What a Burro’s playing – March 2014 update

It’s been a few months since I last wrote one of these posts but the last couple of weeks have seen a surprising change in my gaming that has awoken an old worry of mine that I’m going to poke at again and see if I can’t answer it once and for all in my next post (spoilers: I don’t think I can).

Right now:

Guild Wars 2: As amazing as it seems, I’ve become slightly, but only slightly, addicted to this again. I only really got into it after I agreed to download it again for my son who, like me, has grown a little bored of nothing but Minecraft to play. True I have also had Left 4 Dead, but that’s a little on the mature side for him so I re-installed GW2 and watched him play for a bit and suddenly I felt the old familiar urge to run about brutally solving the often minor issues of total strangers for pretty much worthless rewards and BANG! I was hooked again. This re-start coincidentally happened to coincide with the total destruction of Lion’s Arch and man alive was that fun! True it’s a zerg-fest but I don’t mind zerging too much – at least I can hide my incompetence in the crowd 😀


MCPE: Update 0.8.0 was great! Minecarts were added along with some nice farming changes & graphical updates and the whole thing felt brilliantly fresh and fun again. I had a blast in Termite Canyon and really only stopped because I played the arse out of it. I’m waiting for 0.9,0 which will, if the tweets coming out of Mojang are right, be another great update that adds even more fun. We are while off Realms yet I think and that’s a shame because that’s exactly what I’d need to make this my ‘go to’ game again

Pioneer Spacesim: In my desperation to play Elite Dangerous I downloaded this free Elite Frontier mod and tried it out with my new Hotas X flight stick & throttle. The results were, to say the least, underwhelming and I shan’t be playing it again. Ever.

Left 4 Dead 2: Ahhhhh, what can I say about this game that I haven’t already said. It’s just amazing fun. I’m not as good as I was 5 years ago when I could do the levels on Expert (with the right team, of course) but I can hold my own in Advanced even with a basic PUG. Cold Stream is still a bloody nightmare though ;-D


Second Life: Nope. I didn’t even make it back for the memorial of my mate Os. I thought I would but missed it and then found, whilst sad I missed seeing Sal, Ilia, Enjah, Holo, Mari, Tak and my other friends that I was relived I didn’t have to struggle with the experience of logging in, lagging out and seeing nothing but grey blocks. Lately (by which I mean the last couple of days or so) I have found myself missing this world a little but I don’t think it’s been enough of a pull to tempt me back. Not yet, anyway.

LOTRO: It must be the GW2 effect but I’ve been missing this world too. Not enough to actually go back into the nasty grind-fest that it is, but still missing it a little. Maybe one day someone will make a less grindy, more explorable Middle Earth and then I can finally be the Gondorian explorer I’ve always wanted to be.

Survivalcraft: Christ no! No way! The last few updates have moved further and further away from fun game play and more into the realms of boring twaddle. There is now a bow you have to load each time to fire by dragging an arrow from your inventory to the bow. This is a game with limited inventory space, non-stacking arrows and a ranged combat system that is, in a word, shit. My life is too short too waste it on non-fun things. 

Borderlands 2: This is a strange one. I just stopped. Don’t really know why. I just stopped and I don’t think I even noticed. I do that a lot with long story driven games. Thief (all of them). Walking Dead. LA Noire. Never finished any of them. What a waste.

Ingress: Nah, I’ve totally lost the plot here. I’m not a social gamer and you reallllly need to be for this to work. Oh, and I need the app space too much 🙂

Carmageddon: Not even the boy is playing this one now – it’s ok but just limited.


Elite Dangerous: Still the big dawg on the horizon, I’m looking forward to this more and more with each Alpha update I watch on youtube. It just looks amazing! The flight is smooth, the combat challenging, the visuals drop dead gorgeous. Oh man this is the game I want right now! This is the game I’d turn the shed into a cockpit for and end up on the local news in the “And finally…” humorous nutjob section.

What are you playing right now? let me know in the comments below.

