach onto the surface or emerge from a natural cavern on the surface, you must seal the passage ASAP.
  5. You must keep forges, chests, and worktables above minimum altitude.
  6. On a respawn, you must return to minimum altitude immediately without engaging creatures or gathering resources.

I’ll admit I haven’t tested this one, so there might be unforeseen issues.


You are forbidden from harming pigs or eating their tasty ham.  This rule can be applied to any creature or food type.

Monument Builder

This is intended to be an intermediate death penalty between Penitence and Single Life.  Like Penitence, you must build structures that mark the passing of a life which must not be destroyed.  Additionally in Monument Builder, each structure must be finalized with the application of a rare resource immediately after you respawn.  I recommend a gold block for a strong challenge, or a redstone torch if you want less difficulty.  If you cannot finalize a monument after a respawn, your game is over.


Penitence is a minor death penalty which requires you to build a small structure which represents an occasion in which you respawned.  Going with a tombstone theme, I like a 3×3 cross (+) decorated with a torch.  Penitence markers cannot be intentionally destroyed.


The pugilist abhors weapons, choosing to face conflict with bare knuckles.  Never pick a fight on dry ground with more than one zombie.

Single Life

This is the most obvious challenge of all, in which you only play until you are killed and force to respawn.  I highly recommend it, as it drastically changes your risk profile.  Do you normally ignore armor and food because the respawn penalty is weak?  Try the single life challenge.

Traveling Light

You are prohibited from building or using chests.

That’s what I have for now.  If you have feedback, I’d love to hear it in the comments or via the contact form.

Written by Bill

October 8, 2010 at 1:24 am

Posted in PC Gaming

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From the Red Box to World of Warcraft in Eight Steps

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In honor of the re-issue of the D&D Basic Set (also called the Red Box), here’s a remembrance.

Step One

It’s 1983 or thereabouts and I had slipped away from my parents at Buttrey’s (the horribly named grocery store in my home town) to look at the toy aisle.  We didn’t have a real toy store in town, so a kid was left wishing for toys found in pre-Walmart discount stores like Alco or the grocery or the Christmas catalog from JC Penny.

A red tag-board box with an fantastic illustration of a dragon on the cover caught my eye.  I cajoled my parents into buying it.  Who knew what effect this chance encounter with the D&D Basic Set would have on my life.

After crayoning my dice and playing through the single-player adventure in the player’s guide, I realized that the game was really meant to be played with others.  This posed a problem, as the neighborhood kids mostly entertained themselves by riding around on their bikes and digging holes in the piles of dirt left by construction in our still-developing suburb.  There was no chance of getting them to sit still and play a game which required so much reading and had all those rules.

Thankfully, I had recently made friends with Mike J., whose mother knew my mother at work, and we ended up half-assing our way through the rest of the adventure with him DMing and me running a whole party chasing after the nefarious chaotic  magic user Bargle.

Dear old Bargle, no other villian could ever measure up to you and your dastardly Charm Person spell.

Step Two

We had computers in the house from the availability of the VIC 20 onwards.  My father spent countless hours typing in code from Compute magazine into the Commodore 64 so I could play games, rather than let me have something as uneducational as an Atari 2600.

One of those traveling convention-center sales kinda-scams came to town one weekend to sell computer games on floppy disks for low prices.  One of the games I came home with was labeled “The Amulet of Yendor”, which was really a port of Rogue.  It was the first computer game I played that presented the essentials of a D&D game, albeit in ASCII characters.  Rogue still exists and anyone with an interest in vintage computer gaming should experience it at least once.

Step Three

I stuck with the boxed D&D sets for several years, eventually acquiring everything through the black box master level set.  I rarely played with others, spending much of my time designing adventures.  Things didn’t really come together in pen and paper roleplaying for me until I went to junior high.

Finally, I found other people who had a similar capability to use their imaginations, sit still at a table for a few hours, and remember complicated rules.  By the end of 7th grade, I was playing a near weekly game with Mark R., Troy S., Brian M, and Joe L.  Being such mature scholars, we eschewed the basic sets for the much more costly and arcane Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.  Every month or so I’d acquire another manual and expand my massive rule set with the trivia of Deities & Demigods or recently Unearthed Arcana.

