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.