MCPE & SC: A Tale of Two (well, Three) Updates

It’s been a bumper week for fans of mobile block world games as the Behemoth that is Minecraft Pocket Edition released its much anticipated 0.8.0 update whilst Kaalus dropped both his 1.23 & 1.24 updates for Survivalcraft. On the surface both had certain similarities, but despite all the work and effort that has gone into these updates I find myself only playing one of the games. Let me explain…

Minecraft 0.8.0 saw the addition of big ticket items such as minecarts and rails meaning that, at long last, there was a reason to mine redstone because without it you couldn’t make the powered rails that make MC’s minecarts so much fun. This alone would have been a huge deal in an update, but 0.8.0 is crammed with other additions as Mojang slowly move the mobile version of their game further down the road to parity with their desktop or console versions. True this will take some time, not just for them to do but for mobile platforms to become truly powerful enough, but they have a roadmap and they are doing their best to stick to it.

Minecarts aside, Mojang also pulled some cool tricks out of the bag. They added breedable animals meaning that overnight farming became a serious option in the game rather than the luck-of-the-spawn it had been before. They added new crops too (pumpkins, potatoes, carrots & beetroot to be precise) further enhancing the farming options, but they didn’t stop there. They upped the draw distance to allow you to see pretty much all of the world as long as you have a powerful enough device, my 1st Gen Nexus 7  struggles a little with the maximum setting but runs smooth one notch down and the difference is wonderful – the horrible fog has gone!

Meanwhile, over in Survicvalcraft, Kaalus managed to squeeze two updates out in the time it took Mojang to release 0.8.0, but boy did he pack a heap in! A massive revamp of the electricity system, a huge draw distance upgrade (the maximum setting of which does not make my N7 stutter at all), lots of new animals, and a new weapon, namely the bow.

But I said at the start of this post that I was only playing one of these games, so which? You can stop holding your breath now, it’s MCPE. The Survivalcraft updates have left me cold since about 1.20 and the latest one is no different. 1.24 adds yet more bloody animals and a weapon that’s simply not fun to use. This is my biggest problem with Survivalcraft now, each update simply adds more of the same and the same is always po-faced and dull. I don’t want a bow I have to load manually and then practice like crazy to use effectively, I want a shotgun with string! I don’t want a tiger to add to the same landscapes as the lion, wolves, bears, coyotes, and whatever else Kaalus can model and shove in, I want pigs that pop babies out when fed!

Y’see, complain as we might about Mojang’s release schedule whilst sat the same time heaping praise upon Kaalus for popping something out every six weeks, the simple fact is Mojang give us fun stuff whilst Kaalus gives us the gaming equivalent of a 2am Open University programme on TV; worthy but dull.

In the week that 0.8.0 has been out for MCPE I have built three farms, two more monster-zones and retro-fitted a minecart system to my main deep mine shaft. In roughly the same time in Survivalcraft I have watched the bow work on youtube and decided not to play it again. Hell, I haven’t even downloaded the latest patch and that is a baaaaad sign for any game.

It pains me to say it, it honestly does, but what I thought might happen is now occurring; Mojang are finally making their game more like the PC version and giving players what they want, all the fun of MC on their phones and tablets. In doing so, MCPE will always bee seen as the leader of the block world pack and games like SC will be niche attractions, well-done and clever, but niche all the same.

Meanwhile, in Survivalcraft… What we need is a roadmap…

A comment thread started on the latest post from Kaalus that had nothing to do with post and everything to do with wanting zombies in the game. If you follow his blog you’ll know there is nothing unusual in that but this time there was a note of weary resignation in the comments. It was as if the players making them not only knew that Kaalus would never add their requests, but that Kaalus would never add anything like them either. That sense of something akin to defeat saddened me because no player should feel that about the game they enjoy. I replied with something I hope will be seen by Kaalus, a request for him to address his players via his blog and set out a roadmap for the game.

I’m going to expand on that quick reply here, but I’m also going to email him too. I doubt I’ll hear back, but hey ho, it’s got to be worth a try, right?

Dear Kaalus,

First off let me say how much I’ve enjoyed your game over the last few months. You’ve only to rifle back through posts on my blog to see how much fun I’ve had trying to survive and build a shelter capable of keeping the wolves and rain out. But you’ll also see a number of posts in which I express my concerns over the direction you are taking the game in. Whether it is the addition of mechanics to manage health or the large expansion of fauna, I’ve been vocal in my lack of understanding and, to coin a horrible marketing phrase, absence of ‘buy in’.