We played fairly regularly almost all the way through high school, even attempting to make the adjustment to the 2nd edition before giving up.  Sometimes we’d experiment with other games, but AD&D was the core.  Looking back, I’m surprised at the skills that I learned playing AD&D, but that will have to wait for another post.

Step Four

As I was cutting my teeth on AD&D with my friends, computer game makers were kicking off the CRPG realm.  My earliest obsession with CRPGs came when I played The Bard’s Tale at my friend’s house.  I can still tell you that the password to get into the sewers was “Wine” and that you could pull the floppy disk out of the drive and flip it over to force the shop inventory to list everything in the game.  As a CRPG it got the character advancement right, but combat was non-tactical.  Attack Group A, Attack Group A, Attack Group A, Use Firehorn on Group B, Defend, Defend (or Spell MIBL when I earned it).

Step Five

Short on the heels of the Bards Tale and its sequels was the Pool of Radiance, the first branded D&D game.  I didn’t even know about it until I saw it at my Cousin’s house during a Christmas visit.  Finally the “official” rules had been translated to a computer game.  I got my mitts on it as fast as possible and played almost nothing else.

I couldn’t tell you the plot, but it was very hard to survive at the onset with a party of first-level characters.  Eventually you learned a survival strategy consisting of the sleep spell and archers.  Once you got a magic user to 5th level, a lot became possible with judicious use of the fireball spell.

Perhaps a dozen of the SSI gold box games were made, including a fascinating Rogue-like game called Dungeon Hack in which dungeons were randomly generated and explored in a pseudo-first person POV.  While the graphics and sound could be improved, it was hard for me to believe that the core mechanics of D&D on the computer could get better.

Step Six

As I got older and left for college, I drifted more into strategy games like the original Civilization and Colonization.  At some point in my freshman year in 1992, I asked a friend what those guys who were always in the computer lab outside the science library were up to.

And thus I was introduced to MUDs, MUSHes and MOOs.  I’d poked around the internet a bit once I got a network account as a Freshman.  As far as I could tell it was an oddball collection of content on something called Gopher, a chaotic collection of usenet forums, and email I couldn’t use because I didn’t know anyone else with an address.  Only when I first connected to a now forgotten dikumud, did I grasp the power of networking.

For the uninitiated, MUDs were text-only roleplaying games played on a server.  They roughly adapted D&D rules, although the codebase was sufficiently open that each server developed its own unique ruleset.  By the time I discovered them, there were dozens, if not hundreds, of servers running various MU*s.

MU* communities were sufficiently different from later online game communities, probably because of how uninviting the interface was and the general limitation on population due to the technology of the day.

I eventually became a builder for Perilous Realms, which I’m amazed to say still exists.  I can’t say if my region (The Ponytail Archipeligo) ever made it into production, but I never did get it populated with mobiles.

Step Seven

This step comes much later, as I went to graduate school and got out into the workforce and was too busy for games that I felt I’d outgrown.  In the interim, I missed some developmental steps in online CRPGs like Ultima Online and Neverwinter Nights.

Sometime around 2000, I got the itch for my old MUDding days and did some internet searching.  I found a game called Everquest.  I coughed up the dough for the game and logged in.

My initial perception of the game that it was merely a graphical wrapper around a shoddy LPMUD.  The graphics were 3D, but pretty blocky.  The game was especially unforgiving compared to modern MMOs.  I nearly gave up when I realized the world was populated by cretans, but then the Firiona Vie server opened.  It was to be a haven from the d00ds, a special server for roleplayers.

Boy did it have some drama…

Still, it and its sequel started a new heavy obsession for me for a period of about four years.  Eventually I realized how badly it was sucking away my time and social space and stopped playing.

Step Eight

I had to stop with something people are familiar with, so the final step is the World of Warcraft.  To an early MMOs player, it was merely a well-refined version of the Everquest formula with famliar lore and ready-made fanbase.  It didn’t really innovate, just expanded upon and refined the MMO model created by early games like Everquest and its contemporaries.  I may have only lasted a month or two before I realized I’d lost interest in the genre.

