I’d be the last person in the world to admit that I’m getting sick and tired of Minecraft. It’s certainly more popular than ever – and hopefully will continue to grow, especially given the recent ‘Minecraft – The Story of Mojang‘ documentary that was released last month. One of my favourite moments was how Peter Molyneux (legendary games programmer responsible for ‘Populous’, ‘Black and White’, etc) described it thus:

“It’s really interesting how Lego at the moment is like traditional games design. It’s: Buy the box, open the box, turn to the instruction sheet, make the models, stick it on the shelf, buy the next box. That’s exactly like traditional game design: Buy the game, go through the challenges, finish the challenges, stick it on the shelf, buy the next game.
“Where Lego used to be just a big box of bricks and you used to take the bricks, pour them on the carpet, and then make stuff. And that’s exactly what Minecraft is.”

That description is so right on the money and helps to explain why Minecraft is so, well, hard to explain. I even tried doing so to a  family friend over the recent winter break: “You see, it’s like a big, virtual sandbox,” I started, indicating so much with giant hand sweeps. It kind of went downhill from there. It’s one of those things you need see a gamer engaging with to get the allure.
But having said all that, what I am getting tired of is how I’ve been running my Minecraft After School Activity at work. For the past two terms we’ve experienced creative servers, survival servers, what happens when they go down (thank Mojang for ‘Open to LAN’), texture packs, maps, etc…..I think it may have reached a point where there’s entirely too much to try to explain and facilitate – which is why I’m changing tack this term.
Starting this term, we’re switching over to using the creative tools required to create worlds in Minecraft, and not just playing them. For the hour we have a week, I’ll be dividing the club time into 30 mins of creating, and 30 mins of playing. If all goes according to plan, at the end of ten weeks the students will have a good feel of working together and collaborating in teams, using and mastering 3D creation tools and playing together cooperatively on adventure maps. It feels daunting, but less daunting then trying to answer questions every 5 seconds about mods, textures, models.
This week, I introduced the students to WorldPainter, an interactive map generator tool for Minecraft. The controls are easy to use, explain, and (like most things in today’s world) there’s a bevy of tutorials available on YouTube.
The students got a good grip of what it takes to create a very basic world (we just created a mountain, then hollowed out the top and put lava in it), as well as how long it can take to export it, given a world’s complexity and the limitations of the computer they’re using. What’s also nice is that, if the user has fired up Minecraft on their user account before, WorldPainter will export directly to their ‘saves’ folder, saving me time in showing them where the hidden ‘~/Library/’ folder in on their Mountain Lion accounts.
Next week the plan is to use MCEdit to actually fly around in and build on what they started in WorldPainter, as the latter designs with a top-down view and the former is a more familiar experience to that of playing the actual game. Feedback this week was good – long may it continue!