Now I realise that despite having bought three copies of your game, I’m just a tiny speck in a crowd, but I’d like to take this opportunity to address you personally and ask for something. I’m not going to ask you to add feature X, Y or Z and I have no intentions of mentioning the words ‘zombie’, ‘pet’ or ‘minecarts’. No, what I want to ask you for is some time and an explanation. I would very much like you to take time out of your busy schedule to put a roadmap of your ideas up on your blog. I want to understand where you are heading with the game over the next few months/year because, and I will be very candid here, I want to know if it is a journey I want to make with you.

You see, if you are going to take the game down a certain route towards being the kind of game I don’t want to play, I’d like to know now as it would save me time and you earache from more of my blog posts. If, on the other hand, you are going somewhere I’d like to go too, then I’m going up stick around and hopefully persuade more of my friends to come with me.

Every post you publish on your blog generates a slew of comments packed with feature requests and no matter what you, I, or anyone else thinks of those requests they prove beyond a shadow of a doubt your game has passionate followers who feel very strongly that it needs to expand and become more than it currently is. If you were to take my roadmap request seriously you could answer a great deal of those requests, either affirming or rejecting them, in one go. Additionally if you were to publish your roadmap on your blog as a page similar to the change log, then people could be referred there to see that the request they want is due out in the next update, is possibly going to happen one day or can never happen because of technical limitations.

A roadmap post, possibly with a Q&A in the comments, that led to a permanent but changing/evolving roadmap page on your blog would be the perfect place to address the ever-repeating calls for multiplayer, mods, NPCs, transport and breedable/tameable animals, to name but a few. Personally I’d like to know more about your thoughts on terrain generation, use of narrative structure within the game and the potential for long term replayability, although that just names my top three of several 🙂

Anyway, I think I’ve taken up enough of your time with this message. Hopefully it strikes a chord with you and my desire to support Survivalcraft is clear. Thanks again for a fun game and I hope you too feel a roadmap would be a worthwhile endeavour.

Yours in play,
HeadBurro Antfarm.

Meanwhile, in Survivalcraft… Player-made, in-game animation machine!

Kaalus, the SC dev, has spotlighted an incredible player build over on his blog and YouTube charnel. The player has used Kaalus’ reworked electrics/logic system to make a very clever machine that allows you design, record and playback simple animations. You need to see it in action but it really is a brilliant bit of work and goes to show how clever the electricity system is in Survivalcraft. Now if Kaalus could lend that level of flexibility to the whole game maybe we could get some decent gameplay mods emerging from the player base.

Whilst over in Minecraft, Yet more props to Jeb

Over on the reddit thread I mentioned in my last post another question was asked about SurvivalCraft and Jeb (MCPE dev & Mojang founder along with Notch I think) gave another good answer that really speaks to me because he mentions he like one of the aspects of the game I like too. Here’s the Q&A from reddit and afterwards I’ll tell you why this chimes so much with me too.

[–]ivanoski-007 1 point 1 day ago

How do you consider survival craft in comparison to your product, do you consider it to be more advanced? Why?

[–]jeb_[S] 3 points 1 day ago

We’ll not talk about SurvivalCraft during our panel, but clearly it has a whole bunch of really cool features. I personally love the ship animation that happens when you create a new world.

On the other hand, SurvivalCraft doesn’t have multiplayer (as far as I know), so it’s much easier for them to add features.

For me, apart from Jeb liking SC but not being familiar with it enough to be sure about multiplayer, the thing that resonated so strongly with me was his liking for the ship at the start. I mentioned this in my 8 SC improvements post saying that the ship adds a much needed sense of narrative structure that is missing from the rest of the game and maybe, just maybe, in not alone in liking a story whilst I’m playing 🙂

Whilst over in Minecraft, Give Props to Jeb!

