Today, the lead developer of Minecraft, Jens Bergensten gave Minecraft players an unexpected Valentine’s Day gift. Announcing on the Mojang blog, Jens revealed that the next update for Minecraft, which will be labeled 1.2, will set the stage for the official modding engine that the company had promised was on the roadmap for the future.
The changes will be noticed through a new map format that they have dubbed “Anvil”. The name Anvil doesn’t appear to hold any specific meaning, and casual gamers may not even notice an immediate difference. However, the new map generation will drastically change the underlying code of Minecraft, improving the games performance and setting the stage for the biggest game changer of all, an official modding API.
If you are an avid gamer, you know what this means, but if not, I will briefly explain. When games are released, the players usually, if it’s possible, will be able to modify or hack the code to change the game and give it other functionality, graphic upgrades, or what have you. Some of the greater mods have given their original games much more longevity than otherwise would have. One of the most famous examples is the insanely popular “Grand Theft Auto,” where people would add cars, improve the graphics, create mini-games, and the list goes on. The day someone created the “Back To The Future” Delorean mod in Grand Theft Auto 3, was the day I went and bought the game for the second time. (Originally I was playing the console version which wasn’t able to be modded, and I had long since put down for newer games.) Some companies forbid this with their product or game, some allow it, but do not get involved in it officially, which is the case with GTA, and some embrace it with open arms. What game companies are realizing is the undeniable fact that these user based mods only improve their bottom line.
Delorean modded into Grand Theft Auto
Currently, there are more user created mods for Minecraft than one could probably try out in a life time. They range from adding better lighting and shadows to nuclear bombs that blow up half your world. The problem is that without an official API from Mojang, these mods break upon every upgrade, have to be redownloaded and manually installed again after the mod creator has adjusted the code to work with the new version of Minecraft. Then you have to take into account the various conflicting issues between mods, and have to at least know your way around a computer enough to replace certain files.
One of the biggest hangups among the modding community had been this hard limit of 255 on the amount of IDs that could be assigned to blocks. This tight restriction had led to many of the conflicting issues between mods, as well as creatively limiting the mod maker toward what was possible. With the release of “Anvil” that limit will be raised to 4096, and I can already see the Minecraft community licking their fingers. Some of the other changes are a bit more technical in Jens announcement;
The purpose of the new format is to prepare for modding, especially to allow for more block types, but also to improve other areas of the game (such as map height). The changes are:
Maximum build height has been increased to 256 (was 128)
Empty sections of the world are not loaded into memory
Block ids have been increased to 4096 (was 256) by adding a 4 bit data layer (similar to how meta data is stored)
Block ordering have been changed from x/z/y to y/z/x in order to improve compression
Packets for sending chunks have been updated (a full 128-high chunk is smaller than the old format, and a chunk with lots of empty space is much smaller)
Biomes are saved per x/z column, which means they can be altered by tools
If there are any complaints about Minecraft, it is usually that people feel there is a lack of content. Mojang has also revamped and improved artificial intelligence of the bad guys in Minecraft which will come in the next release 1.2, and appears to be turning the corner to focus their efforts on a modding API. They don’t need to focus on adding anymore content if they do this right, which by all accounts, they will, since Mojang listens very diligently to their user feedback.
Minecraft is already one of the biggest success stories in gaming in recent memory, but possibly so far what we have seen could just be the tip of the iceberg for something much greater. When they release their modding API, they immediately become the largest game creation platform, and the largest virtual world platform. Bigger than CryEngine, bigger than Unity 3D, and dare I say, Second Life.