Maybe it was that I was getting older and not interested in spending my time with the teenagers who form the primarily population inhabited these games.  I spoke to a college student a few weeks ago about computer games and he lamented how many games were simply clones of World of Warcraft, including Dungeons and Dragons Online.  I pointed out that all fantasy MMOs have a linneage that can be traced back to Dungeons and Dragons, but I don’t think he understood…

Written by Bill

October 5, 2010 at 10:15 pm

Posted in PC Gaming, RPGs

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Minecraft Wisdom

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Minecraft has been sucking up a lot of my time lately.  Since there are plenty of people talking about it, I won’t go into details on what type of game it is.  Watch a few YouTube videos and pay the ten euros it currently costs if you like it.

Here are some tips and lessons learned playing the current version of Minecraft on survival mode.  They are guaranteed until the upcoming Halloween update.

1.  Mark your spawn point

Order number one is to mark your spawn point.  Since you always seem to spawn on sand, it’s normally no problem to dig out a box around the spawn point.  I dig a trench with 5×5 dimensions around a 3×3 spawn point pad.

2.  Harden your spawn point

Nothing stinks like getting caught by a creeper and getting a one-way ticket to your spawn point only to have more dangerous baddies waiting for your now-naked avatar.  Once you’ve acquired some cobblestone you can part with (i.e. not needed for tools), build a rudimentary hut around your  spawn point with cobblestone.  Cobblestone is more resistant to creeper explosions than dirt or sand.  Don’t forget to dig down below your spawn point and reinforce with cobblestone.

3.  Gravel is great for cofferdams and scaffolding

I love gravel:  it yields flint for arrows, can be rapidly dug with a shovel, and obeys gravity.  Gravel appears to yield either flint or a gravel block when dug up, never both.  So, if you reuse gravel a lot, you’ll slowly convert it into a nice supply of flint.  Because of these properties, I love to use it for temporary structures.

Why not sand?  Sand is fairly plentiful on most maps and I do use it when I don’t have enough gravel handy.  On the other hand, since  sand can be made into glass and glass is not recoverable, I prefer to save sand for glass making.

4.  Cobblestone is a great marker.

Aside from the rare dungeon spaces, cobblestone doesn’t occur naturally on the map.  While I normally like to plug up caverns with dirt when saving them for later, I use cobblestone when I really want to discourage myself from taking down the barrier later.

5.  Losing is Fun

These days, I don’t worry about entombing myself those first few nights on a new world.  I stay close to the spawn point and alert, taking care to die at a nice distance.  I only get annoyed if a creeper gets a jump on me where the explosion damages my infrastructure.  As the game develops, building a hardened spawn point and connecting tunnels takes the sting out of most deaths that don’t involve a drop into a lava pool.

6.  Armor is for dungeons

Crafting armor consumes a lot of resources and time, so I only use it for special circumstances like rushing a mob spawner.  Bows and large stockpiles of food could also fall in this category, depending on your style.

7.  Build in odd-increment dimensions

Building a box?  Make sure the horizontal dimensions are odd-numbered lengths.  Circles and spheres?  Make sure the diameter is odd.  Doing these two things gives you a definable center point for a structure, which is helpful for making measurements and keeping things symmetric.

8.  Use MS Paint for plotting out curved structures

This simple drawing program that has been around since at least Windows 3.1 can help you deal with curved walls.  Suppose you need a plan for an oval that is 75×100 on its two axes.  Resize your space to the desired dimensions, use the circle shape tool to make the largest oval you can in the space, and you have your plan.

9.  Don’t hoard your diamonds

Some diamond tools are quite handy.  Once I’m able, I make a diamond pick to replace the steel pick I’ve been using for harder minerals.  Second, I add a diamond sword to the arsenal.  If I’m especially flush with diamonds, I add an armor set third.

10.  Make plans for your harvested resources

I always try to keep a balance between building and collecting resources/exploring.  The idea is to prevent myself from having to discard common resources and to vary the game experience.

Written by Bill

October 5, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Posted in PC Gaming

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