Over on the MCPE subreddit one of the key Mojang devs has asked for questions from players that he can add to the MCPE panel at the Minecraft convention in London (all details are slightly hazy as I’m not very MLG as you should have guessed by now 😉 ). One player asked how much of Survivalcraft was ripped off from MCPE and Jeb’s answer is rather nice…

anonymau5 2 points 1 day ago

[–]jeb_[S] 15 points 1 day ago

SurvivalCraft has some cool ideas, but we’ll not talk about it during our panel. The game has a very frequent update rate, but things are sooo much easier when you don’t have to care about multiplayer synchronization.

We don’t mind people playing SurvivalCraft. Some competition is always healthy and keeps us from being lazy 😉

Not a bad attitude, huh 🙂

A tale of sky blocks, game mechanics and the difference between Survivalcraft and Minecraft

I’ve never really got into playing the many, many modded games available for Minecraft, mainly because they aren’t (yet) available for the picket edition. Instead I trend to watch the Yogscast guys play through them on their YouTube channel. One I’m watching right now is Sjin & Duncan’s Sky Blocks series which is great fun, not only because of their infectious enjoyment but also because of the fact the sky blocks game is a clever twist on the nature of Minecraft itself – the endless world is reduced to a tiny & finite area, there is no mining to be done and what was once cheap (dirt) becomes the most precious commodity you can have. In this seemingly simple inversion a whole new game opens up and that is the brilliant strength of Minecraft, the flexibility to be more than one game.

Given that I don’t know how to mod MCPE , I decided to build a Sky Blocks world in Survivalcraft with the intention of publishing it to the community content service. Unfortunately I quickly found that some of Survivalcraft’s game mechanics don’t allow for this l kind of game mode to be developed and that worries me greatly because, as I said in this post, if the game isn’t capable of being nodded in the same way Minecraft is then I predict it will have a limited future. Let me explain what I found whilst building a sky blocks game and then hopefully you will see why I’m concerned.

Sky Blocks – The Basics (as far as I understand them): In Sky Blocks you typically start off on a small, floating platform made of soil and containing a single source of lava and water and either a fully grown tree or a sapling. The lava and water mean you can create cobblestone by allowing them to touch, whilst the tree allows you to farm wood for tools, building materials and torches. The stone and wood you farm allow you to expand your platform and connect to others that typically contain other valuable items such as seeds that allow you to start to farm food. The beauty of the game is that normally worthless blocks such as soil become incredibly valuable, normally abundant resources such as wood and food must be carefully managed and throwaway blocks such as cobblestone become the main building medium that you have to work hard to gather. On top of that, the chances of mobs spawning right on top of you adds more than as frisson of excitement at night.

The problems of creating Sky Blocks in Survivalcraft:

1) Useable stone tends to be a rare spawn when water and lava mix. Sometimes you get granite which can be crafted into tools, but in the main basalt is generated and that cannot be crafted. In my test world I used my first wooden pick until it broke and the water/lava mixer only gave out 6 granite blocks. I used all 6 to make 2 stone picks and used both of those to mine the stone being generated until they broke in which time I ended up with 1 solitary block of granite, not enough to replace even one tool. Now maybe there is a magic system for always generating granite, but in my numerous tests I’ve not been able to divine it so maybe the answer lies not in the generator, but rather in what it generates. If the basalt could be crafted then this issue would be cleared up immediately, but if not then the very central system of the Sky Blocks game is broken and the modded play style cannot be ported over to Survivalcraft.

2) Trees are too hard to grow. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it. Tree farming in Survivalcraft is too ruddy hard. All I want to do is plant a sapling and have it grow, but in Survivalcraft I have to make 2 material-expensive items to test the right place to plant them, and on a sky block you don’t have access to these materials. In my test world every sapling died meaning my only source of sustainable tools ended with my first and only tree (place in creative mode when I set the play arena up). No trees once again means Survivalcraft cannot be used to play games such as Sky Blocks.

3) Food is hard to get. A few updates ago Kaalus added hunger, exhaustion and some other mechanics to the game to make survival more challenging. He also added farming so players could grow food which is also a staple of the Sky Blocks model. Unfortunately, unless you want to give your Sky Block player access to everything they need on the first island, the act of getting across to the next island to find food exhausts you to the point of death. Giving the player the means to start a farm from the start largely removes the need to build across to other islands and therefore the point of even playing the game is lost.

4] Mobs need to be a threat. When on a small platform hundreds of metres above solid rock or a lake of lava the last thing you want is to be knocked off by an angry mob. In Minecraft Sky Block the mix of mob skills (close quarters with zombies, ranged with skeletons, barrier breaching with spiders and explosive with creepers) and the spawn at night/burn by day mechanics makes the mobs both a real danger and a lot of fun. Aside from the occasional leaping werewolf, what dangers would mobs on a Survivalcraft version of Sky Blocks present. None as far as I can tell, and that’s if any are capable of spawning in such an extreme environment. Without effective mobs there is no danger other than clumsily falling off the platform or into the lava pool and having that as the only sense of peril just isn’t enough fun.

So if there is no danger other than falling off and if you can’t split up vital supplies or generate enough materials to survive then where does this leave Survivalcraft’s ability to replicate all the fun and challenge of Sky Blocks? Pretty much dead in the water right now, I’m afraid. I’m not going to work on another Sky Blocks map because there is no point. Of course there is every chance I’ve not understood something about the game mechanics I’ve listed above, especially something like hunger or endurance, but even with that factored in I can’t see how you can get away from the issue of the trees being hard to grow or the stone blocks being un-craftable or the mobs being almost no worthwhile & entertaining threat.

If you factor out all the game types Survivalcraft can’t be because it lacks multiplayer, what are you left with? Extreme survival scenarios and adventures. My guess is that a lot of the points I’ve listed above will apply to these two remaining games types as well – I would imagine placing worthwhile mobs in an adventure map would be very hard indeed.

The problem is that without the ability for the community to create their own games within the shell of Survivalcraft, Kaalus’ game is doomed to being crushed by the eventual (and imminent) rise of Minecraft’s pocket edition and that would be a great shame because there is more than enough room for one game like MCPE.

I have no idea if Kaalus will read this, I doubt it, but if he does I hope he hears my message – please consider developing mechanisms that will allow your great game to be modded because only in that way will it stand shoulder to shoulder with MCPE.

Meanwhile, in SurvivalCraft… How To Upload Worlds!

SC HBA 0One of the many marvelous things about SC is that you can upload and download texture packs and worlds created by the community, but the act of uploading isn’t quite as straight forward as it might, at first thought, seem. I always assumed that Kaalus hosted all the worlds on a server somewhere but this would be hideously expensive so what he does is allow the players to upload their own worlds & textures to Dropbox and then put a link to that location in the community content section. Given that I’m always confuserated by this, I decided to make a video to demonstrate and explain. I had intended it to be 5 mins long at the most… it’s 13. Fail 😀

Here’s my 13 minute long “How to…” video with the totally pro ending 😉 If you want me to do any more “How to…”s leave me a comment.

Meanwhile, in SurvivalCraft… I can see my house from here!

Version 1.23 is out (as of writing only on Google Play, Amazon, Windows and Apple app stores will get it in a few days) and I decided to check out the new improved draw distance as that’s one of the features I was most looking forward to in the update*.

I have a 1st gen Nexus 7 and even with the DD set to 196 blocks (2.5x normal) I found it worked fine. In the video below I do talk about some sluggishness but as soon as I stopped recording that went so I’m convinced it was down to the fact the tablet was dumping the screencast to the drive rather than an inability to handle 2.5x. This is great news as I loved the 196 blocks setting! It allowed for a deeper sense of the world around you and increased the sense of immersion into that world and I can only imagine how much better it will render large builds or beautiful vistas. Take a look at the video below if you’ve not had chance to update yet, or are on a slower device and are wondering if upgrading is worth it.

* The other was generated structures but as he’s only put grass traps and gravestones in, I’m not that excited about that feature in this update – let’s see what 1.24 & beyond brings in this area.

Meanwhile, in Survivalcraft… 1.23 is out!

Kaalus has released the latest update to the Google Play Store so if, like me, you are on Android you should be able to update now.

I’ve not had much time to play, but I’ve managed to make a 14 minute video showing off the new extended draw distance. It’s rendering now and I’ll upload it tomorrow morning